Review – Catan: Dawn of Humankind

Catan before roads, settlements, cities, and robbers (kind of).

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Designer Klaus Teuber, Benjamin Teuber

Artist Quentin Regnes

Publisher Catan Studio

Category Resource Management

Length 75-120min

Release Date 2022

Player Count 3-4

Depending on how you count them, there are over 75 official varieties of the Catan board game. Rightly so, for Catan has been the gateway game for tabletop gamers for decades now. However, do we really need another version? The 6th in Catan Studio’s Catan Histories series, Catan: Dawn of Humankind, says we do. 

Review 

Anyone who’s played the original Catan will be able to pick up Dawn of Humankind pretty quickly. It’s Catan, but it’s the beginning of human history, where explorers discover new animals, where saber tooth tigers steal your resources, and where having the most technologically advanced pottery means something. 

Here are some of the differences between Catan and Dawn of Humankind

  • Players begin the game with 3 campsites, which replace settlements (there are no cities).
  • Explorers replace roads. You can move explorers around the map, pick up explorer tokens, and convert your explorers to campsites (settlements). 
  • 4 progress tracks replace the development cards. Each progress track does something different: move the robber, increase your explorers’ movement, increase clothing level, and increase campsite level (the latter 2 are used for gaining exploration tokens). 
  • Moving around the board and settling in many different locations is necessary for number and resource diversity. 
  • Only 4 resource cards instead of 5. 
  • Most of the numbers on the board are fixed. 
  • When you place a campsite, you pick up the token you placed it on, which serves as a victory point. First to 10 wins, like Catan, but you don’t start with any VPs. 
  • Much bigger board, and double-sided (1 for 3 players, 1 for 4 players). 
  • You can always trade 3 of any resource for 1 of whatever you want (no ports). 

Most of these changes enhance the gameplay. Having 4 resource cards ironically opens up more trading opportunities because everyone wants the same 4 resources, and the resource balancing is really well done (for example, wood and brick are often useless in Catan’s endgame unless you’re trying for longest road; that’s not an issue here). The larger board means more space for everyone, even in a 4-player game. Having more control over exactly which development card you get (progress board) is a nice strategic nuance as well. 

Swapping out the roads for explorers is interesting. It means you can more quickly get to the campsites you want, and it means you won’t be blocking other people. Explorers are also used to explore, provided you have the appropriate clothing and campsite level for whatever you’re exploring. Exploration tokens act as the new longest road (whoever has the most gets 1 VP), and they often grant bonuses like moving the robbers or gaining an additional VP. 

Another interesting nuance is that some exploration tokens force you to remove a number from the starting area of the board, which means players with campsites there will no longer collect that resource. This mechanic provides a fun take-that feature, and it also forces players out of the starting region, which has an interesting migration feel to it (quite thematic for the source content). 

The components are excellent. Except for the gold and brown token colors; that was a poor design choice because they are easily mistaken for each other. Otherwise, the miniatures look great, and it’s nice that the neanderthal and sabertooth (robbers) cover the resource number on the hex. The cards even come in a nice cardholder so you can just pick them up right out of the box. Another nice touch is the educational information on the animals and edibles at the back of the instruction booklet. I do wish there were a few more plastic bags so pieces didn’t shake around in the box so much, but it’s pretty easy to supply your own if you desire. 

While Catan often picks up significantly at the 2/3rds point as players reap the benefits of multiple cities and trading ports, Dawn of Humankind doesn’t have that turning point. It can be slow at times, especially if you’re not getting any of the resources that allow you to move your explorers. It’s also unfortunate that, aside from rolling 7s, you can only move the robber a finite number of times because of the progress tracker. Yes, you can save those moves until the endgame, but I did miss the soldier-spamming from a well-prepared player intent on keeping the robber on whoever was currently in first place. 

Dawn of Humankind still feels like the settlement-building race that the original Catan is, but it’s more open. If Catan is a hallway shooter where there are only a few reasonable pathways to victory, Dawn of Humankind is an RPG where there are many reasonable pathways to victory. Dawn of Humankind is a better game than the original, and it carries some of the familiar nostalgia of the original as well. Check it out if you’re a fan of Catan (a Fantan, for short) and want a more open, less cutthroat, migratory experience. 

Catan Studio (Asmodee North America) kindly provided a review copy. 

The Bottom Line

As a longtime Catan fan, I recommend this iteration of Catan because of its balancing, exploration, and migratory mechanics.

 

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Spencer Patterson

I'm a teacher, writer, and board game reviewer. I especially love board games that pull me in like a good book. My wife is my favorite gaming partner. Twitter: @spencerspen_sir