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How the Board Game Catan Conquered the Digital World

 
 

Innovation | Moritz Hampel |
27 July 2021

When you played your first round of Settlers of Catan in the nineties, could you have imagined that the game would inspire international championships, let alone digital tournaments? For more than 10 years, Endava has been developing digital products for the famously successful board game on a myriad of different platforms. Now, in anticipation of the game’s first digital world championship in 2021, it seems like a good time to recap the journey this game has taken – and we along with it.

A BOARD GAME REVOLUTION

As a German child of the seventies, I grew up with Ravensburger board games: almost always for three to six players, in a rectangular box with the blue triangle in the corner, and often enough awarded the coveted ‘Spiel des Jahres’ (‘Game of the Year’) seal. Hare and Tortoise, Scotland Yard, Enchanted Forest, Top Secret Spies – all of these could be found on our shelves. It was the golden age of German board games.

In 1995, however, the entire German board game world was turned upside down, and a completely new era was ushered in: The Settlers of Catan was awarded the most renowned German game award, and the game made both its inventor, Klaus Teuber, and publisher Kosmos famous.

Catan board game
The coveted German ‘Game of the Year’ award

Catan may be a board game, but it’s also so much more... in the game, players immerse themselves in a world of their own. They build settlements on the fictitious island, exchange resources with other players, thus expanding their empire and defending it with their knights. A new fantasy world is created during each session, and players can always try out new tactics. This was a new and addictive game, with gamers being divided into two camps: ‘board gamers’ – and Catan gamers.

So, it’s not surprising that the game gained more and more of a cult status over the following years. After ten years, there were already 8 million games sold across Germany, and it was rare to find a German who was not familiar with Catan. To date, Catan has been translated into over 40 languages and sold well over 35 million copies worldwide.

Catan made it into the Big Bang Theory and allegedly has been played in the locker rooms of NFL and NBA professional teams… Catan went viral, and today, it’s everywhere!

SETTLING DIGITAL WORLDS

So, the game turned into a real success story – but it wasn’t enough for its makers, Catan GmbH, to turn the analogue board game world upside down. As early as 1999, the first digital version of the game hit the market and enabled users to play Catan – The First Island on Windows computers. A year later, a PlayStation version followed, but it would take almost another decade until Catan reached a whole new dimension: the world of mobile devices.

In 2008, we developed The First Island for Java-enabled mobile phones, laying the foundation for the next-generation transformation of the board game. With the mobile version of Catan, fans worldwide could now play their game anywhere, anytime.

From then on, digital publisher United Soft Media Verlag GmbH (USM) commissioned us with new developments again and again: the first expansion called Seafarers, further technical platforms and versions for Nintendo DS, iPhone, and iPod Touch and more. We had become the go-to partner for Catan mobile solutions.

 

THE LATEST COUP IS ‘SEAMLESS’

A notable milestone for the brand is that Catan Classic, for both Android and iOS devices, managed to stay on the market for years and is still playable today. However, and this is common to many digital board game conversions to this day, users were not able to play across platforms. Android users could therefore not compete against PC players or users of the iOS version. It was rather like an endless number of small Catan islands, which were in line with the game’s theme but not very user-friendly.

Catan board game
Catan Universe

This changed in 2017: with Catan Universe, we developed the first digital version which not only enables users to play across all the different platforms with a single account, but also to use their purchased content, such as the expansions Seafarers or Cities and Knights, on all their devices. Other game expansions like Rise of the Inkas (the first Catan offspring to be released physically and digitally at the same time), Rivals of Catan, and special maps like Enchanted Land and The Great Canal have also become digitally implemented and true fan favourites over the years.

Once again, Catan has been breaking new ground and setting standards in the games market.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP 2.0

With a game as popular as Catan, official tournaments became established, and even a world championship is now held every two years with participants from more than 40 countries. But until now, players have always had to meet up in person. While this is a great opportunity for a fun social gathering – and part of the reason for the game’s immense popularity – it also excludes many potential players who don’t have the means or the ability to travel.

Enter Catan Universe: for the first time, a Digital Catan World Championship (DCWC) will be held in 2021, using the latest instalment of the game series. Since the idea of digital championships and tournaments has always been part of the concept and vision for Catan Universe, we developed features especially for this kind of sanctioned play and worked closely with our Catan GmbH partners to tailor the tournament features specifically to the DCWC requirements.

Catan board game


THE STORY CONTINUES

Looking back, we helped to bring one of the most popular board games into the digital world, giving it an even wider global reach, but our Catan journey does not end here. Together with USM, our team of board game fans and digital innovators is continuously developing ideas and possibilities based on the latest tech developments to continue reimagining the Catan gaming experience. It’s going to be interesting and exciting to see how the game develops even further and how we can offer engaging gaming experiences to old and new fans alike in the digital dimension.

After all, gaming can be far more than a simple pastime for a rainy afternoon. Catan has always brought people together, but this capacity came to a crashing halt with the pandemic and socially distanced living – at least regarding the physical board game. Digital games – despite the cliché of the loner-gamer in a dark bedroom – can foster social connections and prevent isolation, which shows how technology can help people adapt in changing and challenging times.

Moritz Hampel

Head of Game Design

Moritz has more than 15 years experience as a game designer and is not only a dedicated video gamer, but also a hardcore board game nerd. Rumour has it that his many board games have more space at home than his four and a half kids. Since Moritz also pens suspense/thriller books, he has a great affinity with stories being told in games, whatever their form may be. He is convinced that basically any game can provide an exciting narrative if the story is told correctly. One of Moritz’s favourite pastimes is writing dialogue, be it for games or for books.

 

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