There’s no app version of Settlers of Catan — the island building board game beloved by geeks worldwide — for Windows Phone, although its iOS and Android versions are excellent. So Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team announced an HTML 5 version that’s truly cross platform — in addition to running on devices with IE, like Windows Phone, it should work in any modern browser that supports HTML5.
Catan Anytime is a multiplayer web app: You’ll need to find at least two friends, because it doesn’t set you up with random online opponents nor furnish AI players yet. Catan Anytime works asynchronously, like Words with Friends. You take a turn then your opponents have a set amount of time to take theirs. Because notifications change from device to device, turn notifications are delivered through email.
There are a few nifty modifications to the mechanics of Catan: Microsoft and Bontom Games built in auto-trade features, so you won’t get queried whether you’ve got any wheat during every single player’s turn. The traditional dice roll mechanism has been simplified, and has been replaced by a sun button. The board full of numbers has been converted into easy-to-understand icons, although Microsoft said it’s adding full official Catan rules — including development cards — in August. In-game chat is furnished by Skype.
The web app is still in a beta preview, and it isn’t working perfectly: I tried it on Chrome on a Mac and Android, in addition to Safari on iOS (touch works great), and there certainly are bugs. Perhaps it runs smoother in Internet Explorer. Don’t click on the “try a turn” button on the front page — it won’t take you anywhere. I found the Catan Anytime tabs significantly slowed down my computer. The experience isn’t polished yet, although it’s hard to tell whether the sluggish performance is because it’s a beta or because it’s not a native app.
But on the bright side, when you’re sending an invite to a friend, either through email or Facebook, you know they’ll be able to play it. That’s the promise of HTML 5 apps, and although the hit to performance is noticeable on Catan Anywhere, it’s outweighed by the fact you can play with your friends no matter what device they’re using, even if it’s an corporate-issued Windows machine limited to Internet Explorer. Plus, regardless of how smoothly the Catan Anytime web app runs, there’s no better way to kill a summer Friday afternoon than enraging your friends because you refuse to trade a few bricks over the internet.