Friday, November 30, 2012

Study Break: War and Profit

Those familiar with my end-of-semester study habits are aware that I enjoy experimenting with a wide variety of study techniques. One which tends to show up about this time of year is study-by-blogging, a process by which I take something I'm trying to learn and turn it into a post for all to see. Sure, it's added pressure if my professors happen to follow me online, but it embeds the information in my brain in a way that flashcards can't compete with. This time, I'm not designing inspirational philosophy posters or personifying historical characters in mock-Facebook chats, nor will I be applying new-found vocabulary to Restaurant City. For this term's study break, I will take a closer look at the board game "Settlers of Catan." Well, three closer looks, to be precise.

In International Political Economics, we use three major perspectives to examine political economy. Known as Economic Nationalist, Liberal, and Critical perspectives, these guide much of the analysis of international behavior. But that sounds complicated, right? We're going to make this much more fun. Let's play Settlers of Catan with three players: Eric the Economic Nationalist, Lindsey the Liberal, and Chris the Critical. Don't worry, it gets cornier. For our three-player game, we'll assign players red, blue, and white, respectively. If the IPE references sail over your head, no worries; here's all you need to worry about: which player are you?

Eric the Economic Nationalist (Red)
Eric sees a game of Settlers as a zero-sum game; his gains are relative losses to the other plays, whereas their gains are relative losses to him. After all, everyone's trying to get to 10 points, right? There are limited resource cards, a race to the finish, and direct comparisons between his points and theirs.

For Eric, gameplay will be shaped by political power. He will only want to trade with others when he is in an advantageous position; he sees it as dangerous to give anything up to players who are ahead in the game. He would much rather trade with allies, especially weak allies, than players with whom he is competing for Longest Road, Largest Army, and that little sheep port in the corner.

Always cautious, Eric knows not to depend on other players for any of the game's five resources. He was careful to get access to each of them early in the game; trusting other players to supply ore, for instance, is risky business, since they could cut him off at any time.

Eric hopes to become the hegemon: the dominant player in the game. Then, he'd be willing to trade with anyone, since any new resources put him that much closer to claiming victory. In order to win, Eric hopes to keep the other players pitted against one another while he captures the Road and Army achievements. It's all about having more than his opponents.

Lindsey the Liberal (Blue)
Lindsey likes to trade. She thinks that trading with the other players makes them like her better, and discourages them from cutting off her roads and placing the Robber on her tiles. After all, if they need something from her, they wouldn't want to hurt her, right?

She sees Settlers as a game where everyone can get what they need from everyone else; there's always more to go around. After all, that bank full of resources is pretty hard to deplete, and there's no reason why mutual exchanges can't be mutually beneficial.

Lindsey likely didn't gain access to all five resources in the early game, so she depends on others to provide the ones she lacks. In return, she's prepared to trade away the excess of the few resources she's especially adept at procuring. By specializing, she believes both she and her trading partners can benefit.

Overall, this blue player is looking to build up her supply of resources and begin building a thriving community of settlements and cities. Her long-term victory plan is to develop the board, bringing allies along with her until, of course, the last possible moment.

Chris the Critical (White)
Chris never really agreed with the rules of Settlers in the first place. He sees the whole board-game as unfair toward newer players, since it seems like the same old champions always win.

For one thing, he can't seem to get the hang of the game setup. He always manages to have an uneven distribution of resource access relative to his opponents, and that always leads to back-and-forth Robber wars as everyone attempts to steal what they need from others.

Not to mention the fact that someone always ends up with so many cards in their hands, but nothing to do with them. And then he never knows if the Robber is going to come along and destabilize everything all at once, so he ends up taking advice from the veteran players on resource management. But they're just in it for themselves, aren't they?

He's tried writing a set of New and Interesting Edits Ordinance, but everyone just kept using the original Settlers guidebook instead. No luck there, white player.

As long as he's stuck playing, Chris is hoping the rolls of the dice will even things out, and maybe give him a shot. He's investing in Development Cards whenever he can scrape together the resources, and keeps hoping to catch up soon.

Your Turn
Are you striving to dominate, like the red team? Do you seek alliances, like the blue player? Or are you taking the paths less traveled with white? This all relates back to class somehow, but that's not important. What's important is this: What happened to orange player?

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