Catan goes eco-friendly — 'New Energies' board game tackles climate change

An illustrated advertisement for Catan: New Energies board game, with the game set against a backdrop of green rolling hills dotted with windmills.

Board game lovers are likely familiar with “Catan” — the line of modern strategy games that take place across time and space (even in the “Game of Thrones” realm of Westeros) and task players with trading resources to survive. 

But their latest board game “Catan: New Energies” hits a lot closer to home. 

The new game, set to release in spring 2024, is set in modern day and challenges players to settle their land while mitigating environmental disasters and navigating overpopulation. If pollution levels reach too high, the game ends for everyone. 

Before Klaus Teuber — the original designer of “Catan” — passed in August 2023, he sat down together with his son Benjamin and designed “Catan: New Energies.” 

“As we designed this game, my dad said, ‘A game is an experience—not a lecture,’” Benjamin Teuber said in a press statement. “Therefore, we are not telling players how to act best; we're inviting them to learn and draw their own conclusions through play.” 

They wanted to implement the harmful impacts of real-world issues like flooding, air pollution, and environmental pollution every time players draw a brown token. 

A colorful, circular board game with tiled pieces surrounded by various cards, wooden tokens, and tracking boards.
"Catan: New Energies" game board, pieces, and tokens. Photo courtesy of CATAN GmbH / CATAN Studio.

Fortunately, the game invites players to exchange resources for “research” cards so that they can build renewable power plants, draw green tokens, and reap the benefits of clean energy

The real world diverges from the game play in one central aspect: renewable energies today are more affordable than fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

“It’s always the same challenge—to wrap this huge complexity of an outside environment into a board game,” Benjamin Teuber admitted in an interview with Fast Company. “That has been very much the challenge here, because on top of that, I’m not a scientist.”

Even so, the Teubers and the Catan company at large wanted to make sure that they could minimize every environmental aspect of the manufacturing process. This meant ensuring that the game was made from sustainably sourced wood and paper and cutting plastic — even shrinkwrap — out altogether. 

“Of course, that means yeah, it’s a little more expensive,” said Kelli Schmitz, director of brand development at Catan Studio. “It’s not a cheap game — it can’t be. I think that just illustrates the point of the game, making those conscious decisions where you can. Nothing’s going to be perfect, but all those things add up to something that is better than what it was before.”

Like most modern strategy games, “Catan: New Energies” is still competitive. But Klaus Teuber always wanted to foster cooperation in his creations, from the moment he made “Settlers of Catan” in 1995. 

“You cannot destroy someone's building,” Klaus Teuber once told NPR. “It's impossible. You have to communicate.”

Of course, only one person will achieve the most victory points, but in order to win the game, players have to trade resources and learn to live alongside each other on the island. 

That point is even more prescient in “Catan: New Energies,” where the risk of pollution marks the end of the game for everyone at the table. And that’s the message Benjamin and Klaus wanted to convey in the last game they made together. 

“The outcome of this game won’t change the world,” said Benjamin Teuber. “But maybe your way of thinking will change, and you can later go and change the world.”

Header image courtesy of CATAN GmbH / CATAN Studio

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April 5, 2024 11:43 AM
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