My girlfriend has threatened to break up with my three times over Settlers of Catan.
The first time was because she got tired of playing. My good friend, Brogan, and I have the habit of playing once every week-end. After we started dating, all that changed was we brought our girlfriends along. I mean, the game is four players, right? The reason Brogan and I played it every weekend was because of its incredible replay value. The game setup is a set of pentagonal recourse tiles which yield a recourse according to how often a player rolls the number associate with each tile recourse. On the corned of the pentagons each player can build a settlement, and on its perimeter the players build roads. These simple mechanics allow for a massive amount of diversity, as long as the players randomized the tiles.
Randomizing the tiles makes every game different – but apparently not different enough for my girlfriend. “Why don’t you guys ever play anything else?” Because we don’t need anything else! A game where the high probability numbers determine the yield of brick tiles is totally different from one where the same numbers determine the yield of wheat tiles. But girlfriends just don’t understand.
The second time was because I blocked her road. Settlers of Catan is not a chance based game. It’s a strategy based one. Monopoly (without house rules) is a chance based game, because it’s decided by dice rolls. The only possible strategy a player could have is buying every property you land on. Settlers of Catan isn’t that way at all.
There’s always something a player can do, even if they have to rely on the negation phase of the game (which is in the ground rules of the game). Because of this, when a player has no wheat or sheep, it’s smart to enter the road building race. the “longest road” card is worth two victory points, and it provides infrastructure for future settlements so you can get that sweet wheat you need to build another city and get your victory points. Because of this, roads and construction are important. Settlers of Catan is just as much about stopping others from getting victory points as it is about collecting your own.
The third time was because she found something better. One weekend, we added another couple to our board game night. That time, we played Taboo and Hardline: The Resistance, which are incredibly fun party games. These games beg for players to talk, not just negotiate. So, Settlers of Catan isn’t a party game, but it’s not exactly a strategy game, either. It doesn’t take the time or the planning Axis & Allies or Diplomacy takes. It lies somewhere in between.
Settlers of Catan is a soft strategy game for people who have tactical minds but don’t want commitment. It’s not fun the way Pictionary is but it’s not tactical like Twilight Imperium. Really, it’s not a great date night game unless both members of both couples are pretty geeky. But then, it’s intended for a casual setting, because there are plenty of more serious board games which use the same elements that Catan does. Really, Settlers of Catan is the perfect game for casual geeks – geeks without commitment.
This might be the kind of geeks Brogan and I are, but because our girlfriends are way cooler than us we have to compromise sometimes and play Bards Dispense Profanity (the Shakespeare version of Cards Against Humanity) some date nights instead. On the other hand, I dedicate most of my geekdom to books, so I can’t take the serious time commitment to join the guys in my dorm for a bi-weekly Axis & Allies session.
However, I do have enough free time for my girlfriend. Hopefully my Settlers Of Catan addiction won’t threaten that.