Sunday, April 5, 2015

Settlers of Catan

I've been meaning to write about Catan for what seems like forever. Is it an excellent game? Yes. Clever, replayable, well-balanced, simple? Yes. Do I like it? No. No, I really don't. I try to like it, I really do. But I just don't care for it. One problem -- I can never remember the rules. Every time I play is like the first time. I find the rules so weird and counterintuitive (oh yeah, villages have to be two spaces away from other villages... oh yeah, longest road is important... oh yeah, there are two phases of play) that I can never remember them. You know, maybe that's my biggest gripe with Catan. It is a very thoughtfully designed abstract game that is pretending to be a simulation of something. But it is no more a realistic simulation of land ownership than Monopoly is, and at least Monopoly has the decency to print the weirder rules on the board and cards. And the other thing I don't like -- I really don't care for games that are about repeatedly stabbing each other in the back and ruining each other's plans. In some games, ill-effects come at random. In Catan, most ill-effects are intentional, and often cruel.

I'm not saying it is a bad game. If you like well-designed abstract strategy games with a thin veneer of simulation and cutthroat gameplay, it's an excellent choice. I marvel at the elegance of the mechanics every time I play it. Personally, though, I prefer less backstabbing and more simulation in my games. Sometime soon I'll write about The New Science, which is exactly my cup of tea.

Maybe I'd like it more if I could remember the rules? But that would mean playing it more often, and... yeah, I never quite feel like it.

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