Saturday, December 07, 2013

I Like Games

I like games--board, computer, console, pen-and-paper--you name it. I'm careful not to say that I love them, because there are people out there who really do love them, and the difference between them and me is pretty noticeable. How so? Let me explain.

For years I and my brother have been playing Settlers of Catan. If you're not familiar with it, it's a board game originally from Germany, but has reached worldwide acclaim and popularity (not like Monopoly or Risk, but is still pretty well-known and played around the world). It's more European in style (that statement is the most gaming hipster I will get in this post, I promise), which means that while you're playing against the other players, you're not in direct combat with one another the way you would be in a game like Risk. The game revolves around gathering resources, building and upgrading settlements, and outmaneuvering the other players. It takes a little more time to set up and play, but it's easy enough to learn--definitely goes faster if you know someone who plays and they can explain it to you. It's the sort of thing that my brother and I would take up, though it might look a little strange to a lot of people in the store.

A couple of years ago, I found out that my two cousins (with whom we've played countless games of Risk and Monopoly over the years, and both of whom are excellent at math-particularly at the casinos) had started playing Settlers of Catan, and were both stunned that my brother and I not only knew of the game, but had been playing it for years.

A few months later, I find myself with some time to kill while my then-very-pregnant wife went in for a doctor's appointment. Fortunately, there's a game store down the street, and I start chatting with the owner. I tell him the story of my conversation with my two cousins, and he laughs politely enough. I detect a faint change in his tone as he mentions how Catan is not quite "the kind of game he plays" as he motions to some other board game titles on the wall.

The thing to understand about Settlers of Catan is that while it's conceptually different than most of the board game you're probably familiar with, the rules really aren't more complex or involved as a lot of other games out there*. Games with hundreds of counters and other pieces to keep track of, with tons of statistics and figures (and good grief, even graphs in some cases) to keep track of. The kinds of things that rewards (really, demands) deeply committed players who can spend significant amounts of free time in poring over all kinds of minutiae in order to gain an advantage. People who are that committed to games sometimes tend to look at people who play a game like Settlers of Catan the same way you might someone who says that they really love playing Candyland.

My cousins who like to break out Risk and Monopoly at family gatherings? They enjoy games.

The guy who is so into gaming that he can feel superior about me playing Settlers of Catan? He loves games.

I like games. And tomorrow I'll tell you about another one I really enjoy.

* = Of course, this is why I've been playing it for years and my cousins picked it up so easily--the rules are simple, straightforward, and elegant. They do still allow you to quietly accumulate hidden resources and deploy them suddenly in a spectacular way, allowing you to choose your own variety of victory dance while waiting for dessert to be served at your aunt and uncle's house on Easter. Not that I know anything about that.

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