Friday Recommends, friends, marital tension, marriage

Friday Recommends: Settlers of Catan

How to Ruin a Friendship/Marriage: Settlers of Catan


When Roger and Megan Swigart first introduced us to the board game Settlers of Catan, we were skeptical. This is how the conversation went:

THE SWIGARTS: You’re going to love this game. It was game of the year in Germany in 1995 and has since been translated into eighteen languages!

THE VORES: It sort of looks like Risk.

SWIGARTS: Sort of. Except you collect ore, brick, sheep, wheat and wood and trade them. Then you build settlements and cities and roads but watch out for the robber. And you collect development cards. And once you get five road segments you get the Longest Road card which is two points.

VORES: Okay. Now it seems a little complicated.

SWIGARTS: Not at all! The inventor, Klaus Teuber, conceptualized it as a game that synthesized land development and colonization as a contest of wills marked by inevitable conflict. We can’t play with some of our friends anymore because it got too competitive!

VORES: (Silent.)

SWIGARTS: So who’s ready to play? Some games can go on for two hours!

VORES (hurriedly putting on coats as they walk out the door): Thanks for dinner! Bye!

Somehow we overcame our apprehension and played that first game, slowly grasping the game’s many intricacies. Neither of us won, but driving home afterwards we had let go of our skepticism. “That game was actually kind of fun,” Ben said. “I should’ve made a more concerted effort to collect ore so I could convert my settlements into cities,” Erin said as she stared pensively out the window. “Yes,” Ben responded, “yes, you should have.”

We called the Swigarts early the following week. “Do you guys want to come over for dinner and, say, maybe a game of Settlers?”

“We’re there,” they said. “You guys are hooked.”

And we were. We have played maybe a dozen times with the Swigarts since. While we have yet to play with other devoted Catanites, we know they are out there, dwelling among us, a secret society who look and talk like regular humans but transform into an army of devoted Klaus Teuber warrior-slaves who would sell their own grandmother for a “Year of Plenty” development card if it meant sweet, sweet victory.

This is part of the charm — and danger — of the game. Any game can become competitive, but Settlers of Catan allows you so many strategic ways to stab your best friend or spouse in the back. And players can gang up on one another if they sense someone is on the cusp of attaining the ten points required to win. Even among such good friends as the Swigarts, many a Settlers game has turned intense, marked by curt responses, withering stares and barely suppressed rage at a spouse’s traitorous behavior. Our friendship has withstood this crucible, but we know other couples who can no longer play the game together. (Perhaps in Germany they use it as a pre-marital counseling tool.)

If you too are a fellow Catanite, we want to have you over for game night sometime soon. Whether we’ll still be friends afterwards remains to be seen. But you can help your cause by letting one of us win.

Long live Herr Teuber!


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