Cult game Catan seeks to save the world

The Jerusalem Post - - BUSINESS & FINANCE - • By THIN LEI WIN

ROME (Reuters) – A cult Ger­man board game whose fans in­clude Hol­ly­wood ac­tors Mila Ku­nis and Woody Har­rel­son may not seem like the most ob­vi­ous ve­hi­cle for rais­ing aware­ness about the im­por­tance of pre­serv­ing crop di­ver­sity.

But that is what the mak­ers of “Catan” are seek­ing to do with a new ver­sion of the pop­u­lar game in which play­ers com­pete to set­tle an imag­i­nary un­charted is­land, gain­ing points for build­ing set­tle­ments, and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing and trad­ing re­sources.

“Catan – Crop Trust,” which launches on Thurs­day, re­quires play­ers to bal­ance the goal of farm­ing and har­vest­ing crops with the col­lec­tive aim of pre­serv­ing di­ver­sity by sav­ing some of their seeds in a vault.

Play­ers who fail to do so en­dan­ger di­ver­sity, threat­en­ing the food sup­ply and the sur­vival of the is­land at the cen­ter of the new game, de­vel­oped with the care­tak­ers of the Sval­bard Global Seed Vault.

“The unique thing is that you can’t win with only pur­su­ing your own in­ter­est,” said Marie Haga, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Crop Trust, which looks af­ter the world’s largest seed bank.

“You’ve got to make sure you don’t de­plete the nat­u­ral re­sources in the game. Be­cause then ev­ery­body loses,” she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Nearly a mil­lion seed sam­ples are stored in the Sval­bard vault, lo­cated above the Arc­tic Cir­cle, which was es­tab­lished to pro­tect the world’s plant di­ver­sity in the event of dis­as­ter.

Pro­ceeds from the sales of the new game will go to the Crop Trust, which sup­ports seed banks around the world, and buy­ers will also get an almanac on the his­tory of the Sval­bard vault.

Ex­perts have raised con­cerns over the re­silience of the global food sys­tem in the face of cli­mate change be­cause hu­mans now rely on fewer food sources than 50 years ago.

“It’s a very fun­da­men­tal thing for mankind that we un­der­stand how ba­sic crop di­ver­sity ac­tu­ally is, and we need to use all channels to reach out to peo­ple to cre­ate the un­der­stand­ing,” said Haga.

Games are “uniquely ca­pa­ble of help­ing peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence the com­plex­i­ties of fu­ture risks,” ac­cord­ing to Pablo Suarez, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor for re­search and in­no­va­tion at the Red Cross/Red Cres­cent Cli­mate Cen­tre in the Nether­lands.

“We can ac­com­plish much more by in­fus­ing se­ri­ous fun into our ex­plo­ration of global chal­lenges like long-term food se­cu­rity,” said Suarez, who has de­vel­oped games to help peo­ple un­der­stand so­lu­tions to the im­pact of cli­mate change.

“Catan – Crop Trust” – the re­sult of nearly two years of col­lab­o­ra­tion – is an add-on to the orig­i­nal game, which was launched more than 20 years ago in Ger­many and has sold about 27 mil­lion units in more than 40 lan­guages.

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