Bucking Modern Trends? Surprising Activity Draws People Together, Defies Fragmenting World

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Surge Summary:  The man who pioneered the modern-day boardgame phenomenon passed away this month. His creation spurred a trend that has helped many families and communities draw closer in a day that works hard to drive people apart.

by Jason Edwards

That America’s social fabric is frayed hardly needs further documentation. Likewise, that the historic strength of the American family has dramatically waned is obvious to all who care to look. The reasons for these declines are legion while countervailing trends are hard to find. Simply put, America has been “bowling alone” for decades and few elements of American life remain that attract multi-generational interaction or that encourage direct communal contact. In a rare exception to this rule, for several decades now pieces of cardboard have bucked these larger depressing tendencies and have brought people, families, and generations together around a table. Sadly, this week, the world says goodbye to the man arguably most responsible for popularizing this rare but encouraging countertrend.

After a “brief and severe illness,” Klaus Teuber passed away at the age of 70 on April 1, 2023. Though originally working for his father at the family’s dental laboratory, Teuber would attain near worldwide prominence for creating in 1995 Die Siedler von Catan, the boardgame that launched the modern board gaming movement. Known originally as The Settlers of Catan and then just Catan in the United States, Teuber’s creation put the German style of boardgames on the cultural map of Europe, the United States, and eventually much of the world.

Though boardgames have a surprisingly long and seemingly universal place in the history of mankind—consider the likes and age of The Royal Game of UrGo, and Chess—most Americans today still tend to think of them as little more than children’s toys. America’s most popular game Monopoly has remained in print since the Great Depression but is rarely remembered with much fondness and almost never brings multiple generations enthusiastically around a table to play. On the other hand, though perhaps still not considered quite mainstream, modern “Eurogames” that emerged in Germany after World War II have displayed the ability to attract a far wider audience and to consistently provide a reason for people to eagerly gather together. The game that has popularized these games to the masses more than any other in contemporary times has been Klaus Teuber’s Catan.

Upon publication of Catan in 1995, Teuber was conferred for the fourth time the coveted Spiel des Jahres award—the German board game of the year. However, despite his previous successes, Catan quickly proved to be something fundamentally different. Catan went on to be published in over 40 languages and to sell over 40 million copies worldwide. The highest-selling Eurogame of all time, nearly 30 years later, Catan continues to be played in homes and colleges across the continents and has spawned numerous spin-offs, expansions, memorabilia, tournaments, novels, and films. More importantly though, it brought the German’s longstanding love of board games to the broader world and launched the modern board gaming phenomenon—a godsend for its ability to buck the divisive social patterns of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

As both an official board game aficionado and an academic, the temptation is now great to launch into a pretentious analysis and defense of modern Eurogames, noting along the way board games’ effectiveness in teaching “executive function,” their historic usefulness in instilling morality, and their proven record in developing “social capital.” However, I think the best tribute I can offer to Teuber and the hobby he popularized is instead to offer a more personal account.

Over a decade ago, as a relatively new father, I discussed with my wife what we could do as a family with our young son. We did not want to waste these years gathered around glowing screens, but living in Western Pennsylvania meant that for much of the year outdoor activities would frequently be limited. We thought of board games, but the thought of hours playing Candyland or UNO filled our minds with dread. So instead, I dusted off a heretofore ignored gift from my in-laws and finally learned to play the rather odd-looking and sounding The Settlers of Catan.

Eleven years later, we have never looked back as the gigantic world of modern board games opened before us. Eleven years later, we have now spent countless hours enjoying the company of two sons, our extended family, and hosts of college students and new friends around our table, all facilitated by modern board games. And, though I cannot tell you that Teuber’s masterpiece represents the bulk of the hours played, I can say that the bulk of the games that account for these hours would not have existed if Klaus Teuber had not created the world of Catan.

And so, for that, from one father to another, from one family to another, I offer my sincerest thanks.

The views here are those of the author and not necessarily Daily Surge.

Originally posted here.

Image: By Valentin Gorbunov – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7282764

Dr. Jason R. Edwards is a fellow with the Institute for Faith and Freedom and a professor of history at Grove City College. If you would like to reach Dr. Jason R. Edwards for comment, please contact him at jredwards@gcc.edu.

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