I am at heart, a boardgamer. I love board games, I get excited hearing board game news, I truly look forward to playing when I have the chance. With all that in mind, I’m usually not the overly bubbly, “ZOMG go buy this!” kind of person. In fact, I’ve only ever typed out ZOMG three times – two of which are here in this post. So it’s not lightly that I say, with complete and utter conviction that I’m right:
If you have kids that game, or if you have kids that you’d like to get into gaming, go buy this game.
Now, on to the review so you can see why.
Catan Junior from Mayfair Games is a take on the Catan series of games I’m sure we’ve all heard about. I’m not going to get into a discussion about Catan, or any of the other iterations on this title. I’m just going to stick to the facts on this one game and let you draw your own conclusions about how much it relates to other titles.
Catan Junior takes place on a ring of islands where 2 to 4 players build hideouts, and the mysterious Spooky Island, where the Ghost Captain lives. Each island generates a resource: wood, goats, molasses or swords and players can acquire gold.
What you get
106 resource tiles (wood, goats, molasses, swords and gold)
4 player cost boards
1 two-sided game board
28 Pirate hideouts (7 each of 4 colors)
32 Ships (8 each of 4 colors)
1 pirate ghost
1 rule book
You can play with between 2 and 4 players and the game board is double sided to accommodate this. We played several four player games, which included myself, my wife and my two kids aged 6 and 9. To start out you separate out all the tiles, plop the Pirate Ghost on the skull island in the center of the board, and take two of your pirate hideouts and one of your ships in hand. These you put on the colored dots that match your color. The ships go on the dotted lines between the dots where you can place pirate hideouts. To start, there are dotted lines that match the player colors as well.
There are 5 docks on the board as well. One of each type of resource are placed on these docks.
Then each player takes 1 wood resource and 1 molasses resource and the game is on!
The object of Catan Junior is to be the first to get all seven of your pirate hideouts on to the board. Hideouts can only be placed on the white dots on the playing board. In addition to hideouts, you have pirate ships which also need to be placed on the board – you need your ships to connect the dots where your hideouts can be placed. We’ll get to buying hideouts and ships (and more) in just a bit.
The board itself is made up of a number of islands, each with a different resource. As your hideouts expand across the board and come in contact with these islands, you can acquire the resources. Also on each island is one of 5 faces from the included 6 sided die – ranging from 1 through 5.
Each turn in Catan Junior consists of three phases: resource collection, trading and building.
In the first phase, the player rolls a 6 sided die. If the number is between 1 and 5, then islands that have that number on them produce the resource pictured on the island. Any player who has a hideout touching that island gets that resource.
In the trading phase (and here we’re playing with the basic rules, the advanced rules allow more freedom of trading between players) players may trade a resource in their own stockpile for any resource on the dock. Or they may trade two resources from their stockpile for one resource in the piles of tokens on the table. If at any time the 5 docks on the board end up with the same resource in all of them, they’re immediately replaced with one of each of the resource tokens.
The build phase comes last, and this is the meat of the game. Here you can build a pirate ship, a pirate hideout or purchase a Coco card (which we’ll get to in just a moment or two).
- Pirate ships cost a goat and a wood.
- Pirate hideouts cost a sword, a molasses, a goat and a wood.
- Coco cards cost a sword, a molasses and a gold.
The hideouts are what win you the game. The ships are what you need to expand your network of hideouts. So what’s this Coco card thing? Coco cards do one of several things for you. First, the person with the most Coco cards gets to place a pirate hideout on skull island in the center of the board. This is essentially a way to get a free hideout into the game. Second, they allow you to do extra things – either get four resources all at once, build a free ship or hideout or move the ghost pirate.
Which brings us to the ghost pirate! If you happen to roll a 6, rather than letting players collect resources, you get to move the ghost pirate, which does two things. First, you immediately collect two of the resources on the island you move him too. Need two goats? Well, there you go. Second, if an island has the ghost pirate on it, it does not produce any resources. This is a very effective way to block your opponents from getting what they need to win the game.
Playing the game
The game is rated for ages 6 and up, and as it turns out I have a 6 year old and a 9 year old. I think Mayfair Games have got it perfectly down. My 9 year old is already something of a veteran gamer, having mastered Quarriors and Dominion to the point where she beats me about 30% of the time. (Yes, I am both very proud and slightly ashamed at my own prowess). My 6 year old is just taking her first tentative steps into gaming.
My wife and I got the concepts and strategy of Catan Junior very quickly, my 9 year old was playing competitively around the second turn. My 6 year old “got it” about turn 4. Here’s where it gets good – both kids were completely empowered by the simple mechanics of the game. There’s no reading, no real math but it can get pretty strategic on multiple levels. My 6 year old quickly grasped the concepts of supply and demand (possibly for the first time in her life) and ran with it. My 9 year old was planning long term strategies that she’d have to adjust on the fly based on the luck of the die rolls.
Even my wife and I enjoyed it on the same level we enjoy other “adult” games. With its simply mechanics, the game can get surprisingly deep and all four of us found ourselves invested in it. I would have no qualms about breaking this game out among my adult gaming group.
It’s rare that I find a game rated ages 6+ that I honestly look forward to playing again and that’s where Catan Junior excels. It’s fairly unique among the games in my collection in that it appeals equally to all age levels. It’s not too cutesy, the mechanics are simple enough for a 6 year old but the game plays strategic enough for adults. It involves enough luck that the kids still have a chance at winning – in fact my youngest won the first game and was extremely proud of herself for doing so.
- A single game board (not comprised of tiles) makes for easy play when gaming with kids.
- The theme sticks very well with this euro-style game.
- Simple mechanics encourage players to plan ahead and account for luck, resulting in some surprisingly deep strategy.
- Advanced rules for more advanced players.
- Well crafted and durable components mean it’s kid friendly.
- Priced right with an MSRP of $30.
- Plays in about 30 minutes, which falls right into the attention span of many kids.
- Woe to anyone who accidentally steps on a pirate ship with bare feet.
- The box offers storage, but no real way to organize the various components in a helpful way.
As you can see, the good far outweighs the bad. In fact, the two bad points are really more of nitpicks. If you’re looking for a game that appeals to both kids and adults, has some surprisingly deep strategy, with a euro-style feel. This is going to be our go-to family game night game for quite some time, I can tell. For those of us with kids, I can’t stress this enough – this game is great! It’s fun, re-playable and no where near as tedious as most kids games out there. Plus it’s a great gateway to teaching real strategy, forward thinking, supply and demand and could go far in instilling a lifetime love of board games. This is not what I had initially feared, a slapped together “kiddie” version of a best selling board game. Rather, real care was taken in designing a fun, interesting and mechanically sound game.
Buy this game.
Catan Junior was thoughtfully provided by the Board Game Exchange for us to review! Board Game eXchange is the revolution in board gaming. Your monthly subscription with Board Game eXchange gives you rental access to over 500 board game titles. From classics like Monopoly and Risk, to current favorites such as Agricola and 7 Wonders, our inventory offers something for everybody’s taste.