Sunday, November 11, 2012

Catan Oil Springs

I'm a big Settlers of Catan nerd, as most people who know me know well. While away in Vancouver this past year, I had a chance to introduce some university friends to the game and it went over well. Those who played were instantly hooked, though we ended-up with precious little time to actually play - what with us being involved in a condensed teaching certification program and all.

Anyway, before I came back to Korea, I had a chance to stop-by nerd-land central (The Sentry Box) in Calgary and pick-up a unique expansion for the game. It's called "Catan Oil Springs". Assuming that if you are still reading this, you are already familiar with the basic game mechanics, "Oil Springs" adds a very interesting dynamic to resource production in ways that benefit the game structure as well as add a very educational element to the whole enterprise. Catan has been used in the classroom before to introduce the idea of different parties working together or against each other for resources, but this has even more potential to generate discussion.

Basically, in a 6 player game, avoiding the smaller details, "Oil Springs" works like this:

*Warning, continuing reading this post will leave you covered in a whole whack of nerd sauce...

1) Oil production hexes are determined with a numbered marker (the deserts use a "9" while one sheep pasture and one forest use a "3". This means that building on an oil-marked desert yields oil, while building on a forest "3" with oil yields both oil and wood. You get the picture.

2) Oil can be used: Oil tokens are yielded with a numbered roll and you can exchange one oil token for two resources of your choice. This sounds good - oil = riches!
But there is a consequence to oil use - for each oil token spent, a marker moves along a track towards environmental disaster. When the marker reaches the end of the track, both dice are rolled - a "7" means coastal flooding (cities and settlements on the coast are wiped-out but can be rebuilt) and any other number means that pollution has so drastically affected the land, that one hex will no longer produce anything - ie: if the disaster roll is an "8", then one of the 8s will be removed from the board, and that hex will be forever barren. That kick-ass "6" you built your game strategy around might soon be no more - kind of like a stream near Alberta's oil sands project.

3) Oil can be sequestered: A forward thinking environmentalist can take oil from the ground, but not use it. Instead, it can be sequestered and taken out of the group supply. This means no pollution and no moving of any marker along a track to environmental devastation. For every 3 oil tokens sequestered, a victory point is awarded, and the first to three VPs for sequestering oil earns the "Defender of the Environment" card, which works in the same fashion as the "Longest Road" or "Largest Army" card.

The wonderful thing about this add-on, and what proved itself to be a great potential learning tool for the classroom, is that the game structure is balanced just so that it will create an ideal scenario in which the temptations and consequences of oil production can be explored with a lot of fun had along the way. Some players went right after the oil and were hell-bent for victory, potential consequences be damned (they could, after all, lose their own number hexes too), while others tried to sequester their oil at first, but then gave into the pressure to keep up with their own property expansion - contributing to the environmental destruction of Catan. Rabbit and I chose to live as the Amish do - pretty much off the grid, and we did all right, too - very fortunate to never have any of our pristine fields affected by the oil.

Playing it makes a hell of a lot more sense than this post probably does.

Anyway, more than the game, it was a fun night - some lovely friends make for a lovely reunion, though plenty more were missed.

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