Introduction: Globefarers of Catan

About: Artist in Residence at Pier 9, currently exploring a vast array of new tools with which to injure myself.
Welcome to the Catanosphere!  

Do you want to make a great centerpiece for your board game sessions? Do you ever look at the surface of your game table and think it's a little plane? Do you love Settlers of Catan, but sometimes wish it could be a bit less Euclidean? Then wrap your head around this...

This Instructable will show you how to make your very own Catanosphere, so you can have mind-bending battles of territorial expansion over a whole new environment. It's designed to work with a standard Settlers of Catan game set, and you won't have to sacrifice any of your pieces to make it. You will, however, need to attach a few magnets to the pieces. OK, actually a few hundred magnets, but I think it's worth it.

I'll provide plans for how to cut out and assemble all the cardboard globe pieces you'll need, as well as software that will let you customize the specific dimensions (e.g. road width, tile size, hole depth, material thickness) of your Catanosphere, then output it as a printable or laser-cuttable file. Want to make your own yurt-sized version out of wood? No problem!

Once I've talked you through how to build your Catanosphere, I'll briefly discuss some suggestions for gameplay and then narrowly avoid going off on a tangent about surface geometry (see what I did there?).

I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to seeing all your Catanospheres soon!

Features of Globefarers of Catan (a.k.a. Settlers of Riemann)
  • 31 playable tiles!
  • No edges of the map!
  • Befuddling upside-down gameplay!
  • Convenient magnetic storage of all your game pieces!
  • Looks like something people would play in a '90s sci-fi TV series!
Disclaimer: This is in no way intended as a replacement for or an official expansion of Settlers of Catan. It was made for fun rather than for profit and is meant only as a fond tribute to the amazing games of Klaus Teuber. If Hr Teuber does see this project, I sincerely hope that he views it only as a new surface on which to play his games rather than an attempt to infringe on his intellectual property.

Step 1: Getting Started

The Catanosphere is a modified truncated icosahedron, much like a soccer ball. It has 32 panels (12 pentagons and 20 hexagons), 60 vertices and 90 edges. Each of these requires its own magnet.

Each edge and vertex of the Catanosphere is also flattened so that roads, ships, settlements and cities can be attached without leaning at ugly angles. Also, the faces have recessed areas for inserting Catan tiles. All in all, this makes for some quite fiddly geometry. Don't worry, I'll go through it all slowly...

To make a Catanosphere you will need:
  • Settlers and/or Seafarers of Catan
  • Thick card (I used three A1 sheets).
  • About 400 small magnets (at least 380, but I used closer to 500).
  • Two A4 adhesive magnetic sheets.
  • Plastic tubing or dowel for the axle.
  • Hot glue and a glue gun.
  • Super glue.
  • Non-metallic tools, such as chopsticks, for moving magnets around.
  • A laser cutter and/or craft knife.
  • A sheepload of patience.
If you want to use the same design I used, carry on to Step 2.

If you'd rather play around with designing your own Catanosphere, skip ahead to Step 3.

Step 2: The Best Laid Plans

If you want your Catanosphere to look exactly like the one in all the pictures, then here are the plans to use. The schematic here shows how many of which piece to cut. Red lines are for cutting; blue lines are for scoring to create folds.

I used the file "Globefarers Card Layout.eps" to laser-cut a Catanosphere out of three A1 sheets of 1.4 mm mountboard. I chose Daley Rowner Studland double-sided black mountboard with a black core, so that the cut edges would match the flat surfaces. The blackness also concealed any laser scorch marks.

The pattern was cut at the Little Big Laser Cutting Studio in London, which is run by an extremely helpful man by the name of Chris. I highly recommend his service.

If you're masochistic enough to cut this design out by hand, you can also use these JPG or SVG files. I've included simplified versions, which will make an identical Catanosphere, but without any recesses to hold the tiles. You'll find them easier to cut and assemble, but you'll need to hold all the game tiles in place with magnets.

Step 3: Customizing Your Catanosphere

If you're the kind of person who likes to tinker with all of the parameters of something before they press "print", you've come to the right place.

Here is a .zip file containing the software I wrote to design my Catanosphere. To run it, you'll need to install Processing on your computer, which is a fairly painless process. Unzip the file into a folder called BuckyBallShaver, then open the file BuckyBallShaver.pde in Processing. Stop snickering; I called it that because it shaves the edges off bucky-balls. It sounded a lot less dirty in my head.

Within the setup method, set the parameters you want for your final globe (I've included comments explaining what each one does). Please don't judge me on the basis of the abominable code in the "Doohickeys" and "Gubbins" sections. It's ugly as sin, but it gets the job done.

When you press the play button, you should see a preview of all your Catanosphere pieces, and a new SVG file will appear in the BuckyBallShaver folder. To cut it out, scale it up to the size marked in the lower right corner, then cut all the red lines and partially cut all the blue lines. You'll need to cut multiples of some of the pieces, as shown in the schematic.

Warning: This is not thoroughly tested software. That doesn't mean that it's dangerous in any way; it just means that there's a chance I made a silly mistake somewhere that could lead to inaccuracies in the output. I'm deeply sorry if you have any problems with it. So far it has worked absolutely fine for me, but I can't promise that will always be the case. Please don't let that discourage you from using it! Just double check that everything looks like it will fit together before you start cutting. If you find any major problems, please let me know.

Step 4: Make the First Incision

It's time to get cutting! Whether you're using a laser or a craft knife, cut and score all the pieces you'll need for the rest of the project.

Step 5: Start Assembling the Panels

Wow, just look at all that stark black angular geometry. It feels like we're building a stealth fighter. I bet Batman would play board games on a set like this, if he had time for board games. Or friends*.

Carefully rummage through your pile of delicately sliced pieces and pick out the fragile webs of connected pentagons and hexagons. Did I mention that they break easily? These webs will form all of the roads that interconnect the tiles on your Catanosphere, as well as the triangular vertices for cities and settlements to sit on.

You'll also want to find and fold all the individual pentagons and hexagons with rectangular flaps on their sides. These will form the recesses on the faces of your Catanosphere, where your tiles will sit.

Get your glue gun ready.

*If anyone out there wants to make a really litigation-worthy Instructable, I dare you to make "Settlers of DC Comics". The five resources would be NikeFuel, iPads, ewoks, thetans and Metallica mp3s. I will send the first person to make this a cake with a file baked into it.

Step 6: Attach the Recessed Panels

Glue the tabs of the pentagons and hexagons onto the tabs of the thin web. Try to keep the glue away from the faces that will be on the outside of the finished Catanosphere. The idea from here on in is to make as much mess as you want on the inside of the structure, but keep the outside pristine.

You should end up with a series of neat panels, each capable of holding a game tile (at least some of which you will have to make yourself). If you accidentally cut where you were supposed to score, don't worry. Glue will fix everything.

One pentagonal web section should be missing its flaps. Don't glue a panel to this, as you'll be attaching a bearing here later.

Step 7: Glue on Magnets and Fold Together

Attach a magnet to the underside of each possible road section. You'll need 90 magnets for the roads. I used 5 x 10 mm rectangular adhesive neodymium magnets. Just in case the adhesive failed, I added a big dollop of hot glue to the top of each magnet. As I said before, the inside is allowed to be messy.

Now attach a magnet to each triangular panel intersection, where the settlements and cities will sit. You'll need 60 of these. I used 5 x 5 mm circular neodymium magnets, but I ended up adding another 5 x 10 mm rectangular magnet to each one, just to increase the pull.

IMPORTANT: Check the polarity of your magnets. Make sure that all of your magnets pull the same way, or you'll make something repulsive. This is much easier with adhesive magnets, as long as they all have their glue on the same pole. I recommend attaching a magnet to the underside of a playing piece (I used the Settlers robber), then using this to guide the magnets into place from the other side of the card. This way, they'll all be be aligned.

Next, fold the panels together and glue their inside edges with a lot of hot glue. Repeat this for all of your webbed sections. You'll probably want to queue up a few good podcasts first, as this will take a while.

Step 8: Make the Base Panels

Much as you did for the hexagonal and pentagonal panels, now glue the recesses onto the six large trapezoidal base panels. Don't worry about the extra flaps at the edge of each panel yet.

Step 9: Assemble the Base

Glued each of the six base sections? Splendid. Now glue the flaps at the edge of each panel onto the edge of another one, until they're all assembled in a ring. Glue one of the holey hexagons into the center to keep them all together. This is where your axle will sit.

Step 10: Make the Pentagonal Axle Holders

You're now going to make the two bearings that will attach to the inside of your Catanosphere and keep it upright. Fold and glue the star-shaped piece to make a box with an axle-sized hole running through it. Push this box into the one pentagonal hole left in your web, then glue it in place. You've just made your South Pole!

Assemble the other bearing in the same way, and glue it to the inside of the pentagonal panel that will be at your North Pole. Check that your axle fits through both bearings before you go any further.

Note: the bearings should have flat ends, unlike the ones shown here. Cap them off with the bearing covers (see earlier schematic) to hold them together.

Step 11: Keep on Gluin'

If you haven't already, finish assembling all of the paneled sections, making sure that all of the magnets are in place.

Step 12: Attractors, Assemble!

Before you seal up your Catanosphere entirely, glue a magnet to the center of each tile, as shown. These will hold your number markers and ports in place, as well as any loose tiles that aren't a tight fit. Glue all of your panel sections together until you almost have a ball.

Now, imagining you're placing Darth Vader's mask over his face, fit the last section into position. Unless you are small enough to climb through the axle hole, you're going to have difficulty hot gluing this panel from the inside. Instead, use super glue, a thin nozzle and a steady hand to glue it edge-to-edge with the surrounding pieces.

You're not quite finished yet, but take a few minutes to play with your lovely truncated icosahedron.

Step 13: Magnetize the Base

Cut out trapezoidal sections of magnet adhesive sheet and glue them into each of the recesses in the base. Now you have a place to store all of your playing pieces.

Step 14: Complete the Base

Find the large (i.e. base-sized) hexagon. Assemble a single hexagonal bearing and glue it into the center of the large hexagon. This will provide support for the axle.

Glue the rest of the base on top, then insert the axle. I used a length of 25 mm plastic tubing. How long you want the axle to be will depend on the height of your table and how much you like banging your head against the table while you try to peer at the South Pole mid-game.

Step 15: Other Bits and Pieces

Attach magnets to all of your number discs, settlements, cities, roads, ships and port tiles. As before, make sure they have the correct polarity for each magnet. You don't need to attach magnets to the resources tiles, but it might come in handy if they keep falling out of their slots later. I found that they could be held in place by the number discs or ports, so didn't need their own magnets.

If you find your ports keep spinning away from where you want them to point, put a couple of drops of hot glue on their corners for a little extra friction.

You may have noticed that you have eleven slots for pentagonal tiles (the South Pole is automatically a desert). You may also have noticed that regular Catan tiles are hexagonal. You'll need to make some substitute tiles. I'll leave it up to you to find a way to do this. Hint: a scanner/digital camera, some adhesive printer paper and a lot of card could be handy.

Step 16: Play!

Congratulations! You've completed your Catanosphere and you're ready to play Globefarers of Catan!

Get a gang of friends, a few drinks and a whole load of snacks, then spend an evening exploring the globe. In terms of rules, it's exactly the same as Seafarers or, if you don't use any sea tiles, Settlers of Catan. I'll leave it up to you to decide what ratio of land to sea you want. We found having a single irregular landmass was a lot of fun, as it meant people could expand their colonies by road or take shortcuts across water to get to the same destination. Experiment and give me feedback!


  • You still can't build closer than 2 roads/ships apart from another settlement, so pentagons fill up fast!
  • From any one point on the globe to its opposite point, there is no one shortest route. Instead there are six different shortest routes. Plan well ahead!
  • Don't put any 6 or 8 tiles next to each other.
  • Resist the urge to add dozens of sea tiles. You will probably want fewer than twelve.
  • Increase the winning number of victory points to at least twelve.
  • For a bit of adventure, leave half of the Catanosphere untiled, then add tiles as you explore.
  • Add a 2-point bonus if anyone manages to create a great circle. This should be a loop that goes all the way around the globe, touching 6 pentagons and using at least 18 roads or ships.
  • If any of the tiles get stuck, use the edge of a craft knife to ease them out of their slots.
  • For what it's worth: This looks like a 3D game, but this is not a 3D game. This game is still entirely two-dimensional. Globefarers works exactly the same way as regular Settlers of Catan, it's just played in a world with spherical rather than Euclidean geometry. Make of that what you will.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions, or if you find any setups that are particularly successful or disastrous, so I can make a list of recommended rules and game maps.

Safety warning: At some point during a game of Globefarers, one of your players will get elbowed in the eye while trying to peer around the Catanosphere. This is regrettable, but ultimately unavoidable. Sorry.