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Oftentimes in a big game of Settlers of Catan (4 or more players) it comes down to two or three players battling for the winning point and one or two players who have too few points to offer any realistic chance of victory.

Rather than just watch, the losing players are free to make overly generous trades to control who wins in a weird inversion of control.

Is this a natural side effect of the games? Is this just a manifestation of be nice to people on the way up?

I find this really frustrating as more than once I've ended up losing because I've annoyed someone in a previous game. I'm I just being a poor sport?

The only way I can think to avoid this style of play is to run a league setup such than even if a player isn't going to win, it's worth them trying to get an extra few more points.

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Not sure whether to mark this as a duplicate or not, but Is Kingmaking a Fixable Problem is definitely related. –  Gregor Feb 24 at 1:57
I personally think that, if I'm not winning a game, the ability to influence who does win helps a lot to keep the end of the game interesting. Though I usually do it while still trying to maximize my position at the end. –  Gregor Feb 24 at 2:02
For me personally, I just let my friends know that Kingmaking is in my opinion poor sportsmanship, and it makes the games less enjoyable; thus I am less likely to want to play games with a person that is known to do it. –  GendoIkari Feb 24 at 3:30
@HNJSlater Your last question, about your actions in previous games making players mad at you (and affecting the current game) would make an excellent separate question. Would you consider editing it out of this question and asking a new question with it? (And welcome to Board & Card Games!) –  Paul Marshall Feb 24 at 23:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

This situation is called The Kingmaker Scenario. It is an effect that is largely seen as being undesirable in games, yet at the same time is also considered somewhat inevitable in games with 3 or more sides in a Free-For-All situation to at least some extent. Game designers are always trying to find ways to fight against this effect, and there are a number of ways to reduce the effect that Kingmaker has on the game when designing a game - here are a few examples:

  • Completely eliminate a player from the game after they are behind by a certain threshold
  • Create a "comeback mechanic" that allows a player to fight back against the feedback loop holding them in a low position
  • Using concealed information to make it more difficult to determine the values involved in the victory conditions

When dealing with a pre-made game like Settlers of Catan and not with a game of your own creation, your options are limited - you can either create house rules of some form, or simply accept that aspect of the game. It may be best to try and find what others have done to solve the same situation for the same game - if it is widely considered to be a problem by other players, than there may be popular and well-tested house rules that already exist. On the other hand, if there are not, it may be a sign that regular players do not consider it to be a major factor in play.

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Good answer. Multiplayer dynamics are a tough thing, and while ameritrash games ebrace the in-game politics and kingmaking, Euros usually try to fight it, but its not easy. For example, concealed information does not solve the problem. If a player simply has a perception he is behind, he may alter his play. Strong comeback and balancing mechanics make players try to lay low and only pounce at the win in the last turns, in order to enjoy the boost for being low and avoid leaderbashing. Player elimination is a problem with games that are 30+ minutes. Kingmaking is a difficult problem to solve! –  K.L. Feb 25 at 8:32
How about leagues? Keeping track of total victory points would lead to players always working towards getting more VP even if they can't win. But does that break the dynamics? Encourage players to go for the safe points and let someone else win? –  HNJSlater Feb 25 at 23:36
@HNJSlater If people are allowed to do whatever they please in the rules, you have to count on them making any of the legal choices, and that includes having vendettas against other people. –  Southpaw Hare Feb 25 at 23:50

Kingmaking is a dynamic which means the leaders of the game should be making un-even trades to the people in last place to help them along. If you help a person in last place build some additional settlements they will still be trying to win the game, rather than bored with no hope of victory in sight.

What is a rational trade when you have no chance of winning? Ending the game as soon as possible is pretty rational when you are so far behind you have no chance to come back. If you want to avoid this, don't let people fall so far behind. You can do this by trading at only marginal benefit to yourself and large benefit to them. Normally you would only swap 1:1 if its going to let you gain a VP next turn, but if someone is miles behind, you might swap 1:1 with someone just to gain a slightly better hand, or even 2:1 to avoid having 8 cards for the robber.

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I cant really see how this adresses the issue. One player doing bad-for-himself trades with the worst players just cripples his efforts to win. Any opponent fighting for first place and NOT doing such a thing should automatically win, not having an additional resource burden. That way YOU would be the kingmaker, in a way. –  K.L. Feb 25 at 8:27
I'm not saying to do trades which are bad for you, but normally there are many trades offered which are slightly good for one player, and very good for another. If you do those trades with players in lower positions, then you will benefit and you won't leave disgruntled people stuck on 3 settlements. –  Nick Feb 25 at 9:35

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