Appropriation – Settlers of Catan

by | Oct 24, 2017 | Artwork #2: Appropriate


In this artwork, I chose to appropriate Settlers of Catan,  as seen through a more or less modern perspective of resource scarcity and global warming. All of the game’s pre-fabricated pieces are still in their original state, aside from a slight modification or enhancement to the pieces: The knight cards for example, are contained in paper sleeves, and some of the territory pieces laid out on the board are elevated by  being placed on top of a paper prism. A number of rules of the game remain the same, as does the victory condition. Players must win the game by gaining 10 victory points, through building settlements/cities or obtaining the special ‘longest road’ or ‘largest army’ cards.


The game was inspired by examples of other modified games we’ve seen in class, such as all the separate variations of chess using smell or sound of contained items within each piece, to identify their rank. Perhaps the most influential of class examples, was an appropriated version of chess where the game was played just the same, but once each piece was taken down the player must splash that piece in red paint and toss it over the board- to represent the carnage of a battle, which Chess as a medium is meant to represent. I was very much a fan of the concept that with such slight changes to the game pieces and rules, you could keep generally the same familiar style of play from the original game, yet change its meaning entirely. I chose to attempt such a thing with Settlers of Catan, in renaming its cards and pieces, as well as slightly tweaking certain rules from the original game. The changes I appropriated to the game were meant to maintain a familiar set of rules, but improve upon the present mechanics to communicate a meaning that was once entirely absent from the game.

Modified Mechanics, and what they Mean.

To represent resource scarcity, some rules were modified and altered so that the game can still function in similar fashion to its original set of rules. Mainly, the original number of resource cards is reduced to a total of 12 of each card type, and when resources are sued they are put into a discard pile and do not return to the ‘bank’, leading to actual scarcity of resources needed to win the game. To reflect the global warming aspect, the ‘thief’ mechanic is reinterpreted as the ‘natural disaster’.  When each player rolls 2d6 to determine what resources are earned this turn, if the cumulative roll is a 7, the natural disaster is moved. Natural disasters cannot be commanded, so if the die commands a natural disaster to be moved, the 2d6 are rolled again to determine tiles the disaster can land on (If there are multiple hexagons of the same value, the player that triggered the disaster chooses the placement). Should the natural disaster land on a tile adjacent to a settlement or road they control, they must either discard one of their cards or destroy a road/settlement they own next to the hexagon.  On top of that, after a total of 14 resources have been drawn (cumulative across all players), global warming is triggered, and two ten-sided dice are rolled instead of 2d6. If these future rolls amount to a number that is not present on the board, the natural disaster is moved.

These mechanics working in tandem, represent the overall reworked theme of the game, keeping it more or less the same but changing its perspective to simulate a simplified perception of global warming, its causes, and its effects: Players drain the earth of its limited resources and spend them, leading to imbalance in the ecosystem and and increasing the value of what little remains of those resources, while also triggering an increase in frequency of natural disasters and other adverse natural phenomena.

Some other minor mechanics included in the game, are elevation and charity profiteers, and oil.

Normally in the original game, players may spend their resources to buy development cards which can be a random, card from the pile of possible effects. In this version, all development cards except ‘knights’ are removed from the pile, effectively making it so that buying a development card equates to buying a ‘knight’ card.  Though ‘knights’ retain their original card effect, they have been renamed to charity profiteers, in order to give a more cohesive meaning to the card both in context of its effect and the new scope of the appropriated game.

Knight cards, transformed into Charity Profiteers.

Elevated tiles are quite literally tiles that are elevated by a small paper prism on the board. Elevated tiles cost double the amount of resources to build around, meaning players must pay more resources to build roads and settlements (but the cost of upgrading to a city, remains the same). These tiles are supposed to represent a more accurate representation of navigation in difficult terrain, that we have in certain areas of our world, linking it closer to our reality and driving the point home further while adding what I consider to be an interesting mechanic to the otherwise 2-dimensional board.

Board, with elevated tiles.

Lastly, oil, is a special attribute the desert gains after global warming has been triggered. Once global warming begins and the industrial world is kicked into full swing,  the desert tile is considered an oil tile. While the oil tile does not grant any resources, much like the desert, any players with a settlement bordering this tile gain an additional 3 victory points. The desert is always elevated. This was inserted into the game to provide another possible strategy to winning the game, as well as represent the emergent use of oil and gas emissions along with it.



Quite a few elements of the game remain somewhat the same- intentionally. Many players are already familiar with Settlers of Catan, and the meaning conveyed through the game is supposed to be a very personal one.  If the player is detached from the mechanics and familiarity with the game, there’s a higher chance they’ll miss the point I’m trying to illustrate with this (admittedly heavy-handed,) adaptation.  The presence of the mechanics, however, are supposed to change just enough of the game to make it feel familiar, play like an interesting new game type, and reiterate an uncomfortable truth.