Sunday, November 28, 2010

Game of the Moment?

Interesting article in the Washington Post about 'Settlers of Catan' and whether it's the game of the moment in the same way that 'Monopoly' was during the depression. 'Settlers' is the most popular of the German style of games and a very good starter game towards more serious strategy games. The Post's description:
It is, like Monopoly, a multiplayer real-estate development game, in this case set on an island rich in natural resources to which players have limited access. You need ore to build a city, and if you can't mine enough yourself, you can trade - but the wood you surrender in exchange may help your partner, or boost or thwart someone else. In Settlers, the trading - and the interconnected fates of the players - keeps everyone involved even when they aren't rolling the dice; there are multiple ways to win; and players are often neck-and-neck until the very end. The game has been constructed to last an hour, 90 minutes tops. And each time you play, the board, which is made up of 19 hexagons, is assembled anew.
The article continues to suggest that it may suggest a good model of thought for current Americans:
Settlers teaches new ways of thinking and presents a different notion of winning: by a nose instead of by a mile. The game is won by earning 10 victory points, but points are earned by a combination of building settlements and cities, having the longest road or the largest army, or drawing cards. A Settlers win doubles as a lesson in a world where resources are finite and unevenly distributed. It's a game for a moment when no one - even Americans, happily playing board games - should expect a perpetual monopoly on power.
Er, I don't know about that. I've taken two main things away from my times playing. One is that geography is destiny. The other is that random chance makes winners and losers. The first point is less true today than it maybe ever has been what with enhanced mobility and the rise of information and service as backbone industries. The other point is tendentious at the very least. While the randomness of dice rolling is necessary in game play, in the real world people can make their own way. Unpredictable events can obviously play a large role, but overall philosophy is much more important in the long run.
I don't know if there are any board games that really serve as a good model for the real world actions of people. In board games there are clear winners and losers and the world is something of a zero sum affair. In order for me to win, you must lose and every action contributes one way or the other. In real life there are constant additions of value. If I succeed at my job it isn't because my co-workers did badly. Not even because my business competitors did so. Game play doesn't reflect that. (Also, 'Monopoly' doesn't reflect any real kind of economics.)
Board games do teach life skills and they're useful at that. But it's silly to make too much of that. If we're looking for a world where not only our country succeeds (and I think we are) then we have to put down the dice and look elsewhere.

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