Electronic Catan
September 4, 2009 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I want to create a customized Settlers of Catan board. For the purposes of this question, it could also be a custom Monopoly board. I want the pieces ( cities / hotels ) to light up when they are placed on the board. I know I would put LED's in each piece, but besides that, I am not sure if or how I could power up the LED's. I am not an electrical engineer, but magnets, watch batteries or inductive charging sound good to me. Help me make an awesome electronic board game!
posted by jasondigitized to Technology (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Right now you're thinking of making little translucent whatevers with LEDs inside them, right? Since there are a finite number of places you can put the pieces, why not make a board with a bunch of little holes and put little translucent pegs on your pieces, so that, when you shove a peg into a hole, it presses a switch (sort of the opposite of the way a headphone jack works) and turns on an LED in the board. You could also do this with magnets in your pieces and reed switches in the board, but that might get spendy.

LEDs are like guppies and will "eat until they pop", so you need to put a resistor in series with them - LED resistor calculators are all over the web though.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:20 AM on September 4, 2009

Look into the mechanism that pens use. If you go to the gift shop of any tourist attraction, you can find pens that light up when you press on them to write. They have some type of spring mechanism that completes a circuit when it gets pressed. I have no idea how they actually work, but thinking about them (or taking one apart) may lead you in the direction you need for your pieces, i.e - a button on the bottom that activates the LED when you set the piece down on the board.

Also - what Kid Charlemagne describes sounds like a high-tech version of a Lite Brite toy from the 60's, but Lite Brite just used a plain light bulb behind a black sheet of paper, which was held in place over a black piece of pegboard. Punch the translucent peg through the paper into the hole in the pegboard and it let the light shine through, just for that peg. Probably way too low-tech for what you want, but I thought I would throw it out there.
posted by CathyG at 7:13 AM on September 4, 2009

This LED chess set seems like what you're looking for.

I forget the rules of Settlers: is it possible for more than one game piece to occupy the same territory? If so, that could complicate things.
posted by exogenous at 7:15 AM on September 4, 2009

I would also go with the playing piece as a colored lens for the lights, which are mounted on the board. That's well-suited to location-based pieces (the settlements/cities, the hotels) but less so to moving pieces (the robber, the car/tophat/shoe/etc ) and small pieces (the Catan roads). For Catan, I'd make a plywood hex frame with little LEDs sticking out of it, and blunt off the points of my hexagons so that they can be set in any pattern around those sticking-up LEDs. Circuit-wise, instead of a pressure switch (little translucent pieces may not hold a switch down well) I'd put a gap in the circuit next to each LED, and have a metal pin that fit in (spring-loaded) to complete the circuit, so each piece is essentially a jumper wire to turn on the light and a lens to make the light pretty.

If you wanted to have the lights on-board the pieces (I'm thinking of the robber, because he's big enough to fit it all in there more easily) I'd put a watch battery and an LED in the piece, and two contacts on the bottom of hte piece such that when you set the piece on anything metal (i.e. a metal disc at the center of each Catan tile) the metal completes the circuit and lets it light up.

Or, for the cities, something like this where you're plugging the LED-prongs sticking out the bottom of your piece directly into a battery underneath the board.

It's a simple idea with perhaps a finicky implementation. What do you do when your pieces don't light up? You have to fuss with smoothness of contacts and weight of pieces, and get that perfect line between having to mash/snap the piece into the board and having it not turn on reliably.
posted by aimedwander at 7:20 AM on September 4, 2009

exogenous: No, pieces exclude others from being in one location.

You might want to take a cue from the travelling SoC edition, which has a plastic frame that you can snap the pieces into. Having the wiring infrastructure in a portable frame is going to be the safest and most convenient way to form such a thing. That'll make it more manageable with for the 'random board' element, though it does bar you from using Seafarers or a 5-6 player expansion.
posted by Lifeson at 7:24 AM on September 4, 2009

How about a watch battery and LED (with resistor) in the piece, using a magnetically activated switch to light it up? The magnet could be under the board.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:38 AM on September 4, 2009

Here's a link to the switch, at mouser.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2009

I can think of a few ways to make a Catan board neat with LEDs. Obviously you can replace the pieces with clear plastic + colored LED for each player and route power under the board.

More complicated would be to have LEDs on each hex light up based on the dice roll. You'd need much more than just LEDs for that though. And then you'd be tempted to automate the die roll process, and the resource bank and eventually it's just easier to buy a tablet and do it all in software.
posted by pwnguin at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2009

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