I was raised on Monopoly, Clue, Risk, et al.
My first experience with "real" gaming was when I was 19 and spent a year in New York way back in the early 90s.
One of my roommates was a gamer, and invited me to sit in with his group.
It was there that I first really played Battletech, then Succession Wars and finally a little game called Axis & Allies.
The depth of these games, and the strategy involved, was fantastic!
We played often, but I moved back to Texas and as no one around was into that depth of gaming, they slipped into memory.
Fast forward nearly 20 yrs.
I am on my second marriage and have migrated out to the Central Coast of California.
One of my new friends invites me to play Settlers of Catan.
He is part of a gaming group that meets every week.
Now, I have mentioned this game before, how it opened my eyes to a new world of gaming, how it led me to BGG and ultimately was spread like a virus to the rest of my family and friends.
But you have to understand what I was facing.
We met to play in a detached garage that was really more of a small barn.
I only knew about three of the people there, but made quick friends with the others (what can I say, I'm a likeable guy!)
The "gaming table" was circular and about 6' in diameter.
It was covered nearly entirely in hexes.
At least 5' in diameter of terrain tiles.
The guy who owned the game must have had hexes from about 6 or 7 different Catan boxes, plus all the expansions and extra bits.
We used every single expansion.
Including the volcano and the fish.
Now, not being familiar with the game at the time, I had no idea just how much "extra" was actually present.
Needless to say, I was surprised when I opened my newly purchased Settlers and saw how "small" the playing area was in comparison.
They had made their own custom pieces to add extra players, which was good since there ended up being about 8 of us playing (the game took about 5 hours).
Gameplay moved fairly fast, since they all knew what they were doing.
There were no sandbaggers and no AP present in this group.
However, there were several house rules that made the game a bit longer than it needed to be.
First, and I honestly can't remember how they did it since this was about 5 years ago, the Barbarian kept circling around instead of actually moving in for the attack. He would hit a certain point and then head back out to sea. I don't remember what the reasoning on this was, but it made some sense to me at the time.
Secondly, whenever the robber was in play (through a roll of 7 or a development card) they began a round of negotiations.
"What will you give me to not place the robber next to you?"
Each player in turn was given the chance to either offer some kind of "protection payment" (a couple of wheat, a few gold, some fish, etc.) or decline.
I acquiesed the first round, but then got wise and quit paying.
Looking back, it is amazing that this was effective, that people were willing to be held up like this.
But it is also amazing that until I read the rules, I didn't know they had added this themselves.
Another house rule, and one that I have actually since adopted, is the use of Catan Dice in conjunction with the regular dice.
(Remember, I said we were playing with ALL the expansions/additions of Catan!)
The way it worked was that you rolled the two regular dice, plus the Barbarian dice, plus two of the dice from the Catan Dice game.
So five dice in total.
If the two Catan Dice show matching symbols, then each player gets one of that resource, and the player who rolled the dice gets two of that resource.
If it shows the gold ore symbol, that counts as wild and automatically matches the other die.
If two gold ore come up, then the player who threw it gets to choose what resource pays out that round.
The benefit to this is that it gets more resources into the game faster, making it easier for people to build.
And in a normal game this greatly speeds things up.
Of course, the drawback is that it gets more cards in your hand, making it easier to get hit by the robber!
Again, I didn't realize these dice weren't part of the base game (they should be imho) and ended up going back to the store after a few "normal" games to get them.
Well, people were bribed, the volcano exploded several times, settlements and cities on the river paid out their gold and flipcharts were, um, flipped.
Much harrassment was thrown out, and of course I had no real idea of what I was doing except to try and earn as many victory points as I could.
The board was so big that no one was ever really blocked road-wise.
A few of the players were actually off in their own little corners of the board, happily building unencumbered.
I on the other hand, was sitting right next to the game's owner, who must have thought the newbie (me) would be easy pickings.
He seemed to constantly be threatening my knights and cities, and blocking off my roads.
I did get the short end of a few deals, but listened to some of the advice on what to do and when.
I had build pretty well, and was built on a few fisheries.
Which meant that I had a steady supply of fish.
I ended up with the boot, and couldn't get rid of it.
But I used my fish wisely and built roads and purchased development cards.
In the end (around 1AM or so) the game's owner was poised to win.
He needed only 1 VP, and clearly had what he needed to get it.
However his turn was right behind mine.
I was 3 pts behind him (I needed 4 VP to win, we were playing to 14VP iirc).
I upgraded a settlement to a city, giving me 1 VP.
I built a settlement on a port, which returned the Harbor Master card to me (I had possessed it earlier but lost it to another player).
2 more VP.
Now we were tied.
Having nothing to lose, and knowing it was my last turn, I spent my last few fish for a development card.
It was a victory point.
And there was much rejoicing.
Ok, actually there was much harrassment of the game's owner about the fact that I had won.
Specifically that I had beaten him.
And that I had never played before.
See, apparently he had not won a game in the last 12 times (or so) that they had played.
This was going to be his big comeback.
And I had snatched victory out of his fingertips.
Now, I tried to be as gracious as I could, and it was only later that I learned just how upset he had been about it.
Oddly enough, I never played with that group again.
I did play with a few of the individual members.
And the game's owner and I played on one more occassion.
It was about a year later, and I had introduced my nephews and stepdaughter to the game.
I invited him to join us, and bring his set with him.
He set up a smaller version this time (it still covered a 3x6 table).
And my nephews who had played the base game with me were in awe.
And my stepdaughter was in awe.
And I beat him again.
And I haven't heard from him since.....
But it was that game. That first glorious, decidedly house-ruled version of Settlers of Catan, that set me on the gaming path for good.
Now here I am, over 5 years later, waiting for my first purchase from an OLGS to arrive.
I placed an order at coolstuffinc today for Space Alert, Forgotten Planet and the Battletech Introductory box.
There is much gaming in my future.
And somewhere out there is an angry uber-Catan owner that deserves my thanks.