"Boutique board games have been around for years, but in the mid-2000s, as
“Catan”—which was formerly called “Settlers of Catan,” and which also employs a
colonist mechanism, this time in a fictional place—permeated the culture,
people started latching on to a hobby most commonly associated with the fringes
of nerdom. These games are far more involved than the Parker Brothers catalog,
and their designers ask players to embrace complicated rule sets and deep
critical thinking; players will rarely do something as simple as just rolling a
die and moving a pawn. For a seemingly narrow market, it keeps growing: In
2020, the research firm Euromonitor International noted that the “games and
puzzles” market had eclipsed $11 billion.
But recently, players have started asking more incisive questions about their
hobby—questions that reach beyond design elegance or component quality, that
get at the nature of games as political objects and whether they should be held
to the same standards that we demand from our other entertainment. One of the
longest active threads on the BoardGameGeek forums for “Puerto Rico” discusses
the game’s sanguine perspective on colonialism. (“Puerto Rico is the only game
I ever turned down even a single trial play of, because of a literal curl of my
lip in distaste as I was being taught the game,” one user writes.) Earlier this
year, the board-game YouTube channel No Rolls Barred uploaded something of a
mea culpa for having recommended “Puerto Rico” as one of its favorite strategy
games. In 2019, the war-gaming giant GMT canceled a game called “Scramble for
Africa” after mounting objections from its customers.
But why did anyone look at that concept and think it was a good idea? Why did
game designers ever fall in love with colonial fantasy anyway?"
Via Lisa Stranger.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics