Sunday, August 7, 2011

Recommendation: Settlers of Catan

I've mentioned before that my friends and I play a lot of board games. We are connoisseurs, you might say. We play obscure indie games made by Europeans and guys in basements. That is either very hipster or extremely nerdy. Probably the latter. But one game among the many has won a special place in our hearts. It is the game to which we always return when the others have ceased to entertain. It is one game to rule them all. It is THE SETTLERS OF CATAN!!

Imagine that last sentence as if it were said by this guy from Futurama. If you don't understand the reference, get on Netflix and watch the first episode. I command it!

Settlers, as we in the biz call it, is a German board game first published in 1995. The Wikipedia article about the game actually refers to it as a "German-style board game," which I had to further investigate, as I didn't realize that was a particular class of board game. Here's what that means:
German-style board games are a broad class of tabletop games that generally have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction and attractive physical components. The games emphasize strategy, play down luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends. German-style games are sometimes contrasted with American-style games, which generally involve more luck, conflict, and drama.
That definition applies pretty well to how Settlers works. Here's the idea: the board is made of hexagonal pieces that can be rearranged in myriad ways to form the "island of Catan."

Your basic board looks like this:

Here's what it looks like up close.

Basically, the object of the game is to gather resources and then use those resources to build settlements and cities, which earn you victory points. The first player to ten victory points wins. I could go into detail about the gameplay (how you get resources, how you build stuff), but I don't want to risk losing you. Suffice to say, despite the simplicity of the basic concept, this game always delights and amuses me. Because the board can be changed around in so many ways, it's always a slightly different game. And the game designers have made several expansions that change the gameplay just enough to add a little variety.

The best part of Settlers is that at any time you can try to trade resources with your fellow players. It forces you to work on your wheeling-and-dealing skills and adds dimension to the game, because although you are competing for dominance, many times you need something from your opponents in order to succeed.

In conclusion and in summary, Settlers of Catan is an awesome board game. But don't take my word for it. Find someone who owns it (or buy it yourself) and give it a try. You might not be convinced now, but after a couple games, I think you'll be a convert.

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