That Settles It

In about 2005 I had a chance encounter that - while it did not change my life - changed how I look at table top games. I'd read in the year 2000 about the mania called "The Settlers of Catan" that was sweeping the USA even then (five years after its debut in its native Germany.) The premise seemed a little boring - building little wooden roads and villages? What makes this fun? And in truth, my first couple games didn't win me over. Luck was not on my side, no one ever seemed to have any need for the resources I had to trade, the dice were misbehaving, my long road was not the longest road. It was an exercise in frustration, but when I went to bed that night, the hexagonal and randomized board was there behind my eyes, and my brain was still going over each wooden piece placement, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. That night, I dreamed of the game. Though I had not enjoyed the game per se, I was hooked - I just didn't know it.

Settlers is the killer app of light strategy gaming - it is, more than any other, the game that starts the addiction that leads to massive amounts of time and money spent on board gaming. It bridges the gap between party games and "Euro" games by being interactive, social, a little mysterious, and fun. The more you play, the more you like it, because it is a game that, while the basics can be explained in ten minutes, it's deep enough that you can play for months or years and not grasp all the possibilities and tactics. That's the challenge - figuring out the game itself and how your friends play it. A friend of mine had a weekly game for a while, and a member of his group won over twelve times in a row - and they have never figured out how he did it; they all were experienced and good at the game, and this guy wasn't playing any obvious strategy. There are a lot of subtle details to the game, however, and learning those helps you improve. Learning is a big part of what makes games fun, and this one is no exception. It's already sold over 15 million copies, and for good reason.

(Pictured above is a photo found on the web by my friend Lapsed Cannibal. It depicts the Queen of Catan and her loyal henchmen. Actually, some hard core Settlers players dressed up like the artwork from the "Catan Cities and Knights" edition.)

Read more about Settlers: In Silicon Valley, Settlers is the New Golf