Having seen some different interpretations of the Catan board, using everything from beautiful laser engraved wooden pieces to edible baked sets, my partner and I decided we wanted to have a go at creating our own. It’s still a work in progress, since we have yet to make roads, settlements and cities, but we have made a wide range of hexes, numbers, ports and even a robber, which is enough to play the basic game with up to six players.
It was a big task and we started by researching where to buy plain wooden hexagons, eventually settling on Athenacrafts Ltd's blank hexagon coasters which are sold on eBay. They are laser cut, tessellate perfectly, and have free delivery in the UK.
We then went on a trip to Hobbycraft and a local model railway shop to buy all the other supplies. We painted the hexes with basic acrylic paints (bought for £1.50-£2 a tube) using the cheapest paintbrushes we could find. We knew we wanted something to protect our table surface from the wooden pieces (we considered a felt backing), but needed something that would also serve to stop them slipping or moving during the game. We settled on a non-slip rubber car mat, which I painstakingly cut into hexagons using a card template.
We then thought about how the decoration would work – we knew the numbers and robber would need a flat surface in the centre of each hex, but building up a 3D texture and leaving a hole in the middle would make it hard to get the numbers out without potentially damaging some of the modelling. For this reason, we ordered double the number of one inch wooden discs than hexes (again, eBay was our friend), and glued one disc in the centre of each tile to act as a little platform for the numbers to sit on, which we could then build around.
Then came the fun part. We used two types of model grass from the model railway shop; yellow for fields and green for the pasture hexes. The yellow grass was a little 'dead' looking so we brightened it up by dry-brushing some ochre paint through it. The sheep were a bit tricky to stick down as their feet were so tiny, but we managed, albeit carefully! The forest hexes were made with some foliage texture which was again pretty hard to stick down. We considered making and/or buying actual trees with branches but decided they would be too tall and might obscure the view of the board. The hills and mountain hexes were made using plaster of paris, which we mixed to a thick consistency and dabbed on, poking holes in it to create texture. We bought tiny plaster bricks from eBay to add to the hills, and painted them with lots of shades of red-brown, to improve their texture and add light and shade. The sea hexes were made later, and apart from two tubes of blue paint, we also used a tube of silver, as mixing the two creates a metallic blue which makes the waves of the sea shimmer slightly in the light.
We debated over various options for the numbers; do we go for a rustic look and leave them as bare wood? Or paint them? After a few trial runs we realised that our pen's ink bleeds into the wood, leaving the number fuzzy and unclear. We tried painting the discs white, only to find they looked very stark compared to the natural tones on the board, so eventually we settled on copying the original game with cream number tokens. We used sharpies for the numbers, although writing on paint did ruin the nib of the pen and make it a bit difficult, so if you have the patience and steady hand to paint the numbers with a very tiny brush, you may find they turn out better.
As for the ports, we thought about tiny ships but couldn’t find anything suitable or affordable. In the end, we went for six pairs of anchor shaped earrings costing 99p each, and I detached the pendant from the earring piece using a Stanley knife. We glued the anchors onto each small wooden port, using a token from each hex to denote the type of port. We hand-painted the scrolls for the 3:1 port, outlining them with a sharpie.
Last but not least, the robber! It is very much subject to opinion what the robber should look like in this game, since there is no artwork depicting him or her or any of the game boxes or instruction books. In the end, we found that all the human figures sold in our local model railway store were wearing modern day clothes, and would therefore look out of place in a Catan setting, so we went to Games Workshop and asked if they had any Warhammer figurines that weren’t robots, giants or creatures with wings! We found this guy in the Hobbit section and painted him. It is debatable whether it makes sense for him to be wearing so much armour in a boiling hot desert, but we’re happy with the result! We bought four Gratnells plastic trays with lids to store it all in, but you can buy similar boxes in other shops.
We’re really pleased with how the set turned out and we’ve played on it twice now. All the materials together did come to just over £100 but it gave us weeks of enjoyment as well as something we can be proud of. We hope you like the ideas we came up with and are sure you’ve got more ideas of your own, if so please let us know!
Article by Jenny Lear