Fun Read: “The Man Who Built Catan”

Figured some of you must be Settlers. One of those New Yorker profiles, this time by Adrienne Raphel:

In the eighties, Klaus Teuber was working as a dental technician outside the industrial city of Darmstadt, Germany. He was unhappy. “I had many problems with the company and the profession,” he told me. He started designing elaborate board games in his basement workshop. “I developed games to escape,” he said. “This was my own world I created.”

Teuber, now sixty-one, is the creator of The Settlers of Catan, a board game in which players compete to establish the most successful colony on a fictional island called Catan, and the managing director of Catan GmbH, a multi-million-dollar business he runs with his family. First published in Germany in 1995 as Die Siedler von Catan, the game has sold more than eighteen million copies worldwide. It was released in the United States in 1996; last year, its English-language publisher, Mayfair Games, reported selling more than seven hundred and fifty thousand Catan-related products. Big-box chains like Target, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble carry the game and its offshoots, such as Catan cards, Catan Junior, and Star Trek Catan. Including all the spinoffs, expansions, and special editions, there are about eighty official varieties of Catan—more if you include electronic versions—and Teuber has had a hand in creating all of them. Paraphernalia in the online Catan shop includes socks and custom-designed tables. Rebecca Gablé, a German historical-fiction author, has written a Viking-era Settlers of Catan novel. Pete Fenlon, the C.E.O. of Mayfair Games, said, “Our volume of sales will be such that, over time, Catan could, in terms of gross revenue, be the biggest game brand in the world.”

Teuber is still somewhat baffled by the popularity of his creation. “I never expected it would be so successful,” he said. Almost all board-game designers, even the most successful ones, work full time in other professions; Teuber is one of a tiny handful who make a living from games. “Going Cardboard,” a 2012 documentary about the board-game industry, includes footage of Teuber appearing at major gaming conventions, where it is greeted like a rock star—fans whisper and point when they see him—but seems sheepish while signing boxes…

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74 replies
  1. 1
    Comrade Mary says:

    If you don’t know how to pronounce “Settlers of Catan”, this is very helpful.

  2. 2
    Comrade Mary says:

    Also this, too. Also.

  3. 3
    Cassidy says:

    Played it once. We couldn’t figure out if resources get shuffled back in it are gone once they’re used.

  4. 4
    Sloegin says:

    My only problem with the game is the THIEF piece that comes from the DESERT, and players chase off said piece with troops or inflict it on other players who are doing too well economically.

    How very German this German game.

  5. 5
    Belafon says:

    My son is waiting for Cthulhu Wars, which will be published in early spring around his birthday. My son has been tracking it since the Kickstarter campaign, which pulled in over $200K in contributions. We found out later that the designer lives in the same city we do, Rockwall, (which barely qualifies as a city being a sub-suburb of Dallas).

  6. 6
    Cassidy says:

    @Sloegin: I think you’re reaching.

  7. 7
    Comrade Mary says:

    @Cassidy: A REAL German game would involve scrubbing the board until it shone, then tripping over your cleaning materials as you leave the table.

  8. 8
    joel hanes says:

    Love Catan. Good balance of strategy and tactics, and players who fall behind early can sometimes make amazing comebacks, so it doesn’t suffer from the “boring rout” problem that Monopoly does.

    Beginners have a hard time grokking, and need teaching; you can’t just read the rules and begin to play.

    The board layout (a bunch of hexagonal tiles) is too fiddly. Using one of the many third-party frames is a big improvement.

  9. 9
    AnneW says:

    There’s a Settlers of Catan cookbook: Wood For Sheep (there’s an authorized version of the same cookbook coming out in a few months, for those who don’t want the paper copy printed by CreateSpace).

  10. 10
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Comrade Mary: A REAL German game would involve cleaning the board until it shone and putting away the cleaning equipment in an orderly fashion, invading Poland, and/or violating Belgian neutrality. You might have been thinking of a German-American version – perhaps a West Virginia one.

  11. 11
    SatanicPanic says:

    @joel hanes: Yeah, it’s great that it can be competitive for even 2-3 players until the very last rounds. I also like that it’s over quickly.

  12. 12
    Mnemosyne says:

    So since this thread will probably attract board gamers, can anyone recommend any good cooperative games other than Pandemic?

  13. 13
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Mnemosyne: Is Pandemic good? Been thinking about getting that one.

  14. 14
  15. 15
    🎂 Martin says:

    Yep, count me in. My kids love it. My dad loves it. Ms Martin – not so much. We have the 5-6 player expansion, and have adapted a team version which works better with the kids.

    We find that trading nearly never happens once you get more experienced. We’re trying to find a way to restore some balance to that.

  16. 16
    Laertes says:

    Good game. You need to have an extremely high tolerance for long games, and a moderately high tolerance for complicated rules and cut-throat mechanics. (On the cut-throat scale it’s somewhere between Civilization and Diplomacy, maybe right around Carcassonne.) (I suppose I’m dating myself with that selection of games.)

    Long games are a pet peeve of mine. Nobody enjoys spending hours playing a dead position, and it’s hard to keep your head in the game under such circumstances.

  17. 17
    Big R says:

    @Mnemosyne: I have to be honest, I like combined cooperative/competitive games, like Fortune and Glory, The House on Haunted Hill, Battlestar Galactica (which, for being a licensed product, is AMAZING), the Pandemic expansions, etc.

    But for pure cooperation, you can’t get better than Pandemic and Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert.

  18. 18
    Cassidy says:

    @Mnemosyne: We bought Settlers and Pandemic for my daughter for Christmas. Unfortunately, we’ve only played Settlers once and haven’t touched Pandemic. I’ve read that Ticket to Ride is fun. We like Munchkin and it’s many, many expansions. It’s a kids game, but Disney Headbands has been fun for us.

  19. 19
    shelly says:

    I’m gonna sound like the Tiffany’s salesman in ‘Breakfast at Tiffanys”, (Do they still have prizes in Cracker jack? That’s reassuring.)
    But it’s kinda nice that in the age of game stations and computer games, people are still creating board games.

  20. 20
    Laertes says:

    This is interesting. Looking up, I see SatanicPanic saying that Catan is a quick game. With the people I played with, from setup to teardown, the game usually took a few hours. Were we an outlier?

  21. 21
    cleek says:

    Forbidden Island is pretty good

  22. 22
    joel hanes says:


    Can anyone recommend ..

    For many years, I have relied on the game reviews at Matthew Baldwin’s Defective Yeti blog (that’s how I first discovered Catan and Carcasonne)

  23. 23
    RobertB says:

    For the crowd wanting to try Pandemic – if you’re dying to try it, round up a copy of Forbidden Island first. It’s the same designer, and basically the same game as Pandemic, but is a little cheaper and easier to scare up. They’re both good coop games though.

    For the more recently designed coop games, here are a few more:

    Robinson Crusoe:


  24. 24
    Amir Khalid says:

    Ralph Waite, who played the beloved TV dad John Walton Sr in The Waltons and ran for Congress three times as a Democrat, has passed away at 85.

  25. 25
    🎂 Martin says:

    @Cassidy: Ticket to Ride is very fun. Definitely worth getting. We got the European edition, which I think is better than the US one. Mainly a function of the board layout and balance.

  26. 26
    srv says:

    Back in my day we had Monopoly and Battleship and then the new kids were all playing that twister thingy, and I pulled out my back trying and had to go to the hospital and then they took out my appendix and sent me to the orphanage where we just had to make do with one stick and a couple of rocks. And then one of the girls broke the stick.

  27. 27
    RobertB says:

    @Laertes: Settlers says 90 minutes on the box, IIRC. It’s probably closer to two hours. The last time I played was 2.5 hours, but that included teaching the rules.

  28. 28
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    I started to post that news earlier, got distracted by something, and never did.

    Goodnight, Daddy.

  29. 29
    Ronnie Pudding says: is pretty much indispensable for board game info.

    Kind of geeky. Many people there look askance at something like Catan, which is considered somewhat primitive.

    Co-Ops: if you want a serious, historical theme, try Freedom: The Underground Railroad. There’s also a Robinson Crusoe themed one. Forbidden Desert is the sequel to Forbidden Island (I think the same designer as Pandemic).

  30. 30
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Laertes: Usually 45 mins for the basic game. The expansions (both 5-6 player and Cities & Knights) add hours to the game- I’m not really a fan of either.

    @🎂 Martin: Maybe you can help me- my friends and I have played that 9-10 times and still don’t get something- beyond occasionally blocking other people, is there any strategy involved? That game is a head scratcher for me.

  31. 31
    dmsilev says:

    @Cassidy: There’s a very good iPhone/iPad implementation of Ticket To Ride, costs less than $10 (I forget exactly how much). If you happen to have an iThing, that’s a fairly cheap way of testing out the game and seeing if you like it (I enjoy it a lot).

  32. 32
    RobertB says:

    @Ronnie Pudding: Settlers has a rep for being luck-dependent, because it kind of _is_ luck-dependent. It’s not Snakes and Ladders, but you can get hosed by the dice pretty badly. For a certain element of the BGG crowd, ‘luck’ is a Bad Word.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    Thanks, everybody! We may be doing a teambuilding thing at work and I thought it might be interesting to put teams together of people who don’t normally work together who then have to work cooperatively rather than competitively. We may get stuck with an HR game (which is generally about as fun as most “educational” games), but it will be nice to have some alternatives to suggest.

  34. 34
    RobertB says:

    @SatanicPanic: I must play with slow players – I’ve never finished Settlers in less than 90 minutes, setup to boxed back up.

  35. 35
    joel hanes says:


    Speed comes with familiarity.

    The third time we played Catan, our experience was like yours.

    The tenth time we played, we were done in 75 minutes.

    My Dad and his siblings played vicious speed-Monopoly all through the Depression — the next player snatched the dice and rolled as soon as the current player’s piece was moved, for a sustained pace of four dice rolls per minute. One had about 3 seconds to announce that rent was due before it was too late. The banker threw bills and titles about like a Vegas dealer. It’s a lot more fun played at that pace.

  36. 36
    SatanicPanic says:

    @RobertB: The neighbors and I were nerding out on that game for at least 6 months, playing 1-2 nights a week, so maybe we’re outliers.

  37. 37
    RobertB says:

    @SatanicPanic: Bad me, two messages. The only strategy beyond blocking the other players is, “Don’t build a lot of short tracks.” Sure, it’s harder to build the longer tracks, and you’re going to have to build some short tracks to get your destinations. But don’t build tons of them, The long track payout is worth the PITA that they can be.

  38. 38
    Joel says:

    Scrabble will always be my favorite. It’s best when every player is provided with the list of accepted 2- and 3- letter words.

  39. 39
    Kylroy says:

    If you have the stomach for long games, Arkham Horror can be a lot of fun. Just beware that despite having a the trappings of Lovecraft, it plays like a dungeon crawl – after my sword – and – pistol – equipped professor dropped his fourth straight unspeakable horror, I realized that the gameplay was less Call of Cthulhu and more Army of Darkness.

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Amir Khalid: One tends to forget that there were good Waltons – of course, the good ones are fictional. RIP Ralph.

  41. 41
    RobertB says:


    The neighbors and I were nerding out on that game for at least 6 months, playing 1-2 nights a week, so maybe we’re outliers.

    Yeah, I can see that speeding it up. We (friends, local game club, etc) played a ton of it back when we found it in the ’90s, but now it doesn’t get played as often.

  42. 42
    🎂 Martin says:

    @SatanicPanic: A lot comes down to your choice of routes to complete and whether you go after new routes or not. I’m partial to hitting lots of small routes around a single major route that you’re required to try for, and in that effort getting the longest line. So I’m usually way behind everyone else at the end of the game until we turn the cards and then I surge. Whether I win or not has a lot to do with how many penalties the other players take. I strive to take none – and I’m usually willing to risk pulling new route cards trusting that one of them will overlap with my current route. How often to go to that well depends on how far behind I think I am from the other players. You can usually tell if they completed their major route or not. But I find most players are unwilling to risk picking up new routes. Once someone uses that strategy and starts winning, they will feel like they need to do it as well, and then you get a lot more variation in late-game results as players lose points for failing routes and others gain for making theirs.

    So, there’s a good near/long term balance at work there. Drop down a lot of random segments and pick up mid-game points, or chase routes and pick up late-game points. If you’re having trouble finding the depth of the game, then silently volunteer to chase a completely new strategy and see how it works. Because it’s a well designed game, you’ll probably find that there’s opportunity in the different strategy working, and that may shake your group out of their play styles into a more diverse approach.

  43. 43
    SuperHrefna says:

    Uwe Rosenberg is my absolute favorite game designer. You can even get his blockbuster farming game, Agricola, as an iOS app now ( it’s very good fun, too, for days when there’s no one to play tabletop with) I’m even more partial to his Ora et Labora, where each player is a crooked abbot trying to build the biggest and best monastery. And I love his latest, Caverna, where you are dwarves building both a cavern complex and a farming complex. I’ve got all his games ( Le Havre, Gates of Loyang..) and he really thinks out fun new game mechanics each time. I like Catan, but it’s all a bit samey. With an Uwe Rosenberg you can see his thoughts on game mechanics evolve through each game.

  44. 44
    lol says:

    If you want the Battlestar Galactica experience without the 3 hour play time, The Resistance is a marvelous social deduction game and quite easy to teach to non-board game type people.

  45. 45
    Scott S. says:

    I’ve gotten insanely addicted to buying new games over the past year or so — which kinda sucks because I don’t know anyone who actually plays games. So I pretty much open the boxes, read the rules, look at the cards, and put the whole thing up in the closet where it’ll probably never be touched again.

    I blame “Tabletop.” Every time I watch a new episode, I have to fight to overcome the temptation to go out and buy whatever they played that week…

  46. 46
    RobertB says:

    @joel hanes: If you play by the official Monopoly rules, it knocks the game time down quite a bit. It’s a tough fight with the family to get them to stick to the rules, so I just play something else. But it’s not nearly as bad as the hard-core boardgame community makes it out to be.

  47. 47
    Cassidy says:

    I still like a good old fashioned round of Trivial Pursuit.

  48. 48
    SatanicPanic says:

    @RobertB: The auction rule is key. I’ve toyed around with the idea of playing with all auction on every property with no requirement to land on it, but haven’t got around to trying that yet.

  49. 49
    RobertB says:

    @🎂 Martin: Bear in mind that this is plain vanilla Ticket to Ride. My crowd will _never_ let their original routes go dead. Unless they’re blocked off, getting those is priority #1. Once you get them, then unless you’re only a turn or two from the end, absolutely pull some more cards.

    Not watching how close to the end is death to a lot of newbies in the game. I guess you only need to get caught out like that once, then you’ll know, though.

    One of the players in the iOS version, I forget who, will get every card he needs, then buys tracks until he uses all the trains. For sure he will do that in two-player, and will try his damnedest to do it in multiplayer. I don’t think it actually works, but it is kind of fun to watch.

  50. 50
    RobertB says:

    @SatanicPanic: I played Monopoly with my mother-in-law and wife once, and got them to commit to the auction rule. They were both flat-out stunned when they saw it for the first time.

  51. 51
    uncle rameau says:

    for historical board gaming, 1812 and 1775 are both good with coooperative elements of game play. So the US can win 1812, unlike the actual outcome. Designers are pals o mine.

  52. 52
    SatanicPanic says:

    @🎂 Martin: I have had some success grabbing extra routes. That adds some suspense to the game, which I like. I just don’t feel like there’s enough opportunity to attack other players in that game. There should be a train-wreck card.

  53. 53
    SuperHrefna says:

    @Scott S.: do you have an iPad? There are more and more good tabletop games coming out as apps. I particularly like the Agricola one, but Carcassone has a great app as well. And the Le Havre app could be a bit more pleasing to the eye but it’s a really fun game anyway. They all come with good AIs so you can play on your lonesome.

  54. 54
    RobertB says:

    @Scott S.: For me, I always get the heavyweight games that nobody in my family will ever play. I’m trying to break myself of buying that sort of thing, but it’s a struggle. Maybe we need a 12-step program or something.

  55. 55
    RobertB says:

    @SatanicPanic: If you ever get a chance, and you’re the Ticket to Ride owner, play some head-to-head two-player online. More often than not, your two-player opponents are out for blood, and won’t hesitate for a moment to block off your routes. For multiplayer, not so much.

  56. 56
    celticdragonchick says:

    @joel hanes:

    I have loved Catan as well, although Cities and Knights of Catan can be a bit of a challenge when you have manufactured commodities to keep track of. Alhambra is another fun board game.

  57. 57
    lethargytartare says:


    I still have a Rise and Decline of the Third Reich in a bin in a closet. Got a friend to play about an hour or so about 2 decades ago,, never found another taker.

    I still take it out to read the rulebook and sigh wistfully on occasion…

  58. 58
    Ronnie Pudding says:


    Lots of great wargames still coming out, but opponents, umm, that’s another story.

  59. 59
    dmsilev says:

    @SuperHrefna: Yeah, the iPad has a whole bunch of nice board-game ports. I have, lets see, Carcassonne, Puerto Rico, Agricola, Ticket to Ride, Le Havre, and Small World. Plus probably a couple of others than I’m forgetting.

  60. 60
    maeve says:


    (Do they still have prizes in Cracker jack? That’s reassuring.)

    My Mom found some Cracker Jacks at the dollar store (2/$.100 I believe) and the prize was a code to redeem a Cracker Jack game app (which was actually free anyway I think – but maybe that’s because our “prizes” were out of date)

    The cracker jack (what there was of it) tasted as I remember.

  61. 61
    RobertB says:

    @lethargytartare: When Europe Engulfed came out ( ) , I played it one night at the local gaming club, from 1939 on. Four hours later, it had gotten late and we called it a night. But we were really hoping to get to at least 1943-44, so we tried it again at the next meeting. Same two players, same game, isn’t expecting something different the definition of insanity? At that point I was done with Europe Engulfed. I’d have probably loved it back when 12-hour games weren’t all that crazy.

  62. 62
    Scott S. says:

    @SuperHrefna: Nah, no iPad. I had an iPhone for a while, and had a few game apps there — Elder Sign, Zombie Dice, can’t remember what else.

    @RobertB: Some of the big games, I don’t even try to tempt anyone to play. I doubt I’ve even got a table large enough to hold Arkham Horror. But I can’t seem to get anyone interested in games, no matter how compact they are. Closest I got to a real game was just after Christmas when my siblings played a half-assed Cards Against Humanity game for about a half-hour in the car while driving to NOLA…

  63. 63
    RobertB says:

    @Ronnie Pudding:

    Lots of great wargames still coming out, but opponents, umm, that’s another story.

    Isn’t the phrase, “geezers with tweezers” ? :)

  64. 64
    SuperHrefna says:

    @Scott S.: that’s a shame. A lot of Uwe Rosemberg’s games have rules for single player games though, so maybe you could try that?

  65. 65
    RobertB says:

    @Scott S.: If you were desperate, you could solo Arkham Horror, I guess. :)

    My coworker has it, plus the first two expansions (I think). It’s a tough sell for his coworkers, though (myself included). I’ve played it a couple of times, and I liked it. But for me personally, it’s too long for the payoff. I’m kind of a lukewarm Lovecraft fan, a lukewarm RPG fan, and a lukewarm co-op fan. I know there’s some folks in the boardgame club* though that love it, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a game before the snow melts off.

    I personally have the same problem with Descent. Too long for the payoff. Again, I’m not bagging on either, but I don’t want to spend that much time on it. Some 18xx games or some big multiplayer games like,say, the _original_ Civilization, and I’m there.

    * Columbus Area Boardgaming Society: . You get a small to middling boardgame convention every week.

  66. 66
    RobertB says:

    For iPad games, I’d recommend Lords of Waterdeep for a good, light Euro. If you want something a little heavier, I’d go with Eclipse, or Dominant Species. I’d recommend all three of those as boardgames, too. If you put any faith in the BGG ratings, all three are crazily highly rated. If you put your faith in the RobertB ratings, I’d agree with BGG that they’re all among the best boardgames designed in the past 10 years.

  67. 67
    Gin & Tonic says:

    Good to see “Going Cardboard” getting props. I contributed to that through Kickstarter, and it’s a good little flick.

  68. 68
    swbarnes2 says:

    The latest Spiel des Jarhes is a co-op, Hanabi.

    The trick of it is that everyone has a hand of cards, but they face outward. Play consists of giving each other limited clues to get people to play the right card to the board at the right time. A little like bidding in bridge, where you have a limited vocabulary, and players figure out what is meant from the context, and using some conventions.

    So unlike, say, Pandemic, you can’t have one person boss everyone around, because they don’t know what they have, and tabletalk is limited.

    It’s probably cheapest to get it in German, and download English rules; the cards have no words.

  69. 69
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Mnemosyne: For teambuilding exercises at work you can’t go wrong with Paranoia[0] as a game. Totally realistic, 100% real life situations, equitable outcomes (assuming you survive to the start of the game).

    [0] “Paranoia is a humorous role-playing game set in a dystopian future similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Logan’s Run and THX 1138 among others” (from Wikipedia).

  70. 70
    Cassidy says:

    @Robert Sneddon: I despise that game. Completely unplayable. It’s good for novelty reading, though.

  71. 71
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @lethargytartare: We still have the full run of Squad Leader.

    A lot of the old grognards moved on to computer strategy games as opponents got harder and harder to find. Matrix Games still publishes quite a few of them. War in the Pacific is sucking up most of my husband’s gaming time these days.

  72. 72
    Mnemosyne says:


    Okay, that looks pretty awesome, plus I think the folks who wouldn’t be on board with a roleplaying-type game would still be willing to play.

  73. 73
    NotMax says:

    Gaming tidbits:

    The job of the father of someone went to high school with was (whether entirely or partially, don’t recall) to find and squelch games which were too close to Monopoly.

    In the basement of his house were dozens and dozens of such games, many of which we played from time to time (some of them a lot better than Monopoly).

    Going back even further, the parent of an elementary school friend owned a plastics factory, and was trying to develop a process and scare up a market for laminating the boards of board games. His company designed and produced prototypes of games to use as examples for the salespeople. Couple of them were actually pretty darn good games in their own right, but never marketed.

    Played Paranoia exactly once (GM was someone with decades of experience in RPGs). After rendering the computer speechless several times and then inoperative by being stuck in a loop, was never asked to play it again.

    The Pathfinder card game mentioned above almost has to be less tedious and mechanics-heavy than the RPG.

  74. 74
    Jado says:


    Castle Panic is great – I play with my 8 year old son

    Check out Wil Wheaton’s great web show, TableTop on the Geek & Sundry channel of YouTube. You get to see the games played before you plunk down the shiny rocks for your own copy

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