For what felt like my entire childhood, Settlers of Catan was a staple of my game nights. My High School friends wanted to play any time we hung out, and it felt like I would be trying to conquer the resource island weekly. The first article I ever read about board games online was about how Settlers of Catan started the board game revolution and brought about a “golden age” in board gaming. I was under the impression that the game would never get old… but I have started to realize that the Mayfair Games classic may not be as bullet proof as I previously thought. The reason that this idea popped in to my head was simple: over the past few weeks I played a few rounds of Settlers with two different groups of friends. After the last time I played, I randomly started thinking about how long it was since I had played and I couldn’t even remember how long ago it was. I’ve had so many other games to play, and it seems like Catan always finds its way onto the bottom of the pile. If I ever recommend it to my friends they usually say that they like the game, but would rather play something different. So I started to think about why I’ve been seeing this trend over the past few years. What makes Settlers the less popular choice nowadays? I think this is due to three big factors.
The first reason why Settlers isn’t as popular nowadays is the amount of games that are available to people now. Back ten years ago it felt like the only new game people had on their shelves was Settlers of Catan. I know from personal experience that if I wanted to play a board game, I would either be playing an old school game my parents bought me or I would be playing Catan. Games like Pandemic and Ticket to Ride started to catch on in the early 2000’s, and slowly but surely game shelves started to grow and grow with new, exciting games. Fast forward to the present, and it feels like there’s no end to the amount of game options available to the average gamer, making Settlers a secondary option.
The second reason for the decline in the play of Settlers is tied directly to the first reason- a lot of people don’t play Catan anymore because of overplay in the past. As good as any board game is, there is a limit to the amount of times you can play it before you need a break. Collectively as a community, board gamers almost all played Settlers religiously for years after it came out, to the point where it feels like a drop-off was inevitable. I know from personal experience that I played the game so much in High School and College that I was practically begging for a change, not because I disliked the game but because overuse breeds disinterest. That, coupled with the bevy of new games that arrived on the scene, meant that everyone’s favorite game became just another one of many great options.
The third and final reason for Catan seeing a drop in play is because of the continuing emergence of technology. While video games have been around for a while, the accessibility of smart phones and the mobile app explosion has certainly created a dip in a number of areas, including board game play. While board games are continuing to increase in popularity, a lot of that success is attributed to the game industry adjusting and adding technology into their games. Settlers is a more traditional game, and although it has embraced technology by creating an online game (you can find it here if you’re interested) ultimately when you think Settlers of Catan, you don’t think high tech.
I firmly believe that Settlers of Catan is a game that will be around for years to come. It’s still one of the most sold games in existence and is considered a top 10 game by multiple different sources. Still, it’s important to realize that no matter how successful a game is, eventually its popularity will wane. And even though Settlers isn’t as popular as it was before, the positives that come with this change are apparent. So when I look at my game shelf and realize that Settlers hasn’t been played in some time, I like to think that it just means there are more and more great options out there to enjoy.