Board Game Player or Politician?

Settlers of Catan is a board game that has filled many of my evenings since joining the student body at the University of Michigan. It is a game that is similar to Risk that demands a player to build the most efficient and beloved city as well as possible (while being in complete competition with three neighboring nations). In Settlers of Catan, as Weber asserts: a good politician must have passion, the burden of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. 

Settlers of Catan is a competition for five resources: sheep, brick, wood, wheat, and rock. With different allotments of these the game player can decide to build roads, cities, settlements, an army, or risk them for a random reward. The game at first glance is fairly simple until trade and ports are added on. Empires built on ports allow a game-player better deals when at market but they are also less resource-rich. The weighing of benefits actively utilizes the players or ‘politicians’ sense of responsibility as first asserted in Weber’s Politics as a Vocation. What objective has the greatest weight and will provide the largest pay-off? Trade with other players is virtually unrestricted as long as the other player agrees. Should I, as a player, provide beneficial trades to others so that they might help me in the future or should I try to block them at every turn? The downside of saying ‘no’ is that another empire is likely to say ‘yes’ and make an alliance. However, if you say ‘yes’ your opponent could likely win because of it.

Settlers of Catan Board Game

Passion is also necessary to be successful at Catan because a lax attitude influences how other ‘politicians’ are likely to conduct business with you. Players will not seek alliances if they deem that you lack passion behind the protection of your city. Furthermore, spreading your resources too thin over road-building, army-amassing, and expansion would likely to lead to you losing because of the lack of a true purpose. Catan diverges from real-life for the obvious reason of a lack of consequences in losing. My Catan empire is not being built to spread Christianity or Democracy but rather because who’s paying for pizza is at stake, so true passion (as Weber means it) is hard to achieve.

A sense of proportion or level-headedness is more active in Settlers of Catan because of the interaction with other players. Players with large-armies can steal resources so keeping your competitors in your good graces is a necessity as is not appearing the largest threat. Besides, a sense of proportion in how you utilize said resources is also necessary. The winner of the game is decided based on a final point system, where points are awarded for the longest empire, largest army, and best cities and settlements. A sense of proportion is needed to win the maximum number of points. If a player wastes all of their resources on building a road infinitely longer than competitors when it only needed to be slightly longer then they are likely to lose because of poor cities and a small army.

Max Weber

This comparison to Weber is not perfect because of Weber’s assertion that, “…the state is the form of human community that lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence within a particular territory—and this idea of ‘territory’ is an essential defining feature”. Legitimate physical violence is not used in Settlers of Catan and there is a distinct lack of risk-reward. However, the majority of the elements that Weber pronounces make a good politician are quite evident.

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