The Essential Family Finance Learning Tool (And So Much More)

Last week we talked about how great parents allow their kids to fail……intentionally. This week, I want to tell you about the perfect family finance learning tool that will give your kids the IDEAL environment to make mistakes, learn how to adjust and develop their ability to bounce back along with so, so much more!

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you already know that I am a huge fan of using board games as a method to improving not only your kids financial and strategy skills, but even your own!

Today I want to focus on one particular game that I strongly believe every family with kids should have on their shelf.

Settlers of Catan.

If you haven’t heard, or played this game before, let me (attempt) to give you a brief overview of the game, and then we’ll delve into why it is such a powerful tool in teaching your kids financial strategies.

The Game

The original Settlers of Catan has players race to place settlements, roads and cities in an effort to collect resources and inhabit the island of Catan.

The game has a hexagon shaped board, filled with randomly shuffled and placed hexagonal “resource” tiles (as pictured above).

To randomize the game play even further, numbered circles are placed on each resource indicating the number which is required to role in order for people with settlements positioned on that resource to collect. While the sequence in which the numbers are placed is always identical, their starting point is randomly selected, ensuring that each and every game requires assessment of the board, and the development of a new game specific strategy.

The game is started by each player having an opportunity to place two settlements and two roads on the board, allowing them to start collecting the resources necessary to continue to expand their dynasty.

The higher the odds of the number present on the resource square where your settlement is located, generally the more valuable the placement. However other factors, like proximity to a port, which allows a player to take advantage of a lower trading rate with “the bank” for collected resources, or the scarcity of an individual resource in rolling odds can also weigh heavily on how players choose to place their settlements/roads and later, cities.

Point values are assigned to settlements (1), cities (2), game development cards displaying a victory point (1), as well the player who manages to build the longest road (2) or the largest army (2). The winner is the first player to reach a total of 10 points.

The original game is made for 3-4 players, but you can also buy an extension pack that facilitates up to 6 players. If you find your family has mastered the game, or needs to vary things up a bit, the Catan line has also come up with additional expansion packs (Seafarers, Traders and Barbarians etc) that change the set-up, and introduce new components of the game such as islands and trade routes etc.

Our Introduction to Catan

We were first introduced to this game about four years ago by my sister and her husband (thanks guys!). From the very first time Mike and I played – we were hooked. We went out and bought the game right away.

Since then we’ve introduced couples and families alike to the game and EVERYONE we have played it with, literally everyone, has gone out and bought the game for themselves. Couples in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, families with young kids, and families with kids in their teens.

IN FACT, one of our friends bought the board game for his wife as her “push present” when she gave birth to their first child……and she was thrilled about it.

We taught our oldest to play when he was 5. He started by playing on a team with Mike, but quickly graduated to playing on his own. Not only does he love it – he’s become a formidable opponent that we are wise to pay close attention to in any game.

We have every intention of getting our youngest in on the action as early as possible.

Why Catan Is So Awesome

Because of the randomization of the board, every single game is very different from the last. In order to be successful – players must assess the positioning of the resources, the odds of the resources rolling, and their proximity to ports.

While it’s desirable to start the game with your initial settlements positioned in such a fashion that you have a chance of rolling every available resource, that’s not always possible. So assessing the value of each resource, and how it will play into your early game, and if you’ll still be able to expand your settlements towards late game resources is all part of developing your overall strategy.

Even if you get unlucky with the rolls and don’t collect the necessary resources to execute your strategy, your game play then relies on your next most useful tool – your ability to negotiate.

The game allows for trades of resources between players. So your ability to communicate with your fellow players becomes essential.

Not to mention that there is the additional layer of something called development cards. While it costs you valuable resources to buy a development card from the bank, doing so can reap big rewards in terms of an edge on your opponents (cards that allow you to select resources, or build roads), or obtaining knight cards towards building your largest army.

Despite it’s nature as a strategy game, the rules of Catan are relatively simple to learn, which makes it accessible to younger kids, and yet it remains challenging for adults of any age.

It’s a regular in our house on family night (in fact – we played it just last night!), and anytime we have a bigger group of family get together Catan somehow manages to find it’s way onto the table for a game (or two!). This game has literally provided hundreds of hours of fun for our family.

Now that’s a dollar per hour of fun ratio that I can get on board with any day.

The Financial Nitty Gritty For Your Kiddos

So let’s break all that down into what this game is teaching your kids from a financial standpoint.

First off – the strategy. Providing your kids the opportunity to form game strategies trains their brains in how to collect available information in order to make the optimal decision. The ability to look for information and critically analyze it is a foundational skill to any future financial success. The more they do it – the better they get at a rapidly taking in the situational factors they are faced with (tell me that’s not an amazing life skill in countless ways.)

Because there is a substantial shift in the resources required from the early game to late game, it also necessitates that your kids not only build their plan around short term results, but also include contingencies to meet their longer term objectives. We’re talking about some boiled down concepts of how to engage in long term planning and think about your future needs, which is exactly what we’re talking about in “big picture” thinking, and the very foundation of delayed gratification.

Even the best strategies don’t always work out. What can look like a slam dunk winning placement early in the game can quickly go sideways if the rolls don’t come your way. This requires kids to learn how to flex. To quickly recognize when something isn’t working for them, and figure out a way to regain control and achieve their objectives via a different path. If a first you don’t succeed, try, try again, just try it in a different way.

This leads us to trading amongst players. Learning how to confidently convey what they are looking to trade, and what they want in return translates to confidence and clarity of speech. Doing this in front of adults, even if it’s adults they are comfortable with, helps kids learn how to think about what they are after, and articulate it in a clear and concise manner.

Not to mention, trading requires good negotiating. Mike and I never let our oldest off easy, if he’s willing to make a bad trade that works more heavily in our favour, we make that trade. We always talk through the trade afterwards (particularly when its just the 3 of us playing) and then we work with him to identify alternative approaches, decisions, or why a particular trade wasn’t in his interest or didn’t meet his long term goals.

It’s amazing to watch how he modify’s his game and alters his approach after learning the hard way. Those types of lessons have some serious sticking power.

And what better/safer place for our kids to learn how to effectively negotiate, assess value, and experience failures?

As we discussed last week, understanding what failure feels like, and how to pick yourself up and move on is so important for our kids to experience and work through, especially in an environment where they can experiment confidently when trying new approaches. With Catan, despite delivering the immediate feedback of a wrong decision or two and perhaps not winning the game, the real life downsides are non-existent while the takeaways can be dramatic.

School Application

Here in BC, our school system has finally seen the light and implemented some degree of financial literacy into every grade from K – 12. (Insert mini celebratory dance here). YAY.

This is long over due – but I am happy the schools are moving in the right direction with this one (even if it is at a snails pace).

But a few months ago our oldest came home from school and announced that his class had an instructor come in and teach them how to play several board games. One of the games was Settlers of Catan.

Both Mike and I exchanged a glance when he said this, we were eager to hear what he thought of the experience, and also mildly fearful. Our oldest can be a teensy-weensy bit of a know-it-all, so when he has experience in a given area, his desire to demonstrate his knowledge can get a bit…….overzealous (I have no idea where he gets this from).

We both expected him to be thrilled at the opportunity to showcase his skills – instead he told us that  rather than playing Settlers of Catan (the original) they played the Jr. version. He was not impressed. Additionally – after nearly 2 hours of playing, the 6 kids who were playing the game at his table had each only gotten 1 turn, because the presenter kept explaining all the available options at length. Unfortunately, that was all the time afforded for the lesson, before the learning had even really started.

While I applaud the school for bringing this in – Grade 4 students are absolutely capable of playing the “adult” version of this game. Continuously placing low expectations of our kids ability to rapidly understand basic financial concepts (or board games) is not doing them any favours.

Furthermore – the financial (and life) lessons in this game are learned from actually playing the game. Interacting with your opponents, facing obstacles to your strategy, problem solving and good old fashioned figuring it out.

So while I was excited that someone thought to bring Catan into a school setting, explaining a board game to kids for 2 hours does nothing to further their financial literacy – letting them play it, repeatedly, that’s where the real learning happens.

The Bottom Line

If you have children, nieces or nephews, investing in this game will reap dividends in increasing their foundational finance skills. The more you can play it with them – the bigger that dividend will grow.

Whether you’ve played it 5 times or 500, there’s always something new to be learned, a new strategy to be found, and new obstacles to overcome.

All of that, and we haven’t even touched on the relationship ROI you will get from spending quality time laughing, playing and competing over a board game like this one.

Suffice to say – if you don’t have it – make some room in your budget and make this game part of your families regular schedule.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back next week when we will have a REAL treat! After being the brains behind this website, and acting as my silent partner who has alway been available to bounce ideas and posts off of, Mike has decided to roll out his very first solo post on the blog! I’m super excited (I’ve already read it – and let me just say – you don’t want to miss this one!).

5 thoughts on “The Essential Family Finance Learning Tool (And So Much More)

  1. I totally was not expecting an article about Catan when I read your title, but what a great surprise!

    My sister introduced my kids to the junior version a while ago, and I just assumed the adult version would be too hard to learn. Clearly, I was wrong!

    We’ll have to invite some friends over to teach us how to play. (It’s always way better to learn that way rather than trying to fumble through the instructions!)

    Knowing that the game could teach our kids math and money lessons is just an added incentive to finally learn how to play it! Thanks for showing me the light! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If your kids are already familiar with the Jr. version – they will have no problem stepping up to the “adult” version! I definitely find it helps capture their interest, generate discussion, and prompts great conversation around financial concepts when they play with adults who are thinking along those lines 🙂

      And fully agree on playing it with someone who is already familiar – it definitely helps to keep things moving, and doesn’t require the rules to be out on the table as a reference at every turn 🙂

      Hope you guys have fun with it – and definitely let me know your thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Phia, I found an older copy of Catan on Craigslist (it looks like it’s an original 90s-era version). From what I’ve read, it sounds like the older versions have the same gameplay as the new ones, and any updates are mainly cosmetic. Do you know if this is the case?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey! As far as I know there haven’t been any changes to the actually gameplay (My sister and her hubby also have an older version) and it appears the updates have been pretty minor (graphics on the cards, some minor changes to the randomized numbers) but nothing that impacts the game play! Good find!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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