Tabletop Parenting: Catan Junior
I don’t let my kids win. I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think it helps them with the skills they will need as they grow up. If you let your kids win at games you are not preparing them, in any way, for real life. Their views would be totally and utterly skewed. In essence, you are setting them up for failure if you always let them win.
That’s why I try to win each and every time! OK, OK, sometimes I hold back a little. If I were to always make them lose then I’d be knocking on their self esteem, plus there are quite a few times that they just beat the crap out of me (I chalk that up to me never holding back J). And when we spent this past Saturday with Matt and his son to play Catan Junior, it was going to be the first time that his son was going to lose a game. I couldn’t resist!
The game of Catan Junior is modeled after the original classic Settlers of Catan. It is all about conserving resources, strategically placing your pirate lairs, and doing these two things better and quicker than anyone else at the table. To throw some variation into the mix along the way you’ll be chased by a ghost captain, and assisted by your pet parrot Cocoa. This game has excitement and plays in a fair amount of time (roughly 30 minutes). Let’s venture to the world of Catan!
The game board has two sides. This is to accommodate either a 2-player game (10 islands) or a 3 or 4 player game (13 islands). Each of these islands represents a resource: cutlasses, goats, wood, gold, and molasses. Each player picks a color and gets to place two of their pirate lairs on the board at the beginning of the game. In order to win, a player must place all 7 of their pirate lairs onto the board before any other player. Sounds simple enough.
Here’s the problem, a pirate lair can only be placed after a pirate ship in a line, and vice versa . And in order to place either of these two you have to have enough resources to build them. You may be thinking that this could get confusing for your kids, especially if they’re on the younger side, but after teaching them this concept and showing it to them in action, all of the kids caught on almost immediately. And just to let you know, the ages we played with were 4, 5 and 8. Also, each child gets a cheat card that demonstrates exactly what it takes to build a lair or a ship (or a Cocoa card, but I’ll get to that).
Players can gain resources in a few different ways. First, at the beginning of each turn the current player rolls the die. Every player with a lair adjacent to an island that matches the die roll gains the resource for that island. Second, each turn the current player may trade one resource for one of five resources in the market place (beware, these resources can quickly all become the same, leaving them almost useless). Third, the current player may turn in two of the same resource to the stockpiles for any one resource. It will take time and planning for each player to gain the resources they need to build lairs and ships.
Here’s where things get interesting. There are Cocoa cards. A Cocoa card allows the player to instantly gain 4 resources, instantly build a ship or lair without paying the resource cost, or place the ghost captain on any island they wish. Before I explain the ghost captain, any player who has the most Cocoa cards in front of them at any given time during the game gets to place a lair on Spooky Island. This lair counts toward winning the game. But if a fellow player buys a Cocoa card and has more than you, then your lair disappears and they place one of their own on Spooky Island instead.
The last thing I should tell you about is the ghost captain. This is a pawn that begins the game on Spooky Island. He moves any time a player rolls a six on the die, or picks a ghost captain card on their Cocoa card. When the current player rolls a 6, that player gets to choose an island and place the ghost captain at that island. This allows that player to instantly gain two of whichever resource that island represents. This also prohibits any player with a lair adjacent to that island to collect a resource from it when someone rolls that island’s number.
The game is a four player game so Matt assisted Hunter and I played along with him and the Faces. The game was a little slow at first as each kid learned what he or she was doing. However, after a couple of rounds the turns began to pick up and everyone was having fun. It was interesting to see each child evaluate what they were going to do each turn, and you could see that they were engaged because even when it wasn’t their turn they would be looking at their cheat sheet and planning what resources they would be trading for.
Each child began to implement their own strategy. Hunter wanted to place ships and lairs. Most of his early turns focused on getting the resources needed to complete this as often as possible. Emma also took to building ships and lairs, but she began mapping out her route as well, and figuring out which islands she wanted to get her lairs next to so she could get more resources. Summer was all about Cocoa cards. Her main strategy was collecting these cards so she could have the upper hand from Spooky Island. It was great to see each kid so involved, and it was during this time that I really felt the power of playing a really good board game with friends. There just aren’t any activities that can come close.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I wasn’t holding back during this game. I played to win, collecting resources and planning out turns in the future. I played as if I was playing against peers and not children under 10. What really pleasantly surprised me was that I wasn’t way ahead at any given time during the game. In fact there were many times when I wasn’t in the lead. This was in large part because of Summer’s Cocoa card strategy. At one point or another during the game each child took the lead and it was wonderful to see their excitement at this.
Then it came to an end. In our final round Hunter set himself so that he could possibly get a Cocoa card on his next turn. If he pulled the Cocoa card and it was a build a lair at any time card then he had a good chance of winning the whole thing. It came around to me and I traded for the resources needed to build a lair (my final lair) on my next turn. Emma was able to build a lair and set herself up to build her last one on her next turn (unfortunately she was going to come up just short). Summer had a chance. She had 6 lairs on the board and enough resources to buy a Cocoa card. If she pulled a build a lair card then it was game over, instead she collected 4 resources. On Hunter’s turn he bought a Cocoa card, but was unable to build a lair. Instead he moved the ghost captain. When it came back around to me I had all of the resources to get my last lair on the board. I guess at this point a less sinister parent would have pretended they didn’t notice this, but I couldn’t do that. Matt prepared for the picture, and as I placed my last lair their dreams of winning were crushed.
But after the initial disappointment each child got over fairly quickly. That’s the beauty of being young. They are able to move on so much faster than us adults. When I won Hunter put his head down and at first refused to accept that he lost. But after Matt explained that it was OK to lose sometimes he shrugged it off and moved on to the next thing that caught his interest. Summer was upset, but she’s used to her dad winning games. She looked at me and said that next time she was going to win. Emma was the most upset of the three of them. She is a go-getter and has a hard time with defeat or failing. I believe that she gets this drive from me, but I’ve never really been a poor sport, so I worry about her. She was extremely mad and hid under the table pouting for a time. I was eventually able to have her to get over it somewhat, but the rest of the night she kept bringing it up. The next morning we decided to play again with just the three of us. This time Emma Face owned.
Catan Junior is a wonderful game, and is maybe the most advanced game that I’ve played with the Faces. It promotes patience, strategic thinking, and deductive reasoning. The game is available on Amazon for a great price (and also available in your local Target). Here is the link:
As always I had a blast and next week I’ll be reviewing a game that I used to first introduce the Faces to board games and tabletop games in general. Hope you have a great week! Please comment and let me know of your own experiences tabletop parenting with your own kids.
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