Settlers of Catan: The Holy Grail?
In the last few weeks, my life seems to have been about nothing but Catan. Firstly, a recent tournament, where in the first round I managed to gather a woefully pitiful 2 victory points after an hour of play (10 being needed for those unfamiliar with Catan). Then, the very next day I ran down to my local board game shop and purchased a copy, determined to ensure I would never suffer the humiliation of being refereed to as "Two Point Tom" ever again! I was also coerced into buying the 2 player game: Rivals of Catan by my lovely girlfriend so that she could in her own special way try and recreate the "Two Point Tom" fiasco whilst simultaneously having date night with me.
For that reason the last few weeks have been joyous because Catan is, in my opinion, the perfect game. It has relatively simplistic rules, each game is as diverse as the one before it, it actively encourages a very social element of gaming and your success or failure, while certainly jollied on by the roll of a few good or bad dice, is for the most part down to you as a player.
I am obviously not alone in this summation of the game as the box for Catan proudly reminds you: "over 10 million Catan products have been sold."
The reason that I use the phrase Holy Grail is because I believe, as a game designer, you ultimately want to make is a game like Catan, that is the end goal. A game that is rewarding, simple enough to grasp but with depth making it ever changing on each play through, and one where I can decide if I win or lose, rather than it all boiling down to the luck of a dice roll.
These are things that I want to get from playing a game with a bunch of friends and is something that I have really tried to achieve in El Presidente. I don't recommend that anyone making a game should copy another game's mechanics. That way madness lies, as you try to contort someone else idea into your own, but we can get a lot of different experiences from board games and that is an area where you can use your experience with other games to influence your own. There is a point where it is important to take a step back from the mechanics and actions of individual cards and say to yourself, what am I taking away from a run of this game. That is something that you might not know until you have tested the game out a few times, and that's OK! We test games so we can improve upon them.
The take home message here for me is: play other games and look beyond the mechanics and the cards and ask yourself why you left that session feeling good, or badgering other people into just one more game - and then see how you can create that same feeling with your own idea.
For those interested, tabletop did a great playthrough of Catan a few years back. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3WJTlDa7oo
Until next time.. Quack!