What's Wrong With Catan?


{Theme Song Plays}

{background birds chirping/atmospheric effects}

Jake: "Welcome and hello to the show that features me and just happens to also include a bit of discussion about the game of Catan. I'm your host, Jake, and I have here in the studio with me today Kent Slocum, the founder of CatanFusion. Kent has been a regular on this show since the beginning. Kent, I think this is your third time on the show."

Kent: "Yeah, it is. We really need to find someone else for you to talk with."

Jake: "I'm glad you reminded me. I DO have someone else to talk with. It's your alter-ego, Mr. Louie!"

Kent: "What?"

Louie: "Hello, hello! So glad to be here."

Kent: "Um, I don't think he's going to be able to be on this podcast."

Louie: "Why not?"

Kent: "Well, voice-acting him is really tough."

Louie: "Oh, fine, I'll leave. I'll be back, though!"

Jake: "All right, let's get honest. You wrote a blog post about why Catan is almost the perfect game. But we both know that Catan isn't the only game out there. What are some of the downsides to playing Catan?"

Kent: "Well, I wrote that blog post from a strictly logical perspective, looking at a scientific breakdown of game mechanics. But yeah, people feel differently about Catan, for sure."

Jake: "What are some of those downsides?"

Kent: "Well, for one, there's the multi-player requirement. It's really hard for you to play Catan without three or more players.

Jake: "So you're saying that's a problem, when you can't find enough people to play with you?"

Kent: "Yeah. I mean, Catan is really well-balanced, but it gets pretty cutthroat with just two players, and the "dummy-player" variation that was introduced with Traders & Barbarians is kind of cumbersome."

Jake: "Can you explain how that mechanic works, though? You're saying that you can't just play the game with two players?"

Kent: "Well, you CAN, and that's the way CatanFusion recommends. But Klaus Teuber and the official Catan Team didn't envision all of the combinations and complexities that the CatanFusion system makes possible. So they figured the game would be too easy or too boring with just two players."

Jake: "Can you tell us how they tried to solve that problem?"

Kent: "Sure. What they did was require the players at the beginning of the game to set up some buildings and roads that belong to the other colors--the colors without any players. Then, throughout the game, various actions would trigger upgrades or additions to the "dummy" pieces."

Jake: "So what is the purpose of those pieces, if there isn't really a player of that color?"

Kent: "Well, they are simply stumbling blocks, things to slow down the other players. This served a purpose and worked well for the prescribed, hexagonal board that everyone is pretty familiar with. But once additional pieces are added, the preset placement for the pieces is no longer applicable. So the two-player setup is hard to use when doing the CatanFusion thing."

Jake: "Does the CatanFusion system solve this problem?"

Kent: "Not really. It just adds enough interesting stuff to prevent boredom when playing with two players."

Jake: "Okay, so we have a problem with small numbers of players. Does Catan have trouble with the opposite problem-- with higher numbers of players?"

Kent: "With the expansions, Catan technically handle up to six players. I'm disappointed that the Legend of the SeaRobbers expansion only allows four players. But of course, you can add as many new players as you like, as long as you can find the colors online. But the game really slows down around 5 players, even with the Special Purchase Phase at the end of everyone's turn."

Jake: "Is that a problem? I mean, how long can a turn get?"

Kent: "It is. Well, for casual Catan players, it can be a problem. Wait times of several minutes, maybe. Maybe longer. But most serious players understand that the added complexity takes more time to process. They respect that. Most of them are busy analyzing the other player's position and preparing for their own..."

Jake: "...their own turn..."

Kent: "their own response, anyway. So we've adopted a special Award Tile that was originally suggested by a user as a sort of house rule that has morphed into a really good idea."

Jake: "What's that?"

Kent: "Well, you can purchase it from our website, and it's a tile--an award--that is given to the player who has taken the longest turn so far, and it sort of punishes them by requiring them to earn more victory points in order to win."

Jake: "Does that...that handicap solve the problem?"

Kent: "A little. Mostly, it just adds tension, so there's that."

Jake: "Any other downsides to Catan? I know that not everyone's a huge fan."

Kent: "Oh, sure. I would never force anyone to play a game with me, because it's only fun if everyone's having fun, you know? But sometimes it's not like that. For example, there's the cost, for one thing. Even used Catan sets can go for a lot of money."

Jake: "So how much money did you spend on your Catan collection?"

Kent: "Well, I'm an outlier, because I bought the latest edition of all the core games, expansions, scenarios, and variants, plus a lot of custom game pieces, card-holding boards, sorting trays, holding bags, and card sleeves. I would say that was about $2000, maybe more. That's the upper limit."

Jake: "Wow. So maybe this will give us an idea of what's wrong with Catan. Too expensive."

Kent: "Yeah, if you buy it direct from the Catan Shop, definitely. Here's something funny. So I wanted to buy this necktie that they were selling online. But it was like $50. And I was NOT going to spend $50 on a tie. I also wanted The Legend of the SeaRobbers expansion, because it just came out. So I was going to kind of wait and see if the price went down for the expansion, but I sort of gave up hope on the tie. Then I get this email from the Catan Shop, offering the tie free, if I purchase The Legend of the SeaRobbers at full price."

Jake: "So you bought it."

Kent: "I went for it. It paid to wait, but I still probably ended up paying too much."

Jake: "What other games have you purchased for your collection?"

Kent: "Well, I kind of decided pretty early on that I would be an expert in just one type of game. So I invested really heavily in Catan, and then just picked up a few other games that are quicker to set up and faster to play."

Jake: "Speaking of faster play, Asmodee Digital has released a number of different Catan playing experiences, including a VR version of Catan. What do you think about the virtual reality game system?"

Kent: "Well, in theory, it's a really good idea. I was really excited about it. But there's two problems."

Jake: "And those are?"

Kent: "First, not all of the expansions are supported. Right now, you can only play the base game, Cities & Knights, and Seafarers. Hopefully, they will release updates for the remaining expansions."

Jake: "Let me guess your other complaint; you don't have a VR headset."

Kent: "Well yes, it would be rather difficult to enjoy VR without the right equipment. But that's not the big deal."

Jake: "So what is it?"

Kent: "I was expecting...I think a lot of people were expecting the VR experience to be immersive, with you actually on the island of Catan, or something like that. Really, you're just sitting in a virtual chair in front of a virtual table, playing on a virtual board. So the only real benefit is that you can play with friends who are logging in from far away, and there's no setup necessary."

Jake: "Faster to setup and play. That's a common complaint about Catan--it takes too long. Can you speak more about that? Is that true, in your experience?"

Kent: "Time flies when you're having a good time, but yes, I agree that the setup alone for Catan can take a half-hour or more. It's very time-consuming, because you've got to unpack all of the parts, sort them out..."

Jake: "You mentioned earlier that you have bags for sorting, though."

Kent: "Yes, but those are mostly just by color and card type. I still have to shuffle the decks and distribute the pieces. But that's part of the reason why the CatanFusion site has so many tutorials and walk-throughs: to make the process simpler. And one thing that I really like about the expansion The Legend of the SeaRobbers is that it has these tokens that are placed on the gameboard to mark where a good location for a building is."

Jake: "What kind of building?"

Kent: "The ones that players are putting down at the very beginning of the game. Players just pick one of these locations for a building, instead of having to agonize over where to put their building. We are working to incorporate those locations into our board maps, so that people can simplify this step."


Jake: "Well, we've covered a lot of ground in this episode. Is there anything else you would like to add?"

Kent: "I would say that Catan is not for everyone. Some people can't stand it. But don't let this podcast discourage you. Give it a try, check out our website, and have fun!"

Jake: "Thank you for listening to yet another episode of CatanQuest, the CatanFusion podcast, where we are in search of nuggets of information and fascinating facts about the game of Catan. I'm your host, Jake, inviting you to join us next time for more CatanQuest!"

What Are You Looking For?

Would you like to join our playtesting team? Send us a message to get started!