Many years ago, my family was dining at the house of my father’s psychologist friend. Dinner had been dispensed with, and the older generation was settling in to wine and discussion of real estate, when I stumbled across the adult son of said psychologist-friend. He invited me to play a game with his partner and him, and there, a love affair was born. Months later I convinced my parents to let me spend $100 on said game, “The Settlers of Catan”.
For those of you who aren’t quite on the trendy side of culture – who haven’t yet seen an episode of “Orange is the New Black” or watched Disney’s “Frozen” – “The Settlers of Catan” is a board game, but one entirely unlike the Monopoly or Scrabble set of your youth. “Catan”, as fans call it, is a Euro-game; a style of board game typically involving less chance and requiring a greater degree of co-operation than other games. In “Catan” you are settlers of an uninhabited island (or “foreign investors”, as Tony Abbott might say), building settlements, roads and cities to establish yourself. Each new structure increases your production from the surrounding fields, forests, and mountains, growing your wealth and enabling further development. Yet the best players will never go it alone – it’s a shrewd balance between collegial trading, economic partnership, and cut-throat Machiavellianism that will bring about success.
“Catan” took a while to catch on for my family. There were ten of us, so we were never short on numbers, but it became hard to coordinate games with so many varied social schedules. Yet as we grew older and shrugged off the weekend commitments of sport and casual work, “Catan” became a steady go-to game. It wouldn’t be unusual for the family to complete three games in a single weekend, often with the same participants. While we stopped short of creating a ladder system, family lore still records who the strongest player is, and interstate siblings hone skills in anticipation of a rematch.
So far I’ve answered the question: which board game? But perhaps some are also wondering: why board games? To which I would say: it depends on what you like. In my experience, board games offer an object for time spent with friends. They are no substitute for a wonderful shared meal, or a stimulating, wandering conversation. But once the dessert has been packed away, and conversation has begun to stray into recounts of internet documentaries, perhaps it’s time to get out the dice? You’ll get to spend further time enjoying one another’s company*, challenging yourself intellectually, and the game itself probably costs less than 3 adult tickets to the movies (not that that’s saying much, but the physical game will last much longer).
Next time you’re at a mate’s house and you spy the familiar red and yellow box on a coffee table or a bookshelf, humour me. After dinner, instead of settling down to watch videos of the intrepid Sarah Ferguson (which generally, I would say, is an excellent way to spend the time), try settling down to a game of “Catan”. With a bit of luck you’ll have a steady flow of brick and timber, on the longest road to victory. Just don’t be surprised if your vanquished opponents demand a rematch.
*It has been noted that games of “Catan” can divide friends and thwart nascent romances, so make sure to be careful before placing the robber.