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Climate change in Catan? New board game version forces players to consider pollution

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Hey, Ari.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Hey.

KELLY: Hey. I'm going to trade you two bricks for an ore.

SHAPIRO: I have no idea what you're talking about (laughter).

KELLY: Two bricks for an ore. OK, I don't either, but I'm told this is how you play the game CATAN.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I know it is hugely popular, and I will confess, I have never played it.

KELLY: Well, you don't have to take it from me. Our colleague Nathan Rott says so. And what is more, he says there's a new version of the game coming, one that will introduce a modern twist - climate change.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: OK, if you've never played the original Settlers of CATAN, it's cool, no judgment - little judgment because it is one of the best-selling board games of all time. But here is essentially how it works.

BO PENG: Your goal is to build on an island and keep on expanding your production on an island.

ROTT: New York resident Bo Peng is a CATAN expert, not just because he lives on a heavily developed island himself, but because...

PENG: I came back from Columbia last month, and I won the CATAN America Continental Championship.

ROTT: So he's currently the best player on two continents. He knows what it takes to win - tact...

PENG: Like, I played the meta game. I got social with the folks before the game even started. Like, I started planting some seeds in people's heads.

ROTT: ...And domination.

PENG: I can be ruthless at times, but generally I'm pretty friendly.

ROTT: To win the original CATAN, you have to build the most. It's all about gobbling resources and developing - Manifest Destiny. The new game is similar, but it introduces a modern twist.

BENJAMIN TEUBER: Energy is needed, and pollution is created.

ROTT: Benjamin Teuber developed the new game with his late dad Klaus, who created the original CATAN and passed away last year.

TEUBER: Cities, towns produce pollution. We all know that. And then additionally, you can build power plants, and you can have fossil-based power plants or renewable energy-based power plants.

ROTT: The fossil fuel ones allow you to develop faster, but they also create more pollution - pollution which can lead to catastrophes not just for the polluting player.

TEUBER: But then very often, like, a flooding just hits everybody just as we see it. And it doesn't matter who created the pollution.

ROTT: It affects everyone. Teuber says the new game comes from an old idea he had with his dad, but one that's become more relevant as the real world grapples with the effects of real pollution - a rapidly warming planet, worsening wildfires, heat waves and floods, impacts that are worst felt by those that polluted the least.

SAM ILLINGWORTH: For me, what games are really powerful at is starting the dialogues.

ROTT: Sam Illingworth is an associate professor focused on gaming and communication at Edinburgh Napier University in the U.K.

ILLINGWORTH: Games are a great way to have that gentle conversation, but those difficult conversations as well because then you suspend social hierarchies when you get to the gaming table.

ROTT: Everyone is just another player sitting around a table trying to bankrupt, block or outscore each other. You can be someone different. Teuber puts it this way.

TEUBER: A game is a little world, like a model, focused on one topic that you can actually just play without having a severe and bad consequence, unless divorce is the result.

ROTT: In workshops of the new game, Teuber says players would often over-pollute. But then they came back...

TEUBER: And said we had heavy discussions afterwards. We all felt kind of bad, and we learned a thing or two. And the next game, we played differently. And that was - that is, of course, for me, very nice to hear that this has an effect.

ROTT: The new game, CATAN - New Energies, will hit shelves this summer. Nathan Rott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEHANI SONG, "COMFORTABLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.