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Songwriters of Catan

March 11, 2011 JOHN PAUL SHARP

Songwriting is all about building, sampling and trading!

This modification of the classic game, Settlers of Catan, enhances new and veteran songwriting students’ experiences by introducing basic contemporary song forms in a fun and unexpected, yet relatable way.
This article is intended to empower you to create your own modification of Settlers of Catan or experiment with the modification that I created. You are free to print out the visual materials provided in this document and try it out yourself! where I could teach fundamentals, but not require a lot of additional rules in order to actively engage the material with the students. Songwriting is a great subject because the simple act of building song parts is profound in and of itself. 3. Modifications must testable by others. Rationale: Why leave the experiment to my own short time schedule? All modifications must be printable and testable for others.

Three Needs
The needs I established in my modification for teaching a new learning domain are: 1. The game must be playable as a 2 player game. Rationale: Songwriting is often most likely a one or two-person process at most. Also, the amount of cards needed to build the new song formulas require each player to control two of the four available colors. 2. The game must be fun in the way that the original game is fun. Rationale: Don’t fix what isn’t broken! I wanted to find a learning domain

The Author
John Paul Sharp is a graduate student at the School of Education and Human Development at UCDenver, studying Information and Learning Technologies. He is also a long-time songwriter and graduated summa cum laude at the College of Arts and Media with a B.S. in Vocal Performance. For more information, go to

Three Modifications
1st, I had to modify the game so it could be played as a 2-player game. 2nd, I had to reskin the game. 3rd, I had to change the rules ever-so-slightly. Then I called it quits.

Modification One: 2 Player

The first option I tried was to have each player take turns controlling a third player. Since my partner (Josué) and I are relatively new to playing the board version of this game, we decided to try our 2-player modification first, without trying to figure out of my ‘reskin’ would be effective. The biggest issue we had playing with this first option was that we could not remember whose turn it was to manipulate the player. There were times when it was great fun to use the third player to create a disadvantage for the opposing player, but we realized we had to take trading with the third player out of the rules. After all, how can you trade with someone who isn’t there? The other option was to have both of us control two colors each and take cards for both colors at every roll. Josué felt very frustrated at having to manage so many cards. I wasn’t so much frustrated with the amount of cards as I was with how long the game was taking.Turns seemed to take even longer than normal and that became an issue when we first decided to make the goal of the game to get 20 Song Points. We ended up keeping the 10 Song Point objective. By forcing each player with 14 or more cards to get rid of half of their cards when a player rolls a ‘7,’ we were able to alleviate some of our frustrations with the second modification. Ultimately, I ended up going with the second option. I felt that the learning curve for managing more cards was much more achievable than trying to remember which turn was yours to manipulate a third player. Also, because I would eventually be changing the formulas for how to build the individual pieces, having more cards made it easier to build a Basic Hit, Love Song or Masterpiece. I imagine that the game would have gone much longer trying to win the game with half of the cards available. Also, trading became a more effective mechanic in the game when all the cards were going to just two players and not an imaginary third. Overall, the second option is the best.


Modification Two: Reskin

I really struggled to choose a learning domain for modifying Settlers. My biggest issue was trying to figure out a way to keep the game fun but also be able to teach real terms and concepts in something that I teach: acting, singing, performing, songwriting. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with an old classmate from my college days, who loves to play the original game, that I realized what a great fit songwriting, or song-building, would be for this game modification. My friend suggested, “Why don’t you just build songs with song parts?” This made me consider how I could translate the resources into song parts.There are five basic parts of a song and five resources! Perfect! The basic hit was the first song form I thought of because it already resembled what was called for to build the original road. I had to get a little creative with naming the other two song forms, as there are really no names for them in the contemporary music world. I figured that songs with bridges were usually love songs. And most songs that had all the song parts I called Masterpieces because usually these types of songs you hear on the radio have a greater, grander feel.

Victory Point = Song Points, Victory Cards = ‘Gigging’ Cards
One aesthetic change which is especially important is the new ‘gigging’ cards. I chose various typical venues that performing songwriters may find themselves in. The point of doing this was to show that the quickest way to ‘win’ as a songwriter is to get out in the real world and perform your songs to the people.

Progress & Special Cards = Music Business Cards
Instead of drastically changing the rules of how the game works, I chose to reskin these types of cards by introducing students to music business terms (i.e., “sampler, copyright © protection, prolific artist, record label, publishing house). Because the craft of songwriting is truly a commodity-based art form, Settlers is especially appropriate because of the trading, stealing and monopolization of song parts, or, more accurately, ideas.

Use of Terms & Questions to Encourage Metacognition
Starting questions are placed on each resource card to encourage students’ metacognition on what it means to write, build and own songs. Players should be encouraged to explore why The Longest Road is called Record Label! and why The Largest Army is called Publishing House! Why is the robber called a Sampler and what does it mean to sample someone else’s music to create your own? How does a songwriter own a piece of music? These are all the types of questions that should be explored both before and after gameplay sessions.

Modification Three: Rules

After play-testing the reskin, I realized that relabeling the resources were not enough to teach someone with no songwriting experience the concept of song parts. Josué asked me during the middle of the game, “So, verses are the lyrics and choruses are when everyone sings, right?” While his answers were correct, they were not the correct terms being addressed in this game. This prompted me to change the rules to the extant that when a player builds a Basic Hit, Love Song or Masterpiece, she or he must recite the order of the song formulas on the Build Costs card. When Josué built his first Masterpiece, he said, “Intro/Ending” when he placed his first card down. I asked him to tell me which part it was: intro or ending? At that point, the whole purpose of the game became clear to him. In fact, he could recite the song formulas several hours after our last play-test. I felt this was one of the more important achievements during the play-test. Because the reskin and 2-player modifications were quite a bit to absorb, we eventually decided not to use Port Trading in regard to the Seaframe Pieces discounts. Optional seaframes were still created to post onto the original pieces in case players wanted to include the original port discount trading anyway.

If there’s anything I can take away from this process, it’s this: the best way to bring innovation into teaching a learning domain is to keep the method as simple as possible and to be patient. Modifying Settlers of Catan for songwriting showed me that even the most fundamental lessons can be profound when introducing them through game play. What would normally be a difficult discussion of describing song parts and song form to someone with no previous songwriting knowledge becomes much easier and fun by playing “Songwriters of Catan.” From my own experience in play-testing these modifications, I see how I have created a great starting point, but there are still some flaws.

Modification Reflection

Recommended future modifications:
1. Other song forms could be recognized, explored and play-tested. Instead of taking a contemporary pop angle to the story of this game, one could explore the more complex classical song forms through this format of modification. 2. Further modifications to bring this game back to a 3- and 4- player game could be interesting to see if the current song formulas are as easy to build. Would other song formulas work better, worse or just as well? 3. Are there other ways to change the rules without sacrificing the fun? In my own endeavor to modify this game, I felt pretty strong on keeping the majority of the rules the same, but there are probably some minor changes that could be made to more clearly incorporate songwriting lessons into the gameplay. This would be another, more riskier place to experiment.

Recommended educational uses for this modification:
1. Students could be asked to examine relationships between various terms used throughout the reskin. Ask students to consider why each new label or term was used in place of the originals. Help the students understand the modification itself. 2. Students could be asked to develop their year’s portfolio of music pieces by using the winner’s list of basic hits, love songs and masterpieces as a guide for their own full-length album. 3. Generally, this could be a great icebreaking activity for first semester songwriting students, however the amount of materials necessary to support a class of 20 would be 10 full games at the 2-player mod. This specific mod would best be for small groups of songwriters and songwriting duos (whether that’s teacher to student or student to student).

Learning Objectives:
1. Teach songwriting students the basic fundamentals of contemporary song parts and song forms. 2. Inspire students and increase their self-efficacy in songwriting by showing how easy it is to put songs together and trade parts back and forth. 3. Give students the opportunity to think about and explore the concepts of building songs with parts by having them play this modified version of Settlers of Catan.

If you’d like to try this modification out for yourself, just print the rest of this document. The first page shows you how the board looks and lists specific modifications with the # of pieces modified. Also, a small bulleted list of the changed rules is listed under the spreadsheet. The rest of the pages are the exact amount of art you need to print and cut out your own cardboard pieces or to print them out on paper and tape them to your Settlers of Catan board, like I did. The pieces are not going to be the exact size of the pieces you have with the original game, but you should be able to work with them through either method.

D.I.Y.! Print, Cut & Tape

If you have any questions or comments about this modification or if you’d like to share a modification you’ve done, please feel free to write


• Players control two colors each. • When a ‘7’ is rolled, players with 14 or more cards must discard half of their resources. • Some inspirational cards give you more resources. • Players must recite all song formulas when building a Basic Hit, Love Song or Masterpiece and also must identify Intro and Ending in the correct order). • Port trading is optional.