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Subject: The Best Family Game of All-Time rss

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Michael Allen
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If you want the best game ever for your fam, Settle for nothing less than Catan. I know you probably won’t even read this because the game is ancient; it was made all the way back in the 1900s! It happens to be ranked 12th best for families right now. I’m here to tell you the list is wrong. Catan is the best. I’ll provide my reasons in just a bit, but I want to address a flaw in our assessment of games first.

I admit that I’ve only played four of the games above this classic, but look at the games above Settlers and you’ll see a common theme--with the exception of Crokinole (which is a whole different type of game and out of reach for many families due to its cost, and will be excluded from the rest of my analysis), they are all games that have been created since Settlers of Catan. Humans tend to like new things. In time, though, we realize newer doesn’t necessarily mean better. The shine diminishes and we look for something new again or go back to an old favorite.

If you want a more accurate rating of the games on the site, here’s what you should do--penalize recently developed games because they are overhyped and overrated. The newer the game the bigger deduction it should receive. Here’s my penalty system for games with the number of years it has been around on the left and the penalty to the right:
1 -.50
2 -.42
3 -.35
4 -.29
5 -.24
6 -.20
7 -.17
8 -.14
9 -.11
10 -.08
11 -.05
12 -.02

There is no research involved in that system. It’s simply my gut feeling about where things should fall over time. Applying these deductions to the family game list, here is the adjusted top of the list with all games that end up with a 7.0 or greater:

7 Wonders 7.432
Stone Age 7.351
Carcassonne 7.323
Settlers of Catan 7.309
TTR: Nordic 7.288
TTR: Europe 7.282
Ticket to Ride 7.254
Pandemic 7.240
Survive: Escape from Atlantis 7.227
PitchCar 7.143
For Sale 7.139
Citadels 7.129
TTR: Marklin 7.093
Small World 7.092
Lost Cities 7.061
Schotten-Totten 7.054
Chinatown 7.047
Bohnanza 7.036
Dream Factory 7.035

Of course this list is not perfect, but I think it’s much better. In my opinion, it narrows down the list to nine contenders (everything from Survive and above) for best family game. Then you can really narrow it down further by simply using your favorite TTR version and eliminating the others. Ironically, the remaining games are 7 Wonder-ful games.

Now I will finally tell you why Settlers of Catan is the best family game...

It’s really very simple. My family of four plays more than 200 games a year together. That’s with all four of us. Roughly half of those games are Settlers of Catan. We have dozens of games available to us, but we choose to play Catan as much as all the others combined. What better testimony can I give than that? And here’s the thing--it’s the number one choice of all of us individually, too. It’s an amazing game.

Case closed.

Okay, that’s not really fair is it? Here are a few reasons why I think we all love it.


I could talk about things most people talk about. It’s fun. Has great replayability. From set up to back in the box is normally less than 45 minutes. We like the trading and interaction. All that is fantastic and true, but I think there are two things that make this a truly standout game.

First of all, it is the perfect blend of skill and luck for family games. I can’t figure out exactly what that mix is, but I think it’s something like 66% skill and 34% luck. When we win, we want to feel like it’s because we’ve made some right decisions and moves. Okay, maybe we got a good string of rolls in the middle of the game, and, yes, we happened to snag a victory point with the only development card we bought, but gosh darn it we made solid plays. Settlers fits this mold nicely.

The second key point kind of blends in with the first. Our youngest member of the family was only 9 when we first started playing Settlers; we also had a twelve year old and two parents playing. I’m fairly certain that within the first six games, everyone had one at least one game. This balance has continued for the hundreds of games we have played. I’m confident we all win at least 20% of the time. Of all the games we have that requires a decent amount of strategy or skill, Catan is the only one we have that I can say that about. That is precisely what draws us to Settlers of Catan. Also, even if when we don’t win, the game is still normally close. Sure, there are times when one Settler mops up Catan and no one else manages to get even eight victory points, but the norm is for there to be three of the four players in contention.

Why are victories so evenly distributed? It’s largely because of the robber mechanism, along with the soldiers. Being able to smack the leader(s) down is a marvelous way to keep games competitive. Additionally, trading can produce similar effects. One player is noticeably ahead of the pack? Fine. Don’t trade with him/her and make trades with the other players as favorable and as frequently as possible. These things can be the great equalizers to most games.

In fact, expanding on the idea is one of the hidden handicaps you can administer in a game without the youngsters fully realizing it. I don’t know about your family, but my children virtually never accepted any formal handicap I would devise in games to try to even the playing field. (About the only one I can think of that was accepted was in Lost Cities. For that my daughter’s breakeven point for each quest was 18 instead of 20. She saw it as only a two point difference. In reality, between the multipliers and three rounds of play, it amounted to at least a thirty-something point advantage.)

We never had to do this, but if you have a child who is quite young and struggles with Settlers of Catan, here’s what you can do. First, never place the robber on a tile the child occupies. Not stealing from him/her is a small helpful bump, but not blocking their resources is normally even more important. Regarding trading, anytime they ask for something you have, do it. As their skills improve, you can wean them off the hidden handicap against yourself. Like I said, my daughter was only nine and there was no need to implement this, but you might if you have a younger child. The real beauty here is that it will probably go by unnoticed. Perfect!

If you read this because you’re looking for a family game, grab this legend and pass up the newcomers. What about all the shiny, new games? It may seem difficult, but do yourself a favor and go classic. I know you Catan do it.
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The Chaz
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Quote:
Evenly distributed victories??

Then why do I always WIN?!?


But seriously. Better players consistently win. I would write your gaming group's win stats on a piece of paper and then burn it, because:
by handicapping players, you are indirectly teaching them to make sub-optimal decisions.

It is tempting to make a (hypothetical) boast/challenge along the lines of "between a (select!) buddy and me, we would win 19 out of 20 games in your group". Besides being rude, such a boast is a strategic error (see section 1.d.i.c, below).
That said, I really do think that if we take out handicaps, romantic couples promising sexual favors in exchange for robber protection, etc., the cream will rise to the top.

Here's a little outline of the strategic and luck components for this game:

"Factors that determine the amount and type of resources in your hand, an all-inclusive list" (I hope!):
1) Decisions (strategy)
a) Purchases/placements
i) Initial settlements and roads
a) Count the dots(!)
b) Fourth is best
ii) Subsequent purchases: when and where
a) Roads and settlements
b) Cities
c) Dev cards
b) Trades
i) With others
a) Initiated by you
b) Initiated by them
ii) With the bank
c) Robber placement (cf 1.a.ii.c)
i) Jerks get robbed
ii) Winners
d) Psychology of in-game behavior
i) Don't be a jerk (cf 1.c.2.i)
a) Trading
b) Robbing
c) Bragging
d) Offering the good you just monopolized for 1:3
ii) etc...
2) Luck
a) May the odds be ever in your favor
b) Cheat when necessary (I kid, I kid)

-----------------

Actually, there might be too much for me to even list the categories in one sitting, much less expound on them all.


Re: The rating modifiers, I wish there were a similar equalizer for box-office movie revenues. Did Avatar really bring in more patrons than Titanic, or are tickets just 3x as much as they used to be?
But that is for another day.
 
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Karl Walsh
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This was my gateway game and I still finding myself going back to it!

Normally I play amongst friends, where we find ourselves playing and chatting over a game that lasts a couple hours (using original settlers + fishermen of Catan variant) - however, I even play on the 360 if I want a quick game (no setup required) against someone and there's no-one physically about!

I haven't got my children playing it yet but to be fair - they're 4 and 2 so there is a bit of time to prepare. I did however get my parent's playing over Christmas - my mother being a particularly aggressive player (who knew!). We played on my copy but by the end of the game both my parents asked if I would source them a copy - I was a tad surprised!

Settlers of Catan is definitely one of my go-to games.
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Det var bara en hake...
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mikeallenkc wrote:
If you want a more accurate rating of the games on the site, here’s what you should do--penalize recently developed games because they are overhyped and overrated. The newer the game the bigger deduction it should receive.


This would be an attempt to cancel a supposed selection bias while ignoring all others. That's not a good way of doing things.
 
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Michael Allen
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Quote:
Better players consistently win. I would write your gaming group's win stats on a piece of paper and then burn it, because:
by handicapping players, you are indirectly teaching them to make sub-optimal decisions.


Like I said, we never put the handicap thing into practice. It really is just an exaggeration of the way the game is played anyway. You already pick on players that are doing better in the game. With my suggested handicap system, you simply start that at the beginning of the game instead of waiting for someone to take the lead.

Again, I would only do this for young players that have not yet learned the intracacies of the game. Beating up on a six-year old isn't much fun for anyone involved, and it's a sure way to get them to not want to play again. Heck, I don't know many adults that will play a game more than a few times if they always get creamed.


About your Settlers gaming group...sorry you don't have better competition. Like I stated, this is the only game we have where we are all basically the same. Whether or not we're professionals or idiots, I can't say. I just know we're on a level playing field.
 
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Michael Allen
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Kaffedrake wrote:
mikeallenkc wrote:
If you want a more accurate rating of the games on the site, here’s what you should do--penalize recently developed games because they are overhyped and overrated. The newer the game the bigger deduction it should receive.


This would be an attempt to cancel a supposed selection bias while ignoring all others. That's not a good way of doing things.


You've been here for three years, so I'm guessing you've seen top games start to fall. I acknowledge that my formula isn't precise. In fact, some will be off by considerable margins. Most will plummet further than I suggested. A minority group will hold their ground a little better. Which ones are which, I obviously have no idea. Still, I'd bet the house that if you look at the ratings in ten years, my predicted ratings will be much closer to their endpoint than the current ratings.

 
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Greg Cornell
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You have said what I always say. Catan will always be great!

I was always a gamer, but Euro games were off my radar completely until I was recommended Catan by a friend - who also steered me towards BGG. Now I am a Euro game junkie.

I will still play the old games from time to time, but I always want to play Euros with anyone who will join me. Catan is always in heavy rotation at our house. Nobody ever turns it down when suggested.
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