Parenting: Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is an award-winning, addictive strategy game that parents and kids can play together.

January 27, 2011 2:16:28 AM PST
With the holiday season in full swing, David Murphy is making some gift suggestions: games that that parents can enjoy with their kids.

The first is an international award winner you may not have heard about.

I'm very big on a board game called Settlers of Catan, which a nephew suggested as a buy for my college aged son last year. Apparently, this strategy game has been building momentum on college campuses, although it's also appropriate for kids as young as 9 or 10. Developed by German game designer Klaus Teuber and first published in Germany in 1995, Catan has been building in popularity in the U.S. in recent years. It's received international awards and the Washington Post recently dubbed Settlers "the Monopoly of our age". The game requires 3-to-4 players (up to 6 with an available expansion game), which makes it a natural for parents and kids to enjoy together. Additionally, the game play is intelligent and complex enough to keep adults interested, while being easy enough for older grade school kids to learn (and win).

Catan is a mythical land of old where players build towns, cities and roads with a combination of good planning, a willingness to work with other players, and a little luck. No money is exchanged. Instead, players collect and trade resources (wheat, brick, wood, sheep and rock) and employ them in ways that expand their territory and score points. Cooperation is a key, at first, because as the game begins, no one player has access to everything, and trading of resources is usually a winning formula. But as the game goes on, intrigue and surprise take over. Special cards can be purchased which can secretly allow a good schemer to sneak-up on adversaries with a sudden flourish of wealth and power. The first to score ten "victory points" wins, usually accomplished by a player's skill at trading commodities and employing them smartly (a player is rewarded points for efficiently erecting towns, cities and roads, as well as sound strategy).

The game board is made-up of randomly-placed, six-sided pieces that fit together in countless ways, so that every game is different. In each game, various sections of Catan also change in value, so until the board is re-set, there's no telling whether a strategy that worked in the previous game is apt to work again. Various strategies can lead to success. Each game only takes about 45 to 60 minutes, so multiple games are possible in a single sitting. So far, every game player I've introduced to Catan has not been satisfied with a single game.

Catan is also bloodless. While players can make occasional use of knights and can even score points for acquiring the "largest army", this is not a military tactics game. No one dies. There's no violence.

But there's plenty of strategy, and quality time with family.

For more information, you can link to the Settlers of Catan website. I wouldn't recommend buying direct, however. You can get the basic game for under $40 online at several major retailers. Also, be careful to start with the original game in the orange and yellow box with the settlers, sheep and distant windmill on the front. There are several other offerings, including expansion packs that may not work as stand-alone games.

---David Murphy

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