Posted by: gschloesser | August 11, 2011

Simply Catan

Designer:  Klaus Teuber
Publisher:  Simply Fun
2 – 4 Players, 1 hour
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser  

Klaus Teuber’s Settlers of Catan is widely recognized as the breakthrough game that really brought European-style board games to the attention of the majority of American gamers.  Its combination of resource collection, building and trading struck a chord amongst not only dedicated gamers, but families and casual gamers as well.  The game captured the coveted German Spiel des Jahre award, and spawned numerous expansions and sequels.  Sales continue to grow worldwide, insuring that the franchise will be with us for a long, long time. 

One of the more recent additions to the Settlers family is Simply Catan, marketed exclusively by Simply Fun Games as a scaled-down version of the original classic.  The game maintains nearly all of the same mechanics and features of the original, with a few minor changes and deletions intended to make the game easier to learn and even more accessible to the general public.  The goal, of course, is to introduce the game to an even wider audience, which is certainly a good thing. 

Since most readers of this review will likely be familiar with the original Settlers, I won’t provide a detailed description of the game’s mechanisms.  Instead, I will concentrate on differences with this version.

Components.  The first change one instantly recognizes is that the hexes are now joined in five strips that fit snuggly inside a large frame.  The hexes depict the same territory as the original – mountains, hills, pastures, forests and fields – and they are double-sided to give variable board configurations.  This does make set-up a tad easier, but at the cost of limiting the board layout options.  

The frame surrounding the hexes clearly depicts the nine ports, and is replete with useful information, specifically four easy-to-understand building cost charts.  It also provides space for each of the resource and development card decks, which helps keep things quite tidy. 

Gone are the humble wooden houses, cities and roads, replaced by highly detailed plastic sculptures.  These pieces are quite attractive, but purists may well long for the simplicity of the original wood.  I, for one, enjoy the aesthetics of the new pieces, and they do present an attractive scene as the island develops. 

Rules.  Physically, the basic rules have been condensed onto the front and back of one large page, complete with a clear set-up illustration.  An additional booklet explains the rules to the advanced game, which are identical to the original Settlers

There are a handful of rules changes, all designed to simplify the game.  Specifically: 

  • Victory is achieved by accumulating 7 victory points (as opposed to 10)
  • Development cards are not used in the basic version
  • Players choose which of their beginning settlements to use when choosing their starting resources 

These changes do have the effect of shortening the game a bit, but in my experience, nowhere near the 30 minutes declared on the box.  My experience is that the game takes just shy of an hour to complete when playing with a full complement of four players.  

While the subtraction of the development cards and the reduction of points required for victory will be distasteful for gamers, it does serve to make the game a bit more palatable for families and non-gamers.  That is a good thing, as it has the potential of helping the game reach a wider market.  The bad news is that the game is expensive — $42.00 – which is considerably higher than the $30 internet price tag for the original Settlers.  This seems to fly-in-the-face of the express purpose of making the game more appealing to a wider audience.  In the eyes of the consumer, however, the more attractive components may be worth the hefty price tag. 

So while experienced gamers will likely have no need to acquire Simply Catan, the eager sales representatives of Simply Fun Games may well be able to use this new version to introduce many new folks to the wonderful world of Settlers of Catan.  If successful, then the game will certainly have served its purpose.


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