Roger Marolt: The Settlers of Caton in Aspen
August 10, 2017
My son and his college friends were sitting around the kitchen one night playing a board game when they normally would have been out raising hell. It's not that they weren't raising hell, it was just a different kind of hell than I expected. It seemed like every other roll of the dice resulted in an argument, heated discussion on the application of the rules, or harsh accusations of cheating.
I laughed out loud passing through to get a bowl of ice cream before settling down to an evening of Netflix. Not one of them paused long enough to notice me. I hoped they would all be concentrating as hard when they were back at school in the fall.
I learned that the game is named Catan. It's German, I'm pretty sure. One thing I know for sure is that it is intense, even though to hear its object described, as it was to me anyway, sounds innocuous enough. They said the point was to settle an undeveloped country by using as many of its resources as you can. You get one point for a settlement, two for a city, two more if you build the longest road, and another two if you amass the largest army. The first player with 10 points wins.
Fair enough, I declared. Then I was warned that the game is addicting. Not for me, I snickered. I am not a board-game kind of guy. In fact, they bore me. Hahaha!
The next thing I knew, it was 1 in the morning and I had come in last place three times by a large margin. My shirt was pitted out with sweat rings. My hair was a mess. I slept like there was a warrant out for my arrest and they knew where I was holed up.
The next day my son suggested that my problem was that I was playing against some very seasoned settlers, as they call themselves. He said we ought to get a nice family game together that evening so that things might be calmer and all the players at the same low level of competence. Big mistake!
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We were all smiles until the first dice were rolled and development card bought. My son had to play despite his expertise since he had to teach us how to play. He trounced us, but we were hooked. Honestly things weren't terrible the first night since we were all just learning the value of two-for-one ports and the like. At least we all went to bed still speaking to each other.
The ensuing nights were plain wicked. It was like a virus had been introduced into our home that vaporized our bodies above the waists and dissolved our legs leaving us to deal with the backsides of what remained of our former selves. As the Bible predicts, it was father against son, mother against daughter, and husband against wife. The game always ends with sore losers and bad winners.
I think this could be the worst game ever to introduce to a place like Aspen, yet I can't resist. That's how badly this game has corrupted me, and I've only been playing it for a couple of weeks, albeit quite frequently during that period.
The reason is that it is so easy to contrive the workings of this game into an analogy of what developers are doing to Aspen. In the game you basically extract wood, rocks and some agricultural products from the land and replace it with the biggest buildings you can make from them. The only difference between this and real life in Aspen is nothing. Local governments are but a rule book to argue over and make the game interesting.
I know Catan is only a game, and in a game you are not really considering the value of forests and mountainsides and pristine fields of nurturing beauty. These things simply become game pieces are not recognized for anything except a means to accumulate enough points to win. In real life, it is so much easier to look around and use our senses to experience valuable natural resources as they are and recognize their innate value to our well-being and then we want to preserve them for it.
But, as there is truth in every joke, there is reality in all forms of escape. There are those who would turn the real world into a life-size game of Catan and play it professionally. They turn real rocks and trees and money into game pieces. In their quest for accumulating points, they forget the true worth of what they are trading in order to build the largest city.
Roger Marolt knows it's all about winning and not just playing the game. Email Roger@maroltllp.com.