The Settlers of Catan is easily my favorite board game ever. I’ve probably played the game with 50-60 different people over the years; I just introduced the game to six more people in the past month! But what would make the game ever better? Perhaps the Pop-O-Matic from Trouble!
If you don’t remember Trouble, think back to when you were 5 or 6 years old. Trouble is basically the same game as Sorry. The biggest difference? The Pop-O-Matic bubble! Hasbro is so proud of the Pop-O-Matic that they reference it 15 times on the box alone!
The Pop-O-Matic has such a great tactile feel to it: bu-BOOP! What a great way to roll dice. My task: remove the Pop-O-Matic from a Trouble game board and convert it for Catan use. In this post, I’ll show you how.
Time needed: 45 minutes
Three references to the Pop-O-Matic on the cover alone: in the logo as words, in the logo as the “o” of Trouble, and in the caption under the pieces. I think Hasbro’s trying to tell us something!
Advantages of the Pop-O-Matic
Rolling dice with your hands has a few disadvantages. They roll off the table. Some joker rolls them across the board and scatters all the pieces. Or the pieces land on edge, and then the players debate whether the dice need to be rerolled. A game like Catan has lots of pieces, so the game table can get quite crowded. It never fails, every game, all of this drawbacks take place.
The Pop-O-Matic solves all of them! No longer will dice roll across the table. Rarely will the dice land on their edges. And best of all, you get to experience that sweet popping sensation over and over again.
And the best place to put the Pop-O-Matic? In the desert, where else? Catan fans know that the desert is a “wasted” space. Nobody wants to build on the edge of a desert if they can avoid it. The desert is initially the home of the robber, but he can sit off to the side.
To complete this project, you’ll need the following tools:
- Razor blade
- Small flathead screwdriver
- Metal file
- Something to cut on
And you’ll need the following materials. The cost of this project will vary dramatically based on which of these materials you have already:
- One Trouble board (the game retails for $10, though if you can find a cheaper used copy, even better)
- Two 12mm six-sided dice
- One extra Catan hexagon tile
- Super glue
Depending on how authentic you want your dice to be, you may need to purchase some paint. I used the following colors to paint my dice the exact colors Catan uses. You can find them at any craft store, like Hobby Lobby or Jo-Ann’s.
- Americana brand acrylic paint: Santa Red
- Americana brand acrylic paint: Bright Yellow
- Paint brush
This board is one piece of plastic, including the housing around the bubble.
The bottom of the Pop-O-Matic is a separate piece of plastic. Fortunately, there’s a large gap between the two.
Dismantling the Pop-O-Matic
Upon examination of the Trouble board, you’ll see that it is mostly one piece of plastic, including the top of the Pop-O-Matic. To make this Pop-O-Matic usable, you first need to remove it from the rest of the board. To do this, place the board on a safe surface (I used a cutting mat), and take out your razor blade.
The Pop-O-Matic has 8 sides, four long and four short. The corners are rounded, but it’s very difficult to cut a rounded corner. So instead, cut eight lines, one along each edge. Don’t cut exactly along the shape of the Pop-O-Matic. Instead, extend your cuts about 1 inch beyond. This will make removing the Pop-O-Matic easier.
I found that it takes about 10-12 cuts with the razor to break through the plastic. Be very careful to place your cuts exactly on top of each other. Cut as close to the Pop-O-Matic as you can. After about 20-25 minutes, the Pop-O-Matic was removed.
Opening the Pop-O-Matic
The Pop-O-Matic contains six parts: the top, the bottom, two sheets of metal, the plastic dome, and the die. The top and bottom are the only pieces actually attached to each other. To separate the pieces, carefully slip your flathead screwdriver between the pieces of plastic. There’s actually a sizable gap, which makes your job easier.
Start by wedging the screwdriver in between the pieces on the long lines. Once wedged in, pry it just a bit, but not too much. You don’t want to crack the top piece. After prying the long lines, pry along the short lines. This is the tough part. Basically there are four main attaching points between the top and bottom pieces, one in each corner. Very carefully, pry around all edges of the corners until you hear something break: this is the part where the plastics connect. You have to break four attachment points, and the pieces will come right apart.
Now you’ll see everything inside. The popping mechanism is two pieces of bent metal placed on top of each other. The plastic dome sits right on top: it’s held in place by the top piece of plastic.
You can see on the right piece (the bottom) where I had to break the four connections in the corners.
Cleaning Up the Plastic
Even with careful cutting, all your work so far has probably roughed up the edges of the Pop-O-Matic. I used a small metal file and spent about ten minutes sanding all the edges. Be careful not to sand along the surface of the top piece of plastic: you don’t want scratches to show. Just file wherever you cut the plastic, file those corners so they are rounded, and then file the bottom piece at any place your prying may have dented the plastic.
The edges are a bit rough, but a little filing will fix that.
Adding the Dice
Here’s where you have to make some decisions. The Pop-O-Matic works great for one die, but add the two red and yellow Catan dice, not so much. I conducted about 50 popping tests and found that the rolling isn’t always fair. Often one will just pop up and straight down, unchanged. This clearly won’t work. Try adding a third die (the Event die from Cities and Knights) and the Pop-O-Matic definitely won’t work as intended.
So instead, you’ll have to add two smaller dice. The Catan dice are 16mm; but you can find 12mm dice if you look. 12mm dice aren’t as satisfying to roll in your hand, but the Pop-O-Matic takes care of that. Two 12mm dice work quite well in the Pop-O-Matic. Depending on your gaming store, you might be able to find 12mm dice sold individually. I had to buy them in a pack of 36 from Chessex. $9.53 is a bit much to spend for 2 dice, but I’m sure I’ll use the rest elsewhere. The price averages to $0.25 a die, so that’s how I arrive at the $11 price tag of this project ($10 plus tax for the board game, $0.50 for the dice).
Unfortunately, you won’t find a 12mm version of the Event die from Cities and Knights. If you don’t use that expansion, don’t worry about it. If you do, well, maybe just roll the Event die on the side.
The Dice Colors
Switching the 16mm dice with 12mm is mandatory. The next decision you’ll need to make is: what colors will the dice be? The normal Catan game uses a red die and a yellow die: wonder why? In Cities and Knights, acquisition of cards is determined by the face value on the red die and the event die. So, that’s why the yellow and red need to be differentiated.
If you play with Cities and Knights, if you can, find a yellow and red 12mm die. I wasn’t able to (I mean, I could’ve bought a 36 pack of red 12mm and a 36 pack of yellow 12mm, but I wasn’t ready to spend the money). Instead, I took two 12mm die and painted them.
This is the most tedious and time-consuming part of the project. The dice require many coats of paint to look decent. I used acrylic paint, which doesn’t feel very glossy, but again, nobody’s going to touch these dices. They look pretty good from a distance. Time will tell if the paint actually holds up after years of popping.
Now if you don’t care about authenticity, don’t worry about the colors. Just use two of the same color, or use two different colors and just decide when you play Cities and Knights which die will count for the cards.
Some notes about painting: If you go the painting route, add 2 hours to the project time and $4 for paint. I used acrylic paint because it dries fast and is cheap, but it doesn’t stick very well. Sand the dice first with your metal file and that will help some. If somebody knows a better paint, feel free to experiment.
Second, paint the faces first. It took me about 6-7 coats. The pips will get filled in, so before you paint the pips, use a round file to get some of the excess paint out. Using a toothpick, carefully drop a dab of paint into the pips.
Finally, if you are going for authenticity, the pip colors are the opposite of the face colors. So the red die has yellow pips and the yellow die has red pips.
I’m not exactly satisfied with the paint job, especially on the yellow one, but again, they are pretty small and people won’t be looking at them that closely.
Putting it All Together
Alright, so we cut out the Pop-O-Matic, separated the pieces, and figured out what dice to use. All that’s left is putting it together. First, place the metal pieces and dice inside the bottom piece. Then put four dabs of super glue in each of the colors, right on those connecting areas you broke earlier. Then, holding the dome inside the top piece, carefully place the top piece down. Make sure only the top and bottom pieces are glued together. The metal pieces and dome should not touch any glue. I learned this the hard way: the metal pieces need to slide around for the popping mechanism to work. If they get glued down, take it apart and start again.
Now, I used four dabs of glue in the corners and that worked well; I’d recommend against using any more glue than this. Simply: if you decide to ever open the Pop-O-Matic to swap out the dice, you don’t want to create too much work for yourself.
With the Pop-O-Matic constructed, wait for it to dry then test it out. I was surprised to find how hard the Pop-O-Matic is to push, a lot harder than I remember as a kid. Time will tell if the Pop-O-Matic holds up after thousands of pops: does anybody know if the metal pieces ever wear out and get bent?
The last thing to do is put the Pop-O-Matic on a hexagon tile. Fortunately, I didn’t have to sacrifice my desert piece (in case I ever want to play without the Pop-O-Matic). My Catan games have always come with a few extra pieces, like one extra hexagon tile that’s tan on one side and water on the other. What’s the purpose of this hexagon? It’s sat in my box for years, but I’m so glad I didn’t throw it away!
The tile on the right is the extra one. It contains a water background, as seen in the left tile (just a normal resource tile).
With a little super glue, attach the Pop-O-Matic to the hexagon (I glued it to the tan side). Just use a dab of glue: again, if you ever need to take apart the Pop-O-Matic, you don’t want to destroy the tile too much when you pull it apart.
Now, the Pop-O-Matic is square and the hexagon is obviously not, so the pieces don’t fit together perfectly. A little bit of the Pop-O-Matic will extend beyond the tile. However, because it is raised above the tile, it should fit perfectly next to your other hexagons. The only slight drawback is that if roads are built directly on the PopO-Matic piece, they won’t fit right on the edge: you’ll have to nudge them inward a bit. It’s not the best solution aesthetically, but then on the other hand, people don’t often build on the desert piece, so you might not encounter this problem that often.
The Pop-O-Matic in place. As you can see, the corners overlap the tiles slightly. I don’t think it’s a huge issue.
I play Catan using these magnetic plastic hexagon holders called Hexels. The Pop-O-Matic fits perfectly on top, and actually gives me a bit more space between the hexagons, mostly eliminating that road problem I just mentioned. The plastic hexels appear sturdy enough. Like I said, pressing the Pop-O-Matic is a bit hard, so I’m worried that if I press on the hexel too much with the Pop-O-Matic will break or crack it (and it sounds like they might not be making any more!). So I’ll be watching the health of my hexel closely. Perhaps in the future I’ll find a way to reinforce it so that it can take the abuse of the Pop-O-Matic.
The Pop-O-Matic inside a hexel. As you can see, no overlap with the resource tiles!
Now Your Turn!
And that’s it! If you don’t paint your dice, this project should only take about 45 minutes and cost $11. Give it a try and let me know how it works and if your players enjoy it! I’m excited to debut it with my friends! And more importantly, if you find a way to improve my design, let me know in the comments! If you have pictures of your completed Catan Pop-O-Matic, send them to me and I’ll post them for everybody to see!