The Catan World Championships: Stuff of dreams. And yet, in 2022, somehow the sheep and brick aligned to let this one bucket list dream come true for one very lucky “Fish”.
My History of Catan
It all started for me, sometime around 2002, with one of the youth guys i was leading at the time and a German copy of a game called ‘Die Siedler von Catan’ which i instantly fell in love with.
Prior to that moment i used to be a big fan of all things board game and played a variety of games that all seemed to have a single goal and usually one way of achieving it – Monopoly [get all the money], Risk [destroy all the other armies], Cluedo [find out who the murderer was] and so on. i was also a huge fan of Logic problems, Choose Your Own Adventure books and an above average chess player, and so when i got my first taste of what would later be known to me as ‘Settlers of Catan’ [and now simply ‘Catan’] i was immediately hooked.
Fortunately the game was largely about resources and dice numbers and only had 5 different cards that were printed in German and so i had to trust Stephen Taylor when he explained what ‘Erfindung’ meant which was obviously “Wenn Sie diese Karte ausspielen, nehmen Sie sofort zwei Rohstoffkarten Ihrer Wahl vom Vorrat” and so it was easy enough to follow. But the strategic nature of the game and the introduction of a changing board and variety of ways to achieve victory was what grabbed me.
Road to Malta
i think it was in 2010 that i took part in my first ever Settlers of Catan [as it was still called back then] tournament in Joburg, South Africa.
After four rounds of play, i had won three games and made it to the final table. It all came down to one roll of the dice. i had everything i needed in my hand [including the four wheat cards i could exchange for one sheep to build my final settlement and win!] and the only number i had to avoid was a seven. To win the entire thing. [You can see where this is going!]
To the uninitiated, a large part of the game involves dice rolls and every number from 2 to 12 [there are two die] is represented on the board which is made up of hexagonal pieces. When a number rolls if you have a settlement or city adjacent to a hex containing that number, you pick up a card representing the resource shown on that hex. EXCEPT for when a seven throws [in probability the number most likely to roll because of how many different ways it can be made – 4 and 3, 5 and 2, 6 and 1….] in which case anyone with more than seven cards in their hand has to give half of them back to the bank [now you can REALLY see where this is going!]
So, yes, my first ever Settlers of Catan National Tournament came down to one dice throw and i did throw the seven that caused me to have to give up half of my cards. And not have the resources needed to win the game, which someone else won on their next turn. So so close! But i did come second and had the taste for competitive Catan, although i would only get another chance to play many years later.
My second National Catan Championship happened about four years ago. It also took place in Joburg and having finished the preliminary rounds in second place overall, what followed was even less encouraging. Due to bad organisation i ended up facing a boyfriend/girlfriend couple in the quarters who ganged up against me and somehow managed to piss off the other girl we were playing with [the importance of the Politics of the game – see later] and so had absolutely no chance.
Patrick, who won this event, and the prize to compete in the World Catan Championship [which my first event had not had], invited me to be part of his training team back in Cape Town. We met on a number of occasions and played a lot of Catan and shared tips and ideas and sent him off to represent SA in the finals. What was a little frustrating about all of those games was that he didn’t beat me in any of them until his farewell when we played a game on his tablet and he finally got a victory. So i was really wishing it was me heading over and yet we cheered him on and he finished in i think 47th.
By this time i really didn’t think i would have another opportunity to compete in the Nationals [was only able to play cos i had been in Jobug for another reason and it coincided] but it was firmly etched on my bucket list cos i would love to SHOW THE WORLD what i can do on the Catan board.
But then, as Luck would have it [and you CANNOT be World Champion of Catan without a little, or a lot of, Luck, but we will get to that later], for some reason in 2022 the Nationals moved to Cape Town, and i gave it a try, and won the whole thing. The competition and even final itself had been a relatively calm affair for me – after losing the first game i knew i probably had to win the next two and did and made it to the final table and somehow won that as well. But then sat absolutely shaking in my car, filled with emotion, not-quite-believing they were really going to fly me across the world to compete in a World Catan Championship as a representative of South Africa.
Preparation for the World Catan Championships coming up in Malta was quickly underway. The two South Africans who i heard had represented South Africa before had finished 42nd and 47th and i was desperate to put SA on the map. While i was going with the mindset of winning the whole thing, the bare minimum i would be happy with was finishing top 16 after the first four games and making it to day two and the semis. Then it would take some measure of luck to win two games and take the title [Spoiler alert: i didn’t do that!] but finishing top 16 out of 87 was very much in my hands.
So we gathered together a crew of Catan players who had competed in the Nationals and they were amazing in terms of coming together to play against me and share their tips and ways of playing and ideas for how to proceed. Between that and watching some You Tube videos of past and present champs i was able to definitely upskill my game a little bit and prepare myself for what lay ahead.
The second part of my preparation was looking for sponsors. i knew that not being a Cricket, Rugby, or Soccer national player that this wasn’t going to be wasy, but i was hoping to find some amped individuals or companies who might be willing to get behind me – product for story.
First up was Solarpop who were responsible for putting on the Catan Nationals and flying me over. i felt a certain responsibility towards them to reward them for the faith placed in me and i feel like First South African to make the Semis was a really good start. Etienne from Solarpop joined me for a Bonus Podcast episode interview which you can listen to over here which was a great way to get my friends and followers into the story and we enjoyed much cheering on from the social media crowds from that point on.
Next up was my most excellent funky hair person, Roz, from Roz Hair Studio. Now Roz has her own company and so obviously it is more of a cost for her to agree to be a sponsor, but she jumped in immediately on the condition that she got to choose the style and colour. Having had Roz colour my hair a few times now, that was an easy one for me. i am hoping that she will gain a number of new clients who have seen my hair and the magic she does with others [take a look!] and so give her a call and book your next appointment. What makes it easier for me is that she lives and works just down the road for me and so i was able to make an appointment a few days before i flew out so it would be fresh and ready to go! She did not disappoint. And you can find her on the Twitterer over here. Give her a follow, book an appointment, tell your friends and let’s make her sponsorship of me well worth it!
Next up was my nails and while i never quite asked Alex from Scarlet Rose Beauty to be an official sponsor, she did such an incredible job on my nails that i made her an unofficial one.
She was recommended to me by a friend on the Twitterer whose daughter and friend had used her and gushed about the results. i, on the other hand, had never had my nails done professionally before. With no discernible skills myself i knew i wanted to find someone who could at the very least match the vibe of my hair so i could really arrive in Malta, but Alex was on hand [cough] to take it so much further.
Before i found myself squeezed into a cancelled appointment [Alex was booked up til mid January when i messaged her] Alex from Scarlet Rose Beauty [her own company run from a beautiful little studio on the side of the house where she lives] had never heard of Catan. So with some explanation and some googling, she quickly came up with an idea and began working. While i did not know exactly what i wanted – either Catan-themed or just bright and vibey – i assumed if we went Catan we would do Hexagons [the board pieces which make up Catan] and so as she went to work i wasn’t fully convinced, but she was the pro.
And Alex totally brought it. One of the highlights of this Malta trip was a myriad of people commenting on my nails, including some admiration from Klaus Teuber who designed the game and his son who plays a large role in the company now. But if there had been a Best Nails Category at the Finals i would have snapped that up easily. With the middle fingernail on each hand displaying the box cover illustration of the rising sun and the word ‘Catan’ and each other nail bearing the colour of a resource and the round numbers which get laid on each tile to show dice throws. Even the little black or red dots signifying the probability of each number rolling were added to the mix, giving me quite probably the most Catan fingernails the world has ever seen!
So shoutout to Alex from Scarlet Rose Beauty and if you’re in Cape Town and want your nails down, give her a shout [but early cos she is super busy cos her work is so good and her prices are ridiculously reasonable] but it was easy to add her in as an unofficial sponsor, because she really helped add a vibe to the mix.
So with hair and nail sponsors locked in place and with Solarpop sending me over to compete, i was ready to go.
However, it is important to talk a little strategy, which for me started way before stepping on to the plane.
And i will do that, and talk through my time in Malta and in the Catan World Championships in the second part of this story, coming soon!