With sales nearing 25 million copies worldwide, Settlers of Catan (most commonly known as Catan) is becoming the most popular board game since Monopoly and Risk. It’s also the first German board game to sell outside Europe, and over the years, it’s gone on to win awards.
When it was first released in 1995, it had a small but passionate following emerge. It wasn’t until 2008 that the game’s popularity began to blossom. Families mainly play it, but it’s also well-played on college campuses and as a team-bonding activity at companies.
When was Catan Invented: The History of the Game
Settlers of Catan was invented in Germany by dental technician Klaus Teuber, and he published the game in 1995, with the original title “Die Siedler von Catan.”
Teuber began creating games in his basement in the ‘80s when he was bored out of his mind by his job. He was frustrated at his work, and developing games became a bit like a holiday for him. His first games did well, as he won three Spiel des Jahres awards, a prestigious prize in the board game industry. During the early ‘90s, he was fascinated by the history of the Vikings and the age of Discovery. It inspired him to create a game of exploration and settling.
When he began working on Catan, his first draft was very big – it included multiple islands and ships filled with settlers exploring new lands. It took him about four years to reduce the game to a single island to be explored and developed by players.
When it was released in Germany in 1995, it was an instant hit. The sales even surged after it was released in 1996 and continued steadily. Later on, he left his dental laboratory in 1998 when he felt like Catan could feed him and his family. In 2002, they incorporated Catan GMbH and made it a family business. Teuber and his sons, Benjamin and Guido, are all managing directors. Teuber’s wife Claudia is responsible for bookkeeping and testing new games.
Teuber said he was inspired by Viking settlers when he created the game. The game itself is based on a concept of a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean named “Catan.” Its resources and landscape design are based on the same elements as that of Iceland and Norway.
As the years go by and as more people buy the Settlers of Catan, different versions and extensions are released for the fans of the game. As of 2021, there are a total of 30 different variations and expansion packs of the game. It’s also been produced in 30 other languages since its release in 1995.
At first, the game was designed for three to four players until an expansion released in 1996 allowed up to six players. After this, Teuber started releasing themed expansion sets. The first one was Seafarers of Catan, released in 1997. This expansion allowed settlers to obtain ships and cross oceans to explore an archipelago of islands.
The next major expansion pack was released in 1998 called Cities and Knights of Catan. This allowed players to create new resources like paper, coins, and cloth. Other notable variations include Game of Thrones Catan, Star Trek Catan, and Catan Junior.
Catan has become an iconic board game that it had its own world championship tournament. The first-ever Catan World Championship was held in 2002 in Essen, Germany. It was held at the International Spieltage every year until 2008, and after that, it was held at Gen Con Indiana. Then, the tournament takes place every two years and alternates between USA and Germany.
In 2005, at its tenth anniversary, a special edition of Catan was released. This edition featured hand-painted 3D tiles and playing pieces for the base pack and expansion pack “Cities and Knights.”
In 2015, the Settlers of Catan line was rebranded as “Catan.” That same year, Catan held its largest game convention with an incredible 1,040 players, including Klaus Teuber, at Germany’s Spiel convention. It shattered world records at the time, as the record title was previously held in Indianapolis, Indiana, with 922 players.
In its 25th year in 2020 – amid the coronavirus pandemic that forced families to quarantine – Catan’s sales skyrocketed, and that year, the game has officially sold more than 32 million units.
How Catan Works
Here’s how The Settlers of Catan works: there are 19 hexagonal tiles, which are called terrain hexes. Each hexagon represents one of five resources: wool, brick, ore, grain, or lumber. To start the game, shuffle the tiles and lay them out to create a game board, which is the island. Every hex gets assigned a number between 2 and 12, and these numbers are evenly distributed across the board.
Two to six players can play the game. The concept behind Catan is to obtain land and build from the resources that you forage. The players take on the role of a settler, and trading is encouraged to help expand your settlement. Players gain points as the settlements grow, and the first player to obtain a set number is the winner.
Players must take turns rolling the dice to determine which terrain hex produces resources. By collecting different combinations of resources, you can build roads and settlements around the borders of these hexes, putting little wooden houses on the board to mark out your turf. More resources allow you to build more or upgrade settlements into cities.
There’s also a robber in Catan. It’s a token that moves around to different terrain hexes. When the robber is on a specific hex, that terrain can’t produce resources. Every time a seven is rolled, players with too many resources need to give some back. The robber forces players to trade with opponents instead of hoarding resources.
Overall, Catan is a board game with economic theory, land development, and cute buildings.
How Did it Become Popular?
The game was released in the United States in 1996, and in 2013, its publisher Mayfair Games, reported selling more than 750,000 Catan-related products. As mentioned earlier, Catan has sold more than 32 million units, proving its well-deserved popularity.
Part of Catan’s success can be attributed to its well-designed gameplay. It’s easy to learn this game because it relies on equal parts strategy, luck, and gamesmanship. The rules are just enough to keep things interesting, and it’s not too complex to make it too overwhelming. A sharp first-timer to the game always has the chance to beat an expert.
Settlers of Catan is designed to maintain close competition. Unlike games of Monopoly that last too long and outlast the players’ interest, and Risk that can famously last for days – Catan usually takes 90 minutes or less. And unlike many games that can quickly descend into a cutthroat competition, Catan isn’t a zero-sum game. A single roll means produce for multiple players, and trades are usually mutually beneficial.
Another big thing that led to its success is its palatability. When it first broke out, of course, nerds were the first to discover it since they were the ones willing to take a chance on an obscure, foreign board game. Thankfully, the game isn’t too nerdy for mainstream players. Catan’s mass-culture appeal stems from the game’s lack of theme or strong setting. It probably wouldn’t have broken through outside nerd culture if the game had a fantasy-based setting or a genre-specific world.