Israelis enthusiastically settle Catan

‘What I love about the game is that it incorporates aspects of strategy mixed with luck. Every game is different. I can’t wait until the next championship.’

Hundreds of players participated in last month’s HanuCatan gaming event at the Tel Aviv Expo. (photo credit: MICHA PAUL)
Hundreds of players participated in last month’s HanuCatan gaming event at the Tel Aviv Expo.
(photo credit: MICHA PAUL)
Catan in groups of up to six people, everyone plays against everyone. The rolling of the dice is shown on a large screen and everyone plays simultaneously. We knew that lots of players were participating in tournaments and so we came up with the idea of holding a massive championship, with a subsidized entry fee just so we could cover costs. The winner will go on to play at the international Catan championship as the Israeli representative.”
Israel’s national winner, Niv Chaled, 25, a statistics and economics student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, represented Israel last year at the two-day world game championship in Germany. Israel came in 36th place out of 76.
“I was only missing one win to qualify for the semifinals,” Chaled recalls. “I was really impressed with how well the event was organized. There were 76 representatives from almost 50 countries.
When we arrived, everyone was handed a bag filled with stuff for the tournament, including a shirt with their name and country printed on it. My family joined me on the trip, which was really nice. I played my first game against a player from Lebanon. There was no talk of politics – we just played the game. We even swapped Resource Cards, which was a mutually beneficial trade.”
What is so magical about Catan?
“What I love about the game,” explains Chaled, “is that it incorporates aspects of strategy mixed with luck because there’s the throwing of the dice as well as dynamic interaction between players.
Every game is different because you play against someone new. There’s not an overwhelming amount of pieces to complicate things. I can’t wait until the next championship. This was such an incredible experience.”
The Settlers of Catan is reminiscent of the classic game of Monopoly. The goal of the game is to settle the island of Catan by utilizing its natural resources and accumulating as many points as possible by building communities, cities, roads and militaries. In addition to the basic version of the game, there are also a number of expansions. The first person who acquires 10 points wins. In order to acquire points, players must accumulate resources and negotiate with other players to skew the game in their favor.
The Settlers of Catan – also referred to as just “Settlers” or “Catan” – is the brainchild of German game creator Klaus Teuber. The first version came out in 1995 in Europe and the US. The game has evolved over the years as new versions were created, such as Cities & Knights, Seafarers, Traders & Barbarians.
THE NEWEST addition is A Game of Thrones Catan: Brotherhood of the Watch, in which players supervise the fighters in their daily tasks, and defend a wall by ensuring the regular supply of resources from the settlements and fortresses in the island known as “Gift.” Players must station soldiers on top of the wall to prevent the savages from invading the island.
“When we first came out with the Hebrew-version of Catan 10 years ago, it was an immediate hit among national-religious and Haredi Israelis who are always in search of board games that can be played on Shabbat,” recalls Hakubia CEO Teller. “Today, however, our main target market is IDF soldiers and college students. We estimate that there are currently tens of thousands of Israelis who play Catan.
“In recent years, we’ve noticed that there’s been an increase in the sales of strategic board games like Catan, despite the rising popularity of digital games. There are plenty of groups of people – and not just of friends – who prefer to spend their evenings playing games instead of going out, or soldiers who spend their free time on base playing board games.”
Efraim Hoyman, a project manager at Hakubia, and the director of HanuCatan, notes that groups of players from around the country gather at weekly (and a few daily) meetings to play Catan. There are a number of Israeli Catan players’ Facebook groups with thousands of followers. A few universities around the country hold Catan tournaments.
Tamar Landau, a translator and writer from Rehovot, participated in this year’s tournament with Ido, her 13-year-old son. “We only heard about it by chance when we were looking around for something interesting to do for Hanukkah,” says Landau.
“So we went to HanuCatan and we really loved the dynamics there. We played in different groups of six players. It was an absolutely awesome experience. My husband, Elad, and I have been playing Catan with friends for seven years. We bought a copy of the original game well before the Hebrew version became available. Unlike board games such as Monopoly, where you always go around the same board, every time you play Catan it’s a completely distinct experience, with different dynamics, even if you’re playing with the same friends each time. For me, playing Catan is a wonderful way to get the feeling I used to have when I played as a little girl.
“I think my kids experience this too, where each time they play they get to choose what kind of person they want to be,” continues Landau. “I’m not the kind of parent who lets my kids beat them in games. The opposite, I make it extremely difficult for them. They know that if they beat me – and it’s happened quite a few times – they played really well and succeeded due to their own skills and strategies. It’s important to me that my kids learn how to give a good fight and put in the effort to win. They need to learn how to lose also. It’s an important life lesson.”
According to Landau’s son, Ido, a good player “needs to manage his resources correctly and employ a strategy. You can’t just focus on one thing – you need to keep the big picture at the forefront of your mind at all times. You also need to be flexible and change your strategy depending on what happens during the game. I love the ever-changing dynamics and having to figure out how best to manage my resources at any given moment. It’s also really fun interacting with the other players and figuring out which commodities are worthwhile to trade.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.