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What are some rule changes that shorten the game, and what drawbacks do those changes have?

Please limit your answers to rules changes with which you have first-hand experience!

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possible duplicate of How to reduce slow starts at the beginning of the game? –  Lance Roberts Jun 29 '11 at 22:29
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Are you asking what the existing standard ways are, or are you asking for suggestions about how to speed up your game? –  Neal Tibrewala Jun 30 '11 at 6:21
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I don't care whether the rule changes are standard, just that you have some first-hand experience with those rule changes and can speak to their effects on play. –  warbaker Jun 30 '11 at 18:02
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@Lance I hope the answers here differ from the ones at 'how to reduce slow starts,' given that many game-shortening rule changes have nothing to do with slow openings, but we'll see. –  warbaker Jun 30 '11 at 18:11
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9 Answers

We've tried to replace the robber with a more benevolent figure (we used a LEGO Dumbledore microfig but you can just reuse the robber figure and call it, say, a magician)

  • When you roll a 7, move the magician to the tile you want
  • If the number on which the magician sits is rolled, all tiles overlooked by the magician get double the ressources for that turn

We came up with that because we don't like the robber that much, and it sped up the game quite a bit. Now, I suppose any house rule which gives more ressources would shorten the game length, but with that one is slightly strategic in nature.

Of course there's also the bog-standard way to change the duration of the game: instead of 10 victory points, aim for less (8 for example). As long as you agree before starting the game :-)

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I will have to try the magician next time I play! –  Pureferret Dec 19 '11 at 14:57
    
Very interesting rule change... Also, thanks for reminding us that we do not have to play to 10 points every time. :D + 1 –  MasterZ Dec 12 '12 at 20:03
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We usually play Settlers of Catan with resource cards exposed. This dramatically shortens the trading, as there is no question of whether any player owns a particular resource. The 'drawback' of this, is that players no longer have to remember what's been received.

Another tactic we use to shorten the game is playing quickly. This isn't really a rules change, but if players agree at the beginning that they are hoping for a quick game, then this seems to give enough motivation for everyone to do so.

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I never knew that they were supposed to be hidden. It seems like keeping them secret would just waste time and not really add much to the experience... –  Gordon Gustafson Jul 5 '11 at 21:55
    
@Crazy, the monopoly card is much less risky to use if resource cards are always exposed. –  Dave DuPlantis Jul 12 '11 at 20:15
    
@Dave Though, you can overcome that if you have a good eye for the resource stack sizes, even if you haven't been paying attention to rolls. If the wheat pile is at about two-thirds its original size (19), there are about 6-7 wheat cards outstanding. –  warbaker Jul 13 '11 at 17:46
    
@war, that's true ... although one difference is that with face-up cards, you can pick a resource and also target a specific person who has quite a bit of it. Without tracking rolls, it's harder to do with face-down cards. (One downside to playing computer versions exclusively now - I don't own Settlers and am not around friends who do - is that you don't actually see physical cards, so I'd forgotten that there's actually a stack of wheat!) –  Dave DuPlantis Jul 13 '11 at 18:03
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In the setup phase, place a settlement first, and then a city second. This is one of the common changes that many of the longer adaptations feature and it just helps you get going quicker at the slower/earlier stages of the game.

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Doesn't this give a huge advantage to player 4? In addition to getting to coordinate his city and settlement, he gets to place his city in the 4th-best spot (players 3-1 get theirs in the 6th-8th). –  warbaker Jul 11 '11 at 18:03
    
For games like Cities & Knights where Cities can massively help you get victory points through Metropolises, sure they can. But for normal games, I think it's ok. Give it a try :) –  Ian Jul 21 '11 at 12:08
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When we only have time for a short game, we will eliminate the robber and allow each play to take a resource of their choice on roll of 7. It cuts the time a lot, and eliminates a lot of frustration when playing with people who are inexperienced with the game. (I like the using a city for the second settlement idea, and the gold if no resources. I want to try them!)

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My preferred way to play is having 2 resource productions before each player's turn, which will come close to halving the length of the game. This takes out most of the waiting, because you will almost always be building something new every single turn.

The only problem is that its harder to get rid of your resources before a robber hits as you have to 'survive' twice as many potential times where a 7 might come up and make you discard. To balance this, you could allow an 'intermediary building phase' at the end of every player's turn where all players are allowed to build, but are only allowed to trade with the active player (this is how the 5-6 player expansion works).

If you really want to make the game quicker, you can eliminate the concept of turns altogether and let everyone build and trade at once after a designated number of resource productions happen, but this will make for a bit more chaos as players race to get the best trades and build a settlement in a choice spot as they no longer have to wait their turn before doing so. However, if your group likes a tenser, fast-paced game it's worth a shot.

I personally prefer to use a deck of cards with the same probabilities instead of rolling dice. Its a lot faster just to draw the top card of the deck, and its a ton more flexible because you can choose to go through the entire deck before reshuffling, so each number is guaranteed to come up a certain number of times. If your group doesn't having to randomly discard resources a lot, just remove a 7 or two from the deck. IMHO this adds a fair bit more strategy and flexibility that makes the game more enjoyable. :D

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Interesting. You mention that people could use the special building phase found in the 5-6 player expansion -- is that what you personally use? –  warbaker Jul 5 '11 at 16:41
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@warbaker Since I use a deck of cards instead of dice I usually just remove one, maybe two 7's from the deck. This gives you a similar effect of robber-reduction but makes the game less hectic. I only mentioned the other way for people who play with dice and can't tweak the probabilities themselves. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Jul 5 '11 at 22:24
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Gotcha. To get an equivalent effect, die-rollers could simply declare certain 7's to be rerolls. For example, declaring 1+6 a reroll is equivalent to removing two cards. –  warbaker Jul 11 '11 at 18:09
    
Removing the 7 can help fasten the game, what we did was, when you get a 7, you can either play it normally, or reroll (if you then get a second 7, you must play it as such). –  Joubarc Aug 16 '11 at 18:55
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A rule variation that I prefer is to limit the movement of the robber:
When a 7 is rolled or an army played, can move the robber one hex position.

This speeds up the game with more resource production, since you can't automatically move the robber to the location where your opponents produce the most resources.

Drawback is that robber tends to stay in the same area of the board so one player can get stuck with the robber for much of the game. So this becomes another strategic factor in initial placement an village/city construction location.

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Stolen from Settlers of America.
A new currency is added: Gold.
On any non-robber roll if you receive no resources you receive 1 gold. Gold can not be stolen, but it can be traded to other players (usually 1 gold to sweeten a deal), or traded (maximum of twice per turn) to the bank for any resource at rate of 2 gold=1 resource. This doesn't speed up the game a ton, but like most of the other answers putting more resources in the game results in a faster finish.
We've talked about (but have not play tested either of these yet) having a settlement on the desert give you 1 gold when the robber is rolled OR having any settlements on the desert gives you a single extra gold when you receive no resources (never more than 2 though, even if you have 3 cities around the desert.)

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Play no-trade reverse robber.

No trade is straight forward enough. No trading with other players is allowed. This means all the negotiation in turns is removed, which means you're often just rolling, picking up your resources, and passing the dice. You are still allowed to trade with the bank/ports.

Reverse robber. When you roll a 7, you are not allowed to put the robber on anyone else, unless you forced to. ie. You must either place the robber on an empty tile, or place it on your own tile. If there are no empty tiles, or no tiles that aren't solely occupied by you, then you may put it on a tile that you share with someone, and steal from them.

There are two variants of this rule. RR is stricter and says whenever you move the robber, whether by 7 or by knight, you must place it on yourself/empty tile. RR7 says that you're allowed to place the robber where you want, when you're playing a knight.

The effect this rule has, is that the 6/8s tend not to be blocked, so resources flow more freely.

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I have also heard of the playing with the resource cards face up but I hate this house rule because it takes away the fun of bluffing. Here's a couple suggestions:

  1. Come up with a standard way to phrase the bartering. I'm not sure how to do this but there has to be some way to avoid those confusions where people themselves want the same resource as you. Maybe players could say either: I want X, or I have X.
  2. Allow players to pick a random resource whenever they don't gain a resource from the dice roll.
  3. Institute a penalty for not passing the dice when your turn is over. Either losing a random resource card or losing a turn, depending on how harsh you want to be.
  4. Find one of those 1 minute hour glass things used in games like Pictionary and use that to make players take shorter turns. You could have a lose a turn penalty for going over too.
  5. Last, play to a smaller number of points. I like this the least as it doesn't allow for the normal progression of the game.

The items above with strikeout are ideas that I have not personally tried, at least not exactly as written. I didn't see that part of the question before. Feel free to edit/delete this answer if you like.

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-1 doesn't sound like these suggestions have been tested. As the question notes, answers should be based on personal experience (or set your references). –  Pat Ludwig Jul 3 '11 at 4:01
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