From bored to board: Dig up Settlers of Catan for your next game night
BY LAWRENCE GRABOWSKI Special Columnist
Photos courtesy of www.catan.com
Usually, when I tell people I am spending the evening playing board games, they say: "You mean Settlers of Catan?" First published in 1995, of all the Euro Games one is likely to encounter Catan is certainly the most common. Gameplay revolves around Resource Management. Players begin the game with two settlements adjacent to numbered tiles that provide one of five resources when that number is rolled. Using these resources, players expand their network of roads and settlements, the primary method of accruing victory points, and try to be the first to ten.
Catan has a number of mechanics that the majority of people are already familiar with, which makes it easy to learn. The most obvious is dice rolling. We are exposed to dice games throughout our lives - whether it is through Monopoly, Craps or Clue - and many people understand that when certain combinations come up, specific things happen. Placing towns and road segments down is essentially betting that the given numbers will come up with enough significance to allow you to win, similar to betting on roulette. Most are also familiar with the idea of attempting to acquire specific combinations of cards, as in poker, and using probability or trading to get them. Everyone who went to a school with a basketball court is familiar with the victory condition in Catan, first to ten.
What really sets Catan apart from other games most people have played up to their introduction to it: the social interaction component. The likelihood of having all the resources necessary for building something at a given moment is not especially high; so on their turn, a player may make a single resource trade with someone else. It is implied that one will trade resource cards, Wheat for Brick, Two Sheep for Wood, etc. but nothing in the rules prohibits, say, trading slices of pizza for Stone.
Social interaction in a competitive environment, as we have seen in shows such as Survivor, leads to factionalism and irrational hatred. In Catan, this manifests as hilarious multi-game grudges where people will make suboptimal plays just to dick their friend who wouldn't trade with them five games ago. This phenomenon gets turned up to eleven when the robber piece, which denies the use of whatever tile it is on, gets moved. New players are amazed at the rapidity with which civility is abandoned and friendships are put aside when the risk of resource denial looms nigh.
Settlers of Catan has become synonymous with board games in the minds of people old enough to drink and has achieved such a high level of popularity because of its extensive use of familiar mechanics and a novel, to those unfamiliar with Euro Games, social interaction component. This component adds a level of depth and hilarity to the gaming experience that is sorely lacking from the board games people are used to. An evening of Catan is a great, and inexpensive, way to have a blast with your buddies, and meet their single friends.