Catan, one of the most critically acclaimed board games ever made and one that averages over a million copies sold per year, is about to leap off the tabletop thanks to a unique augmented reality gaming system that’s been in development for over a decade now. Tilt Five, a startup founded by a former Valve engineer, has just announced that a 3D holographic version of the game, dubbed Catan — Tilt Five AR, will arrive in spring 2023.
Unfortunately, the video below doesn’t really give us a look at the game, but the company says you can play it around a table, solo against “classic AI opponents,” or online with other players around the world. And you’ll be able to “interact with the Catan island in new ways using the Tilt Five Wand and watch the island’s wildlife and environment spring to life in holographic 3D.”
In 2013, we brought you the story of how two Valve engineers walked away with the company’s augmented reality glasses. At the time, the Half-Life developer and Steam gaming powerhouse was more interested in working on the VR headset that became the HTC Vive, but Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson believed in AR — so much so that they convinced Valve co-founder Gabe Newell to let them take the tech to form their own startup.
And it is indeed an intriguing idea. Where most AR headsets are self-contained, bending light into your eyes with special mirrors, lenses, or waveguides that result in a pretty narrow field of view, Tilt Five’s headsets project their light onto a retroreflective game board that bounces it back at you. They let you play 3D board games, video games, and interactive Dungeons & Dragons campaigns that seem to live inside — or leap up off of — your table, and they even provide different views to different players. I’ve seen the tech in action several times, and it definitely works.
Ellsworth’s original company, CastAR, shut down in 2017, but she brought it back two years later as Tilt Five with the help of a second Kickstarter campaign, and the company’s website suggests it has 21 games so far. The headsets have been shipping to backers for a while now, but it’s otherwise still on preorder.
One of the biggest hurdles for an indie game system like this is generating enough momentum to get off the ground. If you don’t have enough of the right games, it’s hard to sell systems; if you don’t have enough systems sold, it’s hard to attract game developers. And Tilt Five’s gear is not exactly cheap: $359 for one, $659 for two, and $959 for a three-pack of its glasses and wands. It also currently requires a Windows PC to power the game, with Android phone support promised later.
But the idea has come this far, and now it’s slated to have one of the biggest board games coming to its digital board. The company announced a partnership this March with Catan publisher Asmodee that could lead to other popular board games coming to Tilt Five, too; Asmodee also publishes Ticket to Ride, Gloomhaven, Carcassonne, Terraforming Mars, Pandemic, and others. Also, the Embracer Group bought Asmodee this March, which theoretically means there’s a direct link to The Lord of the Rings games should Tilt Five convince the right people that it’s worth the while.
Niantic, makers of Pokémon Go, shut down a rather different take on AR Catan last September.