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Rainy days make fertile ground for board game intensity
Settlers of Catan is a great way to while away a weekend afternoon, even if the weather is imperfect.

Several years ago we took a camping trip to Acadia National Park on the Fourth of July weekend. We had our then younger daughters and two teenage daughters of French friends making their first visit to Maine. We thought it would be a nice way to introduce them to the delights of the Maine coast.

No sooner had we pitched our tents than it started to rain. It rained through the entire weekend.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM

It was so bad that on Monday we called friends of ours with a place in Southwest Harbor and asked them if we could stay with them for a day or two to dry out our equipment. No matter, the French girls turned out to be game under any conditions and the bonds that developed with our girls over that soggy visit have carried on through the years.

I was reminded of all this, of course, by the soggy weather that has been with us for the past few weeks leading up to the Fourth of July weekend. Our daughters and one of our sons-in-law have been here this week. They both now live in Seattle, which ironically, has been enjoying quite uncharacteristic sunshine.

We tend to be a family that enjoys the outdoors, but this past week hasn't offered much opportunity for that kind of activity. As a result, we have been much more into our books and the occasional game of Settlers of Catan.

Settlers is a perfect game for a rainy afternoon or evening. This is a game of strategy that shouldn't be attempted without the guidance of someone who has played before. Failing that, I recommend using the "Beginner set-up" board, which much simplifies the critical initial positioning on which much of the game hinges.

COLLECTING ELEMENTS

Settlers, as the name suggests, is a game whose aim is to build settlements over large areas of the board, using common settlement elements such as wood, brick, ore, sheep and wheat.

The player who is able to build and connect these settlements most successfully eventually wins the game. However, as I indicated earlier, much of the strategy of the game hinges on one's placement of two initial settlements at the start of the game. The board's array of the common settlement elements is random, so that two areas of wheat may be together but may be well-separated from another important element such as sheep.

The clever player must position his or her two initial settlement so as to give the most advantage toward gaining all the elements needed for future settlements. What adds to the uncertainty of this outcome is the fact that each element on the board is assigned a number from one to 12, corresponding to the outcomes from the rolling the two dice, which each player does in turn.

Are you beginning to appreciate the complexity? There is more, but I won't attempt to go there now. Simply note that the game actually does flow more smoothly and seamlessly than it sounds.

At the same time, it is intriguing because any of several strategies can be effective. Moreover, although there is some chance to the game – after all, it depends on every player rolling dice each turn – the element of chance is secondary to one's strategy and playing approach.

BECOMING LORD

In short, Settlers of Catan is a great family game. Different generations can play and enjoy it. Oh, there is one more aspect of the game that makes is uniquely fulfilling: the winner is the Lord of Catan (a unisex title) and all bow down to him or her.

It is a special moment and one I have not experienced much.

Often, by the time Settlers finishes, it is time for the Red Sox game – thus completing a delightful rainy afternoon and evening.

Lately the Sox have been playing well, aside from that one game in Baltimore where they somehow managed to squander a nine-run lead.

Worse yet, Sally and I stayed up to watch through all nine rain-interrupted innings.

The Sox should have just stayed in the dugout after that hour and a half delay. I think their relievers must have been interrupted in the middle of a game of Settlers of Catan.

They were so preoccupied in thinking through their next moves that they could not concentrate on the baseball game at hand.

Last I heard, Francona was thinking about banning Settlers from the clubhouse and just allowing cribbage, his favorite game, for rain delays.

I hope everyone had a happy Fourth.