This past weekend, there was something very unexpected at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair. To say it's not very often that the worlds of hobby gaming and high fashion collide is an understatement (I'm still waiting for the "Project Runway" "Monopoly" board challenge), but as ChiTAG celebrated it's 10-year anniversary, the PlayCHIC fashion show provided some unique sights. The show featured "haute couture designs created by some of the city's top designers that are inspired by cool toy, game and entertainment brands like the UK sensation Moshi Monsters, the nerd-chic hit board game Settlers of Catan, and the vintage comic strip heroine Brenda Starr."

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Photo: Flickr user ginnerobot, used under Creative Commons license

Some people like to play a wide variety of games. Others like to focus on one game and play it as much as possible. The more you play, the better you get, and this weekend, 44 "Settlers of Catan" players will be traveling from around the world to prove they've put in their gaming hours.

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TableTop logo by Adam Levermore

Back in April, Wil Wheaton and the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel debuted TableTop, a show where celebrities gather to play board and card games. The concept sounded interesting, described by Wheaton as "Celebrity Poker meets Dinner for Five, where we got interesting people we know together for tabletop games," but one big question remained: would people actually tune in?

Nearly three months later, evidence is mounting that TableTop is a huge success. The first episode, featuring the game Small World, has racked up an impressive 628,000+ views. Some members of the gaming media have also begun digging into sales data to gauge the show's impact. The Starlit Citadel blog has dubbed this "The Wheaton Effect" after demonstrating that TableTop is actually boosting the popularity of the games it features.

Games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Munchkin are staples of the hobby gaming industry, so if someone is purchasing these titles, this is likely their first time purchasing a modern board game. Since TableTop is meant to draw in new gamers, it's definitely having that desired effect.

So where do they go from here? The internet is full of recommendation lists, but it's easy to get overwhelmed. These new gamers already have a few games they love; they just bought them! Instead of rushing to explore every corner of the hobby gaming marketplace, it may be worthwhile to take things slow and explore the expansions, sequels, and accessories for the games featured on TableTop.

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The Settlers of Catan is synonymous with modern strategy board gaming. The title seems to continuously pop up as an ambassador for the hobby, whether it be for play by the characters of television's Big Bang Theory or for parody in an episode of 30 Rock.

But in the nearly 20 years since Catan hit store shelves, the name has established itself as a brand, encompassing numerous expansions, spin-off games, and even a novelization. None of these other products have received the same attention as regular old Catan, though. With a new series of behind-the-scenes blog entries planned, designer Klaus Teuber is hoping to draw more eyes to The Rivals for Catan [MTV Geek review], a 2-player-only card game take on The Settlers of Catan.

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Back in 2011, Mayfair Games went a bit Catan-crazy, publishing a new version of the Catan dice game as well as two different card games, The Struggle for Catan and The Rivals for Catan. Although they all sport the Catan brand name, each contains a completely unique experience. Gamers have been burned in the past with popular franchises such as Carcassonne, which uses the sausage factory model for pushing out expansions and off-shoot games, so the surprise here was that all of the new Catan games were actually quite good.

Just the Facts:

Players: 2
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Age: 12+
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Game Designer: Klaus Teuber
MSRP: $15.00
Release: November 17th, 2011

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Back in January, Mayfair Games announced that Catan: Junior will be hitting North America, but there were few details on how the game would change from its original Kosmos-published German edition, Die Siedler von Catan Junior. At Toy Fair 2012, I caught up with Mayfair's Director of Sales & Marketing, Bob Carty, to see an early prototype of this new Catan Junior edition.

The changes in this new version run the gamut of gameplay to theme. For one, all of the cards have been replaced with tiles (the sheets of symbols you see on the table are un-punched tile art), which makes more sense since this junior version of Catan doesn't involve stealing resources. The American version of Catan: Junior also incorporates a trade market which you can see has been built right into the game's board.

Thematically, the resources have received a bit of tweaking. Most notably, kids won't be collecting rum anymore, as those barrels have been renamed as molasses. Jack Sparrow might be disappointed, but I'm willing to bet at least a few parents will appreciate Mayfair's change.

German Settlers of Catan publisher Kosmos has announced they will be releasing a Star Trek-licensed version of the popular game in March, retailing for €37. The game's entry appeared on BoardGameGeek.com this morning, breaking the news of its existence. From the official description:

Star Trek Catan takes two well-known media properties and merges them into, well, into something that is 95% The Settlers of Catan glossed with Trek tropes and spiced with new special powers related to Trek personalities.

In Star Trek Catan, players start the game with two small space stations at the intersection of three planets, with each planet supplying resources based on the result of a dice roll. Players collect and trade these resources – Dilithium, Tritanium, food, oxygen and water – in order to build spaceships that connect regions in the galaxy, establish small and large space stations at new intersection points in order to increase resource acquisition, and acquire development cards that provide victory points (VPs) or special abilities.

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Unfortunately, Timmy didn't put the spyglass down in time to realize Mr. Squawkers was armed

I'm only a few words into this announcement and I've already thrown Candyland under the bus, but it's hard not to. If you look at games as either a test of skill or a series of interesting decision, most titles on toy store shelves fail to meet either of those criteria. Mayfair Games is aiming to change that with Catan: Junior. Inspired by the mega-hit board game The Settlers of Catan, Catan: Junior will be released this April as part of Mayfair's new Fun Fair line of children's games.

Sure, there was 2003's The Kids of Catan, but since that game wasn't particularly very good, we'll just forget about it. What game? I'm not sure what you're talking about. In any case, Catan: Junior actually looks quite good, and should be a perfect introduction to Euro-style board games. Before you know it, your kids will be pushing around wooden cubes with the best of them.

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