Weekly Geeky Question #11: Settlers of Catan

Every week in 2018, the plan is that my friend Rod is going to ask me some geeky question that will answer in a post. This week is Week #11, and this week’s questions is…

How would I make a movie based on the game Settlers of Catan?

Rod’s comment is that movies based on board games and video games always suck, so how would I handle this assignment, including story and cast?

Settlers of Catan, for those unfamiliar, is a board game (although the board is made up of hex-shaped pieces that can be rearranged for each game) originally published in Germany in 1995, and developed by Klaus Teuber.

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In this game, players become settlers on an island who are vying for control of spaces which produce resources which allow them to build a variety of items.  The resources are sheep, brick, lumber, ore and wheat which allow the players to build roads, settlements, cities, and so on.  Expansions to the game introduce the idea of an invading barbarian who attacks the island, and must be fended off by the players together, utilizing the knights they hire and feed.  Players win by being the first to achieve the allotted number of victory points:  10 for the basic game, 13 for expansion with the knights.

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Anyway, to turn this completely uncinematic concept into a movie, I’m going to have to let Battleship be my guide, and produce something whose connections to the source material are tangential, and whose quality is dubious at best.

The Story:

Four characters, identified by their dominant color scheme–Red, Blue, Orange & White–are traveling on a ship through misty waters.  They sale the boat, heading toward an undisclosed destination, but none of them speak or even interact with each other.  It’s like they are moving by instinct.

Finally, they arrive on an apparently untamed island.  Anchoring the ship, they go the rest of the way by boat, and finally make landfall.  Still, nobody speaks.  They spread out, looking around, exploring.  They begin to experiment with some of the natural resources–wood, rock, grain, sheep–and see what they can do with them.  Finally, one of them–Blue (played by Brett Dalton, aka Grant Ward from Agents of SHIELD) murmurs a word to himself.  Looking around the island, he says quietly, “Catan.”

The Settlers of Catan

Conflict breaks out when some of them begin to vie for resources.  The tension leads to violence, and they each display fighting prowess beyond that of normal people.  Each has their own signature fighting weapon:  for Blue, it’s a sling; for White, a staff; for Orange, a sickle, and for Red, it’s just her fists.  Eventually, all four to separate themselves to different areas of the island.

Blue discovers hidden amongst his things on their ship a journal, which he begins to peruse.  One the last page, in large letters, he finds it written, “The game must never end.”

Blue approaches Red (Karen Gillan, or Amy Pond from Doctor Who), to speak to her.  We learn that neither of the characters remember anything about who they are or what they were doing prior to being on the boat bound for the island.  Up to this point, everything they’ve done has been on instinct or some sort of unconscious memory.  But, Blue has the journal and shows it to Red.

After reading it (we don’t see what it says), Red and Blue agree that they have to figure out what is going on and go to look for the others.  They find White (Shazad Latif, from Star Trek: Discovery), who is suspicious of them.  When they attempt to communicate, he attacks them in response, and they try to fight back to keep themselves safe, and to de-escalate the situation.  They are suddenly interrupted by Orange (Sonequa Martin-Green, also from Discovery)…she has seen something.

From high atop a cliff, the sea is clouded by mist, and something is coming.  The four stand together as the mist overtakes them.

The scene cuts, and it’s hundreds of years later. 

A thriving city now exists where before the characters were beginning to build.  It’s sort of like cities from the 1800’s, but with a odd mixtures of technology (sort of like every world they used to visit on Stargate SG-1).  In school, teenagers study the history of their city, where Red, Blue, Orange, and White are all mythical figures.  People aren’t sure if they really existed, and its unclear if what we’ve seen up until this point is their actual history or simply a recreation of the legends they are studying.  One teen guy is named Kel (Joe Keery, aka Steve from Stranger Things), and he particularly questions the logic of how their city (which is descended from “White” and is particularly thriving on sheep) could have come into existence from just four individual warriors.

Kel’s father Grev (Michael Durrell – Robert Maxwell from V back in the 1980’s) is out on the road from the city, meeting up with representatives of one of the other cities on the island at a neutral place along the road.  The other man is Sirn (Benedict Cumberbatch, aka Sherlock from Sherlock), from an “Orange” city which specializes in wheat. He is there with his adopted daughter Crim (Britt Robertson, the lead actress from Tomorrowland), and a comment is made about how Kel is not present because of his studies.  The two men (and their large entourages) complete a friendly negotiation to trade sheep for wheat, both commenting on how they still have not found a decent source of usable lumber for some of their building projects, which continues to hamper the efforts of the entire island to develop.  Before they leave, Grev wishes Sirn a safe travel home, and especially to watch out for the Robber…a shadowy figure who has plagued the cities for generations, stealing their resources.

Back in the White city, after school, Kel goes by the training grounds where his older brother Garth (Taylor Kitsch, who played the lead actor in Battleship amongst other things) is training to be a knight, alongside many others.  He trains to use “standard” weapons, like a sword and a shield, but also the staff, which is the traditional weapon of White cities.  They discuss whether they really think the mythical enemy is coming soon, like the reports say.  Garth says it pays for them to be ready, and the city leaders definitely think the danger is near soon, and so they are activating all of their knights.  Kel is not a knight, he has been prepared for other duties, but he still shows eagerness and aptitude with fighting, though a bit of disdain for the staff, the traditional weapon of the White city.

Later, Kel sneaks out of town, which is definitely frowned upon, darting through the wilderness alongside the roads, but staying off of them.  He finally catches up with Crim’s party, returning to their city with all of their newly acquired sheep.  He gets her attention and she sneaks away to meet him.  They are obviously a couple, in a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” kind of way, and look forward to their opportunity to get away together.  During this, we learn of how Crim was adopted after Sirn and his wife found her wandering by the edge of the woods as a little girl, lost and confused.  To this day, she still doesn’t know who she really is.

However, the Red trading party is suddenly attacked.  At first, they think it’s the Robber, but quickly they realize it’s a mysterious raiders who shoot with bow & arrows, and nearly the whole group wiped out.  Crim and Kel are able to save Crim’s father, but he is badly wounded, and otherwise the young people are helpless to do anything about the carnage. The motive of the raiders seems to be to steal all the sheep.  Crim and Kel attempt to follow to find out who was behind it but they can’t keep up.  However, they find evidence that this unknown enemy has in its possession an abundance of lumber.

Leaving her father in a hidden spot (because he’s too hurt to move), Crim returns to her city with Kel’s help, but just as they do the mist descends.  The enemy has returned and its time for the Knights to do battle.  This has been clearly been anticipated, as something that happens every 25 years.  Crim has no opportunity to tell the village leaders what has happened or to get help for her father, everyone is focused on the imminent attack from the Barbarians across the sea.  So instead she and Kel gather some food and medical supplies and head back.

Out of the mist comes the Barbarians, hordes of attacking orc-like monsters that attempt to overrun the cities.  Squadrons of Knights all mobilize for battle, from every city (Red, White, Blue, Orange) working side by side to defeat them.  Leaders of the city share information as they are able to.  The goal is to have a garrison of Knights protect every city, but they fear they are outnumbered and cannot win.

In the wilderness, Crim and Kel attempt to get back to Crim’s father, but get caught up in a skirmish between Barbarians and some Knights from the Red City.  Crim and Kel both attempt to help (Crim uses her city’s signature “scythe” weapon).  The Red Knights are overpowered and killed, and Crim and Kel are likely to be killed as well when suddenly the battle turns:  a new warrior appears, obscured by lens flare, fighting with such power and ferocity that the Barbarian squad is routed.  This new warrior is joined by three others and continue to take the battle against the Barbarians, defeating them at every turn.

Finally, Crim and Kel get a good look, and we see that these four are Red, Blue, White and Orange from the beginning of the movie, still looking as young and strong as they ever did.  They have been defending the cities for generations, whilst remaining hidden in the wilderness.

Across the island, the battle is won and the Barbarians retreated.  However, discussion amongst the City Leaders, led by Grev, provides the exposition to tell the audience that every 25 years they attack in three successive waves.  The knights must be re-activated immediately in order to prepare for the second attack (meaning they all sleep and have some bread).  Legends also say that a victory of the Barbarians leads to an influx in power and strength for the defending cities…but the leaders are confused because on this occasion this doesn’t seem to have happened.

Back in the wilderness, Crim and Kel convince the legendary heroes of old to tell them their story, which they do by pulling out and showing them their journal.  When Kela nd Crim touch the journal, they find the thoughts being put directly into their minds, while the viewer is treated to an extensive flashback sequence.

The four Heroes are actually four out of six interdimensional avatars that were sent to this world by mysterious Game Masters in order to compete for the prize of being the victor of Catan.  The world of Catan is an multi-dimensional gameboard created by these aliens, and the actual life forms within it are just their pawns.  Each of the six (the others were “Green” and “Brown”) raised up their cities with all their people and competed with one another in a mostly-friendly game of competitive economic and military contests.

During this time, they learned that they each embodied the power and essence that was contained in one of the five elemental resources that are the foundation of Catan, which was also the resource that their cities were primarily able to trade in.  For Red, it’s brick.  For Blue, it’s ore or rock.  For Orange, wheat.  For White, it’s sheep.  And for Green, it was lumber or wood.

Brown (Daniel Dae Kim, from Lost), though, never figured out what his elemental resource was.  He therefore didn’t have any real luck building cities and lurked on the outside.  He was the first to fall when the Island was suddenly overrun by hordes of barbarians that came out of nowhere and plowed through the island and destroyed their cities, killing all their citizens. Devastated, the surviving five surviving heroes vowed to get justice.

Together, they commandeered a captured barbarian ship and made toward the “edge of the world” to find the source of these Barbarians.  But on the way, they were confronted by a bizarre extra-dimensional presence:  the Game Masters who had set the game in motion.  The Barbarians, they learn, were created by the Game Masters to make the game more interesting. The Game Masters insist the Heroes continue playing–even now, new people are being created and bred on the island, and they need to be organized, shaped, developed and ultimately protected from the barbarians who will continue to come every 25 years.  Defending the island from these barbarians is one of the ways that the team leaders gain “points” toward an eventual victory.

However, the Game Masters reveal that the game will end when one of their players gains the necessary lead over their competitors, and at that point the game will be reset.  The winning hero will go on to another game, but all the losers will be destroyed and all the people–no matter which team they are on–will be obliterated to make space for a new  set-up.  The heroes were in anguish over the hopelessness and cruelty of this plight, so much so that Green (Ray McKinnon, an actor I like from Apollo 13 and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) attempted to attack the Game Masters, only to be knocked back and lost in the ocean, never to be seen again.  The others vowed to not let the game come to an end, so there would never be a victor, but as they were coming to this decision the Game Masters erased their memories and sent them back to the island (what we saw at the beginning of the movie).  But just in time Blue managed to write notes to himself to help himself in his journal to help him rediscover the truth: “The game must never end.”

Back in the present, Red, Blue, White and Orange share how since they rediscovered the truth, they have been staying “off the grid” as much as possible, fighting off the Barbarians, assisting their Cities in growing and surviving, but carefully avoiding any of the teams from advancing further along than the others.  It’s the only way, as far as they know, to ensure the world’s survival. This is why they purposely manage the defense against the Barbarian attacks so that all the players equally share the “rewards” of the victory…thus no one gains a lead on the other.  But on this occasion, as has already been remarked, something odd has occurred and the influx of power that they all should have shared has not come.

Then,  Kel and Crim reveal what they know:  there is another presence on the island…a fifth player, whose people fight with arrows, and who seems to have an endless supply of usable lumber.  The others know that this can only mean one thing:  it’s Green.  After all this time, he’s survived.

The Heroes insist on tracking down the raiding party to find out what’s happened, but Crim wants to go find her father.  Finally, Orange agrees to go with Crim to find him, while the others go to look evidence of Green’s survival.  Along the way, Kel talks about his disdain for the weapon of the White Cities–a staff–and mocks White for embodying the power of a sheep, which just seems absurd to him.  But White’s prowess with the staff (or shepherd’s crook) quickly humbles him, and gives him new respect for the weapon.

Orange and Crim find Crim’s father, and try to to carry him home.  As they go, they suddenly find themselves facing the mysterious and shadowy Robber – a figure who seems to move like the wind.  Orange is able to defend them so the others so they don’t lose their food, even drawing blood from the Robber and sending him fleeing.  But she doesn’t know who or what he is.  She assumes it’s another menace introduced by the Game Masters to torment the people.

Eventually Orange, Crim and Sirn get back to the Orange City.  Orange herself is able to stay anonymous or out of sight in this.  There they see the situation in preparing against the second wave of Barbarian attacks seems bleak–the Knights are not prepared, and may not survive the next attack.

Meanwhile, Kel and the others come across a ragged group of White Knights, led by Garth, Kel’s brother.  Garth is mystified at the identity of White, Red and Blue, but is more distracted by a group of enemies that they are tracking.  These turn out to be another group of raiders, similar to the ones who attacked Crim’s caravan, who are tearing up one of the roads that connect the cities.  Garth leads his group into battle, but these Raiders are far more trained and skilled in their weapons than the other Knights.  Only with the help of the Heroes are they pushed back.  The Heroes, Crim and the Knights give chase, discovering a city hidden in the forest.

Once there, the fleeing Raiders are greeted with reinforcements, including Green himself.  It is true that Green survived, and determined in the aftermath of their confrontation with the Game Masters that his cities should prosper and he would lead them to an ultimate victory.

Suddenly, it’s Wave Two of the Barbarian attack, and the Island is caught up in it again.  This time, people are not nearly so ready, and the cities take damage.  This is complicated by the battling going on in the Green City.  But everyone pulls together in the end, and Green fights side-by-side his old colleagues to push back the Barbarians again.  However, Red, Blue and White are shocked to realize that the “reward” power that should come upon them all after the victory (shared because of their careful attempts to make sure no one “wins” the battle) is actually going to Green instead.  Green is now only one “point” away from winning.  One more battle with the Raiders will do it, as his Knights by far offer the strongest defense.

White loses his temper and his patience at this point, and attacks Green, furious that Green cares about nothing but his own survival and advancement.  Indeed, Green’s actions if unchecked will lead to the destruction of all of Catan as they know it, including Green’s own people.  Green’s Knights rally to his aid, but are held off by the others.  But the battle goes against them, and to everyone’s shock, White dies at Green’s hands.

Taking the fallen hero’s body and weapon, Kel and the others retreat reunite with Orange and Crim, making their way back to the White City.  The leaders of the City come to realize what they’ve lost–their original ancestor has been slain.  Garth, as the leader of the surviving Knights, recognizes the weight of his position even more.

But the people of the cities of Red, White, Blue and Orange see that they have a bigger problem–Green has almost earned the title of defender of Catan, which will lead to the end of the game and the destruction of everyone.  One more victory against the Barbarians will do it, so the only way to defeat him is for the defending Knights of the remaining cities to become more powerful than those of the Green City.  But that seems nearly impossible, especially in the short time that remains.

The leaders of the cities return to their own to rally their troops, with the help of Blue and Orange, to inspire and train them.  But Crim and Red decides there may be another way.  Blue objects–they have to prepare their people.  Red and Blue disagree about how to help and eventually part to pursue their own ideas.  It’s evident that they have a deep emotional connection, in spite of their disagreements.

Crim and Red travel travel back to the Green City.  Green is himself to well protected for any sort of attack, but not so his Knights.  With Red’s help, Crim confronts a Green Knight, and attempts to convince him of the situation that everyone is in, and what will happens if Green earns the victory against the next lot of Barbarians.  The Guard does not listen, and takes Crim prisoner.  Red hides nearby, apparently unable or unwilling to help.

Crim is taken to the Green Knight Commander, named Jakle (Michael Shanks, mostly known as Daniel Jackson of Stargate SG-1), a world-weary soldier who finds no glory in war or fighting, and seems to live with huge regret.  Searching Crim’s possessions, Jakle discovers that she has Blue’s journal, which she took at some point.  She manages to get Jakle to touch it, and it reveals to him the truth of the story of Green, Red and the others.  This indeed appears to have been Red and Crim’s plan all along.  Jakle begins to use the journal to spread the truth to others, so they change their minds about serving Green as well.

Just then, the third and final attack begins.  Green joins the battle directly but is shocked that many of his Knights are not fighting as they should, and in some cases are even fighting other Green Knights!

Meanwhile, Knights from every color are defending their cities from the Barbarians as best they can, but they are being overrun.  Garth fights furiously, with Kel at his side, but eventually Garth falls in battle, and dies.  Kel finds that he has to rise up as the new wielder of the White staff.

The battle between the Green Knights is a bit of a stalemate, but Green himself has turned his great ability and skill against the Barbarians.  He proves himself a phenomenal fighter, nearly singlehandedly winning a victory.  Eventually, the fighting brings Green, Orange, Red and Blue all near each other.  Red, Orange and Blue want their alliance to be successful against the Barbarians, but they know that one of them has to have a greater role in the victory than Green himself, or he will get the final point that he needs.  Red and Orange fight their battle in a way that their “victories” really go to Blue, in an attempt to bolster him up and put him “over” Green in the final tally.

But they realize this is futile–Green’s diligence and skill will again earn him the victory point, so Blue does the only thing he can:  he stops fighting.  Understanding, Red and Orange join him in this move.  Without their support, the battle will be lost, and the Barbarians begin to overrun the Green City.

All this reveals an aspect of the rules that Green thought the others had forgotten:  when a battle against the Barbarians is lost, then the Barbarian forces will raze the least defended city and destroy it, before leaving.   With the Green Knights fighting each other, Green’s City is the least defended.  Thanks to Crim, many of its inhabitants are evacuated, and the “converted” Knight Commanders continue to call others to their side.  Green fights doggedly against the Barbarians, but he is hampered by the efforts of Red and the others, and in the end they destroy his main city, costing him many victory points.  The Barbarians leave, having won this skirmish but ultimately allowing Catan to survive for another 25 years.

Green sits in the ruins of his city, pondering how he got to this point, with so many years in the planning ruined in a day.  He is confronted by Jakle over his overall betrayal, but Green is unrepentant.  He was determined to win, and he saw that to do this, he had no choice but to step out on his own, completely disconnected with the rest of the Island.  He used his powers with trees to help keep the Green Cities hidden all these years, but the side effect of this is that any poor soul who had the misfortune of being separated from the Green community had to be abandoned.

This is what happened to Jakle’s family many years earlier, and for this he determines that Green should face the ultimate justice.  But then Crim realizes that this is also her story…she was the young Green girl who was lost that day, and she would have died if she weren’t taken in by the kindly Orange City.

Family, community, friendship and love…these are the resources that Catan is really built upon, everyone realizes  Red and Blue have learned that they have wasted many generations in their battle against the Barbarians–they need to learn to love each other, if they are going to know what they are really fighting for.

While all this is going on, no one notices that Green has found some reeds from which he is able to make some weapons.  He lines up a shot on Blue and prepares to strike him down, as he doesn’t see what’s coming…

…but fortunately, Crim does see it coming, and is able to warn the Heroes and save their lives by shooting Green with an arrow.  A brief fight breaks out, and in the end Green is killed by Blue.

The movie’s resolution reveals that the Green City is being rebuilt as a neutral city that does not count for points for anyone’s potential victory.  The other cities continue to grow and develop in as equitable a way as possible.  Crim introduces her birth father with her adoptive parents, and everyone begins to work together.  Red and Blue find love with each other, as do Crim and Kel.

In a newly built ship, Red, Blue and Orange prepare to try again to go to the edge of the world, to find the Game Masters.  They are joined by the new White (Kel) and also Crim, who is training to be the new Green.  They are determined to not just negotiate, but to do battle if necessary, in order to give Catan a permanent existence.  The Cities cheer them as they go.

Red, Blue, Orange, White and Green will return in

The Seafarers of Catan

Mid-Credit scene:  A trade negotiation takes place between people from a Red City (with bricks) and from a Blue City (with Rock).  Suddenly, the shadowy Robber moves through them, stealing large amounts of both.  Nobody is hurt, but the people are helpless to do anything about it.  We see the Robber as he finally comes to a stop, a mountain away, carrying his booty.  He slows down so that his features go from shadowy to clear, and we see that it is…Brown.

Post-Credit scene:  A family of four play a game of Settlers while sitting in the lounge room.  Mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) makes a move that she’s excited about, Dad (Andy Garcia) groans.  The daughter (Jessica Mauboy) is distracted on her phone, and the son (Jaden Smith) is bored…this game is taking forever.

The End!

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Presumably, the sequel would be followed by the third film in the trilogy–Cities and Knights of Catan, although if it’s big enough of a hit, maybe it’d be split into two movies?  Cities of Catan and Knights of Catan?  Either way, it’s going to be awesome.

And in case you missed it on your way through, here’s the cast:

Red – Karen Gillan
Blue – Brett Dalton
Orange – Sonequa Martin-Green
Crim – Britt Robertson
Kel – Joe Keery
Green – Ray McKinnon
White – Shazad Latif
Jakle – Michael Shanks
Garth – Taylor Kitsch
Sirj – Benedict Cumberbatch
Grev – Michael Durrell
Brown – Daniel Dae Kim
Game Master (Motion Capture) – Andy Serkis
Post-Credit Scene Family – Michelle Pfeiffer, Andy Garcia, Jaden Smith, Jessica Mauboy

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