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GDC 2018: Catan VR Hands-On

If you’re into board games, chances are you already know about Settlers of Catan, the popular and highly-lauded turn-based, land-grabbing, resource-fighting, settlement-building tabletop experience from Klaus Teuber. While there have been several digital translations of Settlers of Catan in the past, we’re finally getting a VR version of Catan.

As you would expect, Catan VR supports 4-player multiplay with either human or AI opponents. Starting out in one of two rooms – a Viking long hall or a Japanese-inspired room lined with shoji screens. You can pick from a variety of avatars including a fox, red-bearded dwarf, wizard, Viking, and shaman to represent you in the game.

The board itself is absolutely beautiful. I enjoyed leaning in to see little sheep dotting grasslands, birds flying high over dense forests, fog rolling down hillsides, and a tiny mine cart going in and out of the ore-filled mountains. It was all very charming, yet subtle and not distracting; it was just enough to keep it interesting.

Having played lots of digital versions of Settlers of Catan over the years, I can say that many of them are built on convoluted and overly-complicated interfaces, but I found the Catan VR interface very intuitive, streamlined, clean, and clear. For example, one interesting UI choice was locating the “end turn” button to the left of the board away from main play interface so you don’t accidently hit it and end your turn early, and since gameplay progresses to the left, it’s just natural to turn that way to acknowledge the next player, anyway. And as trading and acquiring specific resource cards are a big part of the game, the team at Experiment 7 especially also spent a lot of time making sure the trade interface was easy to use and understand, without any unnecessary complications or two-step verification.

Even though I haven’t played Settlers of Catan in a couple of years, I picked it right up again in VR. Although if you’ve never played the board game or are a little rusty, there are a number of tutorials and refreshers included in Catan VR to teach you the basics.

Playing board games with friends is never just about the game itself, it’s also a great social experience as you catch up with buddies, occasionally snap and argue with one another, but hopefully mostly laugh and have fun. To that end, the team really focused on the social experience of Catan VR, and included a number of gestures you can use to express yourself. There is, of course, the ubiquitous thumbs-up and finger point, but you can also give an okay, two-finger peace sign, thumb and pinky hang loose, and even blast heavy metal devil horns to raise hell by using a combination of finger positions and button presses. Even the AI displays a level of social interaction as their eyes will follow the current player and they will occasionally wink when you make a good move or stare at you if you take too long to make a decision.

You’ll only have to wait a few more hours to play for yourself as Catan VR is out March 21, 2018 for $14.99 on Oculus Rift, $9.99 for Gear VR. Catan VR should be on additional VR in the near future and will support cross-play between devices.

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