Catan: Oil springs

A few lessons from Catan: Oil Springs

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Some time ago I played Catan: Oil Springs in the Green Games project. As a game, it was pretty enjoyable. But can Catan: Oil Springs also fulfill the job of an educational tool? Here are few lessons which you can learn from this game.

Some may say that its mechanisms aren’t realistic and too game-like. It is obviously true as Oil Springs is just a scenario for the actual Catan game created for entertainment, not for education in sustainability.


Still, I think that Catan: Oil Springs clearly shows the problems connected with the extensive use of natural resources. Such as titular oil.

Teachers and librarians learned how to play Catan: Oil Springs through Green Games project.
Teachers and librarians learned how to play Catan: Oil Springs through Green Games project.

For example, players who use them are able to develop and expand faster. Still extraction of oil bares it consequences, but not necessarily to the person who did it. Environmental damages are distributed randomly, so everyone can suffer. I remember one game where some players were using lots of oil while one, unfortunate participant took all the hits. This was a great opportunity to talk about how western countries benefit from extracting oil while resource-rich developing countries have to deal with environmental damages resulting from the drills.

On the other hand, using the disaster track creates an interesting psychological mechanism of blaming one person for the disaster. After players use five units of oils, some kind of catastrophe happens. It means that everyone who does it takes part creating the disaster. Still, in most cases, players blame for the catastrophe the person who actually triggers it by using the fifth unit of oil. This reaction may seem a little bit short-sighted but isn’t it similar to what we do every day?


We tend to get outraged when some disaster happens while turning the blind eye when everything seems to be fine.

Catan: Oil Springs present many interesting interactions.
Catan: Oil Springs present many interesting interactions.

Another interesting situation that can occur in the game is ‘greenwashing’. As you can both use and sequestrate oil, it is possible to receive scores for being the most environmentally friendly player and still be the most responsible for environmental damages. We know that some companies in real-life tend to do so – use ‘green’ projects to gain positive PR while engaging in harmful activities on daily basis.

To summarize, I think that Catan: Oil Springs is quite nice game to play. It can be the starting point for many interesting discussions about the current state of affairs in the real world. As it is highly entertaining we can certainly use it to engage teens in a discussion about the role that we, as a society, play in the context of environmental issues.

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