Z a c Zack

Live Life Deliberately

Klaus Teuber, creator of Catan board game empire, dies at 70

Klaus Teuber, a former dental technician in Germany who began designing board games as an after-work hobby before creating the hugely popular realm of Catan, where players compete, cooperate and barter to build settlements on a fictional island, died April 1 at 70.

A family statement said Mr. Teuber had “a short and serious illness” but gave no additional details. Mr. Teuber’s company, Catan GmbH, did not immediately respond to questions for further information.

The success of the game, which debuted in 1995 as The Settlers of Catan, was made even more striking by the era in which it emerged. A burgeoning array of console-based video games released in the 1990s competed for the attention of players, and later game apps and other interactive diversions added further pressures on the classic setup of boards, cards and dice.

Catan has sold more than 32 million sets worldwide in 40 languages, according to industry groups. (The company website put sales at 40 million.) Either figure, however, places Catan in the top 20 list of board games — well behind legacy brands such as Monopoly and Scrabble but ahead of venerable games including Risk and Stratego. Catan has spawned many spinoffs and new editions, including digital versions, and a trove of merchandise.

“I developed games to escape,” Mr. Teuber told the New Yorker in 2014, saying he was unhappy with his work in a dental lab. “This was my own world I created.”

Catan rewards the cunning and crafty. The island — which intentionally has a Viking feel — has five basic resources: brick, lumber, grain, wool and ore. Players draw cards to grow their holdings and build settlements, cities, roads and armies in hexagon-shaped territory, all the while trading resources and possibly cutting deals with other players. Victory points are awarded. The winner is the first across the point threshold.

It is not necessary to crush the other settlements to win. At times, one player’s success can benefit others. That is what sets Catan apart from winner-take-all games such as Monopoly, wrote author Blake Eskin in a 2010 essay in The Washington Post.

Catan “presents a world in which resources are limited and fortunes are intertwined,” wrote Eskin, “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 deliberation and cautious planning. Even as sales of Catan climbed following its release in Germany, Mr. Teuber did not quit his dental technician job in Darmstadt, a city south of Frankfurt, until 1998 “when it felt like Catan could feed me and my family.”

Catan wasn’t his first board game that made it onto 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 Wacky Wacky West) that has players competing to rebuild a razed town. All three, plus Catan, won Germany’s Game of the Year award.

The inspiration for Catan (usually pronounced Ca-TAAN) was Mr. Teuber’s boyhood fascination with Vikings and their voyages into the Atlantic. Catan was Mr. Teuber’s idea of an Atlantis.

“I imaged how [the Vikings] reached Iceland,” Mr. Teuber told an interviewer. “They need wood. They need houses and other things. And so out of this imagination, I developed Catan.”

The name has no special or hidden meaning. For fans, however, Catan came to represent a concept for friendly competition and coexistence. (But there is a card in Catan that allows a player to usurp all the one type of resource from another player.)

Events bringing more than 1,000 players have been held in Rotterdam, and other sites. Unlike the win-or-lose Scrabble or chess tournaments, the Catan crowds try to cultivate something of a feel-good spirit. A 2012 documentary, “Going Cardboard,” shows Mr. Teuber getting a rock-star reception at game conventions.

Not everybody, however, found uplifting messages in Catan. The idea of “settling” an island (even a fake one) was too much for some critics. A game called Spirit Island, developed partly in response to Catan, has supernatural forces protecting an island from newcomers.

“Some elements of Catan’s perspective have recently been questioned ethically,” Marco Arnaudo, an Indiana University professor who studies tabletop games and military simulations, wrote in an email to The Post. “We have started to wonder if indeed the relatively peaceful settling in the game does not hide a colonialist and imperialistic fantasy.”

Mr. Teuber and his family-run company have mostly stuck to the original premise.

“The beauty of Catan is that, in the end, you still have constructed something,” said Mr. Teuber’s son, Benjamin. “So, in a way, everybody wins.”

Karl Teuber was born June 25, 1952, in the village of Rai-Breitenbach, Germany, about 40 miles southeast of Frankfurt. His father ran a dental laboratory, and his mother was a homemaker.

Mr. Teuber did not take a childhood interest in board games until he was given a game about Romans versus Carthaginians at age 11. He began to experiment with different ideas of his own, coming up with the early concept for Barbarosa in the early 1970s while doing military service. After receiving a degree in chemistry, he joined his father’s lab in Darmstadt, crafting bridges and other dental work.

“I was not happy,” he said. In the evenings, he would dabble with his board game ideas in the basement in the family home in Rossdorf.

His family became the focus group. They played prototypes of his games, including Catan, and suggested tweaks or wholesale changes. As a boy, Benjamin kept a Mickey Mouse comic book close by. It was a signal to his father.

“In case the game was boring, he knew that I’d read it instead of playing the game,” Benjamin said.

In addition to Benjamin, survivors include Mr. Teuber’s wife Claudia; son Guido and a daughter Marie. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

Like many families, they holed up at home during the pandemic and played board games. But who has an edge with Catan?

“My father would probably say I’m the best player,” Benjamin told an interviewer.

“No,” said Mr. Teuber.

“Sorry, dad,” Guido said. “Benny is the best.”


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)