When the well-heeled nerds of Silicon Valley want to get together for meetings that mix business with pleasure, they opt for the German board game Settlers of Catan instead of golf. In Settlers, as in start-ups, it's all about growing fast thanks to the right roll of the dice.
Many an article about the game's virality in the Bay Area features LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman singing its praises. In a 2009 Wall Street Journal article, Hoffman explained that the game is popular with the technorati because it so "closely approximates entrepreneurial strategy." Hoffman is such a huge fan of the game that he decided to create his own custom version, one that, for example, replaces the building resource "wheat" with "talent."
A recent New Yorker profile included a few details about Hoffman's "Startups of Silicon Valley." Through venture capital firm Greylock Partners, where Hoffman is a partner, he politely declined to tell us more about the game, but I managed to track down a few photos of it on social media.
From the New Yorker:
[Hoffman] has produced a version [of his favorite board game, Settlers of Catan] for his friends called Startups of Silicon Valley, with the same rules but different nomenclature: products instead of settlements, disrupters instead of robbers, talent instead of wheat.
In this Instagram photo from sharing economy consultant Chelsea Rustrum, the game is still in plastic wrap. But Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka is among those who have actually opened up the game and played it:
In Settlers, players team up, swap resources for points and occasionally backstab each other in a race to create the fastest growing settlement. Sometimes random rolls of the dice force a complete strategy overhaul. Just like startup life.
From the looks of it, in Startups of Silicon Valley, resources include money (green), ideas (yellow), talent (purple) and customers/users (orange).
Hoffman has been known to bond with founders of potential investments over games of Settlers. His $10 million investment in the real-estate start-up Redfin was reportedly made after a round of Catan. Hoffman has credited himself with introducing dozens of Valley executives to the game.
The entrepreneur Auren Hoffman (no relation to Reid Hoffman) has gone so far as to suggest there may be "a high correlation between technology innovation and Settlers play," pointing to fans of the game that include Yahoo head Marissa Mayer and former Mozilla CEO John Lilly.
"In the high-stech world of Silicon Valley, there is something wonderful about an enjoyable low-tech game made from cardboard, dice, and wooden pieces," Hoffman wrote. "It reminds me of my youth."