In Chapter One, I explained how my brother and his wife introduced me to Die Siedler von Catan (The Settlers of Catan), and how I grabbed the base game and several expansions while visiting them when they were living in Germany.
Chapter Two: Hopelessly Addicted
Being unaware of the American gaming market, I had no idea that Mayfair had been publishing The Settlers of Catan in English for years. So, I had my brother do some shopping for me in Karstadt before he returned to the states in the spring of 2000.
Deciding that maybe the game wasn’t as scary as the box was, I asked him to purchase Städte und Ritter (Cities and Knights), plus the PC versions of Die Siedler von Catan – Das Kartenspiel (Catan Card Game) and Sternenfahrer (Starfarers) for which I used Babelfish (at altavista.com) to translate into English. I even scanned and Photoshopped the SuR rulebook and reprinted it with my color printer in English just for my own use, and continued begging my family and friends to play with me.
My nieces and nephews were getting older, so I found a few more opponents, but it still wasn’t enough – especially since I lived in New Jersey with my wife and son, and they were in Indianapolis. I invited friends and relatives over to play the game, and took it to family reunions. I bought a movable poker table top (an octagon, very similar to a Catan hexagon – see photo below) that was covered in green velvet so I could move the game bodily from the dining table to the coffee table, then back to the dining table when the meal ended, and I recall my wife throwing around the word obsession during this time.
A highlight of the German PC card game was the online site where people could meet, share IP addresses, and play together. I wrote a favorable review of the game at boardgamegeek.com, and someone who read the post sent me an email, telling me that he had translated much of the game to English and then sent me the file. By this time, I had found Mayfair Games, so I took this file and improved it by using the actual text from the English version of the card game. This file was eventually used as the base for the current English version of the card game on the COW. My new friend also told me about a fan’s website where the PC game, Catan – Die Erste Insel (Catan – The First Island), could be played for free. For the first time I had plenty of opponents to match wits with!
I happily played the card game and the PC game on these sites for several months, filling my days while being temporarily unemployed and between careers. I found the people online to be very friendly and accommodating to my faulty German, and I even fooled a few by writing responses in the little bits of German I knew: getreide (grain), strasse (road), ja (yes), and so on. Of course, I had to reveal myself as an American as soon as someone wrote a complete sentence in the chat window and then waited for a response, which I couldn’t deliver in German. After confessing, I was usually met with, “What are you doing on a German website?”
The answer was one they could relate to: “I’m hopelessly addicted to this game, just like you!”
Around December of 2002, the partly fee-based Catan Online World was launched as a joint venture between Klaus Teuber’s company Catan GmbH and the German Internet provider T-Online. I would have paid the fee, but the money for it was attached to and pulled from German phone bills. I even asked one of my brother’s German friends if I could send him money every month for the fee, but he didn’t like the idea. The number of opponents on my beloved free website shrank more with each passing day until I finally gave up. Again I had to suffer with begging my family to play whenever we would get together for holidays, and to fill in with the much-overplayed computer game and card game. My quest for opponents began anew.
Coming up in Part Three: Filling in the gaps with websites that just didn’t measure up.