Refined the user experience and visual design of Settlers of Catan.

I was asked to find a holistic solution to an everday problem that affects a passion of mine. After identifying the game, Settlers of Catan, I was tasked with reconsidering the assumptions and expectations of contemporary tabletop games to fundamentally rediscover the board game experience and to reimagine design elements. I was responsible for researching, ideation, testing, and ultimately presenting a case study of my solution. This project was completed for class.

As an enthusiast of Settlers of Catan, I have always noticed some of the issues in the gameplay and visual language. I wanted to focus on creating a new type of brand experience for the game. I had ideas to use new materials and visuals to improve the player's experience. From there I made changes to improve the intution of the game's mechanics and the feel of the overall experience.

The player should be immersed in the hands-on experience of Settlers of Catan.

One of the techniques I learned in this process was the use of a laser cutter. I experimented with different techniques and woods that eventually led me to what you see. I ran playtesting workshops to test my icon system and gameplay changes. During these playtests, I have recieved many requests by individuals to purchase this new version of the game. However, the process is too time intensive but serves as an exciting case study into how the board game experience can be revitalized.

Somethings I couldn't craft myself, so I purchased carved dice for play. I started collecting recycled jars for storage of the game's pieces.

I wanted the game to be inuitive so that pieces could be locked down on the table.

Case Study

Before I started redesigning Settlers of Catan, I wanted to layout all the critical pieces. In total there are 19 hexagon pieces, 6 edge pieces, 9 harbor pieces, 18 numerical pieces, 95 resources cards, 25 development cards, 4 building cost cards, 2 special cards. 16 cities. 20 settlements, 60 roads, 2 dice, and 1 robber. All of these needed to be concepted and iterated on to ensure the best gameplay.

The quality of the game inhibits immersion through its outdated style and a limited amount of natural intuition.

While the original game presents an illustrative and colorful aesthetic, it prevents players from easily recognizing key gameplay mechanics. In an effort to develop my technical skills and add a medieval touch, I built my plan around using a laser cutter.

What was my research?

In order to be as successful as possible I wanted to learn more about how to laser cut paper and wood. I searched up various examples of other board games that were laser cut so I could choose the best thickness of wood and colors of stain. I found that games that were raised consdierably off the table were difficult to store and fragile. Additionally, differentiating pieces that were the same color with different icons is challenging for many players.

In my research I analyzed different popular strategy games include Ticket to Ride, Dungeons and Dragons, and Monopoly. Settlers of Catan already differiented itself through the use of a dynamic board and hexagonal shape. That became my foundation to the changes. I wanted to steer away from the illustration that is found in many strategy games and add a more tangible set of pieces to the game.

I started the design process be designing the new icons that would replace the illustrations. The intention was to create icons that abstractly represented stained glass windows as my research into different styles of iconography led me to that compromise between illustration and minimal design.

My overall goal was to reconsider the assumptions and expectations of contemporary tabletop games to fundamentally rediscover the board game experience and to reimagine design elements. Therefore, I wanted to treat the board as a puzzle where all the pieces interlocked together. Thick paper was the first direction I took. However, the first laser cut draft was fragile and impractical. Wood was definitely needed and I had to re-evaluate my iconography.

I wanted to create an interlocking board that was easy to set up.
The paper was too fragile and I needed to inverse the iconography to be engraved rather than cut.

After the paper trial I fixed some sizing and cuts. The next attempt was in wood. I added resource tokens and started designing cards.

One subtle change is the transition from the "robber" token blocking the number to the token blocking the resource. One of my early observations when playing was the confusion around what number was underneath the tile. I adjusted the board to have the token block the resource, since that was what was actually being blocked based on the rules.

Each piece was stained to indicate the type of resource.
What did my playtesting conclude?

While COVID-19 swept across the nation, I was able to conduct a limited amount of testing workshops before Washington State's quarantine was enacted.There were two primary points that were made in my playtesting.

The first was the Robber and Knight mechanic. This unintuitive feature in the original game allowed players to use the robber to steal and block resources. If the player rolled a seven they could move the robber. However, if they player pulled a knight card, they could also move the robber. This was confusing as I had not changed the icon, instead I had made the tile block the resource instead of the number based on other feedback. My solution was to eliminate the robber entirely and replace the robber with the knight tile. Therefore, the player does not need to learn more than one rule.

The other piece of feedback I recieved was over my differentiation from my settlement tiles and city tiles. As seen in the images above, a settlement is two hexagons stacked on top of one another while the city is two hexagons with half a trapezoid on top. Originally, my design had a city be made out of three stacked hexagons. However, that was difficult to see in poor lighting or from distant angles. I added the trapezoid shape on top that could be visually differeniated and have a different physical feel.

The original game enabled skilled players to take too far of a lead.

Adding new cards added a the ability for players to be benefitted or impacted by random actions. I kept the original cards and adjusted the proportions. I added a new categories of cards and adjusted an existing one. Random diasters and the cutthroat cards allow resources to be gained or lost randomly. While this may impact all the players, there is no strategy to avoid these cards. Random diaster cards include an earthquake, flood, and eruption. Different resources are affected differently so a player will not lose all their cards if the three diasters are pulled one after the other. The material these cards will be printed on will be naturally textured.

What did I think about the project?

Settlers of Catan is groundbreaking with its iconic design and wide economic market. Despite its success, some of its flaws can disengage players and ultimately lead to frustrations. This project addressed many of those concerns.

The most noticeable change is the reduction of illustrative detail to make the game more intuitive. Roads and cities were hard to place in the original verison. Now, they can be slid into place on the board. Symbols identify each resource, action, and ultimately one's victory. Additionally, I haved used wood stain to add color to the wood to help change this.

I wanted to ensure the game adhered to its medieval roots so I kept it rustic by using stained wood in natural colors. The iconography abstractly connects to stained glass patterns that old churches and buildings would have.

The transition from resources card to tiles allows you to actually hold onto resources. This adds more of a desire to keep them and pulls away from the generalized use of cards in games. However, I kept the progress cards as pulling from a deck is a an intuitive action and I did not want to confuse users.

This redesign is an experiment in how a board game can be innovated upon to improve its gameplay and experience. With only a few things to consider in the future, I look forward to playing this game with friends and family.