Turns out that there's an economic reason for the tiles in Catan to be hexoganal. It's based on Central Plane Theory, the idea that cities in an open plane tend to be seperated by distances that form a pattern. At first circles were used to desribe these distances, but since circles can't fill up a plane, hexagons came to be used instead. More here.
I discovered this literature through Newmark's Door,.
He referenced a paper critiquing The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman's popular book, which I absorbed via audio book earlier this year.
For more about Catan, see here.