Settlers Of Catan Was The Top Game Of 2013 And Is Probably The Top Game Ever


Settlers of Catan was once called "the game of our generation" by the Washington Post. Though that label flatters this Catan enthusiast, I'm not sure it's quite flattering enough. Die Siedler von Catan, at it was written in Germany when it was first published by the legendary Klaus Teuber in 1995, depicts a world long ago, when resources like wood, brick, sheep, and rock were confined to relatively few uses, "knight" was a real term, and barbarians were a real issue -- characteristics not necessarily associated with "our generation." Of course, one could easily make the argument that battling over and trading resources, protecting one's borders, and fighting off the occasional invasion are universal themes. That's getting closer to the point. Settlers of Catan is such a perfect game with such general appeal that it may simply be the best game ever created, regardless of generation, University Herald reported.

I look to the four major sports (and perhaps I'll include soccer as a fifth) whenever I assess a game, whether it requires cards, dice, or cardboard hexagons. Take basketball, for example. Its objective is simple and so (mostly) are its rules. (Thanks to Ginobli, Harden, Wade, and company, however, counting steps has become increasingly difficult). Yet, the sport never gets old because there are infinite ways to score a point. Though Catan may not possess the same never-ending creativity of basketball, soccer, et al., it offers a refreshing range of possibilities for something as confining as a board game.

Catan's variety (and the heart of its genius) is spurred primarily by its arrangement, which, as you likely know, comprises a series of hexagons that fit in any combination within a larger border. Adding to the mix are number tiles, placed on the hexagons randomly. I don't have the permutations on hand, but  twenty or so hexagons and a corresponding total of number tiles leads to more scenarios than one's brain can actively remember; hence, every game feels just a little different. (I haven't even factored in trading, development cards, "specials" such as longest road and harbor master, sequel versions, and the roll of the dice.)

What other board game -- or any game not categorized as sport -- can make that claim? Not many, but perhaps there are a few. Thus, Catan must be further distinguished.

My Wednesday night crew of settlers (ages 24-29) consists of a lawyer, an accountant, a manager at a spa company, a marketing analyst, and me. Maybe those occupations don't actually reveal that much; maybe this does: none of us have ever read a comic book, played with magic cards, or ever (before) singled out a night of the week for the sole purpose of playing a board game (and haven't missed a week in nearly a year, while keeping track of who wins, and separating standings into seasons). Basically, we're not nerds, but we exhibit very nerd-like behavior in the scope of this game. That's where Catan makes its final push as the greatest board game of all time. It appeals to everyone who appreciates the strategy of game.

Kristen Bickard (the marketing analyst and my sister-in-law) reiterated my point when I asked her why she thought Catan was so good.

"Everybody who likes to play games likes Catan," she said.

Catan's greatest downfall may be its name, which seems to evoke more involved, fantastical games played by a particular minority (nerds). When given a chance, however, nearly everyone I have introduced it to likes it, though perhaps not quite enough on first play to voluntarily seek it out again. That's the crux of the game's relationship with the general public: because of its to-be discovered nuances and unrivaled variety, it only gets better with time, or at least more appreciated. Skeptics who double as game-lovers need only give it a chance and a second play; then, they'll be hooked. To quote a famous Taking Back Sunday lyric: "close your eyes and settle, settle..." To modify it: "Open your eyes and settle!" 

For entry number one of the Catan Journal, click here.

For entry two, click here.

For entry three, click here.

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