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To Germany and Back: An American’s Quest for Opponents – Part 1

December 22, 2009

Chapter One: Play With Me!

As many gamers know, finding opponents isn’t always easy. Family members are often our favorite foes, but let’s face it: if you’re into gaming, you just might be a little more aggressive than they are, and they just might get tired of playing with you because of it. Ring any bells? It is exactly this situation that compelled me to become the only English-speaking Catan player on German websites before any were translated and available in English. This led to a position as a moderator for the Catan Online World, then to demoing games at GenCon in Indianapolis, and finally, I’m happy to say, to employment as a community manager for the COW. It has been quite a journey, and it all started with my brother, who in December of 1997 introduced me to a really cool game that was quickly gaining popularity in Germany, which he called “Die Siedler.”

Board detail small To Germany and Back: An American’s Quest for Opponents   Part 1

The Settlers of Catan - 1st German edition

In early 1997, my brother’s wife, Erin, visited a close friend who had recently brought “Die Siedler von Catan” (“The Settlers of Catan”) back from Germany to his home in Oklahoma. When Erin visited Germany later that year, she brought back a copy of the game, too.

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The English translations were made by scanning and altering the original with Photoshop, then sticking the revision to the originals' backs.

Then while visiting our family for the holidays, she and my brother Mark introduced the game to all of us. I won our first match, a six-player game, much to the surprise and dismay of my very competitive brother.

“How did you do that!?” he exclaimed.

“I just built settlements by numbers I didn’t already have.”

“That was your whole strategy?” It sounded simple then, and it sounds simple now. When we got together, my family played the game on and off for the next couple of years, but I was the one who became hopelessly hooked, trying to get all of them to play more often than they wanted.

In fall 1999, I visited Mark and his family in Dortmund, Germany, where Erin was teaching literature on a Fullbright scholarship. When he asked if there was anything I wanted to do while I was there, I said that I wanted to bring home my own copy of “Die Siedler”. Much to my surprise, I found an entire section devoted to the game in a department store called Karstadt. They stocked a computer game, a space-themed game, a card game, a seafaring game, and even a scary-looking spiel with advancing armies on a dark orange background, titled “Städte und Ritter.” I left with “Die Siedler von Catan” (“The Settlers of Catan”), “Die Seefahrer-Erweiterung” (“Catan Seafarers”), the five-six player extensions for each, and the “Catan – Die Erste Insel” (“Catan – The First Island”) computer game.

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This is what I came home from Germany with.

Of course, I spent most of my time with the computer game, which featured opponents who played, argued, and traded in German while word bubbles floated above their heads. Armed with a pocket German-to-English dictionary, I learned a few key German phrases which would come in handy later.

In chapter two of this post, I’ll explain how I discovered the American versions of these games, as well as a few online sites where the game could be played for free. Of course, the fact that they were all in German created a little barrier, but I persevered, as you will see!

Jim Plane