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I just bought a copy of Settlers, and noticed that there was a suggested starting layout that is included in the Almanac. I noticed it was mentioned online as well:

"new editions of the game also depict a fixed layout in their manual, which has been proven to be fairly even-handed by computer simulations, and recommend this to be used by beginners" wikipedia

I have found a pretty decent tool for generating random boards, but I find myself flipping through multiple ones that place 6s or 8s next to their respective ports, or place all the clay on 3s, 11s, and the like.

Is there a list of user created recommended starting positions for tiles? Perhaps for tournament play? What do competitive players do to ensure variety and balance? I understand that the rules say to place the tiles randomly, but it can sometimes lead to long and boring games.

We have also experimented with a "drafting" of tiles as we lay them down, with rules about putting too many of the same resource touching, or near a port. I'm open to any suggestions in this regard as well.

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Are you looking only for tile placement, using the default Chit Number tokens scheme for placing numbers on those tiles? (I.e. using the small letters on those chits to place the tokens in a clockwise spiral). Or are those part of setup you are looking for? –  user1873 Jan 1 '13 at 12:38
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7 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted
+50

We use Better Settlers.

The Better Settlers Board Generator is for use with the offline board game Settlers of Catan. Not only does it allow for faster game setup, it generates a fair and engaging game.

We love playing Settlers. We've noticed that sometimes the game seems to be over in the first fifteen minutes--and no matter how fairly we try to distribute resources and probabilities during setup, natural bias creeps in. So we developed the Better Settlers Board Generator.

The algorithm for the generator is designed to create fair play. The result is more riveting and engaging play.

You'll have a better game of Settlers.

I have no idea what the algorithm that they use is, but in all of our games so far its worked fairly well. There is also an android app.

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In 9 hours I'm going to award you some bounty. Can't imagine how you found this, what with them not showing up at all when Google searching Catan board layouts. –  Droogans Jan 2 '13 at 14:25
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From looking at that, it seems there will be a huge advantage to going last, as most location have similar "pips" and so choosing both settlements together will be very beneficial. Normally the advantage varies between going first, second, third or fourth depending on the layout. –  Nick Jan 2 '13 at 15:31
    
@Nick I find there is an advantage to going last regardless of layout, or rather there is a disadvantage to going first as you are always going to end up with the worst position - 2 ok spots > 1 brilliant spot and 1 terrible spot. –  Justin Jan 2 '13 at 17:11
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@Justin: Sounds more like the generator deliberately weeds out those setups where its better to go first, leaving just those where it is best to go last... –  Chris Dodd Jan 2 '13 at 19:36
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When I see a Catan game drag for lack of resources, it's usually because the stone is in short supply. Two factors can cause this: the stone having poor numbers, of course, and most of the stone being next to poor tiles (the desert, the coast, lousy ports like the stone port, other poor numbers). This means that cities don't get built for a while, which slows the game down, and development cards aren't bought much, which means you might not see the Largest Army or VP card bonuses accelerating the game end.

Stone is particularly vulnerable to scarcity because there's only three tiles, and building a city requires a lot of stone all at once, so it's difficult to trade with the bank to get enough. By contrast, if brick is in short supply, players can trade their excess wood/sheep/whatever with the bank at their convenience and often use it right away to build the road or settlement. Scarce brick is something that good players will be aware of and work around, of course, but I don't think it slows the game as much as a stone shortage, and I wouldn't fiddle with the board to make more available except maybe with a first-time player at the table.

If you want to prevent this from happening in a game you're playing, an easy house rule/trick is just to swap a bad stone tile with a good tile of some resource that's very abundant, leaving the number chits in place.

I wouldn't recommend extensive rules for setting up the board; any time you might gain in the play would be eaten up by the longer setup! I do not play Catan competitively, but I have a friend who plays in convention tournaments, and have never heard him mention any setup other than random. Everyone is playing on the same board, after all, and if one player takes a lead then the others have adequate tools available (the robber, trade embargoes) to slow the leader down.

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I've played many of games of Settlers, and I think it's most fun to follow the normal rule of random placement (with pre-determined numbering).

The preset number arrangement keeps sixes and eights from being side-by-side, and depending on where the desert lands, there's usually also strong 5-9-10 points. And, that variable desert keeps it from being identical every time.

Sometimes there is a shortage of a key resource, and sometimes everyone looks at the board and groans, but that's part of the genius of the game: each is different, and you learn to adapt your plans to what comes out in the draw. If ore is rare and all the good ore spaces are taken by the time your turn comes up, then it's time to look at a sheep-port strategy or something else — even if it's not what you normally prefer to do. This is an important aspect which keeps the game fresh. It may not always be completely fair, but when you play several games, it all works out.

If you really like the idea of scenarios, take a look at the Seafarers expansion, which comes with a number of pre-designed layouts. The additional rules (including larger boards and multiple islands) allow for a flexibility which makes these more interesting than pre-determined boards for the base game would be.

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Short Answer: No, I've never seen such a list.

Longer Answer: it's pretty easy to generate reasonably fair boards for the starting tile assortment.

Remembering that the distribution is: Desert, 12, 11, 11, 10, 10, 9, 9, 8, 8, 6, 6, 5, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2...

I would advise using the beginning setups only for a few games. (And for both senses of only - beginning setup only and only for a few games.)

Then, for the next several, use random tile placement and random port placement, with the fixed number sequence, but then swap out a marker so that
(1) no resource has more than one of 6 or 8
(2) at least one stone is in the 5, 6, 8, or 9.
(3) it's may be worth avoiding more than 1 each in the 5's and 9's.† and then randomize the ports so that
(4) no port is touching its own resource -
(4a) if one is, swap for a generic port;
(4b) if two are, swap them with each other

I've found that after that, you should be able to handle any board that has at least one stone outside the range 2, 3, 11, 12.

Also, when you move on to randomizing number positions, make certain no 6 nor 8 is adjacent to another 6 or 8, and no number is next to itself. This is especially vital on the 5-6 player map.

The thing is, a "Fair Board" is merely one that allows all players an equal chance to win... but in general, no matter how fair the board is, at least one player in a 4 player game will wind up with a sub-optimal starting position. 2, typically, in the 6-player game.

Oh, and the longest game I played was a 3 player where stone was on 6, 6, and 8, and sheep were 5, 8, 9, 9. Wheat wound up 3, 11, 11, 12 - and never got rolled.

So, don't stress over it. Just make certain that no resource dominates in the 6's and 8's.


† only with novices do I really worry about that. Competent players can cope.

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The pre-set layout is intended for your first game only. It includes the starting settlement positions. This means that if you haven't played before all players get at least a reasonable starting position, whereas if you picked starting positions on a random board it is highly likely that a novice player would choose a bad starting position as they have no experience with the game, and therefore have a bad playing experience.

My copy of settlers came with the pre-set layout printed on its own A3 sheet of glossy paper in the box, separate from the rules and Almanac.

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Have you tried contacting Mayfair Games and see if they publish the setups for previous tournament games? Or ask them how boards for a tournament are generated? I know that they print out sheets of layouts so they can build 10 similar boards but how the layout gets generated is a bit of a mystery. My feel is that some "authority" has to create the layouts and send them to all the tournament directors so gameplay at qualifiers through finals is "fair" for everyone. After a layout is used I don;t think it is used again so they should be able to release it in some way/shape/form for others to use and possibly practice on.

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When using Setup Catan you can select a Standard Starting Setup-up option for most layout. This will usually be based on the rule books from the 4th edition Mayfair sets sold by Amazon in 2009. For Seafarers, there are different defaults for 3-4 plays in the first four scenarios. Most of the provided defaults for combining Traders & Barbarians come from the PDFs available on the official Catan website.

I was inspired by Better Settlers to create this, but the algorithm used is entirely brute force. It takes the initial base layout and shuffles the tiles, tokens, edges, and/or harbors based the settings you select. The randomized layouts are tested against some basic checks all from the rule books, such as no 6 or 8 adjacent. This 6/8 rule is also considered when including Fishermen tiles. If you have combined all the additional pieces from the various expansions into a single box the parts list can help to set things up quickly.

To address your original questions with regards to Setup Catan.

  • These starting positions could be considered user recommended by me. I personally made the site and found that it has led to some enjoyable games.
  • I would be interested to know what is done for tournament play. This site tries to follow the available rules that I had in print and could find online.
  • For a more balanced game with some variety we generally shuffle just the hexes and harbor only. This cause the numbers tokens to be laid out according to the spiral alphabet pattern.
  • There are few additional checks that attempt to prevent an unbalanced or boring game. For example on the island scenarios the wood and sheep should be well distributed.
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I linked to you in the question, if you read the part that says "pretty decent tool". I looked up your personal site from the footer, and from there, your bitbucket. Huge props for posting the site code publicly. Your source code for generating the tiles is an exception to the "ugly php" code rule. –  Droogans Jan 26 '13 at 15:04
    
Thank you for your comments. I did indeed notice the link; in fact it was the spike in referral traffic that lead me to this site. I did not know jquery or php before starting this project so it was quite a learning experience. One dirty little secret: I originally wrote the layout generation code in javascript and then developed a simple script to reformat as php. –  brehberg Jan 26 '13 at 16:28
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