Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Catan Junior: A Twisted Parrot-Strewn Path

Sometimes I go on the Internet and argue about things. Sometimes on this blog, more often in some dark virtual alleyway elsewhere.

If the Internet is a series of tubes, than BoardGameGeek is in fact a series of winding dark alleyways, twisting and turning over each other. How many are there? One for every board game ever made.

If you don't care about a particular game, you don't have to partake in any discussion about it, because you don't have to go down that alleyway. You just pay attention to the games of interest with all your like-mined fanciers.

Well, if you go walking into the Catan Junior section of BoardGameGeek you are asking for it. Because I'm there, lurking. I've got a cardboard box all broken in and cozy. And if I hear you come down my alley, I'll come out of my box in a great stinking mess, raving incoherently.

No Bells or Whistles to Get Hung Up On

Catan Junior boils the main game down to the basest of elements. Roads are ships. Settlements are forts. There are no cities. There are no expansions. You only roll 1 die, and there is an equal chance of generating resources on every hex. Development cards are tiles, and those tiles are called Polly Tiles. As in the stereotypical parrot.

The resource card. Behold the Polly Tile, available for 1 sword, 1 molasses and 1 gold

The Main Argument

The complaining about Polly Tiles is a constant thing, really just about the only thing going on with Catan Junior at this point in the game's cycle. And I will defend, to my dying breath, that the Polly Tiles are not in the least bit overpowered or unbalanced. They are perfectly fair, and only 1 route of many to advance your position towards victory. I will argue this. On BoardGameGeek, in the dark alleyway of the Catan Junior forum.

But I can't lie like that here. Not to you.

And no, I'm not intentionally being a troll in the Catan Junior forum. It's not my fault! They make me do it! When I am there, I truly believe the Polly Tiles are fine. And I love playing with the Polly Tiles.

I have not, and will not play any kind of convoluted variant of the game designed to rebalance the Polly Tiles  Because that's what they are always trying to do in the Catan Junior forum. They see a broken pipe. They want to fix it.

What is Catan Junior?

Catan Junior is a kids game. There are kids games adults also play. Silly games. But Catan Junior is not a silly game, It is a simple game.

If you are playing your kid, and he/she figures out to start spamming Polly Tiles  that is not a problem you need to rebalance. You need to get down on your hands and knees and thank the higher powers your kid is figuring out how to be a gamer. He or she has discovered there are paths to victory, a method to the madness of a tabletop game.

The Polly Cards are not meant to be obscure. Think if you were crossing a river on your way to work, and something shiny caught your eye in the riverbed. Bending down you find a large gold nugget. Well, if you start panning for gold in that riverbed, are you cheating the system? No, you're just being observant. You found a better way.

This might be a problem in a game where everyone is supposed to be traveling to different places, and instead they start all panning for gold because that's the undeniable best strategy. But I firmly believe part of the game, part of Catan Junior, is having your little game player catch sight of that shiny nugget, all on their own.

2 player End Game

And They Can Still Lose

And they can still lose! One of the complained about bits with these Polly Tiles are the ones giving out a free fort. Imagine in Settlers if there was a development card that allowed you to build a settlement. That would be pretty sweet.

Well, the problem with my son is he still forgets to build out first before drawing these tiles. He forgets to get a ship into position so that he actually has a place to put his fort. So instead of getting a free fort, he gets the runner up prize, which is just a free ship. Something you could normally buy for a pittance...one goat and one stack of logs. When you use the Polly Tiles to build a "free ship," you are actually being inefficient.

The Ecstasy of Gold

There is only one gold spot in Catan Junior (at least for 2 players), right in the center of the board. No one starts out being able to gather the gold resource. And neither ships nor forts require gold. So since the rules of the game state the player who has built all their forts wins, why would I ever want to collect gold, anyway? There's only a single thing in the game you can buy with gold, and that's Polly Tiles. OHHH...wait...

See gold is pretty valuable and once kids have the Polly Tiles kinda figured out, they are going to rocket towards the gold section. And on the way they will learn EXPANSION. Because expansion is key to making your victory machine in just about anything.

Childhood's End

I do not play to win on the Polly Tiles in Catan Junior. I leave that for my son (or eventually my daughter when she gets old enough). But I do play to win in every other way. And there have been times my son has had 7 tiles while I've still come out on top at the end just cruising along, just expounding my empire.

If you need a flawlessly balanced game to play with your kids, you probably shouldn't pick Catan Junior. Or if you do, look up one of the homemade variants on BGG that attempt to balance the issue. I'll be sure to hop on and tell you why you're wrong.

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