Settling down: A pilgrim in the land of Catan
On Saturday evening, I went to a “Settlers of Catan” tournament that was hosted by the Association of Dual Degree Engineers. This tournament capped off Engineering Week, where the Engineering Council hosted networking events, and student groups put on various activities to celebrate engineering academics. I was eager to relive some of my memories playing Catan last summer with my high school friends.
In the board game Settlers of Catan, four players gather and trade resources to build settlements and cities in a race for the most points. The game involves numerous probability-based strategies and trades but, in the end, quite a bit of luck. It simulates playing a simple economy and, therefore, has a relatable and realistic element. As opposed to other popular games such as Monopoly or poker, Catan requires constant attention and communication.
When I walked into the small Lopata Hall classroom where the tournament was held, I was charmed by the atmosphere. The setting felt casual and was filled with a surprising warmth. The Association of Dual Degree Engineers stuffed eight Lopata tables into a midsized classroom and provided Catan sets via the resourceful BYOB (Bring Your Own Board) style; they put out cut apples, pretzels, soda, and Domino’s pizza, refreshment choices that reminded of me of EnCouncil’s Cheap Lunch, and they wrote out a complex bracket on the classroom’s whiteboard that they tactfully adjusted when some players didn’t show up. The board members’ friendly personalities further added to the event’s warmth.
At the table I was randomly assigned to, I met three new people: freshman Eric Olaya, freshman Ben Zev and senior Alex Siegman. Olaya is an undecided major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Zev is in the engineering school, and Siegman is a Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology major. I quickly found that I was, by far, the least experienced Catan player at the table. Olaya, for instance, started playing three years ago and plays Catan once every two weeks, while this tournament was my fourth time playing Catan, ever. My lack of comparative experience made me nervous, especially in a setting that was supposed to be competitive. But the three other players at my table seemed laid-back and friendly, which assured me they wouldn’t judge too hard if I sucked. Maybe, like me, they were just there to have fun.
The tournament started, and then we began rolling dice and tossing Catan’s cardboard cutouts onto the tables. Almost instantly, loud chatter filled the room, like a Hogwarts dining hall after a Dumbledore speech. I heard snippets such as: “That’s not how we play where I’m from, but whatever. I’m going to put a road here. Brick for wheat? Brick for two wheats? Who has ore?” Everyone stared at the cards in their hand and the board in front of them, entranced in the world of Catan.
Siegman aggressively shot out to a quick lead, but Olaya and Zev pursued. I languished behind with disconnected settlements and few resources. And as the rest of the players finally began turning their settlements into cities (which turns points into more points), I had to go for a make-it-or-break-it strategy. I decided to put my fate in the game’s lottery ticket equivalents, the development cards. I used all my resources to acquire these cards and prayed that they turned out well. I got perhaps the luckiest draw ever. The first three that I picked up were the monopoly card and two victory point cards. In particular, the monopoly card allowed me to take everyone’s ore, which was the resource the other players were using to dominate and the resource which I had little access to the entire time. This card swung the momentum of the game in my favor and propelled me, a Catan newbie, towards an improbable comeback and victory.
I was exhausted after an hour straight of Catan, but I decided to stay because I had made the semifinals. The seven winners split up into two groups and began the semifinals. At my new table, this round was tough for seemingly everyone except Sid Sharma. While Owen Peng, Christian Olaya and I lazily made trades and messed around on our phones, Sharma exuberantly questioned everyone for which resources they had and commented on everyone’s strategies. He kept pointing out to us that he was in the lead, and we should try to stop him. In the end, Sharma’s distraction worked, and he revealed two cities in his final turn to win the entire game.
By that point, everyone was exhausted and utterly done with Catan. The hosts decided to end the tournament without the final round. They gave certificates of achievement and “Star Wars” candies to the two winners from the two groups, Sid Sharma and senior Tommy Nathan.
Overall, I found the event incredibly fun and engaging. I loved going toe-to-toe with some amazing thinkers, and I got a tiny glimpse into the life of a Wash. U. Engineer.
Editor’s note: Alex Siegman is a news editor at Student Life. He was not involved in the writing and editing of this story.
Video by Alberto Farino.