Catan Junior | Settlers of Catan for Kids
Do your kids enjoy board games or strategy games? Catan Junior is a game for elementary-age kids with elements of both strategy and luck. It's perfect if you're a diehard player of Settlers of Catan and want to get your kids' feet wet, but it's also great for families that have never played strategy games before, or who think they don't like them.
The backstory is that you are a pirate looking to colonize an archipelago rich with resources, but that is already occupied by a troublesome ghost. Of course, your opponents are also pirates, and they're competing with you to grab the resources and best sites for themselves.
What Are the Game Pieces Like?
The resource cards are beautiful, sturdy cardboard, and they're easy to pop out of the punchcards. The plastic pirate's lairs and ghost ships, however, feel a little cheesy. The plastic is thin, so they're very lightweight, and they feel like they'd crunch underfoot if they fell on the floor. The yellowish-orange is also a hideous color. On the other hand, the die is a swirly light blue color that is probably the prettiest I've even seen included in a game.
You can play with two to four people, since a double-sided gameboard is included with fewer islands for the two-person version. Setup is easy; each person gets one color of plastic pieces (lairs and ships) and a couple of standard resources. One resource of each type goes onto the board. The extra resources go into a stockpile, which can be tidy little piles or one giant pile. In fact, you can just throw all the pieces into the box, and fish out what you need each turn, if you're lazy!
How to Play Catan Junior
The instructions for Catan Junior are six pages long — yikes! Don't worry; I'll break down the basics for you here a lot faster.
The goal is to get all seven of your pirate lairs onto the board. You do this by buying ships and pirate lairs and placing them along a trail on the game board. You can also buy "Coco the parrot" cards, which will help you get additional resources or give you other strategic advantages.
Everyone starts with two lairs and one ship on the board. Each lair is adjacent to two islands, and when anyone rolls the die and lands on the number of the island your lair is adjacent to, you get that resource. The resources are:
- and gold (but they really, really look like matzo balls).
Each item you need to buy costs a certain number of resources, and you are provided with a cheat sheet (pictures only; no reading necessary) that shows you how much each item costs. You can trade resources evenly with the marketplace or for double the price with the stockpile. You can make several buys and trades per turn.
If anyone rolls a six, that person can move the ghost pirate off of Spooky Island onto a different island, which will stop the resources flowing from that island until the ghost pirate is moved again.
This game of strategy and luck really is fun for the whole family.
Who Should Play Catan Junior?
The makers of the Catan games recommend this game for ages six and up, and I think they're spot on. This game is perfect for my six-year-old son, who is phenomenal at board games in general and regularly beats the whole family at Dominion. Although there's no violence in the game, most young boys will also enjoy the pirate theme. My nine-year-old daughter enjoyed the game too, but not as much as my son.
Some kids as young as four could handle it; there's no reading involved, so as long as you have the patience to help them understand the extensive instructions, a bright four-year-old with a good attention span could have a lot of fun. Gameplay takes about half an hour, so they've got to be able to sit still for that long.
On the older end, kids who are into games could enjoy this once in a while until around eleven, at which point they'll be thoroughly bored and more than ready to go for the adult version. The sweet spot for this game is definitely first- through fourth-graders.
On the other hand, adults can get real enjoyment playing this game with their kids. The use of the die adds some replay value to the game and an element of luck that means the grown-up won't always have to hold back to let the kids win.
Tips for Catan Junior
Want to beat your kid at his own game?
- Study the board before you start playing, and choose the color that touches the resources you think are most important. In our games, cutlasses have been hotly contested; wood much less so.
- The parrot cards provide a HUGE strategic advantage, because they give you additional resources, free pirate's lairs and/or ships, and opportunities to move the ghost pirate. PLUS, the person with the most parrots at any given time gets to park a lair on Spooky Island at no cost. In the games I've played, the person with the most parrots almost always wins.