Friday, September 29, 2023

Catan, the internet and the marketplace of ideas

When I first got into gaming about twenty years ago, there were three games that seemed to be in every group’s collective game closet: Settlers of Catan, Puerto Rico and Carcassonne. Very quickly, Ticket to Ride got added to that list. (It had to actually get published before anyone was willing to play it)

I’ve found myself thinking about these four games and wondering where to ramble with them. I could write about how the hobby has changed and there isn’t a unifying game like these were anymore.

But honestly, that’s a delusionally nostalgic viewpoint. It’s picturing a world where BGG was the center of the gaming world. Plenty of folks were playing Axis and Allies or Battletech or Titan and didn’t know Catan existed. (And that’s not even getting into Chess or Rummy or Scrabble or Poker or Go or- you get the idea)

Yes, the gaming world has become bigger and more mainstream and more varied. But it’s not like it was a magical Smurf village twenty years ago.

I also don’t think they represent a golden era of gaming and game design. We are talking about a ten-year span. That’s pretty short compared to Mancala or Chess but that’s a long time in the modern market. And it’s not like there haven’t been a ton of great games since then.

My next thought was that the game that actually mattered was Catan because, love it or hate it (I love it), no one can deny that it changed the landscape. But I don’t think that’s quite what I’m looking at either.

Then an idea occurred to me. We are looking at games that came out as the internet was becoming more and more mainstream. It is now so ubiquitous we carry the internet in our pockets but the internet changed so much. (Wow, there are grownups who have always lived in a world with the internet. )

I firmly believe that Carson, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are all great games that will still getting played twenty years from now. I also think they were in the right place at the right time to take advantage of an algorithm we didn’t even know existed.

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