Catan Junior – A Written Review
Review #41 – For All Your Board Game News and Reviews Visit 2D6.org!
Catan Junior By Klaus Teuber – Art By Patricia Raubo – Published By Mayfair Games
“Land ho!” screeches Coco the parrot. He is on the lookout, circling high above your ships. In front of you lie the islands of Catan: many small islands with lush forests, golden yellow sugar cane fields, and volcanic cliffs studded with mysterious caves—an ideal home for adventurous pirates! You immediately build your first pirates’ lairs and your first ship, and since the islands abound with goods and treasures, you soon are able to build more ships and pirates’ lairs.
As you explore the group of islands further, you discover a towering isle laden with fabulous gold treasures. And while everyone is busy trying to be the first to build a pirates’ lair on the gold island, Coco comes back from a reconnaissance flight. All agitated, he screeches: “Ghost Captain! Ghost Captain!”
What terrified Coco was the gloomy fortress on Spooky Island, built on a lonely rock surrounded by treacherous waters. Soon the Ghost Captain will notice that he is no longer the sole ruler of the islands of Catan. Then he will try to prevent you from advancing further, wherever he can. But who knows—if the Ghost Captain bothers you too much, maybe Coco, your loyal parrot, will come to the rescue …”
* * * * * * *
Catan Junior, is a children’s game of resource management (and barter with the advanced rules) for 2-4 players ages 6 and up. Players will manage resources, build sea lanes of trade, and try to be the first player to place all 7 Pirate Lairs onto the game board. It’s not as simple as it seems though the Dread Ghost Captain can block supply lines and other players can block your sea lanes making victory require some planning and adaptability. Resources are never guaranteed, the roll of the die will decide which resources are generated for each player at the beginning of each players turn. Fortunately you can trade resources with the marketplace at a 1 for 1 trade ratio, the stockpile at a 2 for 1 ratio, or even with other players if you use the advanced trade rules.
Can you manage your 5 resources, build ships to expand your network, explore the ring of tropical islands, and be the first to create your 7th Pirate Lair? Catan Junior simplifies without dumbing down the elegant mechanics of the classic Catan series to create a game for swashbucklers of all ages.
What’s In The Box
Catan Junior comes in a standard sized game box that includes a great molded box insert that separates the games components between 2 molded wells. The box is made out of thick durable cardboard and should survive the wrath of most 5 year olds for at least a little while.
106 Resource tiles
1 Double Sided Game Board
4 Building Cost Tiles
32 Plastic Ships In Four Colors
28 Pirate Lairs In Four Colors
1 Dread Ghost Captain
All of this ill gotten booty can be yours for $30.00. Of course some grand swashbuckling swordplay might save you a few Gold Doubloons!
Cardboard Tokens: Catan Junior comes with quite a few cardboard tokens that are large, thick, colorful, durable, double sided, and contain large icons instead of text that is very easy to understand. The larger resource tokens are great for slightly less dexterous younger fingers making them easy to pick up and manipulate. They are also easy to distinguish with an eye towards simplistic designs and while they may not perfectly logical – sheep help you build pirate ships… really? – I can understand the design choices that are trying to bridge the Catan game with symbols that will excite younger minds. My 4 year old son loves to use the cutlass resource token as a cutlass anytime he makes a grand move “Ah ha! Take that daddy!” and I am having trouble convincing him the Molasses barrel is anything but a large barrel of TNT explosives. Again they are not logical but they are obviously designed with an eye towards younger minds and shapes that will excite them.
Game Pieces: The game pieces are made out of hard molded plastic shaped like Pirate Ships and Pirate Lairs. The pieces are actually surprisingly detailed for a $30.00 younger children’s game. The Pirate ships have the Jolly Roger on the Mainsail and portholes are visible on closer examination. The Pirate Lairs look like a small fortress on a rocky cliff that sits above a cave that would be perfect for a ship to dock in, basically a pirates dream base of operations. The plastic is very hardy and durable reminiscent of some of the higher quality (and price) miniature games on the market today, one warning though, they are small enough to be a choking hazard. This isn’t a fisher price game so that shouldn’t dissuade your interest.
Game Board: The game board is double sided much in the same way as another classic board game “Small World” with one side depicting a smaller group of islands for 2 players and the reverse depicting the full sized map for 3-4 players. The game board is very colorful and thematic with extra artistic flourishes like carts where you place tradable resources, small visible farms on the islands, marine life swimming through the water, and even little pirate ships sailing around Spooky Island. The icons on the islands are very easy to read making it easy to discern which resources are gained and which die roll will select which island. Again everything seems to be designed with an eye towards younger players and making the game play simpler for them.
Rulebook: The foldout 6 page rulebook is very easy to read and contains numerous illustrations explaining the game play mechanics. Honestly though the game is very simple and besides for a very minor rule ambiguity that I can see being interpreted both ways if someone doesn’t pay close enough attention to the wording of the rules, the game is very easy to understand from the rules as written.
Components and Presentation Verdict: 10/10 The component quality is top notch especially for a $30.00 game. To be honest when I originally saw the price point I assumed I would be getting a box full of cardboard and was pleasantly surprised when I saw quality cardboard, 61 quality plastic game pieces, and a quality multicolored die. The game board is very pleasing to the eye and all the components seem to have foresight put into them from the size of components to the simplicity of everything, decisions were made in an effort to help younger children grasp the game.
How Does It Play?
Catan Junior is a resource management game with route building and some future planning skills being put into play. Players will gain resources on their turn based on a die roll and the location of Pirate Lairs. Players will then use those resources to barter for other resources and build their sea lane routes to connect and build Pirate Lairs. The victor will be the first player to place their 7th Pirate Lair on the board.
Building Costs Tile: Each player starts the game with a Building Costs Tile that acts as a reminder of the costs of game actions. Building a Pirate Lair requires a player to spend the 4 listed resources, Pirate Ships require the expenditure of the 2 listed resources, and finally purchasing a Coco Card requires spending the 3 listed resources.
Game Pieces: Each player starts with 7 Pirate Lairs and 8 Pirate Ships in their chosen color. 2 Pirate Lairs are placed on a preset location on the board at each of the 2 circles in the players color on the game board. Each player also places one Pirate Ship along the colored dotted line matching their chosen color leaving each player with 5 Pirate Lairs and 7 Pirate Ships. Players will build Ships and Lairs but the trick is they have to connect to each other to form a complete route AND they have to alternate Lair, Ship, Lair, Ship, etc. So a player cannot just build all 7 Lairs and win they game because each Lair needs to be connected to a Pirate Ship placed along one trade route dotted line. There is also the Pirate Ghost who is placed on the board if a player ever rolls a 6 on the die. Only the player who rolled the 6 gets to choose which island the Pirate Ghost will go to and that player gains 2 copies of the resource listed. The Ghost Captain also prevents the island he is on from producing the resource listed when the matching die result is rolled on the die. The Ghost Captain stays on the Island until a Coco Card or another roll of the die moves him again.
Coco Cards: The Coco Cards are placed face down and drawn randomly whenever a player pays the 3 resources to draw a Coco Card. Coco Cards can produce 4 resources (interestingly Gold is not one of them), allow a player to move the Ghost Captain, or allow a player to build a Pirate Ship or Lair free of charge. A Coco Card takes effect the moment it is drawn but is never discarded after being drawn. Normally Spooky Island doesn’t produce any resources but whichever player currently has the most Coco Cards is allowed to place a Pirate Lair on top of Spooky Island. This Pirate Lair on Spooky Island does count towards the victory condition of having all 7 Pirate Lairs on the board. The trick to Spooky Island is that as soon as you no longer have the most Coco Tiles you must remove your Pirate Lair from Spooky Island and place it back in your pile until you or another player again has the most Coco Cards in their possession.
Resource Tiles: The 5 resources are Cutlass, Molasses, Gold, Wood, and Sheep. Pirate Lairs require Cutlass, Molasses, Sheep, and wood to build. Pirate Ships require Sheep and Wood to build. Gold is the more challenging resource to obtain due to its location on the Map but it is still obtainable through trading with the market and stockpiles and is used along with Cutlass and Molasses to gain Coco Cards. Trading with the Marketplace is at a 1 for 1 trade Ratio but trading with the stockpile requires 2 matching resources to be traded for 1 resource from the stockpile.
Setup is fairly quick and simple.
1 – Each player chooses a color.
2 – Place 2 Pirate Lairs and 1 Pirate Ship on the board in your chosen colors location.
3 – Place 1 of each resource in the marketplace.
4 – Shuffle Coco Tiles and place them face down.
5 – Place the Ghost Captain on Spooky Island
6 – Give each player 1 Wood and 1 Molasses
7 – Each player takes 1 building costs tile.
You are now ready to play
Rulebook Turn Summary.
Youngest player goes first.
– On a players turn –
Roll the die – This has to be a players first action. If the die roll is a 1-5 each player (even if it is not their turn) will get 1 resource for each Pirate Lair adjacent to the Island selected by the die roll. For example if a 4 is rolled each player who has a Pirate Lair next to the Island in the lower left hand corner of the map will receive 1 cutlass for each Pirate Lair they have next to that island. Additionally since there is another Island with a 4 on it each Pirate Lair next to that Island will gain that player 1 Molasses Resource. If a player rolls a 6 on the die then they may move the Ghost Captain to any island of their choice and gain 2 of that islands resources (only the player who rolled the 6 gets the 2 resources).
– Then in any order –
Build - On your turn, you can use resources to buy Coco tiles, build pirates’ lairs and/or ships. You may build and buy as long as you have the required resources to do so.
Trade – You may trade once per turn with the marketplace on a 1 for 1 ratio. Taking one resource from your own supply and trading it with any of the 5 resources in the marketplace. If at any time all 5 resources in the marketplace are exactly the same they are all discarded and replaced with 1 of each of the 5 resources.
Trade with the Stockpile - Take any one resource tile from the stockpile, but in exchange, you must replace it with two of your own resource tiles. Your two tiles must be a matched pair. Unlike the marketplace, you may trade with the stockpile as many times as you wish, or are able.
END OF THE GAME
As soon as a player builds all 7 pirates’ lairs (A pirates lair on Spooky Island also counts) the game immediately ends and that player wins.
A sample game might look something like this:
It is Red’s turn and they currently have 1 Cutlass and 2 Molasses. Red rolls the die getting a 6. Red places the Ghost Captain on the left gold producing island and gains 2 gold resources. Red purchases 1 Coco Tile by spending 1 Cutlass, 1 Molasses, and 1 of the just gained gold resources leaving them with 1 Gold and 1 Molasses. Red Draws a Coco card and gets a resource gaining Coco tiles that gives them 2 Sheep and 2 Cutlasses leaving them with 2 Sheep, 2 Cutlasses, 1 Molasses, and 1 Gold. Red Trades 1 Cutlass with Marketplace for 1 wood. Red finally trades 1 Sheep and 1 Wood to build a Pirate Ship and places it on the board. Red currently owns the most Coco Tiles so they also place 1 Pirate Lair on Spooky Island.
Red ends their turn and it is now the next players turn.
Simplicity of the Rules: 9.5/10 The rules are extremely simple to grasp involving simple trading of resources for other resources to make purchases and simple matching to make purchases. Simple enough that even a 4 year old can play.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Catan Junior is a children’s game of dice rolling and resource management for 2 -4 players ages 6 and up. It requires matching of shapes, the ability to plan how to gain missing resources, and strategy including blocking other players from gaining resources with cleverly placed trade routes and judicious use of the Ghost Captain. The components are all extremely child friendly and the game can be played by pre-readers due to the use of shapes versus wording on the games components.
It is possible to “Pick on” another player by constantly placing the Ghost Captain on an island dominated by one player which might frustrate some very young players but that frustration minimizes quickly when they realize they can use this tactic to gang up on daddy. Very young children might need minor suggestions about prioritizing moves the first few times they play but after a few plays even my 4 year old son had zero problems playing and enjoying Catan Junior.
Family Friendliness Verdict: 9.5/10 Catan Junior is a fantastic children’s game with mechanics that are easy to grasp yet not mind numbing like some of the more mainstream Parker Brothers games. It easily plays with up to 4 allowing 2 parents and 2 children or 1 parent with 3 children to easily set up and play a quick game.
Catan Junior is a very quick playing game with a double sided board that helps balance the game for any player count. The 2 player board uses fewer islands so the game still plays quickly and allows players to block each others trade routes. The 4 player game is also well balanced and close knit keeping the player interaction up. A 3 player game can be ever so slightly biased towards the player who doesn’t have an opponent starting nearby but the difference is miniscule and is slightly mitigated by the location of each players secondary Pirate Lair. Catan Junior plays quickly ending in under 30 minutes once the game is set up no matter how many players are involved and it doesn’t feel like it is dragging on (unless someone is abusing the Coco cards – see comments below).
* Great thematic choice, who doesn’t like pirates?
* Simple yet elegant mechanics that a very young child can grasp.
* Kids game that isn’t a mind numbing “Roll and Move”.
* Fantastic quality of components especially for the price.
* Fun for multiple age ranges.
* Teaches resource management skills and prepares younger players for some of the more robust Euro-games.
* Coco cards are overpowered if allowed to be chain purchased in a single players turn.
* I would have liked to see a 5-6 player board, families with 5 children are fairly common these days.
But Is It Fun?
Catan Junior serves as a fantastic introduction to some of the more advanced Euro games that I am sure many of us have in our game collections. It isn’t easy to go from Candyland to Catan but I can sure go from Catan Junior into Catan and eventually Eclipse (Soon… very soon!). I personally equate playing roll and move children games like Candyland, Cootie Bugs, and Chutes and Ladders to games that a 2-3 year old should play to learn very basic counting but beyond that they do not offer much in the way of strategy. That is why I am thankful for some of these fantastic Euro games made for younger children entering the gaming market. Kids of Carcassonne used to be my all time favorite children’s game but now I think it has an equal contender battling for family game time.
Catan Junior has numerous design choices directed at younger players but at the same time it remains enjoyable for adults to play. Children love pirates and the Pirate theme is prevalent but doesn’t interfere with the game play. The mechanics of the game are “Catan simplified” but as I stated I didn’t at any time feel like I was just playing a “dumbed down” cash crab based on a license. I can see all the decisions that were made in the pursuit of making this game very family friendly.
There are 2 minor negatives to the game though, one is fixable and the other… not so much! The Coco Tiles can be problematic and overpowered if you follow the rules. It is very easy for a player to purchase a Coco tile, use the resources gained from that Coco Tile, buy another Coco Tile, and simply repeat. Not only does this really slow down the game as a player micro manages how to get more Coco tiles it also allows players to create a easy way to gain more Pirate Lairs/Ships since that is a possible reward for Coco Tiles. Don’t forget having the most Coco Tiles also grants you a Pirate Lair on Spooky Island. The simple fix for this is limiting the purchase of Coco Tiles to no more than once per turn (like the Marketplace) this seemed to fix the imbalance issue. The other negative is that it is limited to only 4 players. Hopefully we will see a 5-6 player expansion with a new board released for this game sometime in the future. Heck it seemed to work with all the other Catan games (subtle hint and request here Mayfair Games!).
I like games teaching my children advanced skills that require them to reason through a dilemma, they know the victory condition; the challenge for them is getting to that condition. This is honestly something a basic roll and move game can never teach and why I think most children get bored with board games easily, they realize that they are at the mercy of a polyhedron and their decisions are irrelevant. I really hope more games like Catan Junior make their way into the gaming market because they are really popular with my 2 sons.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 9.25/10 Great price, great components, all in a great family game that doesn’t feel like it is insulting my intelligence. This is a great game for anyone looking for a family game to play with children ages 4 and up!