Monopoly Killer: Perfect German Board Game Redefines Genre
By Andrew Curry 03.23.09
In 1991, Klaus Teuber was well on his way to becoming one of the planet's hottest board game designers. Teuber (pronounced "TOY-burr"), a dental technician living with his wife and three kids in a white row house in Rossdorf, Germany, had created a game a few years earlier called Barbarossa and the Riddlemaster, a sort of ur-Cranium in which players mold figures out of modeling clay while their opponents try to guess what the sculptures represent. The game was a hit, and in 1988 it won the Spiel des Jahres prize—German board gaming's highest honor.
1991年Klaus Teubler已經在邁向地球上最紅的桌上遊戲設計師的路上。 Teubler﹝發音『托伊伯爾』﹞，一個與老婆和三個小孩住在德國Rossdorf的白色平房的牙醫技師，創造了一個數年前還叫Barbarossa and the Riddlemaster的遊戲。這遊戲類似簡化的Cranium，玩家從黏土中塑出人形讓對手猜。Cranium一砲即紅，在1988年贏了德國年度遊戲大獎—德國遊戲界的最高榮譽。
Winning some obscure German award may not sound impressive, but in the board game world the Spiel des Jahres is, in fact, a very, very big deal. Germans, it turns out, are absolutely nuts about board games. More are sold per capita in Germany than anywhere else on earth. The country's mainstream newspapers review board games alongside movies and books, and the annual Spiel board game convention in Essen draws more than 150,000 fans from all walks of life.
Because of this enthusiasm, board game design has become high art—and big business—in Germany. Any game aficionado will tell you that the best-designed titles in the world come from this country. In fact, the phrase German-style game is now shorthand for a breed of tight, well-designed games that resemble Monopoly the way a Porsche 911 resembles a Chevy Cobalt.
But back in 1991, despite having designed a series of successful German-style titles, Teuber still thought of making board games as a hobby, albeit a lucrative one. "With all the games, we would sell 300,000 the first year and then next to nothing the next," he says. So Teuber stuck with his day job selling dental bridges and implants, struggling to keep afloat the 60-person business he had inherited from his father. At night he would retreat to his basement workshop and play.
One day Teuber began tinkering with a new theme for a game: an uncharted island. In his original vision, players would slowly discover the island by flipping over tiles, then establish colonies using the indigenous natural resources. The game incorporated elements of other ideas Teuber was working on, but for some reason this one seemed special. "I felt like I was discovering something rather than inventing it," Teuber says.
Every once in a while, he would bring the new game upstairs to test it out on his family. They would play along, but Teuber could tell that the game wasn't working. Sometimes, in the middle of a match, he would notice his youngest son, Benny, reading a comic under the table. Other times his wife would suddenly remember a load of laundry that needed immediate attention. After each of these sessions, Teuber would haul the game back downstairs for further refinement. He repeated this process over the course of four years.
Eventually, Teuber whittled his invention down to a standard pair of dice, a handful of colored wooden houses that represented settlements and cities, stacks of cards that stood for resources (brick, wool, wheat, and others), and 19 hexagonal cardboard tiles that were arranged on a table to form the island. He had hit on something with this combination—the enthusiasm on family game night was palpable. During nearly every session, he, his wife, and their children would find themselves in heated competition. The game was done, Teuber decided. He called it Die Siedler von Catan, German for "The Settlers of Catan."
最後，Teuber把他的作品去蕪存菁到一對骰子，一些有色的木頭房子代表殖民地與城市，一疊牌代表資源﹝磚、羊毛、麥、與其他﹞，以及19個六角紙板在桌上形成島嶼。這個組合正中紅心—他家的遊戲聚會的熱情明顯升高。幾乎每一次比賽，他跟他老婆與小孩都會不自覺的用力競爭。Teuber心想，這個遊戲完成了。他稱它為Die Siedler von Catan，徳文的”The Settlers of Catan”。
Released at the annual Essen fair in 1995, Settlers sold out its initial 5,000 copies so fast that even Teuber doesn't have a first edition. That year, it won the Spiel des Jahres and every other major prize in German gaming. Critics called it a masterpiece. Fans couldn't get enough, snapping up 400,000 copies in its first year. "It was a maturation of the form," says Stewart Woods, a board game scholar at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia. "It wasn't until Settlers that the whole thing broke wide open."
Settlers在1995年的 Essen年會初售，第一版5000套賣得太快連Teuber都來不及自己留一套。那一年他贏得德國年度遊戲大獎以及德國遊戲界所有大獎。評論家說這是大師作品。粉絲也欲罷不能，第一年搶走了40萬套。”它代表這類型遊戲的成熟期” Stewart Woods說。他是澳洲Curtin University of Technology in Perth的桌上遊戲學者。
Since its introduction, The Settlers of Catan has become a worldwide phenomenon. It has been translated into 30 languages and sold a staggering 15 million copies (even the megahit videogame Halo 3 has sold only a little more than half that). It has spawned an empire of sequels, expansion packs, scenario books, card games, computer games, miniatures, and even a novel—all must-haves for legions of fans. And it has made its 56-year-old inventor a household name in every household that's crazy about board games, and a lot that aren't.
自Settlers問世之後，它已是世界性的奇蹟。它被翻譯成30種語言且賣了驚人的1千5百萬套﹝連電動票房冠軍Halo 3 也才賣比它一半多一點﹞。它還發展出一系列的續作、擴充集、場景書、紙牌遊戲、電腦遊戲、模型，甚至小說—全都是粉絲軍團不可或缺的收集品。它也讓它56歲的創作者在對遊戲瘋狂或不瘋狂的家庭中家喻戶曉。
Most impressive of all, though, Settlers is actually inducting board-game-averse Americans into the cult of German-style gaming. Last year, Settlers doubled its sales on this side of the Atlantic, moving 200,000 copies in the US and Canada—almost unheard-of performance for a new strategy game with nothing but word-of-mouth marketing. It has become the first German-style title to make the leap from game-geek specialty stores to major retailers like Barnes & Noble and Toys "R" Us.
然而，最不簡單的是，Settlers開始讓排斥桌上遊戲的美國人逐漸陷入德國式遊戲的魔力。去年，Settlers在大西洋此端的銷售加倍，在美國與加拿大賣了20萬套—是完全靠口耳相傳的策略遊戲前所未見的成績。它也是第一個從遊戲專賣店跳入主流銷售商如Barnes & Nobles 與玩具反斗城的德國式遊戲。
譯註：Barnes & Nobles是美國的連鎖書店，類似台灣的金石堂。
Settlers is now poised to become the biggest hit in the US since Risk. Along the way, it's teaching Americans that board games don't have to be either predictable fluff aimed at kids or competitive, hyperintellectual pastimes for eggheads. Through the complex, artful dance of algorithms and probabilities lurking at its core, Settlers manages to be effortlessly fun, intuitively enjoyable, and still intellectually rewarding, a potent combination that's changing the American idea of what a board game can be.
Board games have been around for millennia: 5,500-year-old examples have been found in Egypt, playing cards were imported to Europe from the Muslim world in the 1300s, and chess has existed in its modern form for at least 500 years. But the mass-market board games we know today were born during the Great Depression, when Monopoly took off in the US. Over the years, new icons were established: Candy Land in 1949, Risk in 1959, Battleship in 1967.
Board games have continued to thrive for a simple reason: Whether for adults or children, they are—like poker nights, softball games, and bowling leagues —an excuse to hang out and interact with friends and family. As Jesper Juul, a ludologist, or game expert, at MIT explains, they create a communal experience that brings people together. Who won the last time and how, some interesting tactic, or a particularly remarkable stroke of luck all produce a shared memory.
桌上遊戲持續茁壯是因一個簡單的理由：不論對成人或小孩，桌上遊戲像撲克牌夜、壘球比賽或是保齡球聯盟一樣，提供一個與家人與朋友聯絡的場合。如Jesper Juul，一個MIT的ludologist ，或是遊戲專家所說，桌上遊戲創造一個社群經驗將人凝聚在一起。誰如何贏了上一場，用了什麼有趣的策略，或是某一次誰走運都是共同的回憶。
Yet in the US, only a few types of games have really taken off. There are so-called lifestyle games, like Scrabble and chess, intellectual skill-based games whose devotees are interested in playing little else; party games like Trivial Pursuit and Jenga; and traditional strategy games like Risk and Monopoly, which are generally seen as child's play or possibly something to do while trapped in a snowstorm without power—just before you eat your own foot.
But part of the reason we don't play much Risk and Monopoly as adults is that those are actually poorly designed games, at least in the German sense. Derk Solko, a garrulous former Wall Streeter who cofounded the Web site BoardGameGeek.com in 2000 after discovering Settlers, explains it this way: "Monopoly has you grinding your opponents into dust. It's a very negative experience. It's all about cackling when your opponent lands on your space and you get to take all their money." Monopoly, in fact, is a classic example of what economists call a zero-sum game. For me to gain $100, you have to lose $100. For me to win, you have to be bankrupt. Gouging and exploiting may be perfect for humiliating your siblings, but they're not so great for relaxing with friends.
但我們長大後就不玩Risk或大富翁，部分的理由是因為它們有設計缺陷，至少對德國人來說。Derk Solko，一個前華爾街人在2000年發現Settlers後籌資開始了BGG.com，說『大富翁逼你把對手磨成灰。是一個非常負面的經驗。它的樂趣全建立在當別人跑到你土地上時，你拿走他所有的錢的竊笑。』 大富翁實際上是一個典型的經濟學家稱之為零和的遊戲。我要賺100，你就必須輸100。我要贏，你就要破產。詐欺與剝削也許很適合欺負兄弟姊妹，但卻不適合與朋友一起放鬆了。
Monopoly also fails with many adults because it requires almost no strategy. The only meaningful question in the game is: To buy or not to buy? Most of its interminable three- to four-hour average playing time (length being another maddening trait) is spent waiting for other players to roll the dice, move their pieces, build hotels, and collect rent. Board game enthusiasts disparagingly call this a "roll your dice, move your mice" format.
譯註：原文”roll your dice, move your mice”有押韻。此勉留其韻。
Unfortunately, Monopoly still dominates. "It's the Microsoft of our world," Solko says. "If I could wave a magic wand and replace all the copies of Monopoly out there with Settlers, I truly think the world would be a better place."
German-style games, on the other hand, avoid direct conflict. Violence in particular is taboo in Germany's gaming culture, a holdover from decades of post-World War II soul-searching. In fact, when Parker Brothers tried to introduce Risk there in 1982, the government threatened to ban it on the grounds that it might encourage imperialist and militaristic impulses in the nation's youth. (The German rules for Risk were hastily rewritten so players could "liberate" their opponents' territories, and censors let it slide.)
Instead of direct conflict, German-style games tend to let players win without having to undercut or destroy their friends. This keeps the game fun, even for those who eventually fall behind. Designed with busy parents in mind, German games also tend to be fast, requiring anywhere from 15 minutes to a little more than an hour to complete. They are balanced, preventing one person from running away with the game while the others painfully play out their eventual defeat. And the best ones stay fresh and interesting game after game.
Teuber nailed all these traits using a series of highly orchestrated game mechanics. Instead of a traditional fold-out board, for example, Settlers has the 19 hexagonal tiles, each representing one of five natural resources—wooded forests, sheep-filled meadows, mountains ripe for quarrying. At the beginning of every game, they're arranged at random into an island. Next, numbered tokens marked from 2 to 12 are placed on each tile to indicate which dice rolls will yield a given resource. Because the tiles get reshuffled after every game, you get a new board every time you play.
The idea is that players establish settlements in various locations on the board, and those settlements collect resource cards whenever the token number for the tile they are sitting on gets rolled. By redeeming these resource cards in specific combinations (it takes a hand of wood, brick, wheat, and wool to build a new settlement, for instance), you expand your domain. Every settlement is worth a point, cities are two points, and the first player to earn 10 points wins. You can't get ahead by rustling your opponents' sheep or torching their cute wooden houses.
One of the driving factors in Settlers—and one of the secrets to its success—is that nobody has reliable access to all five resources. This means players must swap cards to get what they need, creating a lively and dynamic market, which works like any other: If ore isn't rolled for several turns, it becomes more valuable. "Even in this tiny, tiny microcosm of life, scarcity leads to higher prices, and plenty leads to lower prices," says George Mason University economist Russ Roberts, who uses Settlers to teach his four children how free markets work.
Settlers一個核心設計—也是它的成功秘訣—在於沒有人能穩定獲得五種資源。因此玩家必須靠交易獲取所需的資源，這創造出一個生動且變化多端的市場，就像任何市場：如果鐵好幾次都沒生產，它就變得更值錢。『即使在這極小極小的生命縮影，匱乏一樣會導致價格上漲，過量造成價跌，』用Settlers教他四個小孩市場運作的George Mason大學經濟學家Russ Roberts說。
Wheeling and dealing turns out to be an elegant solution to one of the big problems plaguing Monopoly—sitting idle while other players take their turns. Since every roll of the dice in Settlers has the potential to reap a new harvest of resource cards, unleash a flurry of negotiations, and change the balance of the board, every turn engages all the players. "The secret of Catan is that you have to bargain and sometimes whine," Teuber says.
Teuber also made the game as flexible as possible, with numerous means of earning points. Building the longest road is worth two points, for instance, and collecting development cards (purchased with resource cards, these can offer a Year of Plenty resource bonanza or straight-up points) also brings you closer to victory. Having options like this is critical. The games that stand the test of time have just a few rules and practically unlimited possibilities, making them easy to learn and difficult to master. (Chess, for example, has 10120 potential moves, far more than the number of atoms in the universe.)
Finally, the game is designed to restore balance when someone pulls ahead. If one player gets a clear lead, that person is suddenly the prime candidate for frequent attacks by the Robber, a neat hack that Teuber installed. Roll a seven—the most likely outcome of a two-dice roll, as any craps player knows—and those with more than seven resource cards in their hand lose half their stash, while the person who rolled gets to place a small figure called the Robber on a resource tile, shutting down production of resources for every settlement on that tile. Not surprisingly, players often target the settler with the most points.
In addition to deploying the Robber, players will usually stop trading with any clear leader. In tandem, these two lines of attack can reduce a front-runner's progress to a crawl. Meanwhile, lagging opponents have multiple avenues for catching up.
All of this means that players must use strategy and move smartly, but even flawless play doesn't necessarily lead to easy victory. This is why kids can play with adults, or beginners with experts, and everyone stays involved.
"When a lot of us saw it, we thought this was the definition of a great game," says Pete Fenlon, CEO of Mayfair Games, Settlers' English-language distributor. "In every turn you're engaged, and even better, you're engaged in other people's turns. There are lots of little victories—as opposed to defeats—and perpetual hope. Settlers is one of those perfect storms."
『當我們看到它時，很多人都覺得這遊戲定義何謂好遊戲』Mayfair﹝Settlers的英文版發行商﹞的CEO Pete Fenlon說。『每一步你都必須用心，而且更好的是，別人的每一步你也必須認真。裡面有許多小小勝利—而不是失敗—與永恆的希望。Settlers是一個完全風暴。』
Settlers may be the Mona Lisa of the board game renaissance, but Teuber makes for an unlikely da Vinci. He's balding, slight, and surprisingly modest. Each year, he makes an appearance at the Spiel convention in Essen, Germany's board game mecca. At an autograph-signing session there in October, a small line of teenage boys, middle-aged women, and starstruck 9-year-olds clutched copies of Settlers for Teuber to sign. Dressed in sensible black shoes and a blue shirt, he was so soft-spoken that fans had to lean in closely to hear him when he signed their games. He hardly comes across as the rock star he has become.
Teuber got into board games for one main reason: to entertain his wife, Claudia. The two were married in 1973, and that same year they had their first son, Guido, and moved to western Germany so Teuber could fulfill his mandatory military service. Not knowing anyone in town left Teuber with a lot of free time. "We played chess, but my wife always lost—and that's no fun," he says. "So I looked around for things we could both play." This quest eventually lead Teuber to Germany's game culture and ultimately to creating games himself.
Though he spent a few years studying chemistry before going to work for his father's business, Teuber doesn't have the academic pedigree of the other big names in German board games. Reiner Knizia, for example, a prolific designer who has created hundreds of titles, holds a PhD in mathematics. Wolfgang Kramer, another frequent Spiel des Jahres contender, studied software engineering before deciding to make games full-time.
雖然在接手父親的事業之前他花了數年研究化學，Teuber沒有像其他桌上遊戲巨頭，如Reiner Knizia，那樣的學術光環。Knizia是一個獲益甚豐的設計師，有數學的博士學位。Wolfgang Kramer，另一個年度遊戲大獎的常勝軍，在全力設計遊戲之前是學習程式設計。
Teuber tends to build his games organically—introducing an element here, tweaking an element there—until he's developed a fast, balanced, refined experience. The end result, however, is every bit as mathematically intricate as those of his colleagues.
In 2006, Brian Reynolds, a founder of Maryland software company Big Huge Games and the programmer who developed the AI behind the addictive computer classic Sid Meier's Civilization II, set out to make an Xbox 360 version of Settlers. To help programmers develop the game's AI, Teuber spent months exploring the mathematics of his most famous creation, charting the probability of every event in the game. The odds of a six or eight being rolled are almost 1 in 3 for example, while the chance of a four being rolled is 1 in 12. There is a 2-in-25 chance of drawing a Year of Plenty development card. Teuber created elaborate logic chains and probability matrices in a complex Excel spreadsheet so the videogame developers could see how every possible move and roll of the dice—from the impact of the Robber to the odds of getting wheat in a given scenario—compared. The end result was a sort of blueprint for the game that gave Big Huge Games a head start and showed just how complex the underlying math was. "It was the biggest, gnarliest spreadsheet I had ever seen," Reynolds says.
2006年，Brian Reynolds， 一個馬里蘭的軟體公司Big Huge Games的創辦人以及令人著迷的電腦經典Sid Meier’s Civilization II的AI設計人，開始研發Xbox版的Settlers。為了幫助軟體工程師建造AI，Teuber花了數月研究他最有名的設計背後的數學，將所有事件的可能性製成圖表。例如，骰到6或8的機率將近1比3，而骰到4的機率是1比12。抽到豐收年卡的機率是2比25。Teuber用excel表創造了一個精妙的流程圖與機率陣讓電動設計者可以比較每一個動作與骰骰子—包括強盜的影響與在每個狀態下得到麥的機率。最後結果有點類似給Big Huge Games的藍圖，使他們有一個起點可看到其中的數學有多麼複雜。『是我見過最大、最盤根錯節的算表』 Reynolds說。
But even with such a precise outline, success isn't easy to repeat. Teuber has now made millions of dollars with Settlers and its multitude of offshoots, but the glass trophy shelf in his Rossdorf studio is getting a bit dusty: He hasn't won a major German board game prize since 1997. When asked about this, he seems genuinely unperturbed. "I don't have a secret recipe," he says. "I'm really lucky to have discovered such a great game once."
Once may be enough. Settlers has become so successful in the US that other German-style games are starting to ride in its wake, even in the midst of the recession. New Mexico entrepreneur Jay Tummelson licenses, translates, and imports German mass-market hits like Carcassonne alongside more offbeat titles like Galaxy Trucker by Czech designer Vlaada Chvatil. His company, Rio Grande Games, sold half a million of these titles in 2008. "We're growing at 30 to 35 percent a year, compounded," he says. "In the US, most of my customers this year weren't my customers two or three years ago. They didn't know these games existed."
一次可能就夠了。Settlers在美國如此成功，別的德國遊戲也開始趁勝追擊，即便還在經濟衰退中。New Mexico創業家Jay Tummelson授權、翻譯、進口德國的暢銷作如Carcassone以及非主流的如捷克設計師Vlaada Chvatil的Galaxy Trucker。他的公司，Rio Grande Games，2008年賣了50萬套。『我們每年複數成長30-35%，』他說。『在美國，我大部分的客人2-3年前還不是我的顧客。他們還不知道這些遊戲存在。』
Even the mass-market giants are starting to pay attention. To make Monopoly more competitive with German-style games, new editions are reemphasizing an old rule that no one paid much attention to: If a player lands on a property and chooses not to buy it, that real estate immediately goes up for auction. This engages everyone at the board and pushes property into the mix much faster, cutting the 74-year-old game's playing time by more than half. "It makes the game more intense and much quicker," says Helen Martin, Hasbro's vice president of global marketing for Monopoly. "And we know that people who play that way play more often." Hasbro similarly revamped Risk to speed up play; new rules make winning the game possible in less than an hour.
Settlers still has a long way to go before it overtakes classics like Monopoly, though. Part of the problem is brand recognition: Monopoly has been a best seller since the '30s and has been played by more than 750 million people. When it comes to board games, familiarity is key: The average board game buyer, according to Hasbro, is a mom getting her kids a gift. She's not going to take a chance on something she doesn't know.
That makes it tough for a foreign import with an odd name. "Settlers isn't mass-market yet," says Michael Gray, Hasbro's senior director of product acquisition. "Could it be? Anything's possible. But Settlers can still take over an hour to play, and it has a lot of rules."
Teuber's plan for overcoming this challenge is, oddly enough, computers. He hopes that digital versions of Settlers will help conquer (sorry, liberate) the US market. He and his son Guido are convinced that moving the game online and onto platforms like Xbox 360 and Nintendo DS is the best way to win converts outside the board game world. The idea is that after getting to know the game and its rules on the PC and game consoles, people will be more likely to buy the analog version—still the most fulfilling and social Settlers experience—to play with friends.
In 2007, Teuber launched the English- language version of PlayCatan.com, an online community that draws 15,000 or more players a day from around the world. The US audience is the site's fastest-growing segment. That same year, Big Huge Games released a downloadable version of Settlers for Xbox 360. And a PC version of the game and its expansions will come out in English this spring featuring multiplayer and AI smart enough to challenge the strongest players.
2007年，Teuber為英文版的PlayCatan.com揭幕，一個每日自世界各地吸引超過15,000玩家的線上社群。美國玩家的成長最快速。同年，Big Huge Games開放下載Xbox360的Settlers。今年春天PC版的英文Settlers及其擴充版會問世，特色是能多玩家參與，同時有足以挑戰資深玩家的AI。
Will it be enough to take on the likes of Hasbro and become the go-to game in every American's hall closet? That's certainly the plan. "The challenge is to stay at a high level for years, to catch up to Monopoly," Teuber says. "It's a very, very high goal. If we could come into the neighborhood, that would be great." Only a few billion wheat-for-sheep trades to go.