I was under the impression that the play time in Settlers of Catan was more modest than say, Risk. However it seems almost as long. This is often due to a lot of trading and talk which drags on for a lot of time as people propose variations on a declined trade. Have any of you found similar problems? How would you solve this?
First, make sure you're following the rule that the person who's turn it is must be involved in all trades during that turn. If you let everyone trade during the trading phase, discussions could take a while.
Assuming you're following that rule, it really shouldn't take that person very long to figure out all of the available trades. If you start out by saying "I'm looking for sheep and ore. Is anyone willing to trade those to me?", you can very quickly get a sense of whether any trades will be possible. If anyone says "yes", you say "I have wood or brick that I'm willing to trade, are you interested in either of those?" Now you allow them to propose the precise details of the trade, or you let them say "I'm interested in brick" and you propose a precise trade. There really shouldn't be much of a back and forth; either there's a trade that both of you are interested in, or there isn't, and it shouldn't take more than a few seconds to figure that out. Yes, occasionally you will have a back-and-forth negotiation, but it shouldn't happen in the majority of trades.
It can take some practice to get into the habit of trading quickly and efficiently. I'd recommend trying out Bohnanza(bgg|wikipedia) with the group; it's a fairly quick and easy game that consists almost entirely of trading, so if you play it, you will get in the habit of trading quickly and efficiently or else the game will drag on forever.
Beyond that, it's really a matter of being disciplined while you play. In almost any game, if you allow people to take too long making up their minds or getting distracted by something trivial, it will take a while. Try and set a reasonable pace for the trading by example and by encouraging other players to trade efficiently, and it should speed up after a little while.
If analysis-paralysis is your issue see here. Some minor encouragement to speed things up usually helps, and if not you can think about imposing a turn timer if you think its necessary. Its tempting to figure out every possible trade you could make, but its rarely beneficial or a good use of time.
If you've played the game a few times, solved your long trades issue, and still want quicker game there's a few other tricks you can try. Granted these will change the strategy of the game in minor ways.
- play to 9 victory points.
- use cards instead of dice. I just combine two decks to simulate a dice roll. Having one player do all the card picking can make things go a bit faster.
- give the beginning of the game a little jump-start.
- roll the dice twice before each player's turn in a 2 or 3 player game.
You asked how I would solve this... well I wrote an app for that!
My friends and I have always had the same problem - especially if there is any drinking going on... We find that playing with only 3 people is not so bad but 4 and above the games seem to get exponentially longer. So I wrote an app I call 'Time for Settlers' which does a couple things to help speed up the game - and it really has helped us get more games into an evening.
1) It provides a turn timer - a time limit for each player to do whatever they are going to do in their turn. You run out of time - your turn is over - with or without a completed trade. This really helps people focus on what they need and get their trades done quickly at the beginning of each turn.
2) It rolls the dice for you. Seems simple but this does actually help keep things going, and the app offers multiple rolling styles to vary the degree of randomness and/or roll distribution during a game. A more even distribution can actually speed up a game too since most people place their settlements and cities where they have the highest odds - but sometimes regular dice do strange (random) things and roll a bunch of 2s, 3,s 12,s etc. meaning that less resources are paid out and the game drags.
Together, the timer and the dice rolling really can speed up a game. And as an added bonus the games tend to be more fun with the added pressure of time. It has worked really well for us - it could work for you too!
Its free on iOS and Android:
Also, +1 for the answer provided by shrlck - we call this Tournament start and we always play this way now.
Our group plays Catan with no trades, if you need something, go to the bank. Not even a houserule actually - simply most of our players have a policy of autodeclining everything (or at least anything that's not strongly in their favor like "I'll give you two grain and wood for that single sheep I desperately need"), and trading can't take long even if someone wants to trade, either he makes a very strong offer (which would happen very rarely), or the player who's turn it is simply says no and moves on.
We play with open hands - everyone sees everybody else's cards. That saves a lot of time asking if anyone has a wood for sheep, and we end up with more complicated trades. We also allow everyone to trade and build on anyone's turn (if there's a conflict, priority is clockwise from the current player).
I believe these changes shorten the game, but the real advantage is that they keep everyone involved all the time, so they don't get bored waiting for their turns.