Posted by: gschloesser | September 4, 2012

Catan Junior


Design by:  Klaus Teuber
Published by:  Kosmos / Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 – 40 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE:  For ease of explanation, I will refer to the original Settlers of Catan as “Settlers”.

My one and only child is now 25-years old.  Thankfully, I don’t have grandchildren yet, and I am rarely in gaming situations wherein young children are present.  As such, I don’t often have the opportunity (or desire) to play games that are targeted for a young audience.  Thus, I am not the ideal person to critique such games.

Still, I do receive the occasional children’s game to play and review.  So, I must periodically seek opportunities wherein they can be played.  Such is the case with Junior Catan, Klaus Teuber’s latest entry into the continuing Settlers of Catan juggernaut.  One might recall that a children’s version of Settlers was released back in 2003 under the title “The Kids of Catan.”  Junior Catan is NOT the same game, but like that earlier release it is a simplified version of the mega-hit that is designed to appeal to a younger audience.

This time, players are not simply serene settlers.  Rather, players are pirates establishing their lairs on the islands of Catan.  As with Settlers, players will collect and trade resources, which will be used to construct their pirate lairs, ships and collect “Coco” tiles.  The player to first establish all seven of his pirate lairs controls the island and wins the game.

Unlike Settlers, the thirteen land tiles are fixed, printed on a non-modular board.   The board is two-sided, though, which allows for different numbers of players. Other than the center space, which depicts the scary “Spooky Island”, all spaces have a number ranging from 1 – 5, which will regulate resource production.  The mainland-based market has space for five commodities, which are available to the players during the trading phase.

Players each begin with two lairs and two ships on the board, placing them on the designated locations.  Turns are conducted in a fashion very similar to that of Settlers:  roll a die, collect resources, trade and build.  A roll of “six” causes the dreaded “ghost captain” to appear, blocking production of the tile where he is placed.  Instead of stealing a resource from an opponent, the player who moved the ghost captain takes two resources of the type corresponding to the tile where he was moved.  As one would expect in a children’s game, the emphasis is on friendliness as opposed to confrontation in just about every aspect of the game.

After collecting resources (if any), a player may build or trade in any order.  In a major difference with Settlers, players do not trade with each other.  Rather, they may – once-per-turn – take any resource present in the market and replace it with one from their hand.  Additionally, a player may trade directly with the stockpile of resources, trading two identical resources for one of their choice.  This makes acquiring needed resources very easy, which, of course, speeds the game along considerably.  Note that advanced rules do allow for trading between players.

There are only two items to build and one to acquire during the game:  pirate lairs, ships and Coco tiles.  Pirate lairs operate just like settlements in Settlers, costing four specific resources to construct.  Ships cost two specific resources, while Coco tiles cost three.  Lairs are placed on the board on pre-printed circles, while ships are placed on the dashed lines between the circles.  Lairs can be constructed adjacent, so one does not need to worry about the distance rules that are present in Settlers.

One cannot dally too long when building ships and pirate lairs, as it is possible for prime routes – and, indeed, all routes – to be claimed by one’s opponents, thereby cutting-off expansion paths.  Resources are earned quickly, so building is never really a challenge.  You have been warned!

Coco tiles (named after the pirate’s mascot, Coco the parrot!) are similar to the development cards in Settlers.  Each one grants the player some benefit.  These benefits are immediate (resources, ship, pirate lair) and the player with the most Coco tiles gets to place one of his pirate lairs on Spooky Island, giving him one more lair and bringing him one step closer to victory.

The game ends as soon as one player places his final pirate’s lair, at which point he claims the victory.  The end arrives quickly – in 30 minutes or so.  There isn’t much time for long-range planning.

So what are the major differences between Junior Catan and Settlers of Catan?

* Roll one die instead of two dice for resource production.
* When moving the Ghost Captain, a player does not steal resources from an opponent.

* Players are not forced to discard resources when the ghost captain is moved.

* There is no trading between the players.  Rather, players trade directly with the marketplace and resource stockpile.

* Players may always trade two identical resources for one resource of their choice.

* Pirate lairs may be built adjacent; i.e. there is no need to skip a space between lairs.

* There is no upgrading of settlements into cities.

* Coco tiles are used immediately instead of having to wait a turn.

* There is no “largest army.”

* The theme is changed to pirates.

Collectively, these changes have proved instrumental in helping Teuber succeed in meeting his goal:  designing a simpler, more streamlined version of Settlers of Catan that is targeted towards families with young children.  The game now plays in a fraction of the time required to play Settlers, and there are few, if any, confusing rules.  Player interaction is kept to a minimum, and there are few actions a player can take that would be upsetting to an opponent.  In short, the game is certainly “child friendly.”

I will note that in an effort to be brief, the rules are silent on several issues.  For example, if a player constructs multiple pirate lairs along a hex, does he receive multiple resources when that space is activated by a resource roll?  The answer in regular Settlers is, of course, “yes”, but the rules here do not say.  We assumed “yes”, which does make the game play MUCH quicker. Also, as mentioned earlier, the manner in which the board is designed makes it quite possible for a player to have both of his lairs isolated, with all paths of expansion cut-off.  What happens then? Again, the rules are silent.  An attempt at brevity seems to have sacrificed some clarity.

I am a huge Settlers of Catan fan, so as an adult, Junior Catan felt far, far too simple for me. But I am not the target audience; young children are.  As such, I can see how this is a nice Settlers-style game that is easy to learn and plays fast.  As my friend and fellow gamer Dale Yu declares, gone is the nastiness of the robber, and trading is simple and easy.  No negotiations skills are required. These factors alone should help make the game accessible and enjoyable for a wide array of younger children.  The age range will most definitely be on the younger end of the scale, however, as children of middle school age or older should be able to handle regular Settlers.


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