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April 11, 2009

Want one of my sheep for three of your bricks?

April 11. Day 285.

Jem and the K-meister, her boyfriend, came over tonight with a new board game, The Settlers of Catan. Wired describes the game as a contest to "establish settlements in various locations on the board...Every settlement is worth a point, cities are two points, and the first player to earn 10 points wins." Players roll the dice and collect "resource cards," like timber or sheep, which they can use to buy settlements or cities. The article says:
Since every roll of the dice in Settlers has the potential to reap a new harvest of resource cards, unleash a flurry of negotiations, and change the balance of the board, every turn engages all the players. "The secret of Catan is that you have to bargain and sometimes whine," Teuber [the creator] says. (More of the story, here.)
Negotiation? Bargaining and whining?

Count. Me. In.

We started by reading the rule book, which took about two hours.

"What a fun game!" I joked, when the K-meister advanced to page four. "So the idea is, someone reads from the manual and everyone else takes turns asking questions?"

Ha ha ha.

But soon enough, we were off.

Placing our little cities on coal mines and timber forests. Getting plundered by the robber. Keeping track of one another's resources and making various trades to get what we needed. Trying to make it to 10 points.

I was up against two MBA students and one mathematical/probabilistic guru (Mr. A). They were up in the 8 and 9 point range, and I was trailing with 4, 5, 6. Figuring things out. Not quite confident of where to place my settlements to maximize profits. Wondering if I should build a road or save up my resources. All the while, the others were building more and more, reaping more and more.

I started playing recklessly, exchanging all my resources on one turn for two wildcards, trading a bit erratically, for fun or curiosity as much as profit, and asking for advice, indifferent if it gave away a strategy -- or my cluelessness...

"Don't do that, because she already has 9 points," the guys warned me about Jem's growing empire.

"If you give him your timber, he's going to edge ahead of the rest of us. I'll give you two sheep if you stop helping him," Jem told a few rounds later.

Occasionally someone would get a certain expression and I'd think, "This is it. Game over. He/She has the winning move." But wait -- not yet -- one more round...

I always cooperated, did whatever I could to stretch the game out. Because it was one of the most entertaining boardgames I've played in a long while.

And then, something strange happened. I won.

I don't exactly get how, but somehow, I won!

I counted my cards, tallied my little cities and settlements, and made it to 10.

Not gloating.

Just... pleasantly surprised!!!

Gained: Somehow I negotiated, bartered and asked my way to success on an imaginary island called Catan.
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