Settlers of Catan is the New Golf

The Wall Street Journal had an article today on tech industry executives socializing over cut-throat games of Settlers of Catan: An Old-School Board Game Goes Viral Among Silicon Valley’s Techie Crowd.

I object a bit to the article’s title — can a board game that came out only in 1995 really be described as old school? — but entirely approve of its subject.

Auren Hoffman, chief executive of search start-up Rapleaf Inc. (no relation to LinkedIn’s Mr. Hoffman), regularly hosts Settlers shindigs at his San Francisco home. He recently held a Settlers night with Internet company StumbleUpon Inc. Facebook Inc. was scheduled to hold its own Settlers tournament on Wednesday, its second of the year. Mark Pincus, CEO of social-gaming start-up Zynga Game Network Inc., says he plays Settlers at his company as a way to meet new employees.

“Settlers is definitely the new live networking for our crowd,” says Mr. Pincus, whose start-up makes online games such as FarmVille. “It’s like our kind of golf game — none of us have time to play 18 holes of golf, but we can handle a pizza and a board game.”

I’m not sure that last statement is accurate, as, to be fair, I’ve had rounds of golf that were shorter than some Catan sessions. But, like golf, Catan gives people an excuse to gather together for a game that also has convenient lulls in the action, to allow the participants to talk or network between moves. And, unlike golf, you’re actually required to interact with the people you’re playing with, either to form (usually very temporary) cartels or to engage in extortionate trading. I’d be highly in favor of the legal industry adopting Settlers as the new networking event, anyway. Particularly as my Settlers skills are very much superior to my rather basic golfing abilities. (Also I am immature enough where it would secretly make me laugh to hear a bunch of attorneys repeatedly asking, “Does anyone have any wood?”)

At least for the Silicon Valley crowd, playing Settlers of Catan seems to be an effective business strategy:

When Glenn Kelman, chief executive of online real-estate start-up Redfin Corp., began raising venture-capital funding in September, he landed a meeting with venture firm Greylock Partners. Knowing that LinkedIn’s Mr. Hoffman — who is also a partner at Greylock — would be there, Mr. Kelman says he decided to say the “three magic words, Settlers of Catan,” in the hopes that it would help “form an incredible bond.”

Bingo. At the meeting, both men say, Mr. Hoffman’s face lit up when Mr. Kelman mentioned Settlers. Two months later, Redfin announced it had raised $10 million in venture funding, with Greylock as the main investor.

If it works in California, why not in D.C.? So hey, who knows, maybe in a couple years lobbyists on K Street will be inviting Congressmen over to try playing their new Cities & Knights expansion set. Now, if only I could convince some law school or firm to host a Battlestar Galactica: the Board Game networking event, I’d be set. I call shotgun on Starbuck.

-Susan