People from across the country will descend upon the Twin Cities this weekend to barter for wood, bricks, wheat and sheep. Not for a trade conference — but a board game tournament.
The U.S. National Championship for the popular strategy and diplomacy board game Catan is being held at the Radisson Blu at the Mall of America Saturday and Sunday. Roughly 100 people will compete over the weekend.
Kelli Schmitz is the brand director for Catan Studios, the publisher of Catan’s English games and expansions, and is based in Roseville. She said this is the second time Minnesota has hosted the national tournament, the first in 2021.
“It was way more scaled down, it was very small because of the pandemic. But now, this year is the biggest one we’ve ever had,” Schmitz said. “We’ve never had this many participants at a national.”
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Russell Rothman of Farmington is one of the three Minnesota players aiming for the national title — and a chance to attend the world championship for the U.S.
“It’ll be fun to see what the level of play is here compared to the qualifier I was in. I think it’s more people that don’t go out of the way to make it to one of these and just want to do it for fun,” he said, “Whereas these are the serious ones that think they can make it to the world championship.”
Rothman admits he’s probably a bit more of a casual player than many others who will be at the tournament this weekend. But he enjoys playing the game (and various expansions that won’t be featured in tournament play) because of its varied elements.
“I would consider it a strategy game where you're resource gathering, in addition to a diplomacy game. And the game revolves around a good amount of luck with dice rolling,” Rothman said.
Rothman’s first foray into Catan started when he worked at a board game store called Games By James, which had a few locations at malls around the state, including the Mall of America. He started at a store in the Burnsville mall when he was 18 back in 2005.
“That was one of the big sellers, one of the new popular games,” Rothman said. “It kind of got me into all the different board games that they sell, all the different card games, and just kind of got me exposed to everything.”
It wasn’t until about six years ago that Rothman discovered tournaments for Catan. He played in a few regional tournaments over the years to see how different it would be compared to playing with friends.
“And this was the first year I was able to kind of drag some friends along with me down to LaCrosse, Wis. We ended up playing in one there.”
He and one of his friends were at the final match in LaCrosse where he qualified.
“If I hadn’t won on my turn, he probably would have won on his turn. It could have easily been flipped and I’d be the one watching him play in this national championship.”
The popular German party game was invented in 1995 by Klaus Teuber, who died earlier this year. It’s often credited as a game that introduces new players into more complicated hobby games of strategy, and some credit the game’s success around the world for the recent growth in board game popularity.
The game, Russell says, is a mix of strategy, diplomacy and luck. The board is made of hexagon-shaped tiles, each with a different land type. Players trade resources that are generated by those land tiles to build settlements, cities and roads.
Depending on where you place your settlements and how the dice lands, you can generate more resources and use them to expand and trade for what you need.
Players aim to be the first to score 10 points by collecting special cards, meeting certain requirements, and building settlements and cities.
The players in the tournament will play in three preliminary rounds and receive points based on how many games they win and how many points they collect in their games. The top 16 players will move to one of four semi-final games played early Sunday. The four winners then move to the final game for the U.S. championship, and an invitation to play at the world championship held every other year in Germany.
More than 40 million units in nearly 50 languages all over the world have been sold, as well as in video game versions. Catan Studios, which holds the rights to produce the English games and expansions, also has an office in Minnesota and is a subsidiary of Asmodee Group, an international board game publishing company.
Even if some players are like Rothman, who just enjoy the game with friends and decided to try their hand at a few tournaments, Schmitz said the game doesn’t lead to having tournament favorites or returning champions with long reigns.
“A lot of times there are people who are not even really experienced in tournament play, they kind of come out of nowhere and just do really well,” Schmitz said. “There’s a Canadian player that came to the world championship back in 2022. She played her first game of Catan in 2018, played for about a year, joined a tournament on a whim in 2019, then won the entire Canadian National in her first attempt. And then went to worlds and was the only woman to reach the semifinals.”
Schmitz said the event isn’t intended to be a spectator event. Tournament organizers must get through three rounds of 25 games in order to have the semi-finals and finals on Sunday. But you can catch the final and at least one of the semifinal games streamed on the Catan Studios Facebook page.