Catan – Dawn of Humankind review

The name “Catan” has become such a familiar one in the world of board games that it’s hard to fathom that there are literally dozens of different game variations out there for it at this point, including quite a fun simplified spin-off games. Catan – Dawn of Humankind is a major new release though, and part of the studio’s “Catan Histories” series.

As a larger release, Dawn of Humankind is closer to its big brother Catan than some of the spin-off games. It’s essentially the same kind of experience that started the franchise, but set at the start of human civilization, where you’ll explore and find new animals, run into saber tooth tigers and start to develop ancient technology to make life easier.

It’s definitely not a simple reskin of Catan though, as a few major differences can be seen and make sense from a historical point of view. There are no roads to travel on, so you’ll rely on explorers, who can then start a campsite. Those campsites replace the settlements from Catan, but because of the era you’ll never advance to cities here.

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Exploration is encouraged, and the game board is somewhat larger because of it. It’s double-sides as well, with a version for three and a version for four players. And instead of development cards, there are four progress tracks, three of which (movement, clothing and campsite level) help you with exploration while the fourth one (the robber) is more about resources. Ultimately your goal is to create ten campsites, as doing so gives you a victory point. Getting ten of them wins the game for you, as is the case in vanilla Catan, only here you start from scratch.

And while Dawn of Humankind (a rebooted version of The Settlers of the Stone Age) has plenty of differences and nuances when compared to Catan, it still feels like a Catan game, with some interesting new twists. Ironically, the lack of roads actually makes traversing the game board feel faster and less constricted. There are also a few interesting resource management mechanics in the game, like the ability to block the collection of resources from areas, forcing players to move out and spread themselves across the map even more.

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Dawn of Humankind also feels like a more relaxed experience than Catan, with a much smaller role for large cities and the trade between them. Exploration and resources are more important here, but things generally move at a slower pace – which feels like another good fit for the period in time. It’s a wide open world at this point, and having multiple pathways towards a victory helps to illustrate this.

Speaking of illustrations, both the box and game board are nicely illustrated, but the miniatures look fantastic. Unfortunately they’re monochromic (unless you paint them yourself), but they contain a ton of intricate details. It’s an attractive game for both Catan veterans and newcomers, but we’d especially like to recommend it to the latter category. Dawn of Humankind’s more open and relaxed structure makes it feel more welcoming, and because you don’t need any Catan experience it’s a great starting point.

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