Instructables

Custom 3D Settlers of Catan board from scrap plywood

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Settlers of Catan is a family strategy boardgame for 3-4 players. It has a clever modular board that is arranged differently each time you play. Settlers has inspired many different 3D versions; the board represents an island with 6 different terrain types, so it is the perfect game to model, be it out of resin or cupcakes. Searching the wider web will reveal literally dozens of versions, many exquisitely modeled, and even a commercial version which sold for over $300. OK, Settlers is hardly chess, but it's off to a decent start.

The board described here was made from scrap plywood, wood glue, inexpensive acrylic paint and some leftover polyurethane.

 
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Step 1: Why?

The board that comes with the 4th edition of Settlers has hexagons and a border made of light cardboard. A few boisterous kids and a little warping and the game can be pretty frustrating to play. My initial fix was to glue the border down to a large hexagon of plywood (see pictures).
We usually buy a family board game for Christmas, but this year I thought I'd try my hand at making a 3D Settlers set out of materials I had lying around. If you want to make one like it, you'll still need a copy of the game! It's easy to find online or at bookstores.

Step 2: You'll need...

Some 1/4" plywood. I had an offcut that was 8' long and about 1' wide; this was plenty for everything except the base. I had another piece of 3/8" plywood, part of a packing crate, that I used for the base. To cut out the hexagons - at least if you use my method - you'll need a miter saw. To rip the plywood, you'll need a table saw (or bench saw or circular saw with a guide). And to cut out the little pieces of plywood that make the board 3D, I used a scrollsaw. If you could tolerate a little less detail, a jigsaw might do the trick too. I'll suggest some simpler alternatives for each terrain type.
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Ward_Nox1 year ago
this defiantly give me ideas esp cause i found a template for the tiles that is the right scale
G-Squier2 years ago
Let me start off by saying: Great instructable, I loved it!

I used your instructable to make a similar version for people who have access to a laser printer. Feel free to take a look. I mentioned your name in the instructable to give you credit.

Keep on making!
Forgot the link :)
http://www.instructables.com/id/3D-Settlers-of-Catan-Board/
makendo (author)  G-Squier2 years ago
Thanks, and nice work on the board - cutting out the hexagons in particular must be a breeze on the laser cutter, whereas it is a bit of a headache using a saw. I'll be interested to see if you end up painting it, for playability if not for aesthetics!
pieguy7804 years ago
it was the best thing i have seen all day. very creative, how you made the brick so it looked like a heart. Its so cute! lol!
makendo (author)  pieguy7804 years ago
Ugh, yeah. Here's my image comment on that tile... "3 brick tiles. The holes are supposed to evoke a quarry. I'm very annoyed with the random shape I cut out for the central tile, because after it was painted red my daughter told me how much she loved that one because it looked like a heart. Argh!"
Yeah, when I followed along with this Instructable (see my comments above), I chose to deviate from makendo's design there. Not so much about the heart shape, I just thought that I could create a nice "hills" shape with the scroll saw and a couple thicknesses of plywood.

It's the mountains in his design that are killer. Both in that they are awesome and work so well, and in that they take quite a bit of scroll saw work to cut them out.
sbiickert3 years ago
Thanks a million for posting this! I followed along and made my own board. The only real difference with mine is I didn't try for a round board, and I changed up the pasture and hills. Look for the sheep on the pasture!!! :-)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/43721019@N07/5814203702/

Simon
makendo (author)  sbiickert3 years ago
Simon - fantastic, it looks great! You've made my day! :)
I've done some more work, and created the sea hexes, and the other additional hexes for Seafarers of Catan:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/43721019@N07/7571138452/

I didn't create a border this time, since it would be huge... so I needed to make more hexes than the Seafarers game contains to ensure the entire game is surrounded by water. I ended up making the 19 hexes, then another 15 when I realized I overlooked this.

My original board gets lots of play, thanks again for the Instructable!

Simon
makendo (author)  sbiickert2 years ago
Great stuff again, Simon. I've been meaning to build the Seafarers expansion - I own the game, and have planned a big (!) oval board, but haven't got around to it yet. Looking at yours, perhaps the border isn't really necessary... do the hexes stay put OK?
First, I have to say that I have now gone through all of the board layouts for the nine scenarios in Seafarers for both 3 and 4 players and found that I have to make 13 more sea hexes! I seriously overlooked the variety of different ways that the board is put together. Seafarers uses the border pieces from Settlers, and adds more of its own. The Forgotten Tribe scenario is the killer: it needs 47 sea hexes if you don't have a border. It's the painting that takes the time to do it right.

Speaking of which, if you were going to make a big oval board, you would have to come up with a plan to adapt to the different sizes of board that the different scenarios have, for 3 or 4 players. And it would be humungous. Even a 3 player Seafarers board is much bigger than a Settlers game.

As for the pieces moving around, I tried putting down a felt cloth like for building jigsaw puzzles on. Once the hexes were on the mat, they didn't move a hair. I played with my eight-year-old daughter (somewhat more energetic than your average player) without any problems at all. I highly recommend this. A plus is you don't have to store a huge board. All the hexes and the mat can fit in an oversize shoebox.
Feelthbrz2 years ago
I love the simplicity of the abstraction. I think it works really well for a game like settlers. I see a lot of the laser etched boards and find them overly complicated. This is something I would make and play.
makendo (author)  Feelthbrz2 years ago
Thanks; yeah, I'm still really happy with how it turned out. I like the looks of the laser-etched ones, but I'm not so sure they'd be easy to play on.
This is amazing! I'm currently in the process of making my own (though I'm cheating and getting the hexagons cut for me...) I'll upload a picture when I'm done! Thanks for inspiring me!
makendo (author)  Celestianpower2 years ago
Thanks, & good luck with the build. Good idea to get the hexagons cut - they're the trickiest bit to get right, for sure.
Now I need to buy an Indiana Jones Lego piece! "That belongs in a museum!" Ha Ha.
makendo (author)  Spaceman Spiff2 years ago
Yep, he'll save you having to set your death ray blaster to Deep Fat Fry.
Wow, Very inspirational! Thanks for posting.
Eye Poker3 years ago
I'm done with the hexes, terrain and base coat of paint!
makendo (author)  Eye Poker3 years ago
Awesome! I'd love to see it... post a picture if you can.
nolte9194 years ago
Could you make the tiles round?  It would be tons easier and it seems you could put the settlements in the spaces between circles.  I might be missing something, I've never played the game.  Although thanks to this 'ible I ordered one. :-)
makendo (author)  nolte9194 years ago
Absolutely! In fact when I first thought about making this board, I was going to make something that looked like one of those fancy wine racks. However, the reality of making perfectly aligned circular holes in a board, then making circles that fitted them exactly, proved beyond me. A laser would be be ideal, but to do it conventionally would have required me buying a drill press and some hole cutters. If you just close-pack the circles without putting them in holes, I think you'd have issues with the settlements dropping out of sight.
It's a great game, glad to hear you bought a copy. Enjoy!
All you need to do is find a circle the size you want. Use it as a template with a round off bit on your router to make as many circles as you want.
makendo (author)  Eye Poker3 years ago
Agreed, but cutting the circles wasn't the problem I envisaged - it was cutting the holes in the sheet. The problem with just having a bunch of discs pushed together is that putting down the roads/settlements/cities is likely to be problematic.
The rads would balance in between the circles. There would be a small open space between the circle where the cities would go.
I imagine that if you made a large hexagonal base with a lip cut to just the right size the circular tiles would fit in it tight to make the board.
thepelton3 years ago
I made some hexes for a friend using my Epilog laser. I hope this attaches their file to the comment. I have to find out how I can make them without running afoul of a copyright, otherwise, I would make them for anyone.
catan1.jpg
makendo (author)  thepelton3 years ago
Nice interlocking lasercut tiles for Settlers of Catan have recently been posted on Thingiverse, including the cutting file.
thepelton3 years ago
As soon as I leave the library where I am doing these comments on instructables, I plan to go to the local Woodcraft store and get some dyes or paints for those hexes. I will rephotograph them when I am done, and show it off here.
thepelton3 years ago
The waveform pieces are all on the backs of the other pieces, except for the one desert piece.
makendo (author)  thepelton3 years ago
Good way to cut perfect hexagons. I don't think you need to be concerned about copyright; you'll still need a copy of the game to play on your new board.
Have you thought about making a silicon mold of the pieces just for the heck of it?
 
makendo (author)  AngryRedhead4 years ago
 No; I carefully read homechicken's account of his construction of a 3D set, and decided it was way beyond my modeling and painting skills. It never occurred to me to use the plywood pieces as the pattern, but you certainly could and it would necessitate much less cutting of small plywood bits.
I have, however, thought about getting the parts laser-cut from acrylic in different colours; I think it could look awesome, especially set up with digital dice and LEDs that lit up the correct tiles from underneath :)
Man, now I want to make a sweet version of this with some clever microcontrollering...I'd have to be cautious of making it to electronic-y, Settlers is a very earthy, hands-on game.  But a microcontroller would be sweet just to randomize the board - put some LEDs under each position, that would be color-coded for each type, hit a button, and it gives you a random board.  
And I like the wooden pieces a lot - you could keep the wooden pieces, but somehow have a very thin layer of wood under the number chit, and light them up when they're rolled (if you do digital dice), which would be easy to do if you do the setup thing.  Or maybe light up the edges, shine through the gaps between the pieces (which would be harder to do).

Heck, you could make a fancy set of dice that you actually roll, but are detectable as to which side they land on, and have that light them up!  First I'd have to figure out how to do that though :P
There is an electronic set of dice that light up twelve LEDS in two groups. The circuit is available at radio shack and probably some dice sales websites.
Really?  I don't think it would be so bad with yours considering how minimalist it is and how you already have the pieces constructed, and you could dye the resin/epoxy to avoid painting it.  Tetranitrate used wood for making his tetris ice cubes, and you could totally make the molds, use clear epoxy, and rig up some LEDs for a very crazy effect.  Of course, that's extra work when you already have a set.  However, I bet you could make the molds and sell the boards on Etsy or eBay or somewhere.  From the links you posted, there seems to be a market for these - I've actually never heard of the game before, but meh, I'm not a good sample.  Actually I'm a really bad sample.  :-P
 
makendo (author)  AngryRedhead4 years ago
I like the idea of the dyed resin. Interesting; I'll look into it. No cutting AND no painting... the perfect project for me!
Settlers has sold 15 million copies, at least according to the Wikipedia - it's a decent game :)
Phew!  That's a lot of copies!
 
If done on an Epilog laser, you don't have to make them one at a time. It is run by a computer graphics program in which you can duplicate something many times over by clicking and dragging. I wanted a lot of copies of some small one inch squares for a game. I made over a hundred square in pieces from 3mm plywood out of a chunk of the stuff about the size of a piece of typing paper (8.5x11 inch.) Right now, I'm waiting for a mailing of a few "catan" pieces so I can get a good idea of their size, and make a bunch of 3mm thick plywood hexes to expand a catan game, possibly to eleven hexes across at the widest. Of course, if someone gave me the dimensions of a catan hex, I could get going on that even faster. (Hint, Hint) I plan to make a photo of the pieces when I finish them, so I can show them here. 8>)
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