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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Art Director Diary: CATAN: Dawn of Humankind

by Morgan Dontanville

The art direction for CATAN: Dawn of Humankind came as a reaction to the original game, The Settlers of the Stone Age from 2002. That older game was a daring project of its own era packed with art and history that perfectly captured the techniques of its time.

When we revamped the game design, we knew we needed to make it equally contemporary in artistic direction. We wanted to showcase the unspoiled beauty of the world with vivid flora and striking fauna before humans had left their indelible mark.

A notable feature of the art on this game is that the cover and different parts of the interior art were done by several artists. Generally, CATAN games are illustrated by one artist and a graphic designer. This game broke that mold and still managed to have a fully cohesive feeling, for which we credit our amazing artists.

Cover Art: Across the Bering Strait

We reached out to a number of different artists to see their visions for the cover art. While we adored all the different takes, we agreed that Quentin Regnes‘ work on the cover art was outstanding.

CATAN: Dawn of Humankind tells a story of the expansion of humans from Africa through Asia, Europe, and out to Australia and the Americas. With that history in mind, we chose to have the cover feature the First Peoples coming to North America near the Bering Strait to show that the Ice Age is still very much relevant to our game.

Looking back at the sketch process, different figures in the foreground and middle ground were moved around slightly from iteration to iteration, but one thing always stayed the same, which was this gorgeous sweeping view of the mountain valley and the intrepid humans forging a path while the Smilodons lurk ominously behind.

The Game Board

We wanted the board to feel organic and reflective of the local fauna from each region of the world. We reached out to Andrew Bosley (Everdell) who creates amazing animals and understands how to frame your playspace in incredible flora. He delivered a fresh and exciting take on a classic CATAN style layout. It feels alive and exciting.

Below you can see the evolution from color palette to evolving iterations of the landscapes and animals on them, and finally the whole board. Someone with a sharp eye will notice that we did some tweaking of the terrain arrangements on the board from the first sketch to the final product…


We reached out to Naomi Robinson to create all the artifacts, food, icons, and megafauna. Her firm grasp of realistic representation allowed for us to have clean graphics that feel like you are really handling these things. We wanted someone that would immerse you in the time and place of these things, and she knocked it out of the park.

An example is the Glyptodon that is featured in the South America portion of the board. We did research into the appearance and size of this interesting animal before Naomi sketched and finished it. The end result is a strange creature that looks cute and cuddly, but if you met it in real life, it would have been a shocking experience.


Finally, our work with Niklas Norman on sculpts was a fun journey. We did a lot of research together on the form and structure of the camps, what people carry, and what Smilodons looked like. He really gives a sense of interactivity with his delightful pieces.

In the first image, you can see that the Smilodon looks a little more like a modern lion with its big mane. In the second, the mane has been tamed, but the tail is still a bit too long. Finally, in the third, we have the final Smilodon figure, but it is standing on this plain circular base, so we worked to add the textured base to make it appear to be standing on an outcropping of rock. The final result is a properly threatening prehistoric cat whose job is to rob your resources and block your production.

Morgan Dontanville


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