It makes sense that the world is currently in the midst of a board game boom. While America’s overall toy sales dropped 3% last year, board game sales actually increased 6%. But does that alone explain the success of Settlers of Catan.
Maybe people are looking to spend more time at home and embracing a new paradigm that doesn’t include Tickle Me Elmo. But one unconventional board game truly illustrates that shift, becoming an unlikely success that could perhaps change the way children view the world.
Settlers of Catan was invented by a German named Klaus Teuber, a military veteran and former dental technician who began designing board games in the 1980s. After first publishing Settlers of Catan in 1995, Teuber quit the dentistry business four years later and became a full-time game designer. Ten years later, Settlers of Catan is a breakthrough cultural phenomenon, which stradles multiple gaming niches.
With 15 million copies sold in 30 different languages, the game’s mechanisms are remarkably basic. Players develop settlements on a hexagonal board by cultivating a number of different resources. Perhaps more remarkable than the game’s simplicity is its inter-player diplomacy. First and foremost (and this is where we truly see a cultural sea change), there is absolutely no combat. Players instead work co-operatively by trading resources. The closest thing to a malicious act in Catan is boycotting another player. While the home game has proven incredibly popular, a web version available for free on the game’s website and assorted video game versions have also done well.
With its sleek German design, the game is quickly becoming one of the hottest properties in the waning toy market, all the while introducing children 10 and up to the free-market economy and the lost art of negotiation. The game has inspired several fan sites, and the English translation of the popular PC version of the game is being released April 20. And just like that, the unlikely board game hero is looking to further the sudden appreciation for cooperative play that (unlike the popular World of Warcraft series) doesn’t involve killing or a gargantuan investment of time.
It’s not too late to rule out a Catan film, either. After all, the Monopoly game is on its way. Yes, really.