Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Game

Before I moved to Pennsylvania, I was hanging out at my coffee shop of choice, Brewdaily's in Auburn, IN. Nathan, owner and all-around cool guy, was working behind the counter and asked me if I'd ever heard of the game "Settlers of Catan". I hadn't, and he tried to explain it to me. Sort of like Risk, sort of like Stratego, but not really either one.

After relocating to PA I was asked by my pals Ethan & Aubrey if I'd ever heard of "Settlers of Catan". I told them my friend Nathan had just asked me about it but I had never played. They said it was a pretty cool game and we should play sometime.

A few weeks later I was over visiting my friends Linford & Trish and while they gave me the tour of their house I noticed a board game on their game shelf. That's right. "Settlers of Catan." I remarked how suddenly I was hearing about this game everywhere and from everyone. Trish and Linford also raved about the game.

Later, I was back in Indiana visiting with my brother Ray and out of the blue he asked me if I'd ever played "Settlers of Catan". What was going on here? When did he hear about this game? I usually pride myself in being the first to find cool new games that I tell others about (The Great Dalmuti and You Don't Know Jack are two games in particular that I got to introduce to my friends in the past) and this time around everyone I knew seemed to be on the bandwagon BUT me. What happened? And how did it happen?

Last week Sarah and I went to Ethan & Aubrey's house and were pleased to find they were the new owners of "Settlers". They busted out the game, spread out the board and distributed the appropriate playing pieces. And then tragedy struck.

Ethan was the only one of us who'd played before and he had forgotten how to play. Sarah and I tried to build little Jenga-like towers with our playing pieces as Ethan scanned the rule book and Aubrey chilled on the sofa. The pressure of re-learning the game mixed with the embarrassment of forgetting the game proved to be too much for poor Ethan and we ended up giving up on the game and playing Dutch Blitz instead (another game I found everyone but me knew how to play).

This past weekend when Sarah and I were home for our reception we got to spend some time with Nathan and his wife Stacy (Sarah's sister, for those of you updating your flow chart as you read this). It wasn't long before Nathan broke out "Settlers of Catan" and Sarah and I were on our way to learning the game.

It was, to quote Dane Cook, a blasty-blast.

Relatively simple to learn yet deceptively cunning and strategic, Sarah and I both had a great time and Sarah actually ended up winning the game (much to Nathan's chagrin). We were officially hooked.

Last night Sarah and I were at Target shopping for Christmas trees when it dawned on us that we should get our own copy of "Settlers". The game isn't available in most stores like Target, K-Mart, Wal*Mart or other mart-type stores. I recalled Ethan had said the only place he was able to find it was a local comic book store called, obviously enough, The Comic Store. Despite the fact that Sarah and I were both risking countless cool points by stepping foot inside a comic book store, we knew it was a small price to pay for such a cool game.

We got to The Comic Store and began our search. There were two Comic Book Guys behind the counter that gave us a knowing look when we entered that screamed "STRANGERS!" I didn't wear glasses and my hair wasn't greasy and plastered to my head. I didn't have on a black jacket and my neck hair was well-groomed. And Sarah, well...let's face it. She's really hot. She definitely didn't belong in a comic book store. The only girls even close to being as sexy as her these guys had been around were drawn in pen and ink.

We began to weave in and out of the aisles as countless cartoon drawings of red-haired babes in bikinis and shirtless guys with pecs like cannonballs stared at us from the hundreds of boxes that lined the shelves. We saw Abe Lincoln as a super hero and even an issue of Howard the Duck. There were Jon Bon Jovi action figures and the red and blue neon signs in the windows added to the surreal mood.

I passed a guy in a wheelchair who was wearing a long green army coat and he leered at me from the corner of his eyes. He reminded me of Samuel L Jackson in Unbreakable.

Finally, we found the game shelves and it was pretty wild. There was a Sin City board game and even "Axis & Allies," a game my brother and I were into back in high school. And, of course, there was "Settlers of Catan". And the "Settlers of Catan" expansion pack. And "Seafarers of Catan" and its expansion pack. And 3 or 4 other versions of the "Catan" series. And their expansion packs. It was almost too much.

Which one should we get?

Should we get the one we already knew how to play and were familiar with or should we go with one of the others to add to the game the next time we play with friends? After an unsuccessful phone call to Trish and Linford to ask their advice (I had the wrong number in my phone) Sarah and I decided to go with STARFARERS OF CATAN. It was in the biggest and most impressive box, so much so that whenever I write the name I feel compelled to use all caps. STARFARERS OF CATAN.

This version was set in space and even came with spaceships and promises of fighting evil alien monsters. We were sold.

We approached the counter to pay and Sarah came across a plastic package of paints that also included 3-inch pewter wizard figurines to decorate. I could tell by Sarah's tone she was about to make a joke. "Hey what's this!" she exclaimed and the guy behind the counter looked up. Don't make the comic store guy angry! I thought to myself and my telepathy must have worked. Sarah switched gears and muttered, "You can paint little dudes." Inside I laughed my head off and am still laughing about it as I write this. You can paint little dudes.

We completed our purchase, zipped home, and busted out STARFARERS OF CATAN. And guess what?

It freakin' rocks.

We built spaceships, we colonized planets, we battled aliens--and each other--and it was great. Sarah told me she was never really much of a game player growing up and I've lived alone for so long it's been a while since I've had anyone to play board games with. Needless to say, we both enjoyed it.

So as you're gathered around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow trying to figure out just what in the world is in that Tupperware container and wondering if your family is as crazy as you think they are, trying to hold conversation while a TV blares a football game in the background, Sarah and I will be sprawled out on the floor drinking coffee in our pajamas, lost in the world of STARFARERS OF CATAN.

And maybe, just maybe, laughing about the little dudes you can paint.

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