Mayfair Games, the American publisher of classic board games including the massively popular Settlers of Catan series, is shutting down. The company announced last week that it would be closing its doors after 20 years in the industry.
Board game fans across the internet were saddened, if not too surprised, by the news. The tabletop gaming industry has been growing exponentially in the last few decades, thanks in large part to Settlers of Catan. Catan was an entry point into more serious tabletop gaming for many people, myself included, and several Polygon readers commented that when they saw a Mayfair label on a game they considered it a sign of quality.
The good news is that those quality games aren’t just going to disappear. Asmodee North America, which bought the Catan franchise in 2016, acquired the remaining Mayfair catalog to add to its growing roster of tabletop games.
To bid goodbye to this pillar of the board game community, we’ve rounded up the best games Mayfair published in its 20 years of operation.
Settlers of Catan
Of course, we couldn’t do a list of the best Mayfair games, or a list of the best board games in general, without mentioning Settlers of Catan. Now on its fifth edition, re-branded as simply Catan, the über-popular German game has been published in 30 languages and has several expansions and licensed versions (A Game of Thrones Catan, anyone?) as well as a two-player variant.
For much of the world, Settlers of Catan was an introduction to German-style board games that involve more strategic gameplay than American games, which are mainly conflict- and/or luck-based. For kids whose board game experience mostly included Battleship and The Game of Life, Catan was a revelation.
As happens with any entry point into a hobby, Catan often gets pushed to the back of the game shelf as your collection grows. It’s a shame, because Catan is still a really excellent game. I busted it out a few weeks ago when my sister came to visit and we had a blast —even though she won.
Another classic German game, Agricola is a worker-placement game in which you play as a farmer trying to grow your household. One of the great things about Agricola is that you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want with the addition of cards that provide different challenges and benefits.
Agricola was originally published by German publisher Lookout Games, which was acquired by Mayfair in 2013. Mayfair published a revised edition of Agricola in 2016, in addition to a simplified Family Edition and a 5-6 player expansion.
Caverna: The Cave Farmers
Caverna: The Cave Farmers was designed by the creator of Agricola (and co-founder of Lookout Games) Uwe Rosenberg. This time you play a dwarf family mining in a cave. It includes some simplified mechanics and new features that make it very similar to Agricola while not quite a re-design.
One of the last games Mayfair published, in July of 2017, was the two-player variant of Caverna, titled Caverna: Cave vs. Cave.
The Pillars of the Earth
As far as board games based on novels go, The Pillars of the Earth, based on Ken Follett’s bestselling novel, is one of the good ones. Players control builders who are working to construct the novel’s Kingsbridge Cathedral. You win by contributing the most to the cathedral’s constriction. It’s a relatively straightforward worker placement game that neither gains nor loses anything by being a novel tie-in (unless you’re a huge Ken Follett fan, I guess.)
The Pillars of the Earth was developed as part of German publisher Kosmos’ line of games based on novels. It was published in North America by Mayfair in 2007, though it’s now owned by Kosmos’ North American subsidiary, Thames & Kosmos.
In Patchwork, another Uwe Rosenberg creation, you play as quilters striving to create the most beautiful quilt you can. You start with a grid of blank space and purchase patches of fabric with buttons to fill in your quilt. At the end of the game, you earn points based on the number of buttons you have left and lose points for any empty spaces on your grid.
My introduction to Patchwork was actually via the digital game. Competitive quilting is way more fun with another person instead of an AI, though. Part of Lookout Games’ two-player series, Patchwork was published in North America by Mayfair in 2015.
If you’ve ever wanted to take part in a Spaghetti Western, Italian game Bang! is the one for you. One of the few non-German games on this list, Bang! is a hidden-identity card game in which you play as Wild West-style sheriffs and outlaws. The outlaws want to kill the sheriff, while the sheriff and his deputies want to kill the outlaws. To complicate things, the renegade wants to be the last man standing. Oh, and the sheriff is the only person whose role is known.
Developed by Italian company DaVinci Games (now dV Giochi,) Bang! was distributed in North America by Mayfair until 2008. Several expansions are available, as well as a dice variant.
Lords of Vegas
Like a much, much better version of Monopoly, in Lords of Vegas you play as casino developers trying to grab as much land and opportunity as possible. As in Monopoly, there are trades to be made and expansions to acquire, but the strategy is more complex and you get to choose when to let luck decide your fate by gambling in your rivals’ casinos.
Mayfair published Lords of Vegas in 2011, followed by a 5-6 player expansion, Lords of Vegas: Up! in 2014.
Star Trek: Five Year Mission
For those who prefer cooperative games, Star Trek: Five Year Mission is a cooperative dice placement game based on the series. You can play as either original or TNG characters with different abilities who must work together to solve problems that arise aboard the USS Enterprise.
Star Trek: Five Year Mission was published by Mayfair in 2015.
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