I've recently had to replace my 3rd Edition Catan set and the new version has a different number distribution as shown in these two images taken from the respective rule books.

Catan 3rd Edition Numbers

Catan 5th Edition Numbers

Is there a reason that the layout has changed? Using the 5th edition set up, we've had both nines touching, and looking at the layout below it seems possible to have a 6 and 8 together which is disallowed by the rules under variable set-up in the Almanac. These oddities never happened with the spiral A-B-C set up in the 3rd edition.

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    The first image does not appear to be from the third edition rulebook; likely it's fourth edition. – GendoIkari Aug 28 at 13:53
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    I was under the impression those number plates are supposed to be placed at random – npst Aug 28 at 16:19
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    @npst they've got letters on the back so you can place them in sequence. Though the 5th edition rules do have a snippet for randomly placing them, ensuring no red numbers are adjacent. Inspiration! This might be why they're different. If the letters are only for the intro game, with the setup in the image with defined starting points for better balance, they then don't have to be the same as a set up that tries for balance when using the placement rules for the advanced game, which the older sets went for. – Jontia Aug 28 at 16:21
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    @npst, There are two official ways of doing it: According to the preset layout (which this question is about), or random with the caveat that no two reds touch each other. – ikegami Aug 29 at 5:11
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    I think the distribution of the numbers is the same, (one of 2 and 12 each, two of all others). I suppose you mean the layout when the numbers are ordered by the letters, but I don't see letters in the lower picture, so I'm not exactly sure. (Also, if those are the ordered spiral setups, I can't see how you'd get the nines together either.) – ilkkachu Aug 29 at 16:17

The 5th edition of Catan changed a number of cosmetic things from the 4th edition; including a full re-editing of the rules for clarity, but there wasn't much in the way of actual rule changes.
The biggest change with the updated rules is the reworked setup for the non-randomized beginner game.

The 'Variable' and 'Fully Random' set-up are essentially unchanged, with the biggest difference being the letters are now on the back of the number tokens.

It is worth noting that while there aren't any actual changes to the rules between the 4th and 5th editions, as you're moving from the 3rd to the 5th you'll notice two differences:

  1. You can now move the Robber to the desert
  2. The 'Soldier' card is now a 'Knight' card
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    “You can now move the Robber to the desert” Wow, we’ve always played that way and never realized it wasn’t in the rules. – Thunderforge Aug 29 at 4:04
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    The no rules change part of this answer leads me to believe the problem I'm having is a printing error on the tokens in my set. – Jontia Sep 3 at 8:58

Having spent a bit more time with the rule book and the internet I've come to the conclusion this is a combination of two factors.

  1. The image supplied above from the 5th edition rule book is a beginner set up that has no relation to the letters on the back of the number chits. It is purely a "balanced", and non-blocking starting point allowing new players to get into the game without too much trouble.

  2. There's a printing error on the Chits in my copy (no idea how wide spread it is).

The printing error has two separate sources of verification. This Distribution Question include a list of the Letter to number combinations that match my older set and (really tellingly) match this image from the Almanac of the fifth edition.

Variable Set up, illustration Q

The numbers I have are in a slightly different sequence such that one 6 is swapped with an 11 (I and P), and one 9 is swapped with a 5 (M and O). Which leads to commonly paired 9s and 11s. Given the image Q above, this is probably a printing error.

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