The success of the game, which debuted in 1995 as The Settlers of Catan, was made all the more surprising by the era in which it emerged. A growing variety of console video games released in the 1990s vied for gamers’ attention, and later game apps and other interactive diversions added more pressure to the classic set of boards, cards, and dice.
Catan has sold more than 32 million games worldwide in 40 languages, according to industry groups. (He company The website put the sales at 40 million). However, either number puts Catan in the top 20 board game list, well behind legacy brands like Monopoly and Scrabble, but ahead of venerable games like Risk and Stratego. Catan has spawned many spin-offs and new editions, including digital versionsand a treasury of merchandise.
“I developed escape games”, Mr. Teuber said the New Yorker in 2014, saying he was unhappy with his job at a dental lab. “This was my own world that I created.”
Catan rewards the cunning and cunning. The island, which is intentionally Viking-inspired, has five basic resources: brick, wood, grain, wool, and minerals. Players draw cards to grow their holdings and build settlements, cities, roads, and armies in hexagon-shaped territory, while trading resources and possibly making deals with other players. Victory points are awarded. The winner is the first to cross the point threshold.
You don’t need to crush the other settlements to win. Sometimes the success of one player can benefit others. That’s what sets Catan apart from winner-take-all games like Monopoly, author Blake Eskin wrote in a 2010 essay in The Washington Post.
Catan “presents a world where resources are limited and fortunes are intertwined,” Eskin wrote, “and serves as a model for solving contemporary problems such as trade imbalances, nuclear proliferation, and climate change.”
Mr. Teuber seemed the very model of careful deliberation and planning. Even as Catan’s sales increased after its release in Germany, Teuber didn’t quit his job as a dental technician in Darmstadt, a city south of Frankfurt, until 1998, “when I felt that Catan could feed me and my family.”
Catan was not his first board game to hit the market.
In 1988, the guessing game Barbarossa debuted in stores. That was followed by Adel Verpflichtet (distributed in the United States as By Hook or Crook or Hoity Toity), in which players try to acquire the most precious art object; and Drunter und Drüber (also marketed as mad mad west) that has players competing to rebuild a destroyed city. All three, plus Catan, won Germany’s Game of the Year award.
The inspiration for Catan (usually pronounced Ca-TAAN) was Mr. Teuber’s childhood fascination with the Vikings and their voyages across the Atlantic. Catan was Mr. Teuber’s idea of an Atlantis.
“I imagined how (the Vikings) got to Iceland”, Mr. Teuber said an interviewer “They need wood. They need houses and other things. And so, from this imagination, I developed Catan.”
The name has no special or hidden meaning. For fans, however, Catan came to represent a concept of friendly competition and togetherness. (But there is a card in Catan that allows a player to usurp every resource type from another player.)
Events have been held in Rotterdam and elsewhere, attracting more than 1,000 players. Unlike win-lose chess or Scrabble tournaments, the crowds of Catan try to cultivate a spirit of well-being. 2012 documentary film“Going Cardboard”, shows Mr. Teuber receiving a rock star reception at gaming conventions.
However, not everyone found Catan uplifting messages. The idea of “populating” an island (even a fake one) had too much colonialism for some critics. a game called spirit islandDeveloped partly in response to Catan, it has supernatural forces protecting an island from newcomers.
“Some elements of the Catan perspective have recently been ethically challenged,” marco arnado, an Indiana University professor who studies board games and military simulations, wrote in an email to The Post. “We began to wonder if the relatively peaceful settlement in the game does not actually hide a colonialist and imperialist fantasy.”
Mr. Teuber and his family business have mostly stuck to the original premise.
“The beauty of Catan is that, in the end, you’ve still built something,” Mr. Teuber’s son Benjamin said. “So, in a way, everyone wins.”
Karl Teuber was born on June 25, 1952 in the town of Rai-Breitenbach, Germany, about 40 miles southeast of Frankfurt. His father ran a dental laboratory and his mother was a housewife.
Mr. Teuber was not interested in board games in childhood until he was given a game about Romans vs. Carthaginians at age 11. He began experimenting with different ideas of his own, coming up with the initial concept for Barbarosa in the early 1970s while serving in the military. After receiving a degree in chemistry, he joined his father’s laboratory in Darmstadt, making bridges and other dental work.
“I wasn’t happy,” he said. In the evenings, he played with his board game ideas in the basement of the family home in Rossdorf, Germany.
His family became the focus group. They played prototypes of their games, including Catan, and suggested tweaks or general changes. As a child, Benjamin kept a Mickey Mouse comic nearby. It was a sign for his father.
“In case the game was boring, he knew he would read it instead of playing it,” Benjamin said.
In addition to Benjamin, survivors include Mr. Teuber’s wife, Claudia; son Guido and a daughter Marie. Full information on the survivors was not immediately available.
Like many families, they holed up at home during the pandemic and played board games. But who has the advantage with Catan?
“My father would probably say that I am the best player”, Benjamin said an interviewer
“No,” said Mr. Teuber.
“I’m sorry, dad,” Guido said. Benny is the best.