My Hexels for Settlers of Catan Finally Arrived!

Well, it took almost a year, but I finally received my hexels in the mail last week!

What are hexels, you ask? Do you play Settlers of Catan? If so, you know that the hexagonal-shaped board pieces don’t really stay together that well. The game comes with a cardboard frame, which kind of keeps the pieces together, but my frame has warped over time.

I like my tabletop play sessions neat and orderly: cards stacked, my little pieces arranged in rows, all the number tokens oriented in the same direction. No matter how much I fuss about keeping the hexagons fit together perfectly, inevitably fissures appear in the island.

Somebody rolls the dice across the board.

Somebody bumps the table.

Somebody slams a new settlement down too hard.

Somebody drops their beer bottle on the board (empty, fortunately!).

Hexels solve that problem!

Hexels for CatanHexels are black plastic frames with magnets in the sides. The board pieces fit inside perfectly, and the hexels attach themselves via the magnets. The seal is not strong, but strong enough to keep the board together. If your table is smooth, you can even slide the “board” around if needed!

Hexels for Catan

The board pieces sit casually inside. You don’t have to force them in, and they pop right out.

Hexels started as a Kickstarter project in early 2013. I was one of the backers, and for $50 I received 30 hexels: enough for the 5-6 player extension of the original Catan.

The project ran into a lot of problems on the manufacturing end. They were manufactured in China, and it took the organizers a long time to find the right kind of plastic. Late 2013, the pieces finally shipped to America. The creator, Tim Walsh, had to forgo assembly costs to keep the project on budget. That meant that backers had to insert the magnets and glue the covers in place themselves. It wasn’t too much of a bother, though: after about an hour and a half of work, my pieces were ready to go.

Hexel backs

The back of a hexel. A little magnet sits in each of those six wells. The magnet is about the size of those little ball sprinkles you put on ice cream. The covers are held in place with super glue.

How well do they work?

Nearly perfect, I’d say. The game pieces sit on top: no need to have the game pieces touching the board pieces anymore!

Hexels for Catan

An assembled 6 player Catan board using hexels.

Hexels for Catan

Any flaws with the hexels?

Only a few. First, the project didn’t raise enough money to create hexels for the harbor pieces. Thankfully your Catan game comes with harbor pieces separate from the main board frame, so these can be set every few spaces around the board. It doesn’t look as nice; maybe someday he’ll create frames for the harbor pieces.

Harbors next to HexelsSecond, the magnets hold the pieces together very well. But sometimes, the pieces get just slightly off. If you fuss with it, you can get the sides to match together perfectly. But even if you are off slightly, the board will still hold together properly.

Hexels for Catan

Notice how these edges don’t line up perfectly.

Do the hexels fit in the box?

Yes! Even with the 5-6 player extension (11 extra hexels) everything fits in my original Catan box. I had to remove the black plastic tray that comes with the box, but a minor inconvenience. The original board pieces fit in with the hexels, should I ever want to use those again. I even have extra room!

Hexels in Catan boxNow, if you are OCD about keeping things organized, I must mention that it can be difficult to get the hexels to stack perfectly on each other. This is based on the magnets wanting to attach to the hexels nearest them. You can get the stacks completely straight, but even if they are off slightly, they’ll still fit in the box (and once you transport the game, the stacks will probably get a little disordered anyway).

Hexel stacks

A full set for the 5-6 player extension contains 30 hexels. Three stacks of 10 will just fit in the box.

Okay, where do I get these?

Good question. The official website doesn’t have a lot of information, and no detail about ordering more. This is an officially licensed product of Catan and Mayfair Games, so I’m guessing they will be available commercially in the next few months once Tim fulfills all of the Kickstarter rewards.

If you want a different solution for your Catan game, there are Catan boards available from a different company (also officially licensed). You can buy plastic boards for $30 and bamboo boards for $120 (the wooden ones do look nice). These boards offer a similar solution to keeping your pieces together. They aren’t as portable as the hexels. Plus, the wooden boards are quite pricey: the board for 5-6 players is $180!

Settle on,
~Dennis

Need Supplies for Your Custom Tabletop Game? Check Out Superior POD

I’ve played Dungeons and Dragons on and off over the years, but one thing that’s always bothered me is the painfully slow combat system. Too many dice rolls, calculating modifications for environmental conditions, armor, surprise, etc., and too much paging through books to remember what your spells and attacks are. A relatively simple 3 vs. 3 battle can often take over an hour to complete!

So I set about creating my own tabletop RPG battle system. My first idea to make the battles move quicker was to eliminate the need for any rule book. Spells, items, and armor, then, would be presented as cards. Spells and items would be drawn at the beginning of battle, and once they are used, they are discarded. Simple, quick, efficient.

The game that has resulted from all this planning is a card game that’s played on a grid. To increase the immersion, I wanted to create actual playing cards for the various spells and items. Luckily I found Superior POD (POD = Print on Demand), a website that prints professional quality playing cards, plus a lot more.

Superior POD

Custom playing cards

Superior POD’s website looks a little dated, so I was hesitant at first to us it. It’s a small, family-owned print shop, and they print all manner of things: books, posters, business cards, standard stuff. But they also print a surprising number of gaming products.

I experimented with their Poker Size Custom Card Decks. The cards measure 3.5″ by 2.5″. The website features Photoshop templates for the cards (unfortunately you do need to know a bit about Photoshop to design your cards). The templates are divided into 18 cards. You can insert text, photos, really anything you want. You design both the front and the back of the card, upload the sheets to the website, and away you go! They charge $1.54 for each 18 card sheet, which I thought was pretty reasonable.

Superior POD unboxing

Unboxing my first four decks! My game is based on Final Fantasy (though only for personal use, Square Enix! No commercial interests here!). The game features white, black, and green magic, hence the different color of the decks.

I made a mistake, though, when I ordered my first batch of cards. I designed the fronts and backs of the cards, just like instructed. What I forgot to consider is that the sheet for the backs of the cards is reversed compared to the front of the sheet. The sheets were divided into 3 columns of 6 cards each; what that means is that if the cards in the leftmost column are supposed to have a unique backing, then the design needs to go on the rightmost column. Anyway, look below to see what happened with my first purchase:

Stack of wrong cards

Stack of incorrect cards. Look at the bottom: that green card (which explains the abilities of green mages) is supposed to have a picture of a green mage on the other side. Instead, it has a picture of the white mage. Oops!

The mistake was totally my fault. Fortunately, it only affected a quarter of the cards from my first order. $5 down the drain, not a huge loss. I put in a second order, fixing my mistakes, and the cards arrived in perfect condition: glossy, smooth, unbent, and ready for playing! I now have the 189 cards needed for my play testing to begin!

Shipping concerns

Even though I’m extremely happy with the quality of Superior POD’s products, one thing deserves mentioning: they are really slow in fulfilling orders. My first order took a month to fulfill. The printing itself is supposed to take around 10 business days, not counting the standard shipping after that (about a week). Because they are a small, family-owned business, a little warning came up when I checked out that orders do take a while to process.

For my second order, I waited a month without hearing anything back. I contacted the company directly, explaining that I was hoping to play test the game over Christmas and needed the cards soon. The president of the company emailed me back right away, apologizing for the delay, saying there was no excuse. He printed the cards that night and sent them out the next morning via Priority Mail, and I had them three days later. So at least their customer service is friendly!

Other products worth investigating

Like I said, I only have experience with the playing cards, but I have no doubt their other gaming products are just as good. Here are some other products to check out:

  • Card Decks: In addition to the poker size, they also have other card sizes should you need them, including square, mini, and tarot card sizes.
  • Game Boxes, including the Large size box (8.5″ by 7.25″ by 1″), the Long Deck Box for storing hundreds of cards (several sizes available), and Tuck Boxes for storing smaller amounts of cards (which is what I’ll be looking into!)
  • Game Boards, high quality chipboard (just like traditional board game boards). The boards come in two sizes, 18″ by 18″ or 17″ by 22″. I’ll definitely be getting one of these boards for my game!
  • Rule Books and Rule Sheets
  • Play Money. Does your game use currency? Design your own money and print it on up to 7 different color papers! A bundle of 28 bills is only $0.39!
  • Chipboard Counters, including 1″ square counters, 5/8″ square counters and 2″ hex counters. I’m particularly excited about the hex counters: my brother is developing a game based on a hex grid and ordered wooden hexagons from a guy online, and while the counters are hexagon shaped, they weren’t cut with precision quality, meaning, the hexagons don’t neatly fit together like they should, thus they are useless for gaming. As long as Superior POD can cut their hexagons straight, everything should be good!

If you’re into designing your own tabletop game (and again, know a bit about Photoshop), give Superior POD a shot and let me know what you think! If you’re into gaming like I am, there’s no reason for you not to experiment with creating your own game. Sure, it’s fun to buy games in the store and play somebody else’s games, but Superior POD gives you all the tools you need to create your own game. Believe me, having high-quality professional products to play with is so much better than printing cards or markers on your boring old black and white printer.

Game on,
~Dennis