What Do You Mean My Favorite Board Game Is Racist?

I love gaming with my spousal unit, and anyone else we can get to play games with us – and we love all kinds of games. Card games? You bet. Strategy games? Yup. Extensively complicated games? Bring it. We’re not into role playing, but that might be because I write a lot and do a lot of world building that way, and my spouse gets to play in the sandboxes I create there, but one thing did occur to use recently – some of the games we really love to play are deeply colonial in nature and not in a good way.

What do I mean by that?

So, in the colonial history of Europe several presumptions were made, and the ones I’ll list here aren’t meant to be a complete list, they’re meant to be directly translatable to the colonizing games I own. First, there is a presumption that the land is functionally empty. Second, there is a presumption that the first colonizer to get to a space gets to claim it. Third, there is a presumption that it is a race for resources; the race is between other colonizers, fate, and the incursion of ‘hostiles’.

And so, while celebrating a work milestone with my spouse last week on our day off (and getting just the tiniest bit tipsy on really great single malt scotch), we started rewriting the rules of one of our favorite colonizing games, Settlers of CATAN. Because what would it look like if it were Cooperative CATAN? 

It wouldn’t presume that the land was functionally empty. It wouldn’t presume that the first colonizer to get to a space gets to claim it. It wouldn’t just be a race for resources and a race against the other players of the game, or the first nations people. It would be peaceful, cooperative, interesting, and still a fun game to play.

We’re still playtesting the new rules, but when we’re satisfied with them, I’ll post them here. 

To be clear, I don’t mean at all for this to be casting shade on CATAN, or any other colonizing game, because the games come from this unhealed colonizing mindset that all Europeans and all descendants of Europeans in various post-colony countries around the world share, and there’s a lot to heal, a lot to talk about, and it’s a long road we’ve got to travel, and we’ve been generally putting off packing or planning for that trip for some time. I do think that realizing ‘hey, this is a colonizing game’ is a great first step for packing for that trip. 

You do you, but I don’t think throwing out the colonizing games is the answer, either. But if we change the rules, make them more cooperative and less colonizing, then we do two things: First, we stop participating in perpetuating the colonizing mindset, at least in this one way. Second, we start healing our own colonizing mindset, even only just a little bit, because we stop presuming that the colonizing way of approaching this kind of situation is the only valid way. It’s not a big step. It’s a little step – one baby step.

But isn’t one baby step in the right direction preferable to wallowing in the mire of a whole heap of ancestral pain? Marathons are run with baby steps in the beginning.
When we finish playtesting the Cooperative CATAN rules, I’ll post them here. And if I end up updating them due to further playtesting, or feedback from all yall, I’ll make sure it’s updated.

Leave a Reply