Apparently, in the Silicon Valley, the Settlers of Catan is the new golf, where high-tech exec and founder gather to play an old tech game. While I have no interest in golf, The Settlers of Catan I do. More broadly in boardgames.

If for you boardgame mean Monopoly, Clue or Scrabble, I'd yes, but no. In March 2009, Wired had an article about Catan and its success that will help you understand were it comes from, and its success, Catan being often considered as being the initiator of the renouveau of board-gaming, with a new wave of Euro games also called designer games because they don't necessarily come from Europe anymore. They include a large part of strategy and usually much less of a luck factor.

The games vary, some have only cards, some use tiles, or come with a board, or a combination of these. Dice are not necessarily part of the game components, but maybe here to provide some randomness. Unlike in a game like Monopoly or Clue, that randomness is not a decisive part but rather just a way to fuel strategic decisions. When there is no dice, it is just the order the tiles are shuffled, or the cards.

Most of the games have a theme, avoid total abstraction like checkers or chess, making theme a bit more attractive to players.

Several elements that makes The Settlers of Catan are the modular board (constructed out of randomly distributed hex tiles), the resources and their trading between players: what can make your fortune can also make your demise. These resources are the commodities produced each turn that allow you to build, and reach the victory points to win the game, the production being determined by the placement of your settlement on the board and the roll of dice. No game is the same.

Beside Catan, that requires at least 3 player (4 to be optimum, for 5 or 6 you need an expansion), I have a few favorites, that works well with two players:

  • Catan the card game: this is not the same game as Catan, but takes a lot of its principles, using cards, and as a two player game only. You still have resources, their production, the trade and building to reach victory points, all tailored for a two.
  • San Juan: another card game. You build buildings that have various "powers". You alternatively take a role that gives you a privilege for the action you can do during the turn. Your opponents will have taken a role too and get their own privilege, all executing the chosen actions. One of the original bits is that the card you have in hand are used a currency to build (a card is a card), as good you produce (a card is a good) and then exchange for more cards (depending on where it is produced).
  • Race for the Galaxy: another card game, with a science-fiction theme. I played it before San Juan. It definitely inherit traits from San Juan, like card as good, card as currency, action chosen and privilege. But the combination are more complex and production allow to get more than just cards. Like San Juan I find that the game don't have much interaction between players, which is good if you like non-confrontational games.
  • Ticket to Ride: trains, trains, trains. Trains seems to be a recurring theme in boardgames for a while. In Ticket to ride, each player has a set of "tickets" that represent routes, routes he has to build in order to score. Two challenges: to build segments for the routes, you need certain cards (one to several of the same coor). Also segments (a direct route between two cities) might be built by a competitor so you the shortest path is not necessarily the right one. The original game use a North American map. There is a European map a bit more "compact", that is more competitive and more suited for 2 players. One proof that simple rules can lead to a great game play.

To be continued...