The last four years of my life are invested in playing The Settlers of Catan. Sure, I did other things like eat and sleep. I guess I went to college. It’s really all a blur with pockets of clarity representing the hours I spent trading sheep cards for wheat cards on Catan.
This simply constructed board game has sold 15 million copies since its German debut in 1995. For perspective–that’s nearly twice as many copies sold as the mega-popular video game, Halo 3. The Settler’s of Catan is a brilliantly conceived game, because while one player takes her turn the others stay engaged in the action.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a game this awesome came out of Germany. More board games are sold per capita in Germany than anywhere in the world. Do Germans love playing games because they have so many good ones available, or do they have so many good ones available because they love playing games? Welcome to the biggest paradox in the toy industry.
For those readers who haven’t played, (and I’m so sorry) the game is set on the uninhabited island of Catan. The game board is made of hexagonal spaces that are rearranged every game to create a brand new island. Players build settlements on the corners of spaces representing different resources. They use the resources to buy development cards and to build roads, cities, and more settlements. Each resource space has a number so when the two dice are rolled, all settlements touching a space with that number earn a resource card for their player.
The cool thing is that because the outcomes of a roll of the dice have different probabilities, some resources become much more plentiful than others. This causes players to bargain and beg each other to trade resources. Sometimes alliances form. It’s a game where players can chose to play politely or ruthlessly; both methods have their advantages. There’s also a wicked robber that moves around the board completely blocking resource spaces.
The goal is to earn 10 points. Points are earned by having the longest road or the largest army and there are points for certain development cards, for settlements and cities.
Coincidentally, Klaus Teuber, the game’s creator who is pictured to the left, invested four years in creating the game. Several of his games had been published previously and with success, but not enough success to let him quit his day job. He worked on The Settlers of Catan in the evenings, toting it from the basement to the living room now and then to test it on his family.
I’ve often wondered while playing how Klaus Teuber was able to create a board game that engrosses people as if they really were managing a little world. Apparently, the process was slow but exhilarating. Teuber is quoted in Wired Magazine saying, “I felt like I was discovering something rather than inventing it.”
That makes sense. Ok, somebody just needs to say it. The Settlers of Catan is the best board game in the world.