CATAN: How One Game Broke the Mould,Defied the Odds and Set the Standard

Trade. Build. Settle. This slogan tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the theme of the board game CATAN. It still leaves you to discover, though, how accessible, engaging and fun it is.

First released as The Settlers of Catan in 1995, the premise is simple: three or four of you play as pioneers on the uninhabited and resource-rich island of Catan. Your goal is to develop a community by building roads, settlements and cities across the land. To win, you combine and trade the island’s resources: lumber, grain, wool, ore and bricks.

Hard though some find it to believe, this simple-sounding theme is the power behind one of best-selling board games of all time… CATAN has sales of over 32 million units – and legions of dedicated fans including, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis. Many players on American sports teams – such as the Green Bay Packers –  are fans too. So what do they see in it?

Highly social play

For many, the answer comes in three parts. First, it’s extremely social. Where some games ask you to plot and destroy, CATAN invites you to plan and build… Where some games ask you to close off and play in silence, CATAN invites you to think, chat and interact. This makes it ideal for friends and families looking to try a simple yet sophisticated game. As an extra benefit, you can usually learn CATAN in under 15 minutes – and often finish in an hour.

Every game is a new experience

Second, it’s one game that’s never the same. That’s because CATAN boasts a modular board that’s literally game-changing. Made from 19 hexagonal pieces, the layout means you get a different set up every time you play.

Always engaging

The third secret of CATAN’s appeal is that its design means anyone can play – and everyone plays throughout. No one gets knocked out, and no one gets a huge, off-putting lead that makes carrying on feel futile. What’s more, even when it’s not your turn, you still get to play in a meaningful way. Rather than sit, watch and wait while others take turns, you continue to trade and gather resources.

This may well be why CATAN became such a lasting success. Proof of its visionary game design, the title also won its inventor, Klaus Teuber, the game-world’s “Oscar”… The 1995 Spiel des Jahres.

Since then, CATAN has become that rarest of things: a board game that’s so accessible it becomes a brand. You can choose from many versions, and build on the basic game with expansions. There are also books, electronic versions and a range of merchandise to pick from. This is why many would say CATAN is much more than a great game… It’s a great game that sets the modern standard for great games.