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I know some people enjoy playing this way, but the other 50% of players seem to prefer a more casual game. This often stops people wanting to play at all, and so Settlers gets left on the shelf.

The issues we have are often:

  • Unfair/endless trades

    Meaning the board is split between those who make ridiculous demands (3 to one trades as described in the link), and those 'who don't ask for enough', which is equally annoying to the other players.

  • Unscrupulous tactics

    Again splitting the table evenly (both sides find each other's options non-agreeable).

  • Playing to block

    A player knows you want resource X for your road, so blocks you off, again and again. To the point you feel there is no need to bother playing again.

Whilst the answers in the questions above1,2 combat this if players agree on one of the answers, I feel sure there must be some middle ground introduced by a house-rule or convention to make Settlers more friendly.

Edit: Added another 'nasty' trick I've seen for 'fun'.

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Personally, I would be way more offended by someone giving away resources in Catan than someone trying to gouge other players with "ridiculous demands". A cartel of "casual" players giving each other everything they need makes much more of a mockery of fair play IMHO! –  thesunneversets Dec 21 '11 at 12:04
    
Yet this is how some people have fun, and why it divides play so often for me. –  Pureferret Dec 21 '11 at 12:08
    
You could play a less cut throat game, like Carcassonne. –  dwjohnston May 26 at 3:53
    
@dwjohnston but that avoids the problem and doesn't address it. –  Pureferret May 26 at 10:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

3:1 trades are not unfair; they're bank rate. At which point the trading partner should simply trade with the bank, as that is a winning strategy. Anything better than 2:1 is better than dedicated port trades, and is only useful when you will gain more than your trade partner.

My recommendations for curing both at once are straightforward, but brutal. And they are not exactly "Tournament Catan"...

  1. restrict the nature of offers.
  2. one pass only on a given resource offer.
  3. reply in sequence only.
  4. no "counter offers"
  5. No rejection of particular opponent.

By restrict nature of offers, limit it to offers of "I have 2 X and am looking for a Y". I'd allow the following rates: 1:1, 2:1 & 3:2. (3:1 should be restricted to bank trades via a port only.) Likewise, if you have the resource port, you should be required to use it instead of making a 2:1 trade offer.

One pass only means, if no one bites on the offer, you can't try it again that turn. If it is accepted, it can be repeated.

Reply in sequence only: if players are (in order) A, B, C, & D, and it's A's turn, he makes the offer, and B either accepts and holds out the asked for resource, or B rejects with a "No." then C gets the same option. If C rejects, D gets the offer. If D rejects, it's dead. Offer something else or yield the turn.

No "counter offers" - either they accept or reject the offer at hand. No discussion, no "how many will you trade?" It really speeds up play to disallow counter-offers, as it eliminates the whole negotiation mindset and the attendent waste of time for others.

No rejection of players: by eliminating trade preference, one forces trade to be quick and about getting what you need. This one should not be a permanent solution - half the strategy in real play is avoiding trade with the leader.

I've played with these restrictions in force. It REALLY speeds play, and reduces the ability to play favorites. I did so with a group of 6th graders, and ones with strong issues with each other at that. The No Rejection was a means of overcoming a couple of players racial biases... but it also changes the nature of play, hence later changing it to "once you make an offer, you may only refuse to trade with someone if they have more VP than you."

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@Pureferret They will also cut the brutality. More correctly, the cutthroaters will wind up with very little trade and nerf themselves. Both speed and less visibly brutal play are outcomes of these... –  aramis Dec 20 '11 at 2:57
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4:1 is bank rate isn't it? –  tttppp Dec 20 '11 at 8:58
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I don't agree with the strategic comments on port trades vs player trades, but I'd +1 this a second time if I could because you actually tried it. In other words, I'm not sure I like your justification for the rules, but I'm glad that they work. –  warbaker Dec 20 '11 at 17:44
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@aramis You start with a second settlement? Do you mean a third/forth settlement? I reckon in the games I've played about 95% of the player-player trading was 1:1. Consequently I think players who repeated demanded 3:1 trades would probably just get left behind. –  tttppp Dec 21 '11 at 8:41
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@TTTPPP Yes, I meant 3rd... typo from being tired. I've never played in a group where 1:1 was the majority... but then, most of the people I've played with were also pretty cutthroat. 6th graders are the most cutthroat. But grabbing that port is VITAL to most strategies unless playing with unreasonably cooperative players. Not playing to win is cheating in the other guy's benefit –  aramis Dec 21 '11 at 21:30

Here are a few ideas, although overall I disagree with the premise of the question, as you'll see toward the end.

"Unfair" trades are the benefit of getting a resource other people want. I don't see how it's a problem. Just turn down the trade. As far as trading eating up time, one option would be to just put a 30-second limit on trading on each player's turn. I'll come back to the players who are too nice.

I personally wouldn't do the Monopoly trick, but anyone who's paying attention already knows what's floating around. There is very little secrecy to be had as far as what resources are in your hand, the main exception being resources gotten/lost by stealing. But that doesn't change the overall count of each resource between all the players' hands. I guess you could just remove the Monopoly cards.

Blocking is generally not a good strategy, at least not when it's done purely to hurt another player. You'll let the other player(s) jump ahead while you're giving the one a swirly. I do think some people are just too sensitive about this, though. For instance, I was recently blocked by a friend, but it was to keep me from placing a settlement where he wanted one, but didn't have the resources yet. If it's to benefit him, not to hurt me, I don't see the problem, but I've had people get really mad at me for doing similar things in the past. In any case, my wife won that game, so maybe even that was bad strategy on my friend's part.

As far as some players being mean, or too nice, to some extent that's just part of playing with human beings. How far is too far is a social question, and you should handle it socially, not with rules. Again, I think it's appropriate to just ask, "Are you making that play in an effort to win, or to hurt/help another player?", or even "If you were in person X's shoes, would you feel this play was fair?" That usually fixes the problems among my friends.

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In games I play where 2 of the players are very experienced and 1-2 players are less experienced/cutthroat, then much advice is freely given/taken and that pretty much solves it.

For example, let's say my 6 year old son really needs a brick to build a settlement and he has an unneeded sheep and 2 ores. I may offer him the brick for 2 ores and a sheep but then the other experienced player suggests he think twice about that offer as he noticed I have a bit of wheat so that would probably give me a city and extend my lead. My son then might (or might not) take that advice and negotiate or trade with someone else.

Also, it's helpful to educate newer players that they can exploit being behind in the game. In later parts of the game you'll get offered generous trades while those who are in the lead will be embargoed. Again - with the advice flowing around - we encourage those who are behind to drive hard bargains if they're doing a trade with someone who is far ahead.

The combination of the robber and trade embargoes can more than overcome cut throat behavior so after a few games, most cut throat players realize they're better off not being so cutthroat if they don't want to be embargoed and have the robber placed on them for so much of each game.

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