The official website for The Settlers of Catan

Part 1: How to Meet a Game Designer

 
August 20, 2009
Gero Zahn

On the “About Us” page here in the Catanism Blog or at Catan.com, my (slightly grandiose) job title is “Web Content Manager” (or it least it was when this blog post was initially published). What exactly this means – apart from the obvious “rearing and nurture of websites” – will be the topic of another blog posting.

What’s probably more interesting: How do you become the person in charge of the web content in a small, family-run company like Catan GmbH? The story now dates back more than 12 years. In this first part I would like to narrate how Klaus and I met and established a personal contact.

During my university years as a student of computer science, my circle of friends was incurably infected with the “Settlers” fever ever since the game “The Settlers of Catan” was published in fall of 1995, and hardly a gaming night would go by without culminating in a game of Catan. On the other hand, back then I was already interested in HTML and also had put a private home page online. Those were the pioneering days for the “cyber exhibitionism” of the Web 1.0: “my name, my pet, my hobbies” – available for everyone who already had an Internet-capable computer at the time.

Roter Planet Part 1: How to Meet a Game Designer

Space Settlers - Red Planet

Then, one day in summer of 1997, my good friend Markus and I were gazing into the “Settlers” box, lost in thought. Apart from many other things we have in common, both of us are huge science fiction fans: Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica – space adventures were our passion then and still are today.  As we were staring at the mountains, pastures, and fields hexes, a thought spontaneously flashed through our minds: how would the game look like if it weren’t set in the Viking milieu in medieval times but in space – and would we be able to craft something like this ourselves.

After some brainstorming, we agreed that we didn’t want to change anything regarding the concept of the game: it wasn’t our intention to manipulate the proven game mechanics; we only wanted to transfer its visual aspects and mood to outer space by renaming all objects and resources accordingly. Markus found a wonderful shareware graphics software, which I used to create the first graphic sketches of our “Space Settlers.”

Blauer Planet Part 1: How to Meet a Game Designer

Space Settlers - Blue Planet

With the respective printouts in my pocket, I presented myself at the booth of Kosmos Verlag at the “Spiel ’97″ game fair that took place in Essen in October 1997.  Even though our adaptation was merely a hobby project, I was anxious to hear Klaus Teuber’s opinion about it: had he strictly forbidden any derivative work at that moment, we would have accepted it without complaint.

Unfortunately, we missed each other, so I gave my sketches to Horst-Rainer Rösner of the Siedlerclub instead, which he pledged to forward to Klaus Teuber.  And really: soon after, I found a personal letter from him in my mailbox. Klaus (with whom I wasn’t on first-name terms at the time) assured me that he didn’t object to such a hobby project – and that he would like to see the finished version

Space Siedler gespielt 1 Part 1: How to Meet a Game Designer

The Space Settlers of Catan

The next year, in 1998, I showed up at the game fair “Spiel ’98″ – apart from photos from our first rounds of “Space Settlers,” I also had another copy of the game in my backpack, which I wanted to give to Klaus on this occasion. At the Kosmos booth, for the first time I met Benjamin, his youngest son, who beamed with delight when telling me that his father was working on a space adaptation too. Could it be that we unintentionally had struck a chord with our “Space Settlers?” Was Klaus’ own project identical to ours, or was it perhaps even a completely new Catan game?

He later told me that he had something bigger in mind; today, we all know the game as “The Starfarers of Catan,” which I had no way of knowing at that time.  Anyway: He gave me permission to present our “Space Settlers” to the Internet audience in the context of my private homepage. [1]

Next time, in the second part of this blog posting, I will tell you how staying loosely in touch evolved into my present job at Catan GmbH.

Gero Zahn

[1] http://www.onlinepresence.de/Space-Siedler/

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