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When making a trade in Settlers of Catan, there is no official rule encouraging or prohibiting making a promise (to make a certain type of trade or perform some kind of action in the future) during a current trade. Assuming the group you play with decides to allow such promises, what mechanisms can be used to ensure "future trades" occurs smoothly?

I provide one such answer below that we've used in many games, but I'm totally open to suggestions for improvements on my answer, and/or alternative play-tested systems developed by other Catan enthusiasts.

Note: A similar question was asked that could be considered a duplicate:

What are common contracts in Catan?

See my comment below which advocates keeping this new question open and possibly closing the old question.

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The wording of the prior question similar to this one did not spell out the details of the rule variant or request such details, did not make clear whether Catan rules should be obeyed or broken, and had a title question which was unclear. The result was a highest voted answer which argued for why answering the question at all is a bad idea, while subsequent answers that attempt to answer the question were nearly ignored. I believe this question stands a better chance of leading to a clear Q&A on something of interest to many Settlers players. –  Joe Golton Feb 4 '12 at 22:05
    
Also note that I am a relatively new user. So I checked on Board Games meta to see if posting this as a new question made sense and received some support for doing this. However, feel free to suggest procedural improvements if warranted. –  Joe Golton Feb 4 '12 at 22:08
    
+1 for the question, because it concerns not only Settlers of Catan, but also any game that involves trading. –  Oltarus Feb 9 '12 at 8:22
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6 Answers 6

While I used to play with futures trading, I now explicitly prohibit it for the following reasons:

  • Problematic/ambiguous mechanics
    Consider this case: I trade you a brick and a future wood for your wheat.

    Later, you attempt to cash in the future trade, but I claim to have no wood. Unless it's obvious that I'm lying, there's no great way to determine whether that's true or not. Good sportsmanship will solve this problem, but it's easier if the rules avoid situations that breed mistrust.

    Alternately, I have no wood, but do have four sheep that I could trade in. Can you force me to trade those in for wood to settle the debt I owe you? (Exacerbated by situations such as, I have ten sheep and a sheep port.) If I trade the sheep for wood in the process of building something, do you have to be ready to jump in and call in the trade mid-building?

    Can I trade away debts, a sort've negative commodity, as I would any other amount of resources?

    Are you allowed to try and call in the debt after every card I steal from someone with the robber? I might have the desired resource, but this can also give you an otherwise unavailable insight into what card I stole.

  • Onerous bookkeeping
    Tracking outstanding debts can be an unpleasant process with no natural mechanism outside of keeping a ledger. This problem is doubled because for every debt both parties will want to track it to have an accurate assessment of their resources.
  • Damage to gameplay
    The most serious problem with future trades in my experience is that it makes trading too open-ended. In regular Settlers, there are times when you simply don't have the resources to build everything you want, no matter how much you want to. You accept it, and continue playing. With future trades, suddenly there's no limit to what you can offer. Players go on and on proposing ever more intricate trades so that they can get that great coup this turn.

    Veteran players are less susceptible to this than novices, but even they will occasionally fall into gameplay-halting spirals of ever-higher futures offers.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

We have a simple way of doing "future trades which we have successfully used in well over 100 games:

  • All Catan rules must be obeyed (trades only on your own turn, at least 1 card offered by both parties)
  • When a legal trade is made, a future trade can be included as part of the deal. So you can offer a brick and a "future trade" in return for a wheat (you would only do this if you desperately needed that wheat)
  • The terms of the "future trade" must be made clear (i.e. The player granting the future trade agrees to trade a single resource of the type to be specified at the time the future trade is made in return for any resource that the recipient wants to give. This particular trade is the standard contract that is used for over 80% of future trades in our games)
  • The recipient of the future trade can cash it in at any time it is legal for the 2 players who entered the agreement to make a trade

Note that Catan rules do not have a mechanism for enforcing future trades to occur as promised. However, we always point out to people considering reneging on the deal that if they do so, they are unlikely to be a party in future trades in any future game, as nobody would be able to trust them. For this reason, every future trade I've ever been a part of has been honored.

Note also that for experienced Catan players, future trades are very powerful and can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes. After seeing future trades employed just 2 or 3 times, most players learn to greatly fear and respect granting a future trade to one of the better Catan players at the table.

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Since this is too long for a comment, here's the way that I have played...

You can promise almost anything in a trade: future cards (not necessarily meeting a minimum one card per transaction rule...I.e. they could just be forked over), future trades, future protection from robber, future placement choice of robber, etc. We have also introduced goods/services outside of the game on rare occasion (and this is why I don't okay with my married friends anymore!)...

The method of enforcement is peer pressure. Usually the creditor must remember/remind the debtor of the debt, at least as soon as it could be repaid. This is also how we enforce other house rules (e.g. Reroll all 7's on each player's first turn, reroll every third consecutive instance of a number, etc.).

The only other mechanic would be to make the rules de jure, informing each player that you are playing with amended rules, and having a written copy of your house rules available.

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The main form of "future trades" we had tended to employ in the past is based on harbours, where if I have, say, a sheep harbour where I can trade 2:1, then somebody with a large supply of excess sheep may trade them to me in pairs on the condition that I use my harbour to swap them at a better rate for some other resource that I will then trade back to them on the next turn.

I've gone cold on this tactic since it tends to get used excessively and dominate trading too much for my tastes.

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The version that my wife likes to play (with other folks, I don't let her do this to me is), "Look, you've got a sheep port. How about I give you seven sheep, you turn three in to the bank, and you give me two ore and a wheat back? That way, you earn an extra sheep". This does not abuse the letter of the rules, but once we get into this who's-got-the-best-port tactic, it becomes a yelling-at-each-other rather than trading-with-each-other game :(. –  StasK Sep 25 '12 at 1:05
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With everyone I've played with, future trades are looked down on as being slightly against the spirit of the rules, and certainly not expected to be actually paid back, although sometimes they are.

We certainly would dislike meta-gaming, and carrying trust of players across different games of Catan.

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When futures trading with resources we invoke a rule that the moment the player receives the resource in question they must immediately give that resource to the player they traded with.

This eliminates most of the potential problems people have had with this form of trading.

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I've played with future trading before (don't usually), but when I did, we always phrased it for "I'll give you a sheep for the next wood you get", which basically creates the rule that you describe here. –  GendoIkari Jul 20 at 19:21
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