Monday, August 22, 2005

A short missive from the Isle of Catan

Question: What one game has been played in the Lewis household every evening of our stay (usually more than once per evening)? Answer: Settlers of Catan, a fascinating game of, you guessed it, resource management. We started playing this the last time my parents visited Utah. Even my wife loves it, having won a game tonight around a family table so vicious that any one would cut off your Roads or steal your Bricks as soon as look at you.

This is one of those cool games that has so few rules and such complex ramifications that it is actually deep. I think of Go like this; there are all of six rules, and some of them barely count as rules.* There are other variations and additions for simplification, but these rules are basically it. People have been playing this game for more than four thousand years. By way of comparison, there are 10^120 Go board positions for every single position in chess, and the best computer Go player is a fair amateur. This is probably the deepest game that humans will ever invent.

Settlers of Catan is like this, except it has a few more rules and takes considerably less time (maxing out at about two hours). There are many variations out there, and many are free to play. It's actually fun for the whole family, easy to start, but addictive and great.

Email me at my Gmail address [backwards: moc tod liamg ta siwel tod a tod nad] to get the location of the best Catan software. My sister Rachel deserves a shout-out for all this; when she is not studying at UW, she is enjoying this game, and she sucked in my whole family. Thanks Rachel!

Today Sarah and I went out to the Des Moines beach at low tide, found a nice shell, walked on seaweed, and saw the most lovely chocolate brown duck with a white chest and neck. We also went to the Southcenter mall, where I played my next musical purchase, a lovely $700 hollow-body electric guitar. I also bought a tuning fork for A (440 Hz) so that I can tune my guitar without an electronic tuner, teach myself to have perfect pitch, in order to tune and sing by memory, know what key a song is in without playing an instrument along with it, etc. Last I wanted to amuse people by putting the humming tuning fork up to my beer glass and listening to it sing, which I did earlier tonight (it was a Red Hook ESB for all you aficionados out there).

We also went to a store called Guitar Center, which was an incredibly, well, intimidating music store in Tukwila. It was the largest instrument store I have ever seen. They had individual rooms for acoustic, keyboards, recording studio, even record scratching. There was this metal area where customers could play as loud as they wanted, with two huge Marshall stacks, each about five thousand dollars total and each as large as a person. You could hear them through the soundproof wall. I gazed longingly at a steel guitar but something was making me nervous, so we left quickly. I felt much more at home in the mall store, where I could sit down and plunk away happily on the mandolin and that guitar, and not worry that I was somehow disturbing the showroom atmosphere.

* The Rules of Go:
0: Go is played on a square grid; each turn a player places a stone of their color (black or white) on a grid intersection or passes
1: a stone is alive if any point adjacent (horizontally or vertically) to it is empty, or if it is adjacent to a live stone of its own color
2: dead stones are removed from the board
3: a stone cannot be placed to repeat the position of two turns ago
4: 2 consecutive passes end the game
5: a player's score is the sum of the number of their stones and the number of empty spaces that their stones enclose
[Yes, this is less rules than chess; which game has the least rules, I wonder?]

No comments: