Is Catan a Good Game?

“Is Catan a Good Game?” is one of the most searched for questions on Google about Catan, the eurogame designed by Klaus Teuber. When I first found out, it kind of surprised me as most seasoned board gamers feel like they can already answer the question in some way or other, whether they have played the game or not. It then occurred to me, slower than I would like to admit, that this wasn’t a question seasoned board gamers were asking, but instead, those who have seen it in their local bookstore, or who have been recommended it by a friend or who have heard about it around the water cooler. It is a question of the curious.

So, today, I am going to desperately try and remain objective in order to answer the question: “Is Catan a good game?”

Hopefully, after that, you can judge for yourselves and make a justified decision about whether to buy it or not.

How To Judge: Is Catan a Good Game?

Okay, so we’re going to need a scale. In order to do this, we need to use two games that are commonplace and relatable, yet which represent two different types of gaming. They need to represent the easiest and most difficult games to really get into, and yet which everyone has heard of.

To do this, we are going to look at:

  • Monopoly – This is going to be the low end of the spectrum. It is an easy game to play, easy game to master, and uses simple mechanics. Monopoly has set collecting, roll and resolve, auctioning, trading, and player elimination at its heart.
  • Chess – Contrary to Monopoly, Chess is a relatively easy game to play, but a difficult game to master. Interestingly, according to Board Game Geek (a digital database of games used by board game geeks), Chess only has one mechanic – grid movement. It shows that more mechanisms do not mean a more difficult game.

In order to give a fair representation, we need to look at different aspects of the game. For this we’ll be looking at (in no particular order):

  • Basic concept – what is Catan about?
  • The barrier to entry – how easy is it to learn the rules.
  • Average game time – how long a game takes to play.
  • User interactions – how often players interact with one another.
  • Scoring – how do we determine who the winner is?
  • Cost of the game – how expensive is the full version of the game? This will be in GBP.
  • Aggregated (average) user reviews – this is using Board Game Geek.
  • Mode of user review – what do most people give the game?

So, with that in mind, let’s try and crack the code. Let’s break it down bit by bit. Is Catan a good game?

Not a good place to start...
Not the best way to start, but an okay image of the board.

Is Catan a Good Game?

What Are The Basic Concepts of the Game?

Before we jump into the graphs and data let’s talk about themes. These are three themes from three different games, but ultimately, this isn’t an article to persuade you that one theme is better than another. Instead, it’s about whether Catan is a good game. So, with that in mind, let’s have a look at the core concept of the game.

Catan is a game about colonisation. It is a game about having people settle on an island (the original title was “Settlers of Catan”) where they will thrive into a budding civilisation. To do this they need to manage their resources to grow, and ultimately that is the crux in Catan.

To manage resources you have to do two things – gain the resources and then trade with other players to get what you need. Through doing that you can develop your civilisations (with development cards), build roads, settlements, and cities.

Each different aspect is worth points, leading to hundreds of ways you can play the game. You can be a peaceful trading colony, or you can build up an army and seriously annoy your opponents.

Ultimately though, Catan is a social game, and this is something we will look at later in this article.

What is the Barrier to Entry?

The barrier to entry is how difficult it is to pick up and play the game, straight out of the box. It is how difficult and complicated the rules are and how quickly you can get the rules having never played it.

Straight off the bat, this is a difficult question to figure out – so let’s look at this mathematically. Whether something has a high barrier to entry or not is usually judged on the sheer amount of rules. To do this we need three PDFs of the core game rules, and we’re going to look at the length.

I found a few Chess rules online, but have gone with the most concise one I can (I’ve used the BGSU Pdf). The Monopoly rules are from the PDF version on the Hasbro website, and the Catan rules are from a PDF from the official Catan website. For this, I have removed legal notices (because they aren’t rules) and glossaries (since they are just repeating the rules in alphabetical order). I have also removed anything written about the author or game backstory. This is only judging the rules themselves.

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 15.21.36
Rules length by game.

As it can be seen, Catan fits in the middle of the rules. To be honest, this seriously surprised me. I expected Catan to be the most complex, but apparently, Monopoly has more rules. Who would have guessed?

That being said, Catan is considered an Entry Level game. It has been designed to bridge the gap between those who want something a little more substantial than Monopoly and hardcore gamers – so maybe it’s not that surprising after all.

What is the Average Game Time?

This is far simpler to break down. Chess games have time limits for official tournaments, Catan tends to last around the same amount of time each game, and there are enough Monopoly players venting their frustrations online to figure Monopoly out (plus Wikipedia gives an average game length for Monopoly).

Game Length

So, to give the numbers, Chess clubs tend to run games of 75 minutes for the first 35 moves, and then 15-20 minutes to finish up. Catan has a tournament length of 1hr 30 mins, with most domestic games going as high as 2hrs. Monopoly, according to Wikipedia, has an average play time of 1-4 hours! This averages out at 2 hrs 30 mins.

 

Island
A game in full swing…with really bad lighting… (as mentioned in a previous blog, my camera broke recently)

 

How Many User Interactions Are There When Playing?

I really wish I hadn’t put this down as a question, and I have no idea how to judge it. So, let’s go on how often it is a game that players are forced to talk to one another.

Chess requires no interaction. One of the beautiful things about Chess, is that two people who don’t speak the same language can play it. Only twice in the game do words need to be said – “Check” and “Checkmate”. If the average game lasts 40 moves, then that means interaction only happens around 5% to 10% of the time.

Monopoly, on the other hand, requires every turn either something being auctioned or rent passing between players (if the rules are played properly); however, a shocking statistic that I rooted out for this article says only 32% of players admit to having read the rules to Monopoly properly. Most ignore the auction rule (which actually makes the game drag on when people house rule it). This still means interaction for rent, which means towards the end of the game there is a lot of interaction. We’ll need to estimate at 75%.

Catan gives the players the option to trade, as well as play development cards on one another, as well as move the robber. This means there is almost certainly interaction every round. The average Catan game is said to last around 80 turns, so this means that there is probably interaction around 70/80% of the time.

Player Interactions 2
So there is a lot more speculation on this one, but if we extrapolate what we can from the data it feels about right. Don’t take it as 100% accurate though.

How Are The Games Scored?

This is one of the easiest things to look at. Catan is scored on points, with the winner being the first person to 10 points. To gain ten points you need to build settlements (1pt each) and cities (2pts each); however, there are other ways to win the game due to each player having a limited amount of both of the above.

Development cards are an interesting addition to Catan, which offer actions the players can take as well as points. There are victory point cards within the development deck; however, there are also knights.

Whoever has the most knights (they have to have more than three) gets the Largest Army achievement, which is worth 2pts. The final way is to keep building roads. Longest road (it has to be more than five) gets the Longest Road achievement, which is also worth 2pts.

This offers the game a large amount of strategy, as well as offering a space for second, third, and fourth place.

Chess also has a lot of strategies; with checkmate being the ultimate goal.

Monopoly…well…it’s just about money acquisition. To do that you buy properties.

How Much Do The Games Cost?

Another barrier to entry, in a way, is how much the games cost. For this, I have taken to Amazon UK to price up the basic versions of each game. This means how much the standard Monopoly board costs, how much the base game to Catan is, and how much the basic Chess set is.

We need some rules around this, so I’m ruling out travel versions of the games, and for Chess, I am looking at the standard Chess set – not so cheap the pieces are hollow plastic and naff, but not in the hundreds of pounds range. How much is a basic Chess set?

Catan is actually the easy one here, as it only has one standard version.

Prices
Price comparison.

So I found a nice wooden Chess set for £18.99, and the standard Monopoly board is the same price. This means Catan is the most expensive. How you work out the return on investment is up to you, but at £38.99 Catan is actually double the price of the other games.

What Are The Aggregated User Reviews?

Is Catan a good game? Well, ultimately it comes down to this question – what are the reviews like? Do people enjoy it more or less than the other games? Luckily, Board Game Geek gives us aggregated user reviews, on a scale from 1-10 (although avid BGG users will tell you it’s actually a score from 4-9 once you get the average from all the reviews). To look at this we will be judging two things – what is the mean review (aka. the average)? Since the average of 1 and 10 is 5.5, we’ll also be looking at the mode review. This is what is voted most often, since the mode of one person voting 5 and one person voting 6 is also 5.5.

First though, the average review.

Average Review
The average review (mean).

It actually surprised me how well thought of Chess is. As it can be seen, Catan is considered a better game than both Chess and Monopoly, scoring a 7.2, with Chess just behind on 7.1, and Monopoly falling way behind on 4.4.

Please keep in mind, the game considered #1 on Board Game Geek (BGG) at the moment scores 8.7 (Pandemic: Legacy, for those who are interested), so 7.2 is really good.

Actually, to put them all in order of where they appear on the list of best board games of all time, according to the aggregated reviews on BGG, it goes as follows:

  • Catan – #251
  • Chess – #401
  • Monopoly – #14,314

What Are The Modal User Reviews?

To work out the mode, although it feels a bit redundant now, we can use BGG once more. There is a way of seeing what everyone voted.

Mode
An interesting result.

So, this is actually very interesting – Monopoly, as expected, most people voted to give it 4/10. I’m sorry if you like Monopoly – most people don’t.

Interestingly though, the majority of people opted to give chess 7/10, with a top-heavy graph of a quite a few people who gave it 10/10. Catan, on the other hand, had a more balanced breakdown with most people giving it 8/10.

So, is Catan a Good Game?

It all comes back to that old chestnut, doesn’t it? Is Catan a good game? Ultimately, none of the above can fully answer the question, although I have tried to break it down is as thoroughly as I can (this has taken me a happy Sunday afternoon to write). So, since you are on my blog, and you are a captive audience, I am going to give my two cents.

Is Catan a Good Game? YES

Catan is a brilliant, unique, wonderful, fantastic game. I write about it quite a lot on this blog, not because it’s popular and I think people will read about it, but because I genuinely enjoy the game. It is a game where I have played it with hardcore gamers, some of whom are national champions, but I have had just as much fun playing it with my grandmother. It is easy to understand and as complicated as you want to make it. It encourages user interactions and solo gameplay. It allows for you to play the game how you want to play the game.

Is it the best game ever? No, it’s not, but it opens doors. It allows players, casual and otherwise, to understand eurogames and the modern renaissance of games that we are currently having.

So I am a great one, on this blog, for working out return on investment for games. As one final claw at nerdiness, let me say that each time I play Monopoly, it costs me around £2.50. Each time I play Catan, because I have played it so much, it only costs me around £0.05. It is so worth the initial investment.

Is Catan a Good Game? Yes, yes it is. 


Undoubtedly there are going to be some new people reading this, who haven’t played Catan, and also some who have played before. Either way, what are your opinions right now? Is this a game you like or want to play? Or, is this a game where you have no interest? Let me know in the comments below.

SIMILAR ARTICLE: Is Catan a Real Place?

 

13 thoughts on “Is Catan a Good Game?

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  1. Can’t say I agree with everything in the article, but agree with you on the big picture. “Length of Rules” is probably the one metric I would argue against the most. Whether a game is ‘easy to learn’ or ‘fun to play’ largely depends on how well written the rulebook. Organization, proper grammar, and simply making sure that rules are not vague in anyway, can make or break a game for me. Luckily we now have a lot of ‘how to play’ youtubers, and BGG to clarify rules. But try a brand new game with a boardgame group, a vague rule which affects the outcome of the game, can quickly be the death of that game. Also having to look up rules in a poorly organized rulebook is extremely frustrating.

    Is Catan a good game? I feel like it is sometimes looked down upon by the hardcore gamers as they ‘have moved on’. In truth, I feel like I have in many ways as well. BUT…still we play it. When family gets together or new friends join us, it’s the easiest one to break out and teach that has a nice strategic element. So as a more experienced gamer, I don’t get totally bored, but new people can be more or less on an equal footing. Other games that we teach new people or just want an easy game, leave me a bit hollow most of the time. Even though it’s been out forever, it’s still a great goto game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s fair. I can agree with that. It’s such a difficult metric to judge. Recently, for instance, we played Tarraforming Mars – which is fairly simple to play but had a really difficult rulebook. I get your point entirely. Do you have any ideas on how to quantify difficulty to learn better? I suppose maybe a time metric would be an option – so the amount of time it takes to learn the rules (for instance)?

      I agree with Catan. It is such a good one that is accessible for all, but yes, sometimes hardcore gamers want something a bit meatier.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Time metric would be okay. Polling different gamers to see how easy the rules are to learn would be another. I find most very good rulesets, we get everything right on the first play. Maybe just a few rules we have to correct ourselves. The games that have vague or odd rules that we don’t get even after a few tries, reading online, etc., quickly get left behind. I guess a simple metric might be how many posts are in the BGG rules forum for the game. I think I would want to go a step further and browse to see how many are actual rules clarifications. Number of posts likely depends on the popularity of the game though.

        Liked by 1 person

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