Following Niantic’s breakout hit Ingress in 2012, the company has gone on a world tour of adapting beloved properties for the location-based gaming landscape. 2016 saw the release of Pokémon GO, sending players on a nostalgic trek through local parks and gatherings. Enough people took to the streets catching first generation Pokemon together in those first months, it’s still nostalgically referred to as “the summer of Pokémon GO“. 2019 saw the release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, where players catch virtual reproductions of key characters and creatures from the series to maintain the Statute of Secrecy and untangle the mystery of the Calamity that put the Wizarding World at risk in the first place.
And now? Niantic has set its sights on bringing beloved tabletop franchise CATAN off the table and out into the real world with CATAN – World Explorers . Not much is known about how CATAN will be adapted for outdoor play, but the game’s website offer a handful of clues of what’s to come: like the tabletop game, collecting lumber, brick, wool, grain and ore provides the literal building blocks for gameplay. Relative scarcity of resources also means some resources might be easier to obtain through trading, as you “befriend and bargain with in-game Catanians”. All this is in pursuit of Victory Points, which are used to claim victory for your global Faction, as well as in personal Local Games through a season-based structure.
Many of Niantic’s games have relied on faction-based gameplay in the past, with Ingress fueled by a directly competitive showdown between the green Enlightened faction (the frogs) and the blue Resistance faction (the smurfs) in a strategic game of territory acquisition. With Niantic’s later games, competitive elements eased up: Pokémon GO‘s factions (Valor, Mystic, and Instinct) are used to provide in-game bonuses during raids and provides the occasional head-to-head challenge at special events, while Wizards Unite‘s Hogwarts Houses are a purely aesthetic choice, putting much more weight on players’ choice of Wizarding profession to drive gameplay. World Explorers looks to be a return to Ingress‘ more competitive structure, which makes sense for a competitive board gaming adaptation.
This isn’t Niantic’s first foray into the world of tabletop gaming, as a number of Ingress events featuring “Remote Participation Experiences”, tabletop modules that shifted Ingress gameplay from an app-based experience into a traditional tabletop role-playing game. This time, however, it’s the tabletop game that’s getting the mobile gaming makeover.
While CATAN: World Explorers‘ debut is imminent, Niantic also announced a slate of ten games in development, including a partnership on multiple projects with Punchdrunk, the immersive design company responsible for the immersive theater hit Sleep No More “that will reinvent storytelling for a 21st century audience and further expand the horizon of interactive entertainment.” Punchdrunk has already dabbled in tech-enabled partnerships to expand their immersive theater specialty, ranging from an online complement to Sleep No More in partnership with the MIT Media Lab and a partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Society and Epic Games “aimed at exploring virtual reality across entertainment industries.”
There is no set launch date for CATAN: World Explorers yet, although Niantic’s press release notes World Explorers will enter beta testing “very soon”, and pre-registration is open on the Catan: World Explorers website.