of Catan, a hyper-social strategy board game, has become the new “in” thing
in Silicon Valley. My guess is that more
Silicon Valley elites play Settlers than play golf.
Playable by people of any age, golf was once the king of all
social games. Although viewed by Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez as a “bourgeois” form of entertainment that should be
eliminated, the sport has traditionally been the go-to game for people –
especially those in the business world – who enjoy socializing through recreational
But in Silicon Valley, golf is mostly dead. It is a game
that a few people enjoy and the rest of us have heard of but probably haven’t
played. Sure, some venture capitalists play
golf, but mostly with each other. While there are some entrepreneurs enjoy playing
golf, just as many enjoy kite-surfing, snowboarding, road biking, running, and
I recently attended a high-level technology conference that
was held right next to a beautiful golf course. In my unscientific poll of about 30 attendees,
only one actually went golfing, and over half had never golfed in their life.
In contrast, Settlers of Catan (or “Settlers,” as it’s often
called) is booming and is quickly becoming the activity of choice for entrepreneurs
here in the Valley. I got into Settlers because Reid Hoffman, the founder of
LinkedIn, had been telling me about what a great game it is for over a year. Then one day, some of the engineers at Rapleaf
(most of whom had been playing Settlers since college) challenged me to play
with them, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
It wasn’t long after my Settlers initiation before I began
to discover Silicon Valley technologists meeting and huddling over the board
game. In fact, there might even be a high correlation between technology
innovation and Settlers play – some of Silicon Valley’s most talented players
include Mark Pincus, Zynga CEO; Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Search; Randi
Zuckerberg, Facebook executive; Barney Pell, Powerset founder; Tod Sacerdoti, BrightRoll
CEO; Saar Gur, Charles River Ventures partner; Scott Faber, Ingenio founder; Erin
Turner, Level Up founder; Ellen Levy, LinkedIn VP; super-angel Aydin Senkut; Ken
Sawyer, Saints Ventures CEO; John Lilly, Mozilla CEO; Matt Sanchez, Videoegg
CEO; Dave Wehner, Allen & Company managing director; Kavin Stewart, LOLapps
CEO; and many others.
But it is not just Silicon Valley stars who are contributing
to Settler’s growing adoption – many engineers and young founders play too. In the
Valley, where geeky is “in,” Settlers is going mainstream.
Reasons for Settlers’ success include its variety for winning
tactics, easy-to-understand rules, and its relatively quick and balanced game
play. For a more comprehensive overview of the game and its inventor Klaus
Teuber, please read the wonderful
piece that Andrew Curry wrote in Wired earlier this year (a must read).
At Rapleaf, Settlers has – along with karaoke and our yearly
camping trip – become something of a company activity, with people here creating
late-night Settlers pick-up games. And
last month, Rapleaf and StumbleUpon (another “Settlers company”) got together
for a night of Settlers.
While Settlers’ game play is already pretty sophisticated,
Rapleaf players have embraced Silicon Valley’s innovative culture and started
adding in their own rules to make the board game even more complex, yet more
balanced, often forcing people to be even more creative in their tactics. You
can try for yourself by adding futures and other instruments into your next
In the high-stech world of Silicon Valley, there is
something wonderful about an enjoyable low-tech game made from cardboard, dice,
and wooden pieces. It reminds me of my youth,
a period in which many of us started with Monopoly/Clue, moved to Dungeons and Dragons,
and ended with Risk and poker.
“Geeky” games have traditionally been male dominated and have
only appealed to the most dedicated players. Thanks to its game play, however, not only
does Settlers have tons of female supporters, but it also appeals to people of
all ages. Many people claim other games
like Ticket to Ride and Puerto Rico are much better, and they may be. But part
of a good recreational activity is having a lot of people to play with and, in
that regard, Settlers has certainly crossed the chasm in Silicon Valley.