In early March, a crisis was only getting started. Emotions were running high, people’s characters were getting tested and everyone was losing sleep. There were bitter disagreements on how to deal with the situation at hand. Days seemed long while weeks felt quick. There seemed to be no one way to defeat the enemy.
I’m not only referring to COVID-19. I’m also talking about the fierce “Settlers of Catan” board game contests happening in Apartment 605 on the corner of West End Avenue and 96th Street.
“It was perhaps the most conflict-ridden period of our entire lease,” my roommate Matan said.
The pandemic has affected people’s lives in different ways. For some, it has meant experiencing the tragic and horrible loss of a loved one. Others have had to deal with the stress of quarantining at home and constantly worrying about their health. So far, thankfully, I have been in the latter group.
As New York State issued stay-at-home orders and grocery store lines grew longer by the day, my roommates, Matan, Gali and I searched for strategies to pass the time and for an antidote to our stress. We found the answer, for better or worse, in “Settlers of Catan.”
Settlers of Catan, known by many simply as “Catan” or “Settlers,” is a three to four-person board game in which players compete to build and develop holdings while trying to win a predetermined amount of “victory points.” The first player to achieve the requisite amount wins. In theory, it seems simple. In practice, it tears people apart.
As the quarantine started in March, we began to play. And boy did we play. By the time we moved out in June, we had played over 150 games in a span of roughly 75 days.
By the third or fourth game in, I made the biggest mistake of all: I hung up a written standings in the living room to record each player’s victory, known as the “Quarantine Catan Count,” or the “QCC.” My goal was unassuming. I wanted to see which roommate could win the most Catan games during quarantine. But I couldn’t have foreseen the consequences.
As you can imagine, our three-person Upper West Side apartment was not the largest in Manhattan. Our fake wall was as thin as our kitchen counters were small. Take one step outside the kitchen and suddenly you’re in the combination dining room-living room-den. We made it work, but then the quarantine hit. All of us were forced to work from home, which meant listening to each other’s work meetings while making breakfast.
But come 6:00 p.m., computers were shut, phone calls were done and Zoom meetings ended. Why? Because Catan games were beginning.
Each of us soon developed a Catan reputation. Gali was the over-confident one. He would showboat whenever he won and it drove Matan and me bonkers. I was the over-competitive one. I would erupt anytime I felt Gali and Matan colluded against me (which happened anytime I lost, for the record). Matan pretended not to care about the results.
Gali jumped out to an early lead in the QCC, followed closely behind by me. Matan trailed for weeks. By game 50, Gali had won around 25 games, I had won about 20 and Matan roughly five. But as the games went on, the tension among all of us grew. That’s what happens when you play four games against the same people each night.
There were curses, insults and hurt feelings. There were nights when I pledged to myself not to play another game. But then a Saturday would arrive, and we’d play another seven games.
Ultimately, as our lease came to a close, we ended the QCC on good terms. As Matan mounted an incredible comeback, we decided to end the QCC tied for second behind Gali.
For Gali, the QCC was a learning experience. Sort of.
“I learned that I’m a really good teacher,” Gali said. “But I teach too well and Matan and Elan learned a lot from me so I didn’t win by the margin I would have liked to have won by.”
For Matan, the QCC provided a sense of comfort.
“The QCC gave us all something to look forward to each night while we did our best to stay inside,” Matan said. “In a strange way it was a reliable constant as the world around us was changing so dramatically.”
For me? Well, I’m still sure Matan and Gali colluded against me in game 78. Let’s just say I’ve moved onto Monopoly.
Elan Kane is a communications manager living on the Upper West Side and an avid board game player.