Review by Chad Sansing, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

Play Catan

Digital remake of brilliant board game is tough to learn

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Social Studies

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
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Pros: Bright iconography and automated calculations help experienced players move quickly through the game.

Cons: Insufficient tutorials and a quick pace limit accessibility to new players.

Bottom Line: It's an okay browser-based translation of a great board game that can yield some engaged learning of probability and social studies with creative teacher support.

Teachers can use Play Catan to help kids build basic background knowledge about colonization, conflict, economics, and exploration, but both the iOS app and the original board game -- the gold standard -- are better starting places for kids. Play Catan is sometimes helpful as a teaching tool because of what it leaves out of the game. For example, because Play Catan doesn't include or reference native peoples or let players directly wage war on one another, teachers can ask students to compare and contrast how they play the game with how peoples and nations have behaved toward one another over time. There is a lot of room to think critically about Play Catan's depiction of settlement and colonization, and students can launch into knowledge and empathy building research projects that fill in some of the gaps left out by the game.

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Play Catan is a fast-paced, online adaptation of the popular board game Settlers of Catan, where players act as colonists of a new land, vying for limited resources. After an initial round where players place two settlements and roads (trying to jockey for ideal position) on the board, they spend the rest of the game cooperating and competing with one another to build settlements and roads so they can gather the resources -- and victory points -- they need to gain influence and control. It's one of the best board games of all time, but this version is tough to integrate into classrooms. Kids can play online tutorials or host or join multiplayer games online, but a dated interface makes it hard to create or find games suitable to kids to play. Some games allow chat, while others don't. It's difficult to group students together, and each student needs an email address to register for the site. Quick, text-based tutorials introduce most of the game's key concepts, but they are not very deep, interactive, or welcoming for new players.

Play Catan is fun for kids who already know how to play, but even those kids will need help connecting the game to class content. A teacher acting as a guide-on-the-side can do a lot to help kids compare and contrast what happens in the game to what has happened throughout history as people have explored new lands, coveted resources, and entered into cooperation or conflict with one another. Since using mathematical probability to one's advantage is also key to victory, Play Catan serves as a great platform for kids to practice mathematical thinking.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

While Play Catan can be very socially engaging for experienced players, the brief tutorials and fast pace of play in this online version of the game make it difficult to follow for new players.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

If kids learn to play, they'll find themselves thinking deeply; creative teachers can connect what's happening into the game to trade, civics, and even mathematical probability.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

While several tutorials attempt to teach the rules, they're too brief. It takes a lot of time for new players to learn how to "read" the board, and the dated interface causes confusion.

Common Sense Reviewer
Chad Sansing Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Justin B. , Other
Not very user friendly. The App is much better but a great game for teaching math and social studies!
So first off, I LOVE the game Catan. So I tried to extend it to the classroom because really, the crux of the game is based on probability and natural resources (an extension of math and social studies). The website is awful. Your "free" account only comes with access to play others online in single games (no tournaments). The lack of tournaments is fine but I really wanted my students to be able to play at their own place in a non-competitive environment. I did upgrade to do this but did not renew ...
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