It all began because of an article in GAMES magazine… and this highly touted import board game from Germany, The Settlers of Catan. I plunked down $35 at a local hobby store and brought home the original brown box edition with the photo art on the tiles… and my gaming life was never the same again.
I soon traded in my American first edition for a German copy so I could get all of the expansions… and I began running Catan tournaments each year at my local game store.
Push forward roughly 20 years and it’s no surprise that I found myself with a press pass to the first annual Catan Con, held in Nashville, TN, on the grounds of the Opryland Hotel. Mayfair brought the Catan van, a truckload of games for sale, an extensive games library and a bunch of their “big” versions of their games for 48 hours of Catan-focused fun.
I spend Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday evening at the convention (ah, the joys of living less than 20 minutes away). I’ll go through some of my personal highlights, as well as the highlights for my 10 year old son who joined me on Saturday morning.
The 5th Edition
That’s right, Mayfair Games has just released a fifth edition of Settlers (which is now simply called Catan)… and I have to say that the new tile art (from Michael Menzel, the same guy who did the art for Stone Age & Legends of Andor) has me almost convinced to buy myself a new copy. The subtle differences in each tile are wonderful.
Explorers & Pirates
I had the opportunity to play the “whole enchilada” version of the newest Catan expansion… and I really enjoyed it. The shipping of spice & fish added some interesting twists, as did the new method for settling islands. I don’t think it will convince anyone to change their minds about Catan, but I do think it’s a splendid addition to the palette of available expansions.
Of course, it probably didn’t hurt my opinion that I managed to snake out a win from Morgan Dontanville (the designer of Asgard’s Chosen and a long-time Facebook friend who I finally had the chance to meet face-to-face).
Talking with Robert Carty
Part of having a press pass was the opportunity to have some “face time” with Robert Carty, the Director of Sales & Marketing for Mayfair. We talked about a number of things:
- that there are still people who wish they’d bring back the photo art tiles of the 1st & 2nd edition (really?!)
- that Catan is more than 50% of Mayfair’s sales (not a surprise…)
- that he & I disagree about the Im Reich/Entdecker spin-off games (I like them a lot… Robert, not so much)
- that they have big plans for The Big Game (more on that later in this article)
- that Klaus Teuber may be working on something Catan-related that makes me very happy (but I’m not sure how much I’m supposed to say about… sigh)
- that Downfall of Pompeii has sold really, really well since it’s reprinting (which is a good thing, because it’s a great game)
- and a lot more “hey, we’ve both been in the hobby a long time” talk… but that’s not why you’re reading this
Even if one of my roads fell into the crack between two hexes and disappeared (indicating some sort of geological instability on the island of Catan), it was really neat to get to play Catan with my son & my good friend, Bob Trezise.
Collin (my son) noted that this was only “sort of Catan Con… maybe more like Mayfair Con”. He wasn’t entirely incorrect – the game library was liberally stocked with Catan and Catan expansions (both English & German), but there was also a pretty big selection of non-Catan Mayfair games.
We ended up playing a big version of Karnickel, which I hadn’t played before. I’m not sure I’d love the small size version of the game – which is a kid/family game – but throwing stuffed rabbits around and collecting piles of plush carrots was a lot of fun.
BIG Downfall of Pompeii
Yet another big game with Collin… since we already own this, it was more for Collin than for me (he liked the big games, even the ones we didn’t play). They had a huge Settlers of America map, along with two different Star Trek Catan maps, a couple of regular Catans, and even a copy of Hot Tin Roof with stuffed cats & sardine tins.
Catan Junior & Domaine
We closed out our morning (well, early afternoon) with one game we’d both played before (and Collin stomped me at)… and Domaine, a Klaus Teuber design that I actively avoided for a long time in deference to my much beloved Lowenherz. With a couple of plays under my belt, though, I think I’ve gone over to the ‘dark side’ and like Domaine better.
After this, I took Collin home and relaxed for a while before returning to the convention.
Catan: Ancient Egypt
I’m not sure I’m sold on the Helpers of Catan (which I’m told also appear in Star Trek Catan as crew members and here as Egyptian gods)… they add some twists to the game but at the cost of some down time. On the other hand, Ancient Egypt is a very pretty game. (For those of you who’ve been around the hobby a while, it has some similarities to the Cheops scenario first published as a poster and later found in the original Historical Scenarios box… but there are definite tweaks to the game.)
The Big Game
The highlight of the evening was Catan: The Big Game – an event that Mayfair has run before at GenCon and will soon make available in kit form for charity events, schools and libraries. Without going into too much detail about the rules, it’s Catan meets Take It Easy, as production numbers are “called” (like Bingo) and play simply alternates between sides of the table. 44 people played and the winning score is 25 – I was pretty proud to have 19 (or 20, I can’t remember).
Mayfair generously gave us all of us our wooden pieces and the card decks just for participating!
- The attendance was lower than they were set up for… but I don’t think that’s a complete surprise. This is a new event that will need more publicity – but I can easily see it growing as it was a very positive experience.
- There was a good mix of folks with a variety of experience in the hobby… and more women and kids than I normally see at conventions. There were also folks from across the U.S. – I played with people from Illinois, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, New York & Washington state (that I know of!).
- If they remain in the Gaylord Event Center, it will be a popular local event – parking is free and very close in the Opry Mills lot. (This is a “for Nashville folks” note – the con was not in the hotel proper.)
- You’ll notice I didn’t mention the tournaments – as they aren’t my favorite way of spending convention time, I didn’t play in any of them. There were qualifiers for Catan and for Settlers of America.
- Like my son said, this is more than just Catan. I saw folks playing a number of “gamer-friendly” Mayfair games, including Automobile and Caverna… and there were prototypes in various stages there being playtested, including the upcoming Extra! Extra!.
All in all, a very good couple of days… and I’m looking forward to next year!