A Travel Edition's Long Road to Publication
2011 was my first year as a Catan GmbH staff member. In the same year, our Japanese licensee launched a rectangular Catan carrying case. I immediately fell in love with the idea of a carrying case. Hence, the carrying case became my first big project, and I eagerly started working.
Kosmos still had several (thousand) sets of game pieces from the old travel edition in stock, so it seemed reasonable to use these pieces for the Japanese carrying case. However, regardless of how hard I tried to accommodate everything, the game pieces and the other game components just wouldn't fit into the Japanese carrying case.
Finally, my father laconically said, "I think it's no use trying to squeeze the components and pieces into a carrying case that is too small. We'll probably have to build a carrying case around the game components."
Although he had a point, it also meant that the idea of having a cost-efficient carrying case was basically shelved, because developing something from scratch is considerably more expensive than relying on material that is already available.
First I thought about the minimum size the game board and the game pieces should have in order to allow even big-fingered players sufficient freedom of movement.
Also, unlike in the old travel edition, one should be able to assemble the game board more easily, and the hex distribution as well as the distribution of the numbers on the hexes should be variable to a certain degree.
Then I remembered the six-piece game board setup devised by my father, first used in the beginner-friendly "Family Edition" published in 2012 in the USA.
The illustration on the right shows the first draft. The game board is assembled from 6 pieces.
And that's supposed to be variable?
It is, because each piece is printed on both sides. For example, if on one side of a piece a hills hex is blessed with a "6," on its other side the hills hex is cursed with a measly "2."
Prior to each game, the game board is assembled by joining the pieces with any of their two sides face up and in any position relative to each other. That way, the probability of producing resources varies for the different hex types; like in the original game, it may happen, for example, that ore or brick is scarce or wool is abundant.
By the way, even though as a student I had to struggle through 3 statistics courses - or maybe because of that - I haven't been able to bring myself to calculate the number of different possibilities to assemble the board that are allowed by this system. However, a statistician friend of mine told me to feel free to quote her: "Hundreds, Benny, if not thousands!" I suppose she hadn't calculated the number either … But even if the number of possibilities were a little lower, you'd still encounter a new setup each game. A lack of brick or ore? It's all doable!
Now that I had determined the game board's type and size, it was time to consult with a designer and commission a prototype.
So I got together with industrial designer Andreas Klober, whom my father once had trained as a dental technician and who, after graduation in industrial design, already had done a good job not only for us but also for Kosmos and other board game publishers. During our meetings it soon became clear that - unfortunately - we couldn't use the remaining game pieces from the old travel edition.
Andreas suggested the hexagonal shape for the carrying case, since it looked more "Catanian." "I could have figured that out myself," I thought. I was absolutely in favor of it. Andreas also developed very good concepts regarding the insertion of the game pieces and their design.
The prototype by Andreas Klober is shown on the right side. It had removable compartments for the game pieces, cards, and the 6 game board pieces.
All of us at Catan GmbH were satisfied with our development, which is why, at the beginning of 2013, we offered Kosmos our prototype for licensing.
We had expected cheering, but unfortunately there was none. Though our efforts were acknowledged, people at Kosmos weren't completely satisfied with the result. In case a car or train made an emergency stop (okay, fortunately trains don't do this very often), our version wouldn't be totally adequate. The removable compartments and their content would definitely not remain where they belonged and might create quite a chaos.
Hence it took another year, during which Kosmos's development department, with the aid of the future producer of "Catan – Traveler," looked for ways to keep all components inside the carrying case during play. The solution: four pull-out drawers the players could individually store their game pieces in. The first prototype sent to us is shown on the right. We were very pleased with the way our own prototype had been developed further. Now our Catan carrying case would even resist emergency stops made by German Railways trains.
Now only a few details had to be added. A handle was needed - after all, what's a carrying case without a handle?
However, attaching the handle directly to the carrying case wasn't advisable because it could break off,
which is why it was fixed to the game's outer packaging.
Kosmos's replacement parts department gently inquired whether something could be done to reduce the many complaints about lost dice.
People apparently roll the dice so energetically ("No '7,' please!!") that the loss of dice is a real problem. This is how the developers got the idea of including a dice shaker with transparent cover. Unfortunately, this kind of add-on isn't cheap to produce; however, now people can only lose the dice if rolling a "7" frustrates them so much that they throw the entire game out of the window of the car or train.
Eventually, almost 4 years had passed until obtaining - through the cooperation of many creative people - a Catan carrying case we all were happy with.
After my first project had been completed successfully, we asked ourselves whether the final version of the Catan carrying case should "only" be categorized as a travel edition.
We used very sophisticated tools to create a carrying case containing a sturdy game board, we have card holders and high-quality cards, a special dice shaker, an outer packaging with handle, hexes printed on both sides, etc. In the end, the product cost calculation demanded a sales price close to the base game's retail price. Can a travel edition have a price similar to that of the "original" game? A difficult question. In this case, however, we think that it can have a similar price because it is more than "just" a travel edition. It takes up less space, is very sturdy, can be set up quickly, is still highly variable, includes all rules of the base game and also a 2-player variant, and can be disassembled quickly after the game is over. It's a compact base game ideal for travel. This is why we finally called it "Catan Compact Edition – Traveler."