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 activities.
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 yoga.
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 Settlers game.
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.