In a previous blog post, we explained the history behind Catan's immense fame. The unanswered question, however, was "Why is Catan so much fun to play?" Luckily for us, the gamers and players at Board Game Geek have long discussed this very issue. In this blog post, we break down the eleven pitfalls that "bad" games fall into, and then we explain how Catan expertly avoids all of these dangers to create a truly enjoyable gaming experience.
- Lack of Control: When players feel that they have no control over the conclusion of the game (see #2 below), they often resent the game, or discount the success of other players. Games of pure luck, such as Candy Land, epitomize this flaw. Settlers, on the other hand, requires skill and strategy in addition to luck.
- Lack of Options: Even if a game is based purely on luck (such as Yahtzee), options give players the illusion of control. Without options, players feel powerless, resulting in the same feelings as above. With its purchase mechanic, Settlers has a plethora of options available at all times, which makes players feel “in control,” even though they are dependent upon the harvest, same as everyone. Catan expansions add even more choices, but bring danger of Analysis Paralysis (see #11 below).
- Poor Player Order: Many card games bestow a distinct advantage (or disadvantage) upon the player who goes first. In UNO, it is usually best to go first, because you win by using up all of your cards first. Settlers, however, eliminates many turn-based constraints by allowing many actions to occur simultaneously (or nearly so) for all players. For example, everyone can harvest resources at the same time, make trades, and make purchases (during the Special Purchase Phase), even on another player’s turn.
- Runaway Leader: Monopoly is a classic example of this flaw. Once a player has purchased enough properties (or certain properties of very high value), they quickly amass large quantities of wealth, bankrupting opponents (see #5 below). This makes the game no fun for players who have fallen behind and have no hope of catching up. In order to counteract this, Settlers uses a number of gameplay mechanics to help struggling players, such as the favor token system, the Villains, the Richest/Poorest Settler awards, and the Old Boot tile.
- Player Elimination: As mentioned above, this flaw ruins the “playability” of many games, alienating players. In Jenga, when one player topples the tower, all the others win. This makes the player who “lost” feel miserable, and forces them to sit out as the game becomes a showdown between the final two participants. Settlers does an excellent job of keeping all players moving along until the very last turn, and is one of the few games where everyone feels on the cusp of victory by the end.
- Kingmaking: The opposite of having only one loser is having only one winner. Anyone who has played Old Maid knows the pain of having an opponent unexpectedly slap down the winning match, thereby trumping everyone else at the table. Although Settlers does not eliminate the element of surprise completely, it uses the Victory Point system to help players gauge the progress of their opponents. This helps players prioritize actions, and reduces the pain of searing loss.
- Targeting: In Waterworks, it is tempting for players to place many “leaks” on a single teammate, essentially blocking them out of the game and preventing victory. There are no shared interests or opportunities for cooperation. In contrast, Settlers encourages teamwork and cooperation. While not a cooperative game per se, Settlers does more than simply allow players to talk and trade. Many of the in-game tasks are for the common good of Catan, and players must work together to repel and resist the attacking Barbarians.
- Solvability: Many cooperative games like Pandemic or Forbidden Desert can leave players feeling beaten, facing a formidable opponent. Sometimes, there is no effective strategy to beating the game. In contrast, the Victory Point system of Settlers does not have a single winning condition, but allows players to accumulate points in a variety of ways. This promotes a balanced approach to winning, but simultaneously allows players with weaknesses to specialize and succeed.
- Multiplayer Solitaire: Bingo is the very definition of this flaw, since there is nothing a player can do (as if they could do anything) to affect any other player. This creates a very segmented, uninteresting gameplay. In Settlers, on the other hand, everything players do deeply affects the following actions of others. While it is possible for players to adopt a broad strategy for Settlers, they are often forced to make major adjustments to their plans, based on what their opponents do. This keep things very interesting and suspenseful until the very end.
- Monotony: Games such as Chutes & Ladders get old very quickly. With boring predictability, players toss dice, then move their playing piece. Each surprise is followed by a disappointment. Settlers has no difficulty overcoming this barrier. Players have plenty to occupy their attention, whether it be the excellent artwork, the many decisions, or the shocking turn of events that happens on each turn. Plus, it is easy to shorten your game of Catan as needed, as explained in our FAQ.
- Analysis Paralysis / Downtime: Game of pure strategy, such as Chess, are expected to involve deep thinking and pattern recognition. As a result, they often involve a timer and a limited number of moves (Checkers, Trax, Othello). However, as a game progresses and expansions are added, Settlers becomes astronomically complex, causing players to slow down and map their turns out in painstaking detail. Many of the game mechanics that enable Settlers to overcome the other 10 game-breaking factors only contribute to the complexity of the game. Ironically, attempts to limit the length of players’ turns only adds additional complexity! The CatanFusion system reduces this complexity-Get Started Now!
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