CLOSE
Original image

Settlers of Catan: Monopoly Killer?

Original image

As a baseball writer who discusses the economic aspects of the game, I'm often pushed by the “it's just a game” portion of the audience to defend my own position that baseball is, at heart, a business like any other. Owners and the league are in it to make money, either through profit or increasing the value of their teams, and the league is subject to competition from other sports and shocks from inside and outside the industry. The same is true of board gaming, which has had to fight changing consumer tastes and deal with the effects of technology, from the Internet to home video gaming systems.

The boardgaming world was, however, been pretty stolid for the bulk of the 20th century, with very little innovation from within; the mainstream board gaming companies' idea of creativity is coming up with themed versions of existing stalwart games. But in 1995, the game Wired magazine dubbed the "Monopoly killer" (although Monopoly isn't dead … yet) entered the market, and after a long, slow incubation period, is moving into the mainstream and threatening the established order of board games.

This game was developed in Germany, the center of the boardgaming universe; Germans buy more board games per capita than any other nation, and the vast majority of what are now called “German-style” games come from the market that gave the genre its name. (A bit circular, but the center holds.)

It was developed by Klaus Teuber, a dental technician who had previously won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (“Game of the Year”) award three times but didn't have any long-term successes. In 1991, he had the idea for a game where players competed to colonize a newly discovered island, a game that would be competitive, incorporate some element of chance, and would be fairly easy for new players to learn. It took him four years of tinkering and testing the game with his wife and two children before he released it to the public in 1995.

The game was Settlers of Catan, and while it hasn't killed off the old boardgames that still lead the market, it has led a minor revolution in the gaming world.

If you haven't been introduced to the joys of Catan, you are in a shrinking majority, as the game is now available through such mainstream vendors as Target and Barnes & Noble and ranks as the #1 selling strategy game on Amazon. As Teuber intended, the game combines skill and luck with a simple set of rules where no player is ever eliminated. It's infinitely replayable, and has even become a cult hit among Silicon Valley executives.

In the original version, which requires three or four players, the island of Catan comprises 19 hexagonal tiles, randomly arranged in a large hexagon with three tiles per side. Eighteen of those tiles are resource tiles, with one of the five resources in Catan (wool, ore, wood, brick/clay, and wheat) and a number between 2 and 12. The nineteenth tile is a desert tile with no resources.

Players begin the game by placing two settlements on the vertices of the hexagons, going for specific resource combinations and tiles with numbers closer to 7. Each player begins his/her turn by rolling the two dice, and any tile bearing a number equal to the combined total of the rolls yields one resource per adjoining settlement and two per city to the players who own them. Players use specific combinations of resources to build roads and settlements, convert settlements to cities, or buy cards that allow them to raise an army or earn points. The winner is the first player to get to 10 victory points, achieved through settlements (1 apiece), cities (2 apiece), building the longest continuous road (2 points), raising the largest army (2 points), or through special one-point cards scattered through the deck.

The game's random elements come through the dice and the deck of cards, with special value on the most likely roll of the dice. When a player rolls a 7, he may move the robber on to any tile on the board, blocking one or more opponents from earning more resources until the robber moves, stealing one resource from an opponent, and forcing any player with more than seven resources on hand to discard half of them. Players may also move the robber by playing a soldier card, regardless of the dice roll. Thus an opponent who threatens to run away with the game may find himself targeted by other players who seek to slow his progress.

The U.S. market for the game has picked up substantially over the past few years, and Mayfair, the game's publisher and manufacturer, believes they're about five years from a true breakout. They shipped their one millionth copy of the game in January of 2010, and now print the game continuously (most games are printed like books, in batches according to demand). By 2013, Mayfair hopes to ship over a million copies a year here, up tenfold over their 2004 sales figure, as the game continues to seep into the mainstream consciousness alongside such ntries as Monopoly or Risk – games that involve more luck, less strategy, and involve eliminating opponents.

The slow build of Settlers of Catan over the last 15 years has opened the door for other, smarter games by creating a niche for serious board gamers. Walk into Barnes & Noble and you'll find several shelves of German-style games, including Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Dominion, all later winners of the Spiel des Jahres. In addition to smarter game mechanics, these games boast better-quality boards and pieces, and all four of these titles offer multiple expansions for players who want to add something to the core gameplay, such as The Seafarers of Catan, Carcassonne Traders & Builders, or Dominion: Alchemy.

And there's even a niche within the niche of gamers who find Settlers too simple or too luck-driven, a group that drives the top of the rankings over at BoardGameGeek, where more demanding, almost no-luck games like Puerto Rico, Agricola, and the epic Caylus (games of which can last six hours “if you're quick,” according to one industry exec with whom I spoke) dominate the site's Top 100 ranking.

Settlers was my own introduction to German-style games, and it renewed my long-dormant interest in board games. I noticed it had earned induction into the GAMES Magazine Hall of Fame in 2005, the only game in that pantheon with which I wasn't familiar, so I sought it out – first the two-player card game, then the original board game, then the Seafarers expansion. Our own collection now numbers over 25 German-style games plus a few expansions, but Settlers will always remain a favorite because of its blend of simplicity and strategy and the way that it ensures no two games are ever alike.

Keith Law of ESPN is an occasional contributor to mental_floss. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

Get 15% off our new game when you use the code SPLITDECISION!

Original image
DreamWorks
arrow
entertainment
15 Must-Watch Facts About The Ring
Original image
DreamWorks

An urban legend about a videotape that kills its viewers seven days after they see it turns out to be true. To her increasing horror, reporter Rachel Keller (then-newcomer Naomi Watts) discovers this after her niece is one of four teenage victims, and is in a race against the clock to uncover the mystery behind the girl in the video before her and her son’s time is up.

Released 15 years ago, on October 18, 2002, The Ring began a trend of both remaking Japanese horror films in a big way, and giving you nightmares about creepy creatures crawling out of your television. Here are some facts about the film that you can feel free to pass along to anybody, guilt-free.

1. DREAMWORKS BOUGHT THE AMERICAN RIGHTS TO RINGU FOR $1 MILLION.

There were conflicting stories over how executive producer Roy Lee came to see the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu, Hideo Nakata's adaptation of the 1991 novel Ring by Kôji Suzuki. Lee said two different friends gave him a copy of Ringu in January 2001, which he loved and immediately gave to DreamWorks executive Mark Sourian, who agreed to purchase the rights. But Lee’s close friend Mike Macari worked at Fine Line Features, which had an American remake of Ringu in development before January 2001. Macari said he showed Lee Ringu much earlier. Macari and Lee were both listed as executive producers for The Ring.

2. THE DIRECTOR FIRST SAW RINGU ON A POOR QUALITY VHS TAPE, WHICH ADDED TO ITS CREEPINESS.

Gore Verbinski had previously directed MouseHunt. He said the first time he "watched the original Ringu was on a VHS tape that was probably seven generations down. It was really poor quality, but actually that added to the mystique, especially when I realized that this was a movie about a videotape." Naomi Watts struggled to find a VHS copy of Ringu while shooting in the south of Wales. When she finally got a hold of one she watched it on a very small TV alone in her hotel room. "I remember being pretty freaked out," Watts said. "I just saw it the once, and that was enough to get me excited about doing it."

3. THE RING AND RINGU ARE ABOUT 50 PERCENT DIFFERENT.

Naomi Watts in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

Verbinski estimated that, for the American version, they "changed up to 50 percent of it. The basic premise is intact, the story is intact, the ghost story, the story of Samara, the child." Storylines involving the characters having ESP, a volcano, “dream logic,” and references to “brine and goblins” were taken out.

4. IT RAINED ALMOST EVERY DAY WHEN THEY FILMED IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON.

The weather added to the “atmosphere of dread,” according to the film's production notes. Verbinski said the setting allowed them to create an “overcast mood” of dampness and isolation.

5. THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER WAS INFLUENCED BY ANDREW WYETH.

Artist Andrew Wyeth tended to use muted, somber earth tones in his work. "In Wyeth's work, the trees are always dormant, and the colors are muted earth tones," explained production designer Tom Duffield. "It's greys, it's browns, it's somber colors; it's ripped fabrics in the windows. His work has a haunting flavor that I felt would add to the mystique of this movie, so I latched on to it."

6. THERE WERE RINGS EVERYWHERE.

The carpeting and wallpaper patterns, the circular kitchen knobs, the doctor’s sweater design, Rachel’s apartment number, and more were purposely designed with the film's title in mind.

7. WATTS AND MARTIN HENDERSON HAD A FRIENDLY INTERNATIONAL RIVALRY.

Martin Henderson and Naomi Watts star in 'The Ring' (1992)
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

The New Zealand-born Henderson played Noah, Rachel’s ex-husband. Since Watts is from Australia, Henderson said that, "Between takes, we'd joke around with each other's accents and play into the whole New Zealand-Australia rivalry."

8. THE TWO WEREN’T SURE IF THE MOVIE WAS GOING TO BE SCARY ENOUGH.

After shooting some of the scenes, and not having the benefit of seeing what they'd look like once any special effects were added, Henderson and Watts worried that the final result would not be scary enough. "There were moments when Naomi and I would look at each other and say, 'This is embarrassing, people are going to laugh,'" Henderson told the BBC." You just hope that somebody makes it scary or you're going to look like an idiot!"

9. CHRIS COOPER WAS CUT FROM THE MOVIE.

Cooper played a child murderer in two scenes which were initially meant to bookend the film. He unconvincingly claimed to Rachel that he found God in the beginning, and in the end she gave him the cursed tape. Audiences at test screenings were distracted that an actor they recognized disappears for most of the film, so he was cut out entirely.

10. THEY TRIED TO GET RID OF ALL OF THE SHADOWS.

Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli used the lack of sunlight in Washington to remove the characters’ shadows. The two wanted to keep the characters feeling as if “they’re floating a little bit, in space.”

11. THE TREE WAS NICKNAMED "LUCILLE."

The red Japanese maple tree in the cursed video was named after the famous redheaded actress Lucille Ball. The tree was fake, built out of steel tubing and plaster. The Washington wind blew it over three different times. The night they put up the tree in Los Angeles, the wind blew at 60 miles per hour and knocked Lucille over yet again. "It was very strange," said Duffield.

12. MOESKO ISLAND IS A FUNCTIONING LIGHTHOUSE.

Moesko Island Lighthouse is Yaquina Head Lighthouse, at the mouth of the Yaquina River, a mile west of Agate Beach, Oregon. The website Rachel checks, MoeskoIslandLighthouse.com, used to actually exist as a one-page website, which gave general information on the fictional place. You can read it here.

13. A WEBSITE WAS CREATED BY DREAMWORKS TO PROMOTE THE MOVIE AND ADD TO ITS MYTHOLOGY.

Before and during the theatrical release, if you logged into AnOpenLetter.com, you could read a message in white lettering against a black background warning about what happens if you watch the cursed video (you can read it here). By November 24, 2002, it was a standard official website made for the movie, set up by DreamWorks.

14. VERBINSKI DIDN’T HAVE FUN DIRECTING THE MOVIE.

“It’s no fun making a horror film," admitted Verbinski. "You get into some darker areas of the brain and after a while everything becomes a bit depressing.”

15. DAVEIGH CHASE SCARED HERSELF.

Daveigh Chase in 'The Ring'
© 2002 - DreamWorks LLC - All Rights Reserved

When Daveigh Chase, who played Samara, saw The Ring in theaters, she had to cover her eyes out of fear—of herself. Some people she met after the movie came out were also afraid of her.

Original image
Land Cover CCI, ESA
arrow
Afternoon Map
European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
Original image
Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios