Common Sense Review
Updated November 2013

Play Catan

Digital remake of brilliant board game is tough to learn
Common Sense Rating 2
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 3
  • Players with free accounts can only choose to play the basic game.
  • Tutorials are largely text-based.
  • Players have a chance to warm up against computer opponents in Play Catan's tutorials.
  • The dated game hosting and matchmaking interface can be daunting for new players.
Bright iconography and automated calculations help experienced players move quickly through the game.
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.
Chad Sansing
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 2
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 2

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? 3

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? 2

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.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

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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What's It Like?

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.

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Is It Good For Learning?

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.

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See how teachers are using Play Catan