Should You Settle for ‘Catan’ on Nintendo Switch?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Do you ever get the urge to play your favorite board game but have no one else to play it with? If one of your favorite board games is Catan then Nintendo Switch has you covered.

Catan for Nintendo Switch
Catan is now on Nintendo Switch (Image by Skip Owens)

What is Catan For Nintendo Switch?

I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the details of Catan as this has been done here on GeekDad and GeekMom. Jenny Bristol wrote an article about how she learned to play as a ”newbie” to the game and points out that Catan has what they call a Catan Game Assistant app for free on iOS and Android. The game assistant is a way for you to learn how to play without having to read the rule book. If you would like to see others play Catan then you can go online and watch an old episode of the Wil Wheaton series Tabletop where they play Catan.

Here is my take on what the game Catan is all about (and I had never played until I played the Nintendo Switch version of the game just a few weeks ago):

In the game of Catan, you are one of several “settlers” trying to build on the island of Catan. The island is broken up into a series of tiles and each tile has a number (1-12) and a type of resource (ore, brick, grain and lumber). Each player rolls two six-sided dice at the beginning of their turn and the number that was rolled determines which tiles on the board “produced” goods.

Catan for Nintendo Switch
The main interface and board layout (Image from Nintendo)

Each player strategically selects where to place their initial settlements and if a player has a settlement that is adjacent to the number that was just rolled, that player gets a resource card from the settlement. Resource cards (in various combinations) allow you to build roads, more settlements, upgrade settlements to cities and buy development cards (which give you various advantages in the game). In addition to getting resource cards after a roll, you can also trade cards with other players. You earn “victory points” when you build a settlement, build a city, acquire a victory point card or win an award like “longest road” or largest army.” There are a lot more details than what I just described, but that is the high level summary. As you can see, player strategy in picking your location for settlements, how well you trade with others, and how you choose to invest the resource your earn plays a big part in the outcome of the game.

In addition to just reading the rule book in electronic form on the Nintendo Switch, going through the Catan Game Assistant App and watching the Catan episode of Tabletop you can also play through the tutorial session on the Nintendo Switch. Even if you are a seasoned veteran I highly suggest you play through the tutorial as the button mapping and controls are a bit complex.

Game Controls and Button Mapping

You need both Joy-Cons to play this game because of the large number of buttons required for the various activities like viewing cards, trading, presenting a counter-offer on a trade and rolling the dice. Pretty much every button on the two Joy-Cons are spoken for.

Catan for Nintendo Switch
Lots of functions each mapped to a specific button on the Joy-Cons (Image by Skip Owens)

I highly recommend taking some time getting used to these buttons, especially before playing a multiplayer game where you only have 60-seconds to make your move before being penalized. If you don’t like the button mapping on this game there is actually a hardware fix for that. I recently purchased the SN30 Pro+ game controller from 8BitDo and you can map different Nintendo Switch button actions to each button or stick on the controller. This will work for pretty much any Nintendo Switch game that doesn’t require motion controls.

Various Playing Modes

First off, the Nintendo Switch version of Catan gives you the standard game and the Seafarers Expansion included as part of the base game. In single player mode you have the following options:

  • Campaign Mode
  • Scenario Mode

Campaign Mode gives you over a dozen maps from which to choose from and each map can be played on one of three difficulty levels. As you win games in campaign mode you unlock more maps to play. Scenario mode allows you to customize the rules and settings of your game a bit more.

If you opt to play multiplayer, be forewarned…there is no local multiplayer on Catan for Nintendo Switch (more on this later). Also, in order to play with other players online you have to have a Nintendo Switch Online subscription.

For multiplayer the options are:

  • Custom Match
  • Auto Match

Auto Match automatically puts together a team of 3-4 players using an ELO rating system to try and make the match as fair as possible. If you select the Custom Match mode you can choose to add your friends as human online opponents in the game and augment the game with additional AI players if needed.

Catan For Nintendo Switch Add-Ons

Right now there is only one additional add-on purchase you can make to Catan for Nintendo Switch and that is The Cities and Knights Expansion for $5.99:

“You will be brought to the golden age of trade and prosperity on Catan. The new wealth of the region has attracted barbarians, and the knights of Catan will be needed to repel the invader. Unite and defend the island of Catan against a common enemy! But watch out, as you will also compete for the control of cities and metropolises.”

So What Is The Game Really Like?

Full disclosure, I had never played Catan until I played it on Nintendo Switch. It was one of those games that was on my list to buy and play with the family for a long time, but just never got around to doing it. So my perspective is going to be different from a dyed-in-the-wool player. Overall, the game mechanics can be learned relatively quickly and the number of options for both single and multiplayer will keep you busy for a long time to come. The two downsides I have run into on this game are the game “bugs” and that multiplayer is online only.

First the bugs. The first really huge annoyance is the wait time for online multiplayer. When you try and start a game the interface sometimes gives you a status on trying to match you up with opponents and sometimes it gives you absolutely nothing. I have had wait times anywhere from a couple of minutes up to 30-minutes. How much of this is the Nintendo Switch online environment and how much of it has to do with the game’s development I do not know. But what I can blame the game developer for is the inconsistent interface when waiting to be paired up with opponents. When a player commits to entering an online match the interface should indicate that it is actually doing something (and sometime it does not).

The other drawback is that multiplayer is done with other people online and the game play is missing that human interaction component that is a big part of how a player can try and coax someone else into a trade.

Catan for Nintendo Switch
Trade just isn’t the same without a person in front of you (Image from Nintendo)

There is a plus side to this though. As we all know interfacing with a stranger on the internet can result in some very unexpected and unpleasant experiences, so you get none of that with this multiplayer implementation. If you want a better multiplayer experience you can do a custom match and play only people you know and setup some kind of voice chat separate from the system. And as for the developer’s decision to NOT allow local multiplayer…I think this was a wise decision. As much as some folks online seem to think this would have been not only possible but a good playing experience, I just don’t see how that would have been possible. It would have needed to involve a smartphone app or web URL implementation and I just don’t see how that would be a smooth game mechanic. In my opinion, the game mechanics would not have been transparent to the end users and would have distracted from gameplay. So if you have friends local with you pick up a physical version of the board game and play.

Verdict

As long as you know going into your purchase that there is no local multiplayer and that this version of Catan is by no means going to be a replacement for the physical game, then I can recommend buying it. The single player mode allows you to hone your skills offline and there are enough options for playing with real humans online to keep even the most experienced game player challenged. If you have trouble with long wait times I have a suggestion. Try building up some experience in single player mode. My theory is that there are more online human players with more experience rather than less, so the more inexperienced you are the longer the wait time. This is just a theory, but it makes sense.

Pros:

  • Comes with the Seafarers expansion with the main game
  • The ability to customize some aspects of the game
  • The ability to play Catan when nobody else is around
  • Has a built-in tutorial that makes it easy to learn how to play the game

Cons:

  • No local multiplayer
  • Long wait times for online multiplayer
  • Requires a Nintendo Online subscription to play online
  • Button controls are a bit complicated
  • Can be a bit buggy at times

Catan for Nintendo Switch is available now on the Nintendo Switch eShop for $19.99.

Disclosure: A copy of Catan for Nintendo Switch was provided to me for this review but the developer had no input into the review.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

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