German board game designer Klaus Teuber, who had worked as a dental technician, passed away on April 1 at the age of 70. Catan is a widely popular game where players compete, work together, and trade to establish communities on a fictitious island.
Mr. Teuber suffered “a brief and acute illness,” according to a family statement, but no more information was provided. Inquiries for more information were not immediately answered by Mr. Teuber’s firm, Catan GmbH.
The game’s popularity, which first appeared in 1995 under the name The Settlers of Catan, was made all the more remarkable by the time period in which it appeared. In the 1990s, an expanding selection of console-based video games fought for players’ attention. Later, game apps and other interactive distractions put additional strain on the traditional arrangement of boards, cards, and dice.
Industry associations claim that Catan has sold more than 32 million sets globally in 40 different languages. (The company’s website reported 40 million in sales.) Yet, whichever statistic is used, Catan is ranked in the top 20 board games, significantly behind classics like Monopoly and Scrabble but in front of age-old titles like Risk and Stratego. Many additional editions and spinoffs of Catan, including digital editions, as well as a wealth of products, have been produced.
In 2014, Mr. Teuber told the New Yorker that he created games as a kind of escape since he was dissatisfied with his job as a dental lab technician. This was a universe I made for myself.
The clever and shrewd are rewarded in Catan. Brick, timber, grain, wool, and ore are the island’s five primary resources. This island purposefully has a Viking feel to it. In hexagon-shaped territory, players pick cards to expand their holdings and construct towns, cities, highways, and armies. They can trade resources and may strike deals with other players while doing so. There is a reward system. The first to reach the required number of points wins.
To succeed, one need not destroy rival communities. Sometimes a player’s success can help other players. According to author Blake Eskin in an article published in The Washington Post in 2010, that is what distinguishes Catan from winner-take-all games like Monopoly.
Eskin claimed that Catan serves as a model for resolving modern issues like economic imbalances, nuclear proliferation, and climate change because it “presents a world in which resources are scarce and fortunes are interwoven.”
Mr. Teuber appeared to be the epitome of careful thought and forethought. With Catan’s publication in Germany, sales increased, but Mr. Teuber didn’t resign from his position as a dental technician in Darmstadt, a city south of Frankfurt, until 1998, “when it seemed like Catan could sustain myself and my family.” His first successful board game release wasn’t Catan.
Barbarossa, a guessing game, had its retail debut in 1988. The next two games were Drunter und Drüber (also marketed as Wacky Wacky West), in which players compete to reconstruct a destroyed town, and Adel Verpflichtet (sold in the United States as By Hook or Crook or Hoity Toity), in which players attempt to acquire the most valuable art piece. Germany’s Game of the Year prize went to all three of them plus Catan.
Mr. Teuber’s childhood love with Vikings and their journeys over the Atlantic served as the inspiration for Catan, which is typically pronounced Ca-TAAN. Mr. Teuber envisioned Catan as an Atlantis.
I imagined how [the Vikings] got to Iceland,” Mr. Teuber said in response to a question. They require wood. Together with other things, they require homes. So I created Catan out of this notion.
There is no secret or unique meaning to the name. Yet for aficionados, Catan came to stand for the idea of fair competition and coexistence. (But, in Catan, there is a card that enables a player to seize all of a certain sort of resource from an opponent.)
Events in Rotterdam and other locations have welcomed over a thousand players. Unlike the win-or-lose Scrabble or chess competitions, the Catan crowds attempt to foster a positive attitude. In the 2012 documentary “Going Cardboard,” Mr. Teuber is depicted as receiving a rock-star welcome at gaming conferences.
Yet not everyone discovered encouraging signs in Catan. Several others found the concept of “settling” an island—even a fictitious one—too absurd. In the Catan-inspired video game Spirit Island, an island is guarded by magical powers from outsiders.
A professor at Indiana University who specializes in studying board games and military simulations, Marco Arnaudo, noted in an email to The Post that “certain components of Catan’s perspective have lately been questioned morally.” We have begun to question whether the game’s largely peaceful settlement isn’t really a dream of colonialism and imperialism.
Mr. Teuber and his family-owned business have largely maintained the basic thesis. Benjamin Teuber, Mr. Teuber’s son, stated, “The beauty of Catan is that, in the end, you still have made something. “In a sense, everyone benefits,”
Family as Focus Group
In the German town of Rai-Breitenbach, some 40 miles southeast of Frankfurt, Karl Teuber was born on June 25, 1952. His mother was a housewife, while his father owned a dentistry laboratory.
When he was 11 years old, Mr. Teuber received a game about Romans vs Carthaginians, which sparked his interest in board games.
While serving in the military in the early 1970s, he started experimenting with his own concepts and came up with the initial idea for Barbarosa. He joined his father’s lab in Darmstadt to create bridges and other dental procedures after earning a degree in chemistry.
I wasn’t happy, he said. He experimented with his ideas for board games in the basement of the Rossdorf family house in the evenings.
His relatives served as the focus group. They tried out early versions of his games, including Catan, and offered alterations or complete overhauls. Benjamin used to have a Mickey Mouse comic book nearby when he was a kid. His father received a signal from it.
Benjamin remarked, “In case the game was dull, he knew that I’d read it instead of playing the game.”
Together with Benjamin, Mr. Teuber’s survivors also include his wife Claudia, son Guido, and daughter Marie. Not all of the survivors’ details were readily accessible.
They hunkered down at home during the epidemic, playing board games, as many other families did.
So who has the upper hand in Catan?
Benjamin said to a reporter, “My father would definitely think I’m the best player.”
No, Mr. Teuber replied.
Dad, I’m sorry,” Guido said. The very best is Benny.