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When I play Settlers of Catan with my family we sometimes allow bribing of the person placing the robber to not place it in a particular spot. Does anyone else play this way and if so do you find this a net benefit to the game?

Clarification: This is a house rule and we realize it is not part of the normal rules. The question is more to determine whether anyone else plays this way or not.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I have played this and it absolutely degrades the fun factor of the game.

You end up getting everyone paying off to not get robbed. The person who will pay the least gets the robber. We had the person rolling the seven getting huge amounts of resources.

It really disrupted the flow of the game.

NOTE: we did not change the rules to allow this. It was done as an agreement that was payed at a legal trading time. One fun aspect is that, because it was not part of the rules, you could renege on your "payoff" commitment. (Though this meant you were a sure target the next time around.)

While there was some fun elements (and gave us a few really fun games), I would absolutely not recommend it for more that variation in a game or two.

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+1 Interesting. We don't always play with this rule, so perhaps we have a good balance of frequent enough to keep it fun. I have seen someone get a huge amount of resources, but seldom is it one of the front runners in the game. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 26 '10 at 0:16

According to the rules of Catan, players can't trade unless they're both exchanging resources. Thus, it's not legal for one player to pay a bribe to keep the knight from being placed on their tiles. If you can come to a gentleman's agreement about placing the robber that's fine, but I've never played it with people using it to extort resources from other players. I imagine playing like that would be rather unfun if you had to pay protection money to the other players.

Plus, if you have to give up a resource to keep the robber away, you're still being robbed. Your tiles just aren't blocked.

Edit - How this could affect play

You are strengthening the robber mechanic in the game and changing the game balance. If each player is willing to give up one or two resources to keep the robber away, this can be huge boost to the person placing the robber. You're also encouraging people to buy more development cards so they can place the robber more often by playing knights. Following that logic, wood and brick could become much less valuable resources to collect since they can be demanded from the other players, and don't directly let you buy knights. This could shift how people choose settlements in the game and encourage all players to try push this mechanic ahead. It would also punish those not willing to pay bribes by being the target of the robber.

It's certainly one way to play the game and depending who you're playing will determine how it plays. This can also reduce the effectiveness of using the robber to hold back the leader from getting further ahead. I personally can see this producing more tension among players, and don't think I would enjoy this rule change myself.

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I think it's against the rules to 'Give' someone resources, as stated in this answer. Also, if the placement of the robber is due to a 7 roll, this event occurs outside of the 'trading' phase of a turn, so immediate action would not even be possible. –  Powertieke Oct 25 '10 at 6:32
    
Often a player likely to have the robber placed on them would rather give up a resource or two so that the robber is not placed on them rather than be potentially stuck with it. Sometimes a player will have an abundance of a resource and be more than willing to give up a resource so that the robber can be on another player. Sometimes multiple payers will give up resources limiting the robber placement options. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 25 '10 at 11:58
    
+1 for game mechanics change exploration. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 26 '10 at 0:13

Maybe it can be a good addition, but beware of the chance to backfire.

If you are known to bribe easily, you are a prime first target for the robber.

A better solution would be to place the robber where it hinders the front runner the most. It's almost the only mechanism to hinder (not stop) the leader in the game.

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For us bribes often occurred before the robber placement was even seriously considered. As soon as it was clear that it would be placed often at least one player would offer up a bribe, sometimes several players. Sometimes the bribe would occur as the player was moving to position the robber. It worked not only to keep the robber off their land, but also to protect certain cards in their hand from being robbed. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 25 '10 at 12:02
    
You make a good point about potentially not being able to hinder the leader in the game. If the leader is offering the bribe the player placing the robber will have to determine if the bribe being offered is sufficient to merit the risk. Often they will only accept the bribe if it obviously hurts the leader or allows significant building. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 25 '10 at 12:08
    
+1 There are other ways to hinder the leader such as not trading with them and building against them, but this does indeed diminish an effective tool. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 26 '10 at 0:19
    
+1 for the way the rule actually rewards the leader for having extra resources. Placing the robber on a hex that harms the two leaders is a real pleasure (if you're not one of them!). –  Matthew Frederick Dec 6 '10 at 20:55
    
@MatthewFrederick And you can still do that. You don't have to accept any bribes. –  Leigh Riffel Jun 29 '12 at 15:06

It shouldn't be possible to bribe players during the placing of the thief, but anyways goes after the thief has been placed.

I have seen bribes being made in some of the games I've played, but what I've seen a lot more is threats. It could a player holding a lot of evolution cards, promising, the prompt return of the thief if it's placed on certain spots, or more loose threats that they will return the favor should they roll a 7.

Of cause there is also the usual persuading of where the best spot really is.

So in short, a lot can happen during the placement of the thief, but it's really only talks, sometimes backed by actions later, be it knights, resources or a vengeance.

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+1 Threats seem almost integral to the game with or without this rule change. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 26 '10 at 0:07

I have always considered this fair game (with the bribe always being just a promise to pay off, which could be reneged on), just like you can offer a bribe (technically, I guess, a trade of zero resources for some nonzero number of resources) if another player is willing to not build a road in a direction that would impede you.

As I understand them, the official rules do not forbid this, since all you are doing is just talking to other players and then performing some actions that are legal within the game. In fact, I don't even see how you could write house rules that forbid this type of shenanigans, short of restricting the communication between players.

(A more determined house rules writer could try to restrict this behaviour by specifically stating that both parties have to trade a nonzero number of resources whenever a trade takes place. An attack against that would be to propose "I'll trade you one wood plus two bricks for one wood if you put the robber there". You could counter that by requiring that there is no overlap in resources between the two batches of resources offered by the parties. Then still, you can promise "I'll trade you three bricks for a wood and then I'll trade you one wood for one brick, if you put the robber there", or just offer a single very good trade. I don't think you could shut it down completely.)

Possibly as a consequence, I've never enjoyed Catan as much as many other games.

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+1 for a good answer. A rule forbidding all trading except with the bank would shut down bribes, but it would also take away some of the fun factor. –  Leigh Riffel Oct 26 '10 at 0:05
    
See the bottom of page 13 (catan.com/en/download/?SoC_rv_Rules_091907.pdf) You may not give away cards. The way I interpret the rules (and enforce in games) is that zero-card trades are forbidden. I also forbid "wood for wood" type trades, since it is against the spirit of the rules. Combined with the fact that trade occurs only after resource production, I wouldn't allow bribing in Catan. However, I would allowing bribing if the rules were agreed to ahead of time. –  Greg Dec 20 '10 at 16:12

I've played with bribing allowed in several groups, and I've found it adds strategic depth and increases liquidity for trades.

Because players in my groups always keep deals, we've actually commoditized protection -- a player often sells the right to be left-alone the next time he moves the robber, a right we call a "Not-Hit."

This isn't worth a full resource card, so it's usually used to sweeten some borderline deal. For example, if I'm selling my sheep to someone who has a rock, a wheat, and a brick, I might request he give me a single Not-Hit in addition to the brick, lest I help make a Knight that will harm me later. Or I might simply offer a Not-Hit for a single use of someone's 3-1 port, which ordinarily isn't worth a whole card.

Often players are willing to accept a Not-Hit as a bribe, at least from 1-2 opponents, so fewer real resource cards trade hands than you might expect. We also sometimes perform coerced trades -- I agree not to rob you, but you have to trade your valuable brick for my worthless stick.

Late-game, it's so valuable to rob the winning player that bribes simply don't happen. It's important enough to slow down the winner that the robber isn't a credible threat to the losing players.

On balance:

My groups play with resource-cards face-up*, which strengthens the robber as you know whom you're going to target, but despite that we find bribes make Development cards much less variable in value. Monopoly, Road Building, and Year of Plenty all just-about pay for themselves (if not more-so), but without bribes, Knights aren't so great, despite letting you chase Largest Army.

In our games, playing a Knight usually gets you 0-2 crummy spare resource cards and 1-2 Not-Hits, plus 1 random resource card. In a certain sense, it's a hybrid between a Year of Plenty and a VP card (as it chases Largest Army), making it about even with the rest of the deck.

The main harm in having bribes is that rolling a 7 is luckier. However, this isn't much worse than the standard variability in the game -- some rolls generally help certain players much more than others.

*The robber takes a random card from the face-up hand.

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Interesting. I've never played face up - have to try that some time. –  Leigh Riffel Dec 8 '10 at 3:52
    
This deserves more votes, but I think the popular way to play is without this game mechanic. We always play with elements similar to this, and as you say, no extra resources trade hands; it just sweetens the deal. –  The Chaz 2.0 Feb 8 '12 at 14:03

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