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Beyond Binary named 'Lord of Catan'

CNET's Ina Fried proves herself an ungracious guest and a poor reporter, winning a "Settlers of Catan" board game tournament she showed up to cover.

The final table at the TechFlash tournament on Tuesday night in Seattle. John Cook

SEATTLE--If the goal of a reporter is to observe and remain separate from the action, I was a very bad reporter on Tuesday night.

In town for other reasons, I happened to notice that Seattle-area tech site TechFlash was hosting a tournament of the board game "Settlers of Catan." Knowing TechFlash co-founder Todd Bishop quite well, I dropped a note to see if I could take part, or at least watch. As many friends know, I am a bit of a Catan addict, an obsession fueled by the game's recent release for the iPod Touch (leading the music player to now be known in my household as the "little Catan machine.")

Ever gracious, Bishop and collaborator John Cook invited me to play. For those who don't know, Catan is a German board game where you try to expand beyond two initial settlements. Using resources such as brick, wheat, and ore, players attempt to build additional roads, settlements, and cities in an effort to accumulate 10 points.

The final board at Tuesday's Settlers of Catan tournament in Seattle. Ina Fried/CNET

As Pui-Wing Tam noted in a recent Page One story for The Wall Street Journal, Catan is not only a bestseller, but also the diversion du jour in some Silicon Valley tech circles.

The TechFlash tournament was set up with six tables of four players, with participants at each table drawn randomly from a hat. The winners at each table were to play a championship game following the preliminary.

An improbable comeback allowed me to win the first game and earn a seat at the final table.

As we introduced ourselves, I tried to resume my role as reporter, getting everyone's names, titles, and e-mails. Somehow, though, my competitive nature didn't allow me to miss out on much of the action.

I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say my combination of luck and shamelessness handed me the victory on this night. To those whose cards I stole along the way, I'm sorry and it really was nice of all of you to include me. Sorry for being such an inhospitable guest.

TechFlash has its account of my treachery here.

Brian Ma said he plays the game frequently online but added that playing live makes for a good way to break the ice with people.

"You actually learn a lot about people by playing with them," said Ma, who runs, a start-up that helps people track prices for a particular product. "When my company grows, I'll make sure I integrate board games into the recruiting process."

Matt Lexington Kolve of semantic search company Evri said he was just enjoying the company.

"Once I realized the strategy of going for longest road was shot before the first roll by the other players blocking my way, I kind of bowed out," he said in an e-mail. "The group we had was pretty interesting, I could have sat there drinking beers and chatting with everyone and been content."

With only four points, Cook noted that Kolve "had more beers than victory points."