Rainy weather cramping your style? Frustrated by slim pickings this election year? Imagine transporting yourself to a world where flocks of sheep roam free and you benevolently rule over bustling settlements full of adoring peasants. And no, I’m not talking about New Zealand. The Settlers of Catan, colloquially referred to as “The Settlers of Can’t” (as in “I can’t even…”) among my friends, may be the antidote to your woes. Arguably Germany’s finest export of all time, The Settlers of Catan is a board game that combines luck, shameless backstabbing and pure skill. The goal of the game is simple enough: the first person to obtain ten victory points wins. Victory points are acquired through building settlements, cities and obtaining/playing development cards.
Your ability to accrue points depends on your savvy control of resources. Every round, dice are rolled and players collect resources adjacent to their settlements. There are official names for these resources, undoubtedly some crude translations from the original German, but most people call them sheep, wood, rock, brick and wheat.
Beyond the general mechanics of the game, there are countless ways you can vindictively stifle your opponents’ efforts while cackling maniacally. Even if you’re a novice you can generally: bisect your opponents’ roads, cut off their access to resources, refuse to trade with them, selectively trade with your fellow underdogs and unleash bandits upon your opponents’ assets. Unsurprisingly, these actions may lead to a near-catastrophic straining of longstanding friendships and relationships. Case in point, I carry a contested brick card that was torn in half by my roommate in my wallet. His version of the story might be slightly different.
While luck and revenge are big factors in the game, I would argue that skill is the most important. My personal strategy is part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune (he or she who controls the sheep controls the universe) and part diehard urbanist. There are also the people who try to build the longest road at any cost. A good strategy for beginners is to be that jerk that stockpiles a ton of development cards and wins out of nowhere.
For Catan veterans, there are numerous expansion packs that increase the game’s complexity and allow more players to join in the fun. On top of all that, a Catan-themed film is in the works. So before you binge watch Gilmore Girls or Lost (again) on a rainy day, consider calling 2-3 friends for a rousing match of “The Settlers of Can’t” at your favorite hangout spot. In Portsmouth, Book and Bar, Profile or your local dive bar are great places to start. You can even buy the game at Diversions on Congress Street. There’s also something to be said for ordering a pizza from Joe’s or Flatbread and playing at home. That is, as long as you’re not too troubled by the idea of your living room temporarily transforming into a battle zone as the game inevitably descends into chaos.