By Adam Purcell
IN a world obsessed with all things digital – iPads, laptops, smartphones and the like – it’s no surprise that many people think the traditional board game is dead. When the opportunity to play games with people all around the world is just the click of a button away, what’s the point in spending time and effort actually getting friends and family around a table?
“Board games will never die!” says gaming fanatic Fabian Weiner as he rolls two dice to kick start a session of The Settlers of Catan, a popular strategy game from Germany. “There’s something so magic about the experience – you learn, you compete, you socialise in the real world. iPads and digital games can not compete with that.”
“Catan is one of the world’s best-loved board games,” says Fabian. “To date it has sold over 18 million copies worldwide; it’s been mentioned on cult TV shows like The Big Bang Theory; and it’s available in 30 languages. The Washington Post even called it ‘The board game of our time.’
“Its focus on trading natural resources – stone, wheat, sheep, wood – make it unique and a great learning tool for kids. We knew we could make it a hit in Thailand.”
Kosmos, the German publishers of Catan, granted Ninive Games the rights to import a Thai version of the game after Fabian met representatives of the company in Stuttgart, Germany.
“They wanted to know that me and my brother were truly passionate about the game,” he says. “They wanted to know that we had the talent to make it a success. I guess they like what they saw because they agreed to produce a Thai version and that was that – we were officially bringing the game to Thailand.”
Prior to establishing Ninive Games, Fabian, a fluent Thai speaker, was a lecturer at a Thai university. Not entirely happy with his job, he was delighted that, in running his own company, he’d finally be investing his time and energy into something he is truly passionate about.
“Let’s just say there’s a lot of politics involved in teaching here,” he says. “So it was great to finally be my own boss. Yes, a lot of hard work is involved – especially in Thailand where board game culture isn’t as big as Europe or the States – but it’s very rewarding, especially when you see a group of Thai kids playing the game and loving it.”
To promote sales of Catan Fabian has travelled the kingdom visiting schools, youth organisations and shopping malls.”You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve played this game over the past year,” he says with a laugh. “I can even tell you what cards I’m holding without having to look at them.”
He holds up a Catan card, a picture of a sheep on it. “Wood,” he says. “Ah. Okay. I got that wrong...but at least I managed to get things right on the business front – Catan is now on sale in over 30 stores throughout Thailand, with many more to come.”
To boost his cash flow while establishing the game in Thailand, Fabian has opened a small store on the corner of Rama IV and Sukhumvit roads (near Phra Khanong BTS Station), where board game enthusiasts young and old can drop in to play Catan (English and Thai versions) and other board games while enjoying drinks and food, including delicious pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven. Fabian even offers delivery of the pizzas, priced B250 to B350, to local condominiums.
“The idea is to establish a place where expats and Thais who enjoy board games can hang out and make new friends,” he says. “We’ve got a decent selection of games for people to play, including classics like Diplomacy and Carcassone, 7 Wonders, Tikal.
“Of course, we hope everyone who visits would love to buy a game of Catan too,” he adds with a laugh.
With three tables inside surrounded by Thai and foreign children playing Catan, another table outside where parents sit drinking beers and challenging each other at Gobbling Goblets, a new strategic take on noughts and crosses, Fabian’s store proves there’s still life in the traditional board game. “You just have to disconnect to reconnect,” he says, pointing at an iPad. “The pleasure you have playing a real game with real people will be more than worth it.”
Ninive Games is open daily 2pm-late. Catan is priced B1,750 (English); B1,600 (Thai). All board games are free to play. www.ninivegames.com