With this year‘s World Championship, the German publisher KOSMOS has shown that Catan hasn’t lost any of its appeal and fascination even 23 years after its initial release.
Quite the opposite is true: the brand Catan is stronger than ever. More than 27 million copies of the game and its expansions have been sold in 70 countries, translated to 40 languages. On November 24th and 25th 76 contenders from 46 countries have competed to become the World Champion in the event location Theaterhaus in Cologne, Germany. There have never been more participants from more different countries. Given these dimensions, the Catan World Championship (CWC) stayed remarkably harmonic and peaceful.
The good vibes between competitors had already been built up on the night before the tournament. The publisher had organized a casual event that aimed on participants getting to know each other as well as Klaus and Benjamin Teuber.
Of course, there haven’t been any riots during past Catan Championships either. But in an era of increasing nationalism and xenophobia, people from all over the world being connected is all the more valuable.
While nations like Lebanon and Israel don’t have a lot of common ground in real life, their representatives meet in friendly rivalry during the first round of the CWC 2018.
Catan being played almost everywhere doesn’t mean that the same tactics are used all over the world.
Some countries stock-pile resources right from the start to build roads and buildings as quickly as they can. Others begin claiming as many cards as they can. This is where cultural differences show the most during the tournament.
The game doesn’t only overcome cultural differences. Age or gender don’t mean anything on the island of Catan, either. When the youngest contender was born 22 years ago, the game had already won numerous awards and had become a pillar of German board gaming with its original name Die Siedler von Catan (The Settlers of Catan). The most experienced participant, a woman aged 57, might have played it when it was just getting started in 1995.
The fun of playing board games in general and Catan in particular builds bridges over age barriers, cultural differences and gender identities.
The Latin American contestants took a group picture before the first round. Neither José Miguel Ferrario Parrado (32 years old, leftmost) nor Quetzal Hernandez (34 y/o, kneeling, front and center) knew how successful they would later be. All of them were just happy to be part of the World Championship.
Klaus Teuber, the extremely likeable and down-to-earth creator of Catan, told me that he didn’t anticipate the lasting success of the game at all when he came up with it. Today it is popular for being a highly approachable game that has enough depth for more ambitious players. Back then the game appeared way more complicated and complex than its contemporary competitors. Nevertheless Catan was already played in the finals of the German Board Game Championship in its release year. Its popularity increased even further, so 1998 saw the first annual German Championship dedicated to Catan.
The first World Championship followed in 2002. Since day one the knowledgeable and dedicated employees of the Spielezentrum (Game Center) in Herne were tasked with making sure the contestants understood and complied to the tournament rules. They did so at the SPIEL in Essen every year until 2007.
Since 2008 the World Championship skips odd years. The venue switches between Germany and the USA. Every time the CWC is held in Germany, it’s show time for the rules experts from Herne. Of course it wasn’t any different during this year’s tournament in Cologne.
This was the first time the judges from North Rhine-Westphalia could sleep at home in between tournament days since the CWC left the convention in Essen.
Officially this year’s championship started with the celebratory opening on Saturday morning. Klaus Teuber addressed the audience with some humorous remarks and his son Benjamin took over. 2010 Benjamin has joined his father Klaus and his senior brother Guido as directing manager of the Catan GmbH, taking care of and further developing the brand Catan as well as creating entirely new games.
For the two days of the Championship he was also in charge of drawing the terrain hexes and number tokens for each round.
The first round saw 19 four-way-matches played with the „Island of Catan“ Benjamin had built that way.
Some matches ended pretty quickly, others remained neck-and-neck races for quite some time until one player eventually won.
Since the players literally came from all over the world, the official language of the tournament was English. To give any player the same chance, the games were played with the original set without expansions, using the original rules in English.
That way Catan players from Germany, other European countries and even remote places like Peru, Malaysia, Japan and Australia had the same fair chance of winning.
Qualifying for one of the CWC spots demands a lot of the players and sometimes their partners and relatives, too.
Tongue in cheek, a Dutch father told me that he only is the driver/assistant of his son during tournaments and that he doesn’t actually know anything about Catan.
A Japanese participant brought two friends as his crew. While he was winning, they updated his social media accounts, keeping friends at home and all over the world up to date.
Of course 76 contenders, their friends/ family, the press members and all the busy people working at the event would make a whole lot of noise… Except they didn’t. I was really surprised about how quiet and calm the whole scene was.
When one of the matches took way longer than all others, a little unrest arose. But when all of the players returned from lunch break a little later and round three started, it was back to being focused and mainly quiet.
Aside from the tournament, there were quite a few distractions for the general audience. The company Hüne provided some of their dedicated gaming tables, so people could play their own match of Catan as well as other KOSMOS classics like Ubongo or Drop It!.
On top of that, people were able to play a game prototype called Catan Cornhole. The game lets you throw some cutesy resource plushies into holes. If the resource plushy matches the resource of the hole, you’ll get more resources.
These are then used to build roads, settlements or cities just the way it’s done in the original game.
Since it requires quite a bit of space that will most likely not be available indoors. But it could really become a smash hit with small and not-so-small players at BBQs and other garden parties.
On day two, these distractions became increasingly popular with players who didn’t make it to the semi finals.
Even though they didn’t have a chance to get the trophy anymore, they still enjoyed themselves and the great event. They bonded with other players, played some games with each other or were thrilled watching the semi final matches.
In the exciting semi finals four players qualified for the finals: Markus Heinze (29 y/o) from Germany, Denmarks Jan Christoph Hajek (38), Columbian José Miguel Ferrario Parrado (32) and Quetzal Hernandez (34) from Mexico.
After nerve wrecking 90 minutes the Mexican Hernandez won a neck-and-neck race against the other three Boardgame strategists. He became the first Latin Amerin Catan World Champion. Parrado from Columbia took the second place to Latin America, too. Germany was able to secure bronze. Denmark missed the winner‘s podium by a hairsbreadth.
Their disappointment of not having won was definitely outshined by the joy of having experienced a great World Championship.
Mexico was victorious, but anyone who was at the Catan World Championship 2018 in Cologne was a winner.
Thanks to all contenders for a fair and delightful tournament. Thanks to KOSMOS and the Spielezentrum Herne for the great organization and execution of the CWC. Thanks to anybody who was there for the great atmosphere at an impressive event.
Special thanks really have to go to Klaus, Benjamin and Guido Teuber because Catan wouldn’t be close to wehre it is in 2018 without their effort, creativity and care for the brand.
Last but definitely not least congratulations to Quetzal Hernandez, whose great performance during the tournament has been rewarded with the World Champion title. Deservedly so.