Many of our friends play Settlers of Catan, a combination board/card game. We like the game, but hate having to play it inside on nice summer nights for fear its cardstock board and pieces might blow away in a light breeze. Luckily, a coworker mentioned that someone built their own large game board for a game convention. "Wow, if someone could do that, how about about a version of Catan large enough for the garden?"

Building the game board

Painting the pieces

One circular saw blade and a couple sheets of melamine later, we had a rough board. Hexes in this game are 3/4" melamine-covered particle board, 12 inches across the flat faces. Each was spraypainted an appropriate color; because we were short on time and talent, we used large icons to represent what kind of land the hex represented. Cities, settlements, and roads are represented with masonite strips; harbors and markers indicating the die roll needed for a hex to produce were made from the triangular scraps from our hex-making. The "robber" is a piece of metal pipe stolen at the last minute from a garden light.

Helpful hint if you want to do this yourself: The worst part of building a game board like this (apart from lugging all the material around) is cutting the hexes. We cut the melamine sheet into 12 inch wide strips first, then cut the hexes from that strip. We cut the hexes with three cuts: one (halfway across the sheet) to cut one edge of the last hex, a second cut to cause the last hex to drop, and a third cut to cut a second side off the next hex. In this way, we handled the pieces only once.

Simple way to cut the hexes if all you have his a circular saw.

You'll also need to remember some trigonometry (or at least the 1-2-square-root-of-three ratios of the size of a 30 degree triangle) to get perfect hexagons. In our case, the distance between flat sides is 12 inches, distance between opposite corners is 13.84 inches, and length of each size is 6.92 inches.

Playing Catan on a board the size of a wading pool

We brought the game over to our friend Patti's house for her 40th birthday party, and set it up by the pool. We actually were able to play half a game with the set before darkness forced us inside.

Larry thinks about his next move; Christine and Brenda consider the cards they've been dealt.

Final position of the game board before we moved inside.

Was it a good idea? Did it work? We'll give it a qualified "yes" for now. We were able to play a game on our new game board, and none of the pieces accidentally got blown into the swimming pool. One player commented that she found it easier to think about her moves when she could walk around the board and see it from other perspectives. The melamine also resisted beer spills much better than the usual cardboard pieces! The game board wasn't unmanageably large in play. It's only about 6 feet across; all of us could manage the 3 foot reach to the middle of the game board to place pieces.

On the negative side, the 19 hexes (for the 4 player game), harbors, and assorted pieces are heavy and take lots of space. We won't be carrying it in the trunk just in case we want to play a game. The pieces were also an attractive toy for the under-5 crowd.

Adlai finds that harbors make nice toys; detail of board.

We're planning to improve things for our next game. We need to cut enough tiles for the 6 player game. (I'm not looking forward to cutting more tiles.) We also need to redo the cities and settlements to make them look more like the game. The road segments are a good example; the 2" wide strips of masonite don't really resemble the little wooden pieces used in the actual board. We should instead use 1x1" pine stock. We also need to choose better colors for each player so they don't match colors used in the game board.

Of course, we've still got two sheets of almond-colored melamine to get rid of. I sure hope Christine doesn't offer that we'll bring a garden-sized version of Carcassonne to Larry's birthday party!

Game 2, October 2005. Chris helps move the board closer to the food; Eric considers his move; Christine ponders the board;