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CATAN: Dawn of Humankind Game Review

Still working out the market

Justin goes back in time to review the newest addition to the CATAN family, CATAN: Dawn of Humankind!

Disclosure: Meeple Mountain received a free copy of this product in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. This review is not intended to be an endorsement.

If you’re on our site, then you probably know the brand: CATAN Studio, the world of CATAN, all the CATAN board games…at this point, CATAN is synonymous with “the hobby.”

So, let’s not get bogged down in what CATAN is, or what it stands for in our space. CATAN: Dawn of Humankind (2022, CATAN Studio) is the newest addition and is a reimplementation of 2002’s Settlers of the Stone Age.

This new version has created two questions that I still can’t answer:

  1. Why the game’s title places CATAN in all capital letters, and more importantly,
  2. What is the market for CATAN: Dawn of Humankind (CATAN DoH)?

It’s the market for this game that will be the focus of our article. By the end, I think I have a guess, but I welcome your insights!

It’s All About the Flint

CATAN DoH is definitely a CATAN game. The first player to earn 10 points wins. There are hexes, resources, towns, and two dice. Settling on hexes that have higher chances of producing is still a good thing, and rolling a seven is still a bad thing, especially if you want to get resources or you don’t have anyone to rob. There’s still a robber, too. This time around, the robber is a “Tribal Threat” in the form of either a Neanderthal or a saber-tooth tiger. (No comment.)

CATAN DoH has most of the CATAN-like things one would expect: one of the game’s main actions grants the leader two points as long as they have the most of something (in this new game’s case, Exploration tokens). The only way to slow an opposing player is to block the production on their hexes. Instead of a Largest Army mechanic, CATAN DoH has a track that lets players rob another player—as long as they spend resources to do it. (I’m still working this one out in my head; the top step of the track allows a player to spend three resources to take one random resource card from another player. What?)

CATAN DoH has four resources (flint, hide, bone, and meat), but due to the game’s costs to do the things that score the most points, flint is a bit more important than the other three resources. This means that the fight for the hexes that produce flint feels like they are a little more vital than the others.

Based on where the players start on this map (Africa) and where they need to go (through Asia and Europe before moving into Australia and the Americas), one section of the map becomes so crucial it almost screams out to the players to settle there first: the double-flint hexes pre-printed on the board.

(Yes, CATAN veterans: there are no separate tile hexes to place on the map. Everything outside of the starting section of Africa is pre-printed, including the terrain hexes and the numbers on each hex. No variation; every game is the same. This means a CATAN veteran will likely game this out by their third play and that sound I just heard were those same CATAN veterans clicking away to read something else.)

I would argue—and other players who have joined me at the table agree—that flint’s weight in CATAN DoH is a bit too heavy. You’ll need flint to build camps, this game’s versions of towns and cities rolled into one. If one player controls the flint in this game, everyone will have to trade with them because moving up on the game’s four tracks—yes, we are in track territory in every Euro now—requires flint for three of the four steps.

Flint, flint, flint. If you don’t have it, you can trade any resource at a 3:1 rate with the supply if no other player will trade with you, but that just makes you less efficient as a player. Meanwhile, the “flintspert” will be off and running because they have flint and you don’t. Getting to 10 points quickly is much easier with three of your camps on a flint hex, especially with the odds being so good that those numbers will come up.

Why Would You Buy This Game?

Each game of CATAN DoH has ended the same way, because I play review copies with other veteran gamers. Someone says a version of this:

“I’m not sure I would play this game over base CATAN.”

Most of my gaming groups have moved on from CATAN, and CATAN DoH will not bring them back in the fold. So, I will cross “serious gamer” off the target market list for CATAN DoH.

How about gamers who are new to the hobby? CATAN DoH definitely simplifies most aspects of the CATAN experience. It’s much easier to teach. Watching players pick where their initial town/road combinations will go can be quite difficult for new players in base CATAN, but in CATAN DoH the available options are also pre-printed in the Africa section.

Just setting up base CATAN is a struggle; the variable setup of hexes and number tokens takes some time. That’s mostly gone with CATAN DoH. 90% of the board is already “set up” for you; you just have to add the campsite and Exploration tokens, which match symbols on cardboard chits that just need to be slotted on the map. My games have taken just over an hour each with CATAN DoH; with those who are new to CATAN, I could see this taking 1.5-2 hours, but it’s still simple.

I don’t think CATAN DoH encourages trading as much as the base game, which is a miss for a newer player. Getting access to most resources feels easier here, in part because CATAN DoH has only four main resources, not five like in the base game.

So, it’s a light game, and one that plays well with people new to the property. But the base game is literally the game that got me, and thousands of others, into the hobby. I would recommend base CATAN over CATAN DoH as a “gateway” experience for someone looking to invest in the hobby.

But if you are just playing over the holidays with family one time, giving them a taste of CATAN, then heading back home? CATAN DoH might be worth a look.

The Elephant in the Room

So, I could see someone who regularly plays more involved games looking at CATAN DoH as a game to play with family for a weekend, as a single experience or a small batch of experiences before moving on.

That would be easier to do if the price was right. $70 is not that price.

CATAN DoH will be sold at Target stores for $70. Here’s the rub: the base CATAN game plus the biggest and most popular expansions—Cities & Knights, as well as Seafarersare already sold at Target for a lower price. Personally, I would recommend Cities & Knights or Seafarers over CATAN DoH because they are better games at lower prices.

But more importantly, $70 is a gatekeeper that might keep someone with a casual, passing interest in exploring CATAN away from this IP.

I like what Cephalofair did with the Gloomhaven property. $140 is the right price point for the base game; it’s a ton of content for a serious player. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is Gloomhaven for a casual gamer. Retail price: $40, with a price that regularly drops below that number during sales throughout the year. It’s also much shorter and more accessible than the base game, in a package that is very reasonable for nearly anyone to jump in the pool.

If CATAN DoH hit the market at even $50, there’s a chance this might fit for some players. $40 would be a home run. But here we are at $70. Worse? I have no idea why this game is set at that price.

The components in CATAN DoH are fine, but the miniatures used for the campsite and explorer pieces are quite detailed. They aren’t nice enough to justify this price, but they are nice. The card stock is a tad below quality, and the rest of the cardboard bits are uniformly average.

So, the swim lane for CATAN DoH is quite narrow. If you are a CATAN junkie looking to introduce new players to the CATAN IP, this is a good option, especially if you can get CATAN DoH on sale. The game won’t have a long lifespan with core gaming groups, and hardcore CATAN fans should skip this altogether. But if this game can rope in gamers for a long career in the hobby, that’s a major victory.

About the author

Justin Bell

Love my family, love games, love food, love naps. If you're in Chicago, let's meet up and roll some dice!

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