I have been very fortunate to acquire what is apparently a 1995 pre-launch Catan set used to test and promote Catan before the first commercial set with the Franckh logo was released.Even better this set is signed by Mr Teuber himself. While he has no doubt been asked to sign tens of thousands of items over the years, this set is unusual as it is dated as being signed in 1995. It could well be one of the first Catan games to be signed.
I have no confirmation what this set was actually made for (eg testing or reviewing), how many of these early sets were made, or how widely they were circulated. I do not even know who got to use them. Sadly the previous owner of this set has passed away so I am unable to go back and ask.
However it is unlikely that hundreds were made or they would not have been writing changes in the instructions, hand cut some of the elements, or hand-written some of the components. Therefore I am confident this is not only the earliest Catan item in my collection but by far the rarest too.
This set will be a centre piece in my public Catan display during 2020, celebrating Catans 25th anniversary.
There are a number of differences between this possible pre-launch test copy and the first release. Mostly you can tell that the item has been made up for play, but even better the instructions still have manual edits in them that were then corrected in the commercially released version.
Differences between this pre-launch copy and the final launch copy include:
The outer box uses the final design used in the production version, however it has been printed and glued to a white box, rather than being screen printed directly to the card.
The box artwork is glued to the box, not printed onto it.
The box printing is glued on, rather than printed directly to the box.
The inner box is totally unprinted. It is just plain card. Unlike the production version that is screen printed and has a printed inner fitting too. Interestingly the colour instructions in the early set are just two sheets glued together, rather than double sided printing as in the production version.
Unlike the final version the alphabet letters on the testing set are hand-written.
The hexes while printed are not all as squarely cut as the released set. They are also printed on a different grade lower quality card and the design has been glued on top.
The largest army, longest road, and purchase cost cards are also on a different card stock and lack the gloss finish and quality of the final version.
The test hexes are glued together, use thicker card and are not uniformly cut.
The card thickness (image below) is different between the test set and the final version.
In the early set the buildings are only partially painted. The bottom of the buildings are just plain wood in most cases. The robber is also a much smaller and thinner design than seen in later versions of the game.
The game instructions in the draft version are photocopied and not yet formatted into the final version. They also have handwritten alterations noted in them and they do not have a number of the final diagrams.
The instructions/almanac are photocopied and are a different layout to the final version.
The first booklet lacks the final diagrams in the published version.
The playing cards are matt printed and square cut and not always centred, unlike the rounded corners and satin finish of the first release.
NB: Much of what this game is for is based only on hearsay and what has been assumed from the production and feel. I do not have any official verification. If anyone has more information on what this set is and where it came from I would be incredibly grateful for anything you can share.