Saturday, September 29, 2007

Settlers of Cataan

This is an adorable podcast interview of Klaus Teuber and his son Guido. Klaus designed Settlers of Cataan, which is a fantastic boardgame, as testified to here (the second link is one more suitable for home viewing, and best taken with humor and prior knowledge of the game).

Settlers of Cataan was a game I was first introduced to many years okay, at the age of eleven or twelve. It's wonderful, this virgin island that turns into a little contest of hardcore economic imperialism, with soldiers that are little more than robber barons and take a backseat to the machinations of trade.
The first time it reemerged recently was as the way my family spent my second-to-last night in Albuquerque before going off to college. We had a fantastic time, a rather unconventional map, and the game felt not so much new as fresh - it was unlike any other time I had played Cataan, and that was great.
The second time it came up was when I was reading Cronon's Natures Metropolis for my urban history class. Economic systems, the wealth of the surrounding hinterland being drawn in, and many cities, all interdependent, but vying for supremacy as the primary economic powerhouse are parts of both Settlers of Cataan and, well, the history of Chicago. I mentioned this to my professor, who had never heard of the game. I sent links, with long-term local game group plans forming in my head. (Or at least, whims of including game mechanics in a future research paper).

I also found the above podcast, which is just wonderful. It's a father and son talking about games design, with the family as the testing ground, and family game night as this wonderful period of interaction. Klaus mentions the "ghost" that gaming creates, and hints at this other entity that animates the room, that adds to the intensity and the fun of sitting with people you know and plotting, to their face, their demise (or, if you are like one higher-minded family member, your ascendancy; not everyone is motivated by spite). The games I enjoy most have this multi-person interaction. It's why I'd rather play spoons than Texas Hold 'em, or why I prefer Diplomacy to chess. Gaming is a social activity, and it should have it's share of social interaction - the muted, stifled tone that hardcore competitive games breeds is just, well, no fun. And what's the point without fun?

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