Monday, June 8, 2020

What Douglas Adams and Klaus Teuber have in common

Rereading the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the upteenth time, I realized that I have pretty much the same relationship with that book as I have with Settlers of Catan.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a fine work but it’s impact on my life was heavily compounded by first reading it when I was still in the single digits and at a time when science fiction was still struggling to break into the mainstream. We now live in an age where fantasy and science fiction are routinely in the best seller lists, there have been multiple Star Trek TV shows, super heroes are an actual movie genre and my fellow US citizens have actually heard of Doctor Who. None of that was true when I first read the Hitchhiker’s et al. I’d never seen anything like it before, in part because there really wasn’t anything like it for me to see.*

Settlers of Catan was my introduction to the broader world of designer board games. My experiences before it were abstracts and war games. A modular board? Everyone gets to do something every turn? It takes less than two hours to play? It was a revelation.

While there were other games coming in from Europe, it was still very much a super niche world. At the time, I only found games like Settlers of Catan on a table in the back of the nearest gaming shop behind shelves of unpainted lead figures. It was a new world. If not for the internet, it would have been nearly impossible to explore.

I still think that Settlers of Catan is a fine game and still one of the best trading mechanics I’ve played. But if I hadn’t tried it back then and Puerto Rico or Carcassonne has been my gateway and played Catan for the first time last week, I don’t think it would have close to the same impact. If I read Hitchhiker’s et al now for the first time, it’d be fun but not a game changer.

A work can be great and even age very well. However, it will be still be living in the new world it created.

*A very debatable statement but earlier science fiction comedy seems to fall more into satire.

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