Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


“I developed games to escape. This was my own world I created."
February 18, 2014 12:24 PM   Subscribe

The New Yorker profiles Klaus Teuber: The Man Who Built Catan
posted by Going To Maine (106 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
If there is a board game I never ever get tired of playing, it is Settlers of Catan. If we have people over to play board games or get invited somewhere to play board games, you bet someone is gonna go, "What should we play next? How about Settlers of Catan?", and rarely does anyone go, "Naw." Even if you have played it a million times, it never gets old. It is exciting when you play with new folk--who are often immediately engaged with the game and seek out their own copies afterwards--and it is comforting and fun when you play it with old friends. It's just easy enough for newbies and just strategic enough for hardcore board gamers. And of course, the "wood for sheep" jokes never go unsaid.
posted by Kitteh at 12:33 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


We built this city;
We built this city;
We built this city on Rock and Wheat!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:35 PM on February 18 [39 favorites]


It's just easy enough for newbies and just strategic enough for hardcore board gamers.

And short enough that there isn't that long, slow grind like you get in Monopoly where it's obvious that one player is going to win but someone just won't fucking give up. Ten points, bam, you're done.
posted by Etrigan at 12:37 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


We just got the Seafarers expansion, and it's pretty fun. Adds just enough new stuff without totally reinventing the core game. Takes a while to set up, though, and jesus christ is it ever hard to get the board pieces to stay put. There's gotta be a better way to hold things in place. If any one piece is slightly warped, nothing else will stay where it's supposed to.
posted by echo target at 12:39 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Son of a bitch JUST beat me to market while I was prototyping my game Cattlers of Satan.
posted by COBRA! at 12:44 PM on February 18 [43 favorites]


Son of a bitch JUST beat me to market while I was prototyping my game Cattlers of Satan.
posted by COBRA!


Thats the one where you trade beef for….YOUR SOUL!
posted by ShawnString at 12:47 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


It was a neat game for its time (which, shockingly, was 1995) and Klaus Teuber deserves any recognition he gets for helping eurogames break into the (American) mainstream, but there are just sooo many games out there today that beats Settlers hands down. Puerto Rico, Power Grid, 7 Wonders, Troyes, Imperial ... it's still a decent gateway game though.
posted by brokkr at 12:47 PM on February 18 [8 favorites]


The revelation that Klaus plays in secret online (because people won't trade with him if he uses his real name) is delicious.
posted by chaiminda at 12:47 PM on February 18 [12 favorites]


I have soul for beef!
posted by echo target at 12:47 PM on February 18 [6 favorites]


Also, Shepherd's comment about the Doctor Who themed Settlers of Catan he made me for Christmas one year shouldn't go unread. We even had a woodmaker friend create His & Hers meeples for our wedding cake too.
posted by Kitteh at 12:48 PM on February 18


There's gotta be a better way to hold things in place.

My brother made something similar to this though he had a glass piece that layed over the top of it. the game pieces just rested on top. It doesn't work super well with the newer style game.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:48 PM on February 18


We built this city on Rock and Wheat!

Rock and Ore Roll
posted by mannequito at 12:48 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Son of a bitch JUST beat me to market while I was prototyping my game Cattlers of Satan.

We built this city;
We built this city;
We built this city on Bones and Souls!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


I enjoy imagining how the 4:1 resource trade plays out in-world. Like there's some mad king pressing his sheep into bricks and then paving his roads with them.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 12:49 PM on February 18 [26 favorites]


If we have people over to play board games or get invited somewhere to play board games, you bet someone is gonna go, "What should we play next? How about Settlers of Catan?", and rarely does anyone go, "Naw." Even if you have played it a million times, it never gets old.

I would disagree on the second and third points; I k ow that Eurogames are much less prone to sudden upsets than American-style games, but I have played Catan maybe thirty times and I would say twenty-eight of them, the winner was obvious from about fifteen minutes in and the remaining time was just playing out the inevitable. In other words, exactly how Etrigan -- and much of the world -- views Monopoly. Ironically, I find Monopoly more enjoyable previously previously previously (but then again I am that one person in multitudes who has actually played the game).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:51 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


There's gotta be a better way to hold things in place.

/r/boardgames posts about something like this at least once a week.
posted by Jpfed at 12:53 PM on February 18


Catan Jr. is also really good. My then-7-year-old daughter picked it up immediately, and it's still really fun for adults.
posted by jbickers at 12:58 PM on February 18


I both like Settlers of Catan and would generally prefer to play a newer game like Puerto Rico or (my favorite at the moment) Power Grid. But Catan is far from a non-starter with me, especially if the group contains newbies. It's biggest flaw, that the dice are capricious and can shut players out for resources even if they have lots of dots, is also a strength as it gives weaker players a chance, and its effect can be reduced with strategy (going more for a spread of numbers than raw dots) or eliminated by using the number cards optional rule.

Interesting fact. Our local Books-A-Million sometimes gives out receipt coupons that give you 30% off anything in the store, but the fine print on those always says, among the language that it doesn't apply on electronic items like Nooks, that it doesn't apply to Settlers Of Catan merchandise. None of the other board games have that stipulation. I wonder why it's special in that regard?
posted by JHarris at 1:03 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If you want to fall down the rabbit hole of board games generally with two Brits as your tour guides, begin listening to (and watching) the Shut Up and Sit Down podcast/video series collection thing.

Settlers of Catan is but the beginning of many worlds you may find yourself invested in, created by a great many men and women like Klaus Teuber.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:04 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Also, compared to Monopoly: in probably 90% of the Catan games I've played, there is still a fight between two players for the win, even if one player falls behind, and once in a while that trailing player still comes back, especially if he can leverage his last-place position to get beneficial trading deals with the other players.

And, of course, Settlers of Catan is a much, much shorter game than Monopoly.
posted by JHarris at 1:06 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Civ still eats its lunch, folks.
posted by xmutex at 1:07 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


My top 5 classic games I will always play are: Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, Stone Age.

But right now I am playing the crap out of Smash-Up at gatherings and Ascension on my iPad.
posted by Kitteh at 1:07 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


i used to be very into catan but after a few months of serious play i found that it, like all other games i have ever played, would be better if it were changed to be more like go. Other than that, its a good game.
posted by rebent at 1:07 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I enjoy imagining how the 4:1 resource trade plays out in-world. Like there's some mad king pressing his sheep into bricks and then paving his roads with them.

Or building cities out of them. "Stay put now Flossy, yer goin' ta be the cornerstone ova new Starbucks."
posted by JHarris at 1:08 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


Civ still eats its lunch, folks.

How do you feel about In Search of Lost Time compared to Leaves of Grass? That comparison makes about as much sense as Civ vs Catan.

And which Civ? The original? Advanced Civ? One of the two Sid Meier's Civs?

(Besides, I'd say Age of Renaissance is better than all of those, if you want to stay within Civ's actual genre.)
posted by kmz at 1:15 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was gonna say: Civ is a video game. Catan is a board game. This is apples to oranges, unless you were being persnickety for no reason at all.
posted by Kitteh at 1:17 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I both like Settlers of Catan and would generally prefer to play a newer game like Puerto Rico or (my favorite at the moment) Power Grid. But Catan is far from a non-starter with me, especially if the group contains newbies. It's biggest flaw, that the dice are capricious and can shut players out for resources even if they have lots of dots, is also a strength as it gives weaker players a chance, and its effect can be reduced with strategy (going more for a spread of numbers than raw dots) or eliminated by using the number cards optional rule.

I cut my teeth on a digital version which made games run 5-10 minutes long, and the problems with dice become more apparent when one can play at hyperspeed.

Interesting fact. Our local Books-A-Million sometimes gives out receipt coupons that give you 30% off anything in the store, but the fine print on those always says, among the language that it doesn't apply on electronic items like Nooks, that it doesn't apply to Settlers Of Catan merchandise. None of the other board games have that stipulation. I wonder why it's special in that regard?

Lower margins on Catan than other items?
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:17 PM on February 18


Catan has been around since '95? Holy crap! I just discovered this game about 3 months ago and my friends and I are loving playing it. I don't know where we've been.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:20 PM on February 18


Yeah, I was gonna say: Civ is a video game. Catan is a board game.

Well, there are actually various Civ boardgames, but they're hardcore strategy games that generally take 5+ hours to play, vs a casual German family game that takes less than an hour to play.
posted by kmz at 1:21 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I love this giant Catan set. (Played at a party a couple of years ago. Complete with giant dice!)
posted by epersonae at 1:23 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


It's biggest flaw, that the dice are capricious and can shut players out for resources even if they have lots of dots, is also a strength as it gives weaker players a chance

That's its biggest strength. It means that new players have a chance at winning against good players. The problem with Puerto Rico or chess or go is that good players destroy new players every single time. There is absolutely no chance for them.

Anyway, when evaluating a starting position, you should take into account not just the frequency, but also try to keep resources that are not used together on different numbers to mitigate being shut out.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:24 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


For people complaining about the dice - one Catan house rule I've heard of is using a deck of numbered cards with a number of cards of a given number equal to the number of dots. Instead of rolling dice, you draw the top card, reshuffling the deck when you run out.


That way you're guaranteed an even distribution over one cycle through the deck. There's still randomness of order and what happens to come up and what happens to come up on the final shuffle, but it does reduce the amount of chance in the game.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:24 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


The company originally sourced all of the materials for the game from Europe, but, when demand began to take off, the manufacturers didn’t have enough wood to keep up

Amateur move! You always want to have access to wood at the beginning of the game, then move on to ore and etc. I bet they built their first factory in New Zealand and couldn't offload their sheep for shit.

(This detail delights me.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:25 PM on February 18 [27 favorites]


Some neat things that Catan did (or popularized):

-The modular board increases replayability
-The resource roll ensures that other people's turns are nearly as interesting as your own
-The trading mechanic means that those behind can catch up, whereas those ahead are slowed down (but not crippled)
-The hidden victory point cards means that it's not always 100% apparent who is winning - maintaining tension for longer

That said, poor initial placement or poor rolls can make the game very boring very quickly. It's a groundbreaker, but there are better games out there now.
posted by Paragon at 1:25 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


I always thought it was strange how in the original Catan, the only black piece is the thief. (The thief is now grey.)
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:26 PM on February 18


Oh yay, another place where I can sing the praises of the Cities and Knights expansion. Seriously, it is the best. I actually have gotten a little sick of Catan after playing it so many times over the years, but when I can find people who will play it with Cities and Knights, it is the best thing.

Basically, C&K drastically increases the economy (by introducing paper, coin, and cloth) and axes the development cards in favor of a more sophisticated upgrade/reward system (and a third die!). It turns Catan--which is lovely, and user-friendly, but really quite basic--into something much more interesting and complex. It rather reminds me of the early days of Age of Empires, for example. So yeah, if you love Catan, please go get C&K. It is the BEST.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:27 PM on February 18 [10 favorites]


Catan is the Monopoly of modern boardgames.

I always thought it was strange how in the original Catan, the only black piece is the thief. (The thief is now grey.)

Note the color of the "worker" cubes in Puerto Rico.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:33 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I think the really interesting comparison between Monopoly and Cataan is they are the two family games most likely to incorporate local house rules. It says something that the two most popular games also are the games most likely to be adapted by the player to some local custom. Everyone on earth plays chess or Sorry or Operation the same way, the myriad of changes that both games are adaptable to says something about their appeal.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:38 PM on February 18


So for Sinterklaas two years ago my youngest brother got this game for the family and he and my parents (he still lives in with them) have been playing it roughly one or two times each week. It's short enough that they can start it at ten and still get to bed at a reasonable hour, but involved enough not to get boring.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:39 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Note the color of the "worker" cubes in Puerto Rico.

Ugh, yeah, that always bothered me. I mean, even without the color, you're dealing with "colonists" that work on plantations in the New World. Not exactly fooling anybody.
posted by kmz at 1:40 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Interesting fact. Our local Books-A-Million sometimes gives out receipt coupons that give you 30% off anything in the store, but the fine print on those always says, among the language that it doesn't apply on electronic items like Nooks, that it doesn't apply to Settlers Of Catan merchandise. None of the other board games have that stipulation. I wonder why it's special in that regard?

@JHarris, Mayfair has long had a 20% cap on the amount their games can be discounted.
posted by Hubajube at 1:41 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Good points all around. My family plays a lot of 3-player games, which means that when one person gets obviously ahead, the other two beat them down, which makes games closer. We almost exclusively now play C&K plus seafarers, the Wonders scenario, 15 points to win and you have to finish your Wonder. We also gave the Wonders special powers. For instance, the Great Wall protects from the Robber and the Barbarians while the Cathedral gives a Progress card of your choice whenever a number adjacent to it is rolled. It generally takes about 3 hours and every game is an epic struggle. Almost always at least 2 of us are very close to winning before one manages and at least 50% of the time all three of us are in the running to the very end. We also play with the fish (and the dreaded boot) and just got Frenemies of Catan for Christmas.

We enjoy Carcassone, Stone Age, Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, Kings of Air and Steam, Kingdom Builder, Pandemic, and more, but Catan keeps us coming back time after time. There's something about building a world, and then developing and inhabiting it that none of the others quite manage.
posted by rikschell at 1:42 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


We actually have a card game version of Monopoly, 'Monopoly Deal', that balances and chancifies the play significantly, speeds it up, and generally improves it. To quote the Significant Weasel, "They removed everything that sucked about Monopoly, and what's left takes about twenty minutes to play."

I'm not a huge Settlers fan, but anything that gets people into board games so I can con them into playing Ticket to Ride Europe with me is ok in my book. TUNNEL TO PETROGRAD FOR THE WIN!!!
posted by theweasel at 1:53 PM on February 18


There is a Settlers of Catan novelization. It is.. Not bad, but kind of unremarkable. Long historical fiction, basically.
posted by curious nu at 1:55 PM on February 18


As the earliest Settlers adopter in one of my friend groups, I like to refer to myself, jokingly, as a hipster of Catan. "Back when I got my set in 2006 I spent all summer looking for it! Now you kids can just get one at Target. Pfft."
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:04 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I have somehow managed to avoid playing Settlers for the last 19 years. I keep meaning to get around to it, but have not yet.

It's one of those things - I'm hoping another LA IRL with hints of board games happens soon.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:05 PM on February 18


Catan is the one of the most mean-spirited games I have ever played. Passive-aggressiveness to the max!
posted by zscore at 2:21 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I am 100% a European board game partisan, but I am duty-bound to note whenever the topic comes up that Monopoly gains significant appeal if you approach it less as a game than as a framework for creating any number of (admittedly nerdy) games. Plug in an equity exchange! Create a scheme for bank loans! Hell, with computer assistance, you could probably even do things like introduce the bank as an NPC (for timeliness points you could turn it into a cooperative game in which everyone plays against the bank), or add a derivatives market! All that's missing are the cuff links.
posted by invitapriore at 2:22 PM on February 18


Civilization is in fact a board game first. In fact, Meier admits to "borrowing" many of the technology tree ideas from the board game Civilization, published in the United Kingdom in 1980 by Hartland Trefoil (later by Gibson Games), and in the United States in 1981 by Avalon Hill.

And in fact they've remade Sid Meier's version back into a boardgame. So it's highly possible that that xmutex was in fact referring to a boardgame.
posted by Carillon at 2:22 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


I got Catan Jr. for a ridiculously low price at an after-Xmas sale last year and it's a very fun family game. I even picked up another copy for a kid birthday present and it was a hit as well.

Celsius1414, Tabletop Day is on April 5. LA meetup with games, anyone?
posted by mogget at 2:23 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Catan is the one of the most mean-spirited games I have ever played. Passive-aggressiveness to the max!

There is an unavoidable diplomatic aspect to it, since trading is such a large part of it, much more than Monopoly, in which there are only a handful of trades each game. In Catan, players constantly trade, which means you can't afford to burn your bridges. It can actually be a good strategy to avoid pulling too far ahead, since the further you are ahead of the other players, the less likely they are to want to trade with you. (Especially when visible points + saved development cards == 9. Good luck getting anyone to trade with you then, at least if they're players worth their salt.)

But if you want a downright evil game, you should play Carcassonne sometimes. If you're playing that against players who seriously are doing everything they can to win, then you have to be very alert to opponents creating traps to make it impossible to reclaim workers. Really strong Carcasonne players will likely know how many tiles of each type are left to play, and have an idea of how likely they are to get the one they need.
posted by JHarris at 2:30 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


(The excellent iOS version of Carcassonne lets you see how many of each tile is left in supply by default. It makes for a different kind of game.)
posted by JHarris at 2:31 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Civilization is in fact a board game first.

Being much more a boardgamer than a video gamer, I sometimes forget that this fact is not well-known. Civilization (the original boardgame) is good; Advanced Civilization is a home run. I would love to play it far more often than I do*, but alas, you need at least a half dozen people who can spare most of a day. I have rarely had so much fun.

*It has been a decade since I last played, I just realized. Now I haz a sad.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:32 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I hate Catan. Hate it.

It's not co-operative; nobody is doing anything exciting or interesting ('Wanna trade rope for cats? No? Guess I'll build some guttering, then'); the multitude ways to win that masquerade as strategic choices really just mean somebody has inevitably won a short way in and the rest of the game becomes redundant. It spawned a litany of other boring 'Go Fish meets Monopoly' games whose sales depend entirely on having pictures of old-timey people doing old-timey things on an old-timey box and a name nobody really understands, like 'Carcahambra'.

Contrast to, say, Forbidden Island (or Pandemic, or Flash Point: Fire Rescue), where everybody is in it together, and something exciting is always happening, all the way to the very end.

I'm off to be a motherfucking billionaire philanthropist helicopter pilot stealing ancient treasures, because they belong in a museum. Enjoy your Amish neck frills.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:32 PM on February 18 [7 favorites]


I cut my teeth on Catan in 2002-2003, by playing a crappy emulated version online (where you joined an IRC channel and spammed your IP address and port numbers + game type if you were hosting a game, and other people had to manually type your address in their client to connect). There was even an ELO type matchmaking. The people playing online were pretty competitive: I think I lost all my games for the first few days. But the games were so quick - you could burn through games in 5 to 10 minutes, and really iterate on your learning and strategy, trying out different strategies, and more importantly being able to see what the truly good players did that let them win games.

Then some people in real life started getting into it with a real board game set. It would take them an hour at least per game, if not longer. I think I won the first 9 games with them in a row until they banned me from playing it. It's just harder to learn the game properly with a physical board and the slowness it entails: it's harder to iterate on anything.
posted by xdvesper at 2:35 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


ricochet biscuit, that's the joy of vassal (or a cyber board set up I suppose). I just played a full game of Virgin Queen which took about about 3 sessions of 3 hours each. We got to save the board state and not have to devote a whole day to the process. Everyone's on hangouts video chat so it's pretty similar to in person. I recommend it if you just can't devote the time anymore to a day long endeavor.
posted by Carillon at 2:38 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I really like Settlers, though I never much cared for Spacefarers (despite it pushing all of my buttons, so I should enjoy it).

I've played a couple of games of Carcassonne and enjoyed them, and at some point I need to try Small World.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:41 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Enjoy your Amish neck frills.

This is how I feel about Agricola, which I loathe with a fiery fiery passion.
posted by Kitteh at 2:41 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


It sounds like that could be your group, obiwanwasabi. Sometimes a group will develop an idea that something is the way to play a game. In Settlers, there is a well-balanced tension between settlement points, city points, achievement cards and VP development cards. A group that gets it into their heads to ignore one of those sources will make the game longer than it should be.

Like, once you get to eight points, if you haven't already you should look to see if you can easily claim Longest Road or Largest Army and immediately win. And it's easy to overlook development cards at any stage of play; there are 25 development cards in the deck, and five of them are victory point cards. That's a one-in-five chance of getting a point, and even if you don't get one, the other possible benefits are strong, especially if you're depending on single hexes that are attractive robber targets.

The main thing I'd suggest for playing Settlers, though, is not to attack with the robber ("robble robble!") too early. Especially at the start, it's far more important to keep your trading avenues open than to form grudges with an early malicious robber placement. Among our group, we usually don't attack with the robber until a player hits five or so points. Maybe four, if everyone else is still at two.
posted by JHarris at 2:43 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


> I love this giant Catan set. (Played at a party a couple of years ago. Complete with giant dice!)

I just recently met people from the Burning Man camp that made this. They since gave it away to other Catan geeks.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:46 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If you like laying down hexes and building stuff I heartily recommend Suburbia. It's like cardboard SimCity and everyone I've introduced it to loves it. It's my favorite new game of last year.
posted by aldurtregi at 2:46 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Comments about Catan being a quick game always bewilder me because when my family plays, it takes hours. Are you guys using chess timers to keep it moving or are we just hopeless?

I always thought it was strange how in the original Catan, the only black piece is the thief. (The thief is now grey.)

Note the color of the "worker" cubes in Puerto Rico.


I'll add to this, one of the monsters in Elder Sign (which, don't even get me started--even at our ridiculous pace we could finish a game of Catan in less time than it takes us to set up Elder Sign) is The Black Man.
posted by payoto at 2:58 PM on February 18


Which expansion set adds rope and cats, please?
posted by Wolfdog at 2:59 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


I've played a couple of games of Carcassonne and enjoyed them, and at some point I need to try Small World.

Small World 2, the official video game adaptation, is $15 on Steam or $10 on Android or iOS, and it's basically a perfect translation of the game. I haven't so much as read or watched any tutorials (to the point that I don't know if they exist in-game) because it's such a perfect adaptation that everything Just Works in a way that I tend to dismiss as not possible.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:08 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I'll add to this, one of the monsters in Elder Sign (which, don't even get me started--even at our ridiculous pace we could finish a game of Catan in less time than it takes us to set up Elder Sign) is The Black Man.

The Black Man is actually an avatar of Nyarlathotep, and specifically Lovecraft's effort in Dreams in the Witch House to tie his mythos to New England witchcraft myths.

Not that it being Lovecraft really absolves it of racism, but it's not just some black guy- it's a thing people actually believed in at one point.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:12 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


The Black Man is actually an avatar of Nyarlathotep, and specifically Lovecraft's effort in Dreams in the Witch House to tie his mythos to New England witchcraft myths.

Not that it being Lovecraft really absolves it of racism, but it's not just some black guy- it's a thing people actually believed in at one point.


I did know that Elder Sign was taken from Lovecraft, but still, we all did a double-take at that one.
posted by payoto at 3:25 PM on February 18


My gaming group moved on from Catan years ago, after playing it very heavily for a few years. It launched pretty much all of our interest in Eurogames, but these days I would find it very difficult to put together a game.

A large part of moving on was being exposed to a lot of other games of all different types, but some of it is the stuff that obiwanwasabi touches on: the interaction mechanics leave a bit to be desired, especially amongst people who have played the game a lot. General paranoia tends to reduce trading between players in favor of trading with ports. And there is a certain lack of strategic depth.

Now we play a lot of Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Through the Ages (a wonderfuly complex civ-alike that translates the mechanics of the computer games to a form that works in a boardgame), Elder Sign (a cut down, much much much shorter, no nonesense version of Arkham Horror), Power Grid, and many others. We'll even organize all day events centered around Twilight Imperium.

These days I would probably use a game like 7 Wonders or Dominion to introduce someone to Euro-style games.

So while Catan was an important trailblazer and I'm really happy that it exists and it still enjoyed by many, I doubt I will play more than the extremely rare game of it again.
posted by grandsham at 3:41 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


This is how I feel about Agricola, which I loathe with a fiery fiery passion.

AYE. My best friend had the line of the night on it. "Huh, who woulda thunk. It's not fun to be a subsistence farmer."
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 3:41 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]


gingerbeer: "I just recently met people from the Burning Man camp that made this."

I like the depiction of the robber.

The article in the main link says: The company originally sourced all of the materials for the game from Europe, but, when demand began to take off, the manufacturers didn’t have enough wood to keep up. What, no port and corresponding resource to trade?
posted by exogenous at 3:46 PM on February 18


And in fact they've remade Sid Meier's version back into a boardgame.

I was browsing in a game shop about 12 years ago and the Civilization adaptation board game caught my eye. I asked the "clerk" about it and he started to read the back of the box to me. When I interrupted him to ask if he had heard anything positive or negative about it he said no, but "It's a heavy box, so you know it's good."
posted by ODiV at 3:57 PM on February 18


All that's missing are the cuff links.

Funny about that...
posted by Celsius1414 at 4:08 PM on February 18


I always thought it was strange how in the original Catan, the only black piece is the thief. (The thief is now grey.)

I have an older set, I guess. The "black thief from the desert" has been a cause of much "WTF CATAN?!" ranting in our household. Glad to know it's been updated for less wtf-ery.
posted by epersonae at 4:16 PM on February 18


Well of course I'll stick up for Agricola, I love it fiercely and have played 22-game streaks of it solitaire. (High score: 93)

I find that, among strong players, a lot of how well you do is tied up in which Occupations and Minor Improvements you get dealt though. And it isn't a game I'd introduce people to eurogames with, and it definitely needs to be taught. I'd suggest not giving up on it until you've seen Scott Nicholson's (of Board Games With Scott) tutorial video on it though.
posted by JHarris at 4:48 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I always like to picture the thief as a mountainous stone colossus that shambles out of the desert and squats on a certain landscape feature, rendering it physically inaccessible to farmers and miners. That just seems to make more sense to me, as a way of cutting off all access to the resource entirely, than a thief.
posted by branduno at 4:52 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


One fun one I recently discovered is "Euphoria" -- I guess it was a kickstartered game, but it's a Worker-Management game with the base being that each player is running their own dystopia, and has to keep their people happy enough to do what you tell them, but also dumb enough. I've only played it once at a Gaming Lounge (their house copy), but I dug it so much, I bought the company!

..No, wait, game. I bought the board game. From the store.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 4:59 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Even if you have played it a million times, it never gets old.

I've played it twice, and it was very old after the first time.

Games like Catan and Puerto Rico seem very constrained and rigid, unlike the simplicity of chess, checkers, or go, where the simplicity creates richness. If I was going to spend the rest of my life on a desert island with only one game, it would not be Catan.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:01 PM on February 18


Catan is still pretty great; I played a bunch online around 2003 or 2004, and played weekly games of six-player cities and knights (BY FAR the best expansion) for a year or so. At this point, it's more about playing people than the board for me... But still pretty fun!
posted by kaibutsu at 5:17 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


I would totally take over Catan over chess/checkers/Go (mostly because those games do not interest me one whit), but again, YMMV.
posted by Kitteh at 5:19 PM on February 18


Catan + expansions & scenarios dominate my household's game rotation currently. I do love how the various expansions add new elements to game play, especially when combined with scenarios. (We're lately into Carcassonne--with 2 expansions added in--and Ticket to Ride, but am very grateful for all the excellent suggestions in this thread!)

What I most love about Catan is how it made tabletop gaming with my fiancée and friends a centerpiece of our social activity. Good times.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:54 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Games like Catan and Puerto Rico seem very constrained and rigid, unlike the simplicity of chess, checkers, or go, where the simplicity creates richness.

I would disagree about Puerto Rico. It's more like Contract Bridge, in depth, than Chess, not about the variety of possible moves at any point, but about the difficulty in determining which is the best, and of reading your opponents. And over Bridge it has the advantage that there is very little hidden information or randomness in the game, which makes it something of a design marvel.
posted by JHarris at 5:58 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I have played more games of Catan than I want to try to think about. Then didn't play it at all for about 6 years and have started influencing some new people into playing board games.

Everyone wants to play Catan.

This is a good, but we don't play often enough for them to get sick of it and play some of the other games I'd really like to get out again (Adv Civ, History of the World, Puerto Rico, Egizia, Princes of Florence). Still, they may be at the stage now where I can introduce them to Cities & Knights, which is a far more interesting game than the original.

We rarely have short games though, which is partly the beginner factor and also because we tend to be fairly kind to each other rather than seeking out any opportunity for nastiness and exploiting it to the hilt. House rule of no robber on the first 2 turns, for example, and even when he does come out we tend to put him on unoccupied hexes in the interests of keeping the trade goods moving. If someone's taking too long to deliberate though we exhort them to "play like the Germans!"
posted by Athanassiel at 6:09 PM on February 18


Dip Flash: "Games like Catan and Puerto Rico seem very constrained and rigid, unlike the simplicity of chess, checkers, or go, where the simplicity creates richness. If I was going to spend the rest of my life on a desert island with only one game, it would not be Catan."

I dunno, I don't think this is a full accounting of the tradeoffs between these two classes of game. It's true that the multiplicity of entity interactions in a game seems to scale in some sense with the simplicity of those entities, but I think games like Catan make up for that lack by supplementing it with enhanced player interactions, which it's worth noting is a much richer problem space than any rule-based mechanic offers. Not that that richness is an unqualified good -- part of what makes a game a game is that its mechanics are much simpler than those of the real world -- but I think games like Catan strike a good balance between the two realms of player interaction and game-entity interaction.
posted by invitapriore at 7:09 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


JHarris: its effect can be reduced with strategy (going more for a spread of numbers than raw dots) or eliminated by using the number cards optional rule.

What's the number cards optional rule?
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:32 PM on February 18


jesus christ is it ever hard to get the board pieces to stay put. There's gotta be a better way to hold things in place. If any one piece is slightly warped, nothing else will stay where it's supposed to.

Friend has one of the plastic frames from here (http://catan-boards.theshoppad.com/), and man, if you play at all regularly, it's a wonderful thing. (In our house, on the other hand, we have the Star Trek-themed set, which is cute, but the plastic pieces are chintzy, and the addition of the specialty cards removes a lot of the social/trading element, which changes the game somewhat for the worse, IMO.)
posted by jferg at 8:42 PM on February 18


The number cards rule: Construct a deck out of index cards with numbers on one side. Include 1 "2", 2 "3"s, 3 "4"s, 4 "5"s, 5 "6"s, 6 "7"s, 5 "8"s, 4 "9"s, 3 "10"s, 2 "11"s and 1 "12". These numbers match the average probability each die roll will come up on two-sided dice.

Before the game, shuffle the deck. Instead of rolling dice, each player turns over one card at the start of his turn; this is his die roll for the turn. Don't return drawn cards to the deck, instead form a discard pile with them. Once the deck is exhausted, shuffle and make a new deck out of them.

You don't have to use index cards; I heard somewhere that they actually sell an official set of die roll cards for the game, which would give the rule a quasi-official status. The advantage of the system is that it preserves some unpredictability while ensuring all numbers turn up eventually, as frequently as they "should," so no freakish streaks without rolling 6 or 8, no several-turn sequences rolling "3" (as memorably happened to us once), etc.
posted by JHarris at 9:39 PM on February 18


Oh I would not like that number card variation.

In our group there is a player who is a private equity finance type, very data driven, and it ruins him that the numbers don't come up "as they should."

That's half the fun of the evening (depending on the die rolls).
posted by notyou at 10:52 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Well, it depends on how seriously you're playing. Playing with players of unequal skill, then sure, it's no fun to lose all the time, while good players will still win more often overall. But if all the players are playing seriously, then it can harm one's enthusiasm for the game to make statistically good decisions but the thwarted, in an individual game, because the dice have decreed that this game has been brought to you by the number 10. And it makes sure that players who get stuck with bad settlement locations will at least get some resource income.
posted by JHarris at 12:15 AM on February 19


...each die roll will come up on two-sided dice.

ARGH. I should have written: "each roll will come up on a pair of six-sided dice." Two-sided dice, indeed!
posted by JHarris at 12:16 AM on February 19


The rule I've seen for alleviating the pain of bad dicerolls is beans- if you don't get a resource on a turn, you get a bean instead, and you can cash in I think it was five beans (okay, pennies) for any resource you can produce, and must immediately.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:20 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


I have been playing the Android version on my commute and it includes both of those rules as options. There are actually 3 options for the dice: random, stack of cards & stack of cards minus five (which I use). The phone version also creates a histogram of die rolls so you can see it's normal.

And I think an important part of any game is that the statistically better options aren't actually better all the time. That's how statistics work, how life works and why you actually play the game.
posted by mountmccabe at 4:35 AM on February 19


Right. But the randomness that works well over many games doesn't have a chance to even out over a single game, and people rarely play more than once or twice in a row.

Many factors make the act of choosing where to build in Settlers interesting. But actual income it is very random; there is no protection under the default rules from be outright stiffed for resources by the dice, no matter how well you prepare. Even if you decide to go for diversifying your covered numbers, you can't cover them all with your initial two settlements, and I've seen games where 6 or 8 came up like once the whole game. That is to say, for experienced players, resource income is too random.

There is a school of thought among experienced board gamers that considers randomness in a game to be bad design. I don't necessarily subscribe to that, but I do think it needs to be used carefully. The problem with the randomness in Settlers of Catan is that, ultimately, there is no safeguard against it, only mitigating factors, and that pushes the game towards luck playing a large role. If there were some way to tell ahead of time what the dice would do, even if it was fallible, I think it would help make the design more skill-based -- although, as I and others have pointed out, that's not necessarily a good thing if you're looking for more casual play.

(I've thought a fair bit about this in my own design work, about ways to have semi randomness in a game. One of my ideas is to use cards with non-uniform backs; since the top of a draw deck is visible to all the players, they can use the different backs, as well as public knowledge of overall deck composition, as a clue to what card will come up next. This is one aspect of a political simulation game I've worked on sporadically for awhile.)
posted by JHarris at 5:05 AM on February 19


One of the Catan expansions comes with a deck, with two added changes

1-some of the numbers do extra things
2-Theres a "shuffle" card.

That second one reduces the problem of everyone knowing which numbers are going to turn up, while maintaining randomness.

Randomness is fine in games if theres enough time for it to fall evenly. A game with lots of dice rolls will usually even out, but if a game is designed such that an early lead can cascade, then this can lead to problems. Catan is like that, in that an early run of your numbers can give you a new settlement/city which willl continue to benefit you. Of course Catan has a way to deal with this in that you can refuse to trade with someone who has a clear early lead.

The really bad aspect of Catan's randomness is that if a key resource, say wood is on 6 and 3 (say) and neither come up for a very long time it can make the game extremely slow.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:00 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


JHarris: "(I've thought a fair bit about this in my own design work, about ways to have semi randomness in a game. One of my ideas is to use cards with non-uniform backs; since the top of a draw deck is visible to all the players, they can use the different backs, as well as public knowledge of overall deck composition, as a clue to what card will come up next. This is one aspect of a political simulation game I've worked on sporadically for awhile.)"

Rather than constrain the randomness, why not constrain its effect? 100 + rand(0, 10) is going to vary less in relative magnitude between successive draws than rand(0, 10) will.
posted by invitapriore at 7:51 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


Two-sided dice, indeed!

Or as we call them in the field, "coins".
posted by Elementary Penguin at 9:02 AM on February 19 [6 favorites]


I have no opinion about settlers other than to say: it's pronounced CAT-AN. Everyone else is wrong.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:51 AM on February 19


I have no opinion about settlers other than to say: it's pronounced CAT-AN. Everyone else is wrong.

It never occurred to me that it was in doubt. On the other hand, I have found that 100% of my admittedly small survey of games store proprietors pronounces Agricola as thought it were a refreshing carbonated beverage. Somewhere my high school Latin teacher (who was ancient in my day) stirs uneasily in her grave.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:35 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


it's pronounced CAT-AN. Everyone else is wrong.

The Teubers and Mayfair say it's 'kuh-TAHN'. My circle says 'kuh-TAN' despite my efforts to convert them. I know not this 'KAT-an' you speak of.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:44 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Rather than constrain the randomness, why not constrain its effect? 100 + rand(0, 10) is going to vary less in relative magnitude between successive draws than rand(0, 10) will.

TIADB ("This Is A Derail, But....")

It's not so much the numbers as how they're used. Design-wise, there's no difference between having cards numbered 0-9 and telling players to add 100 themselves, and having cards numbered 100-109. But even scaled up values like that can effectively add the same amount of random uncertainty if enough weight is put on them, that is to say, if the difference between 100 and 109 matters that much to the players, while adding 100 to everything makes the arithmetic harder. The suggestion of your statement is, basically, to reduce the weight on the randomness, which may or may not be acceptable, based on the details of my design. (Really, randomness is played around with in a couple ways in my politics game design, non-uniform card backs is just part of it.)

If enough weight is applied to the values generated, it's still effectively randomness players have limited means of combating. Cards are better at that than dice though, since players still have some sense of what's coming up in the deck.
posted by JHarris at 1:59 PM on February 19


Ah, I worried I miscommunicated there! I didn't mean my example so much in the sense of literal quantities, but rather exactly like you say -- adjusting the weight of the randomness, either numerically or, preferably, through the mechanics of the game. I think of it kind of like nondeterministic programming, where in spite of the fact that there is ambiguity in certain inputs we can nonetheless state some invariants about the output. That seems nicer to me than adding predictability, but I say that as someone who doesn't really know dick about game design, so I guess it's really just an arbitrary preference.
posted by invitapriore at 8:53 PM on February 19


You know, obiwanwasabi is pretty much right. Why do we like this game? It seriously isn't very exciting. I mean, I've liked it well enough when playing it, but why did it catch on so much?

I think I'm more about Apples to Apples in groups, myself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:39 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


There is a school of thought among experienced board gamers that considers randomness in a game to be bad design.

Friend of mine is really, really fucking good at boardgames. When you're up against him, you're competing for second. And he hates randomness like it punched his mom. Hates to play a game with a die instead of a dice deck, loves Caylus and Agricola.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:41 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


Part of why Catan caught on, I think, it is that it is a good introductory game, that newbies and experienced players can play together. And part of it is a right place/right time thing, and it's handled by Mayfair, a pretty good games company overall I believe, and they branded it very well.

That seems nicer to me than adding predictability,

The difficult thing is making the game random, but not completely random. Too random and you basically have a casino game, which tend to really only become interesting when money is on the line, and even then I, at least, find them tiresome. Not random enough and you might end up playing the same game every time, which seems like it might be a problem with Uwe Rosenberg's sequel to Agricola, Caverna (which, I should note, I haven't played yet).

One way to remove some of the randomness is through interpretation (like rolling on a chart in an RPG). Another is to reduce the impact of the randomness on the game, or as I call it above its weight, so it tends to really matter to the outcome mostly in edge cases. And you can give players ways to counter that randomness, through prediction or control, so it's not just the completely unpredictable winds of chance, so it can be planned for with enough skill and insight.

The absence of this last one, I think, is the problem some experienced players have with Catan's resource dice. If the dice don't like you in a given game there's nothing you can do. It just shuts you down utterly. No cities, settlements, roads or development cards. You can't even try to trade for things, since the rules say all trades must be at least one resource for at least one resource.

To Pope Guilty: I think randomness can serve a game well, but experienced players are going to want to know its limits. One trick many popular eurogames use to remove randomness while still making things random-like is to make the system chaotic by compounding the decisions of multiple players. You might be able to predict a single player's behavior, but two or more can present unexpected dynamics no matter how experienced you are. This is what Puerto Rico does, and also worker placement games like Caylus and Agricola, since the actions of previous players block actions for later ones. In those two games, I note, this is actually the primary form of player interaction, denial of opportunity.
posted by JHarris at 3:31 AM on February 20 [3 favorites]


You might be able to predict a single player's behavior, but two or more can present unexpected dynamics no matter how experienced you are.

This is very prevelant in Eurogames, and leads to lots of discussion of the "ideal" number of players. I know a lot of people don't like 5 player Puerto Rico for instance because it becomes extremely difficult to guess what's going to happen across 5 players.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:01 AM on February 20


Yeah. Puerto Rico tries to offer some protection against it in that, if someone else takes the role you wanted, you'll still get to do that thing generally, although minus the role bonus and doubloons for taking the role. And there's a greater chance of getting blocked when your turn comes up in phases.

The way I try to handle it when I play is by tracking those rounds where I'm Governor. The round before that you'll get a turn, and then because you'll go first the next, there will be fewer turns than usual between your role selections, and the bane of the Puerto Rico player, the player on his right, won't get a role between them. In a five-player game, that will be just three, which is a good as it gets with five players. The tradeoff is, after you act on the Governor round, you go last on the following round, meaning eight more turns between then and your next role selection. And, of course, the other players will be operating under the same constraints.
posted by JHarris at 12:07 PM on February 20


I lost a lot of interest in Catan the day we played a game and not a single 5 was rolled. Ever. The entire game. It meant that there was zero chance that two of the players would be even in contention. I wouldn't consider myself a hardcore gamer, but that experience was just so unfun that I'm somewhat skeptical of how chance driven Catan is.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:13 PM on February 20


I've had a game in which '8' turned up once (GUESS WHO HAD SETTLEMENTS ON BOTH 8s), but '3' showed up repeatedly.

I've also had a game in which a combination of high dice luck and starting settlements heavily favoring Wheat and Ore got me my second city on my second turn. I went on to win after about half an hour. (Catan usually last about an hour and a half.) It remains the only cause of a solid Catan blowout I've ever seen, even without much trade with the other players I went on to easily use 4-for-1 trades to get roads and settlements, and from there upgrading them to cities was a snap.

But that was the only such Catan blowout I've ever seen. To play counter to some of my own arguments above, no-5 games aren't particularly common, and it helps that the game is usually not tremendously long. Agricola and Caylus both can reach the three hour mark, but a player behind in those games is likely to stay there, especially if, in the former game, he's been burdened with Begging Cards. (BTW, if you like Agricola but don't like the Begging Cards, might I suggest looking at Uwe Rosenberg's follow-up game Le Havre? It has loans, which are like Begging Cards, but unlike Agricola they're not a death sentence, and in fact there are a couple of good strategies in which you get several of them, sometimes on purpose in order to keep yourself liquid and hold off on buying ships for awhile.)
posted by JHarris at 3:06 PM on February 20


« Older "Finlayson’s attitude to language can be related t...  |  'Looking': On Bottom Shame.... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments