Catan has been around for decades, spawning space-based sequels, Game of Thrones spinoffs, expansions, and more. If you call yourself an avid player of board games, there’s a good chance you’ve begged a friend in Catan to trade you some wool or lumber. Catan 3D is the latest iteration of this board game and it was seemingly designed with mega-fans in mind… although they’re going to need some deep pockets to play it.
Playing-wise, the game is simply Catan — there are no changes to the rules or differences in gameplay compared to a standard match of the classic game. The difference is in the physical pieces. The traditionally cardboard and plastic pieces have been turned into beautiful 3D, hand-painted terrain hexes, roads, settlements, cities, and more. However, its frankly absurd $300 price point makes it hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t an uber Catan enthusiast. And even then, a couple of strange design choices make the $300 price point questionable.
Catan 3D’s box feels like $300. It’s sturdy, clean and well-packaged, and all of the nearly 300 pieces and cards needed to play the game are safely secured. It takes time to unpack everything, and it takes just about as much time to properly store it all once you’re done playing. But with such a high price tag, I’m thankful for the extra care put into the storage of the game.
It comes with a standard game overview and rules pamphlet, as well as a nicely put-together almanac perfect for new players and returning players alike. The game board is still assembled much in the same way it is in a standard game of Catan, except the traditionally cardboard pieces are now 3D. The six sea frames are a pretty blue, with a scratchy texture meant to mimic ocean waves. The terrain hexes look as you’d expect — the mountain pieces stretch nearly two inches into the air, the forest hexes are littered with individual tree tops, and the pastures feature flocks of sheep.
The harbor, road, settlement, and city pieces are all 3D as well, and the latter three are hand-painted to look antique and match each player’s color (be it red, white, blue, or orange) appropriately. One disappointment is that the cards are essentially the exact same cards found in the standard $40 edition of the game. They’re great cards and they work just fine, but it’s a shame the other pieces received so much love only for the cards to remain physically and aesthetically the same.
Putting all of the pieces together is easy enough, and much like traditional Catan the pieces just sit by and on top of each other. There aren’t any unique spots for things to snap into place and while that wasn’t necessarily expected considering it’s not how Catan’s layout typically works, with such high-quality 3D pieces, I would’ve liked to see a way for the board to snap together into one ever-flowing piece.
The roads, settlements, and cities still simply sit atop the terrain hexes and in this version of Catan, which is easily the most immersive version yet due to the 3D design, the fact that these pieces still slide, shift, and move when someone’s finger accidentally touches them is a bit of a let down.
Perhaps the single most frustrating aspect of Catan 3D’s design is that the number tokens and the Robber figure don’t actually sit atop the terrain hexes evenly and flatly as they would in a standard match of Catan. The number tokens are placed atop the terrain hexes at the start of the match and they essentially dictate every move in a game of Catan. In the standard edition of Catan, the flat tokens sit on top of the flat hexes in harmony.
In Catan 3D, that’s not the case. Instead, they sit somewhat haphazardly atop the terrain hexes. Number tokens sit pretty well atop the mountain pieces, almost as if those terrain hexes were designed with the tokens in mind, but on others such as the field hexes, the tokens don’t lay so nicely. Instead, they wobble with every movement of the table or board.
Then there’s the Robber Figure, which is traditionally a tall bowling pin-like figure that sits flat atop the terrain hex it has been moved to. The Robber Figure here is a sculpted piece featuring three humans and while their feet allow the piece to sit flat, there’s no real good spot for them to sit atop the 3D terrain hexes. Sure, the figurine will sit atop the hexes but it never felt purposeful, instead leaning this way or that rather than standing atop the hex as if it were designed to fit there.
Design issues aside, the actual act of playing Catan 3D is as fun as it’s ever been, but that’s because it’s still just Catan. Players still select their starting roads and settlements, which keeps the start of a match exciting due to variety, and resource cards are doled out as a result. During each turn, a player rolls a dice, everyone collects the appropriate resource cards, and the fun and secretive nature of Catan shines as expected. What are they trying to build and what am I trying to build? How desperately do I need the resource they’re offering to trade me? If I accept this trade, will I be helping them more than I help myself?
These questions and accompanying strategies are still present in Catan 3D and when the board is full of the game’s unique 3D pieces, it looks amazing. I only wish that placing these beautiful pieces were easier and more purposeful in design.