Settlers of Catan is a famously good game. In some ways it is the perfectly-balanced game: easy enough to learn but not too easy to be worth playing. Strategic enough to reward those who play a lot by teaching them new strategies, yet tactical enough that a bright newcomer has a real chance even versus a savvy veteran.
The game is so well-balanced, so well-put-together, and so intuitive that it is commonly used as a gateway game: gamers like us teach it to outsiders as an introduction to the board game hobby. Hey, look! Board games don’t have to be like Monopoly! They can be like this!
But it does have a drawback. The game board itself is built up from large, pressed paperboard hexes. This makes for interesting variety, the board changes from game to game. But it can also make for a fidgety mess as the paperboard hexes warp and fail to line up perfectly and remain flat.
The fact that game pieces are played along the edges of the hexes rather than inside them exacerbates the issue. An uneven board will have pieces that do not want to stay where they are played; bumping the table can have catastrophic consequences.
For years, we’ve wondered why there isn’t a wooden Catan board, and thought about ways to make our own. My Gamer Girl and I have come up with a couple of different schemes for Catan board improvement, only to have them fall apart when components turn out to be unavailable. Or, to be honest, when our attention wanders because we are just like that. Yet still, wishes persist even when the hard work needed to fulfill them seems too hard to undertake.
Wish no longer.
A company called Custom Wood Game Boards has come up with a way to cut Catan boards out of thin wooden sheets with lasers. The result is lovely, and also, fidget-proof. Interlocking wooden pieces allow the board to be randomized like always but in a sturdy, table-bump-proof manner that has to be seen to be believed.
I immediately bought a set for my Gamer Girl. And the expansions. And the frames. All of it. In the lighter wood version because I wanted her to be able to see wood grain.
The board is ready to play as soon as it arrives. Lovely, really, the light-colored wood shows the grain beautifully. My Gamer Girl is appreciative but not sated; her mental image of the perfect Catan board has always been color-coded to match the original game board.
- Dark Green (like a pine forest) = Wood
- Grey (like a rocky mountaintop) = Ore
- Yellow (like a wavy field of grain) = Wheat
- Light Green (like a grassy pasture) = Wool
- Red/Brown (like a brick) = Clay
And so off we go to the local D.I.Y. super-mega-bigbox-store to find the exactly correct wood stains and oils. It takes more than one super-mega-bigbox-store to contain everything we think we need, we are being finicky; we are only going to do this once and we want it to last. Finickiness is appropriate.
But at last everything is acquired and staining begins. But a nightmare – NIGHTMARE! – as we realize that our cat has made away with one of the wooden number pieces. Or we never got it as part of our order, no way to tell, but probably the cat. He is like that.
A quick email to Chris at Custom Wood Game Boards and we are all fixed up. It takes him a couple of weeks to locate and ship a replacement number piece, this is not his day job (or at least so I am deducing) and he doesn’t keep quantities on-hand except during the holiday gift-giving season. But he is as relentless as he is nice and helpful, and eventually successful! And now our game board is complete again.
And stained. And Teak Oiled. And beautiful.
We’re skipping the real GenCon this year and are instead taking several smaller trips. First up, a three-day weekend at Carolina Beach, complete with a selection of board games (our own private little mini-beach-GenCon) and starring the new Catan board.
I can’t wait!
🙂 😀 🙂