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Subject: How did Catan get so big? rss

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Alex Bokser
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Continuing the last thread- "How did Monopoly get so big?", I'd really appreciate your insights on how Catan became the incredibly popular and successful game it is.

Unlike Monopoly, Catan (which I enjoy playing much, much more) came out in an era when there were already quite a few well established, well known board games.
What was it that made Catan stand out?
Was it the modular board? (was Catan the first game to make use of a modular board?)
Was it a brilliant marketing campaign (of which I'm unaware)?
Something else entirely?

Thank you.
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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This article discusses some reasons: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/06/set...

In summary, Catan's success can be attributed to a well-designed gameplay, a good mix of strategy and luck, close competition throughout a short playing time, and the trend of "nerd culture" infusing into popular culture.

I agree with the general conclusions. When I entered the hobby, you could basically choose between badly designed light games (Monopoly etc.) and better designed but heavy war games (many Avalon Hill titles). When I started to work, I had less time for the long gaming sessions of my childhood, and I immediately fell for the short but yet fun gaming experience provided by Catan.

Was Catan the best game available when it came? No, I've discovered and moved on to games even more suited to my game preferences from the same period. However, Catan came at a point of time when I, and many others, were receptive to the more inclusive gameplay of euros. I still admire its appeal both to gamers and families and it did encourage me to identify which game characteristics I prefer and be more selective about which games I play.

Would Catan be equally successful if it came today? Again no, I don't think so. There was less competition then and it's more difficult today to reach the critical mass necessary to become a "new Monopoly" in the consumer mind. Also, I feel that the trend moves away from traditional "mechanics first" euro games towards hybrid games where theme and story-telling are also important.

Will we talk about new Catan in ten year's time? I don't think so but much can happen and I wouldn't bet against it either.
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Scott Alden
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It came out in America when there were no other games of its type. It was a breath of fresh air and one of that games that I credit to changing my life in a profound way. Catan and Tigris & Euphrates are the primary 2 games that were the impetus to me getting hooked into this hobby and creating BGG.
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David desJardins
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bxrrr wrote:
Unlike Monopoly, Catan (which I enjoy playing much, much more) came out in an era when there were already quite a few well established, well known board games.


What "well established, well known board games" are you thinking of? I think you're probably overestimating the competition in 1995. History of the World? Hoity Toity? Merchant of Venus? It's hard to think of too many games from that time that would be recognizable and competitive in the hobby today.
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Justen Brown
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DaviddesJ wrote:
bxrrr wrote:
Unlike Monopoly, Catan (which I enjoy playing much, much more) came out in an era when there were already quite a few well established, well known board games.


What "well established, well known board games" are you thinking of? I think you're probably overestimating the competition in 1995. History of the World? Hoity Toity? Merchant of Venus? It's hard to think of too many games from that time that would be recognizable and competitive in the hobby today.


I wasn't big into board games in the 90s but even as someone whose nose was buried into video games I knew people who were really into GW titles like HeroQuest which were clearly different from the traditional family game. I think Hasbro was also trying to distinguish themselves so Axis & Allies could be found in Walmart and a history teacher used Diplomacy as a teaching aide which was the first time I was introduced to an abstract, defined game design.
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Travis Newhero
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Just right time. It's was a decade or so since the last major game, and Catan had new and interesting things to board games in America. So simply right time, and different enough like how Monopoly got so big.
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Guido Gloor
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Nice explanations so far. I cannot really offer much in terms of personal liking of the game - when it came out, I played it shortly after, but I had already played lots of HeroQuest at that point, and started to really get into Warhammer 40,000, and thus was infected with the theme bug already.

As a consequence Settlers appeared dry and mechanical to me. And I was annoyed that I couldn't destroy anybody's buildings and roads when they were in my way. Or go and hunt and kill the robber.
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Dex Quest
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Thank Tueber's Germany and its love of maths, engineering, accuracy and currywurst. Hands up who's looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a lumpy old Chevrolet when Trump 'rekindles US car making' and whacks 50% import tax on a silky smooth BMW?

On the subject of Catan, it's a wonderful game that garnered proper distribution. ANYTHING that gets wide distribution will sell whether it's good or not - Fortunately Catan was great and opened a window for many to the wondrous world of German 'Euros'. Mind you, I still hate trading of any kind in games and that's why I don't personally play Catan.
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HenningK
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I wasn't much of a boardgamer when it came out, as I spent most of my teenage days back then with video games and RPGs. But I recall it being everywhere in the mid- to late-90s. Teenagers and adults gathered on Saturday evening to "Settle" or "play Settlers"; my 16-year-old classmates regularly played it with their siblings and parents.

I suppose it was one of the first games that a wide spectrum of people enjoyed that couldn't be seen as just a "kid's game". Lots of people here in Germany buy the current Spiel des Jahres for Christmas to play it a few times with their children, but most of the times, the adults just do it for the sake of the children. Settlers was, for many people, the first game they really enjoyed playing for the sake of the game itself.

Ultimately, it somehow hit a nerve back then, and I doubt it would have been as successful if it had been released 10 years earlier or later. You can't always explain everything. But if I had to guess, I think its success was a combination of these reasons:

- A theme that appealed to a wide range of people without being potentially offensive or off-putting to anyone - no war, fantasy, science fiction, or fairy tale.

- Very pretty artwork and components for its time. Actually, I think that the box cover art of the first German edition is one of the most best boardgame arts of all time. It's evocative, mysterious, calm, noble, and classy.


- Modular board, making every game feel different.

- Wide range of mechanics where everybody can find something s/he likes: strategy, tactics, resource management, area control, dice rolling, negotiation, trading.

- High level of social interaction.

- Unlike the other mass market non-abstract "adult games" back then like Monopoly or Risk, the game doesn't take forever.

- Excellent rules - I think they came on a single sheet of paper and still were conclusive and easy to understand.

- Possibly, it came out just at the right time. In 1994, computers were invading everyday life both in the office and at home. They were not just the new electronic toys, weird non-understandable machines for nerdy teenagers or the scientific research devices in laboratories anymore, they were found in everybody's office and living room. Owning and using a computer for both work and private interests became the norm. Multimedia was THE buzzword back then.
I suspect that many people, especially older ones, were getting tired of that digital revolution and felt the need to step back to something without microchips and plugs. For older people, it might have been reminiscent of their childhood, of happy memories playing with siblings, parents or grandparents; and for younger people, it was a game they could play with their parents which everybody genuinely enjoyed.

- I don't have any evidence, but I suppose that Kosmos also did a remarkable marketing campaign. They certainly did so for Legends of Andor.
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HenningK
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jaybeethree wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
bxrrr wrote:
Unlike Monopoly, Catan (which I enjoy playing much, much more) came out in an era when there were already quite a few well established, well known board games.


What "well established, well known board games" are you thinking of? I think you're probably overestimating the competition in 1995. History of the World? Hoity Toity? Merchant of Venus? It's hard to think of too many games from that time that would be recognizable and competitive in the hobby today.


I wasn't big into board games in the 90s but even as someone whose nose was buried into video games I knew people who were really into GW titles like HeroQuest which were clearly different from the traditional family game. I think Hasbro was also trying to distinguish themselves so Axis & Allies could be found in Walmart and a history teacher used Diplomacy as a teaching aide which was the first time I was introduced to an abstract, defined game design.


But none of these games have mass market appeal. HeroQuest or Warhammer are an instant turn-off theme-wise for the average person on the street, even more so in the 90s when being nerdy wasn't cool yet. Games like Axis & Allies and Diplomacy are a no-go for at least 95% of the population for complexity reasons alone - if you need more than 15 minutes of reading the rules before you can play, it's only for a dedicated gamer, and there are very few of those.

Settlers became as big as it did because it appealed to people who usually don't play games, or only see them as something for children. Settlers tought a lot of people that boardgames can be fun for adults, too, and it did so because it wasn't complicated, didn't take forever, didn't have a theme that people could look down on, and had a fun mix of mechanics.
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Simon Maynard
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While I was very late "discovering" Catan, I never found it that enjoyable. Games of Catan have always dragged for me.

Perhaps at the time it was a breath of fresh air but I can't understand why it's popularity continues to surge today when there are so many good (and in my opinion better) alternatives.

I don't even think it makes a good family game (which is what we first got it for). It's very mean and younger players don't grasp the subtleties of trading resources.

I guess Catan has a kind of momentum that is hard to stop and it continues to get noticed in areas of polite society that other games can't penetrate.
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Alex Bokser
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Honored to have you reply. Thanks!

Aldie wrote:
It came out in America when there were no other games of its type. It was a breath of fresh air and one of that games that I credit to changing my life in a profound way. Catan and Tigris & Euphrates are the primary 2 games that were the impetus to me getting hooked into this hobby and creating BGG.
 
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Timmi T.
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Fried Egg wrote:

I guess Catan has a kind of momentum that is hard to stop and it continues to get noticed in areas of polite society that other games can't penetrate.


Yes! I mean... look
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Steve B
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It quickly became the default board game you find in 99% of pubs/bars on the bookshelves in the corner, and so I guess from people just being exposed to it there, it became bigger and bigger and now is the board game that absolutely everybody is aware of.
 
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Derek H
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Trantor42 wrote:
But none of these games have mass market appeal. HeroQuest or Warhammer are an instant turn-off theme-wise for the average person on the street, even more so in the 90s when being nerdy wasn't cool yet.

Being "nerdy" is still not cool. But being "geeky" (as in "having an special interest that is not mainstream") is. I think Catan helped show people that even non-gamers could take part and enjoy this "specialised" hobby (its one I have had since the 1970's) without feeling too strange or uncomfortable.
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Dave Platt
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It's simple. Games like Monopoly and Catan appeal to a wide audience. They are simple to learn and have themes that aren't niche. Such games will always be bigger than the niche themed, complex games we mostly see in the Hotness.
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There was a wave, and it was fortunate enough to be at the very front of that wave.

I'd rather be lucky, than good. And if you have a little bit of both, double plus good.
 
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Brian Hoare
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Dave P wrote:
It's simple. Games like Monopoly and Catan appeal to a wide audience. They are simple to learn and have themes that aren't niche. Such games will always be bigger than the niche themed, complex games we mostly see in the Hotness.


And hating monopoly was growing stale. We needed to push some other easy-play trading game out to masses so we could continue our comfortable affectation of ennui and distaste at its popularity.
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Steve Greasby
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Many people I know, myself included, learned about Catan because it was the first modern board game available on consoles and again one of the first available on smartphones. Well, I had heard of it but never played it. That may be a chicken and the egg thing though because it had already been out 12 years and was likely popular enough already to justify a console adaptation. But I think electronic versions did propel it to new heights that would have been unachievable if they just made the cardboard version because it reached a new audience.
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Toby Frith
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The fact that it didn't have a "board" as such was a big paradigm shift. I imagine that most people, especially at the time of release thought of "boardgames" having boards, and this one, well, it changes all the time, which makes the replayability all the greater. The absolute lack of downtime as well made a huge difference - every player was always involved.

Small semantic shifts like this can have a big impact. In terms of how I perceived it when encountering Catan for the first time, and many others, it was, like "oh RIGHT! OK this is different"

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Pete
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It's a good game.

Pete (experiences major deja vu)
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Herzog73 wrote:
The fact that it didn't have a "board" as such was a big paradigm shift. I imagine that most people, especially at the time of release thought of "boardgames" having boards, and this one, well, it changes all the time, which makes the replayability all the greater.



Interesting point but valid indeed. Modular boards are common today but I did a quick search on older games and found few known games apart from Catan.
 
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Catan was the first boardgame I ever played that I immediately wanted to play again. It was that thrilling. It was just so engaging, you were involved the whole time not just on your turn. And it paid to be nice to the other players. Everything about Catan was radical and exciting.
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Andre Voest
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I would say the following factors played a big role:

-Germany is a boardgame nation and has always been. Boardgaming is the family activity number one. Go look it up, I didn't think so either at first.

-Catan is a great gateway game. It keeps a nice balance between rules complexity, strategy dependance and luck. So to say, you can play it with someone who does not want to think but you can also strategize the crap out of it.

-Little high quality competition at the time.

-the playtime is not extensive and downtimes are kept short.

-the German "Spiel des Jahres" award became popular at the time. Germans would walk into a toy store, ask for a game and for the lack of knowledge go with an expertise recommendation like the award winning game.

I would say that is what build the foundation. After that, they probably had the necessary funds and popularity to enter new markets, which at the time I think not many could or would do.
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Pete
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EYE of NiGHT wrote:
Catan was the first boardgame I ever played that I immediately wanted to play again. It was that thrilling. It was just so engaging, you were involved the whole time not just on your turn. And it paid to be nice to the other players. Everything about Catan was radical and exciting.
The first time I ever played Catan, I ended up playing for 14 hours.

Pete (didn't go to class the next day)
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