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In Settlers of Catan, what are the precise rules for when a trade is completed and there is no going back? For example, if player 1 asks if anyone is looking to trade a resource for another resource and player 2 agrees, is player 1 bound to that trade or do both parties have to then agree on an exact trade before continuing?

In other words, is offering a trade to all players an implicit agreement to a specific trade with a particular player? If not, is there any way to agree on trades that does not result in showing what's in your hand?

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    Are you suggesting that "will anyone trade a sheep for an ore?" should be interpreted as "I will trade one sheep for one ore with the first person who agrees to it"? – Cascabel Mar 30 '16 at 20:53
  • Personally I think it shouldn't, but this was the debate that came up in play that we couldn't agree on – Matthew Fennell Mar 30 '16 at 21:03
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    I don't see any way you could negotiate a trade without revealing anything about what's in your hand. Both parties need to know what is being traded. I suppose you could trade a brick for two unnamed resources, but I've never seen that happen. – Nuclear Wang Mar 31 '16 at 10:40
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    I've seen people offering to trade, hoping to obtain wheat, asking the table if anyone has any for trade. Then before closing the deal, they play a monopoly on wheat. AFAIK that's a legal move, but it doesn't win you any friends and can cost you the game. – freekvd Mar 31 '16 at 11:04
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Trading

The type of rule you are asking for is similar to the Chess rule that says...

Once the hand is taken off a piece after moving it, the move cannot be retracted (unless the move is illegal)."

Catan rules aren't that specific, unfortunately. There is no rule in Catan that covers when a trade is complete with this level of detail. Therefore, it is up to you and your play group. If I were in your play group, I would argue that a trade is complete when the cards have physically changed hands. That is how goods exchanges work in real life - I give you money, you give me goods.

If you allow trades to be taken back after cards have exchanged hands, then you have to remember what cards you traded. More importantly, you have to still have the cards, and not have spent them.

If you don't allow trades to be taken back before cards have exchanged hands, then what happens if I don't have the cards I said I would trade? Maybe I wanted to bluff that I had a card for trade just so the other guy would get a worse deal.

Bluffing

Bluffing is generally an acceptable practice in any game that involves hidden information. But, the difference between lying and bluffing is not always clear. In Catan, you just have to know it when you see it. For example, saying "I have wheat." when I really don't is a bluff by any reasonable definition of the word, but saying "I have seven cards." when I really have eight is just a lie. If your group is not okay with bluffing, then your play group may need to create a house rule that prohibits it. Otherwise, it's fair game.

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    I think the OP is proposing a system where you preserve hand secrecy as much as possible, at the cost of removing most of the flexibility of negotiation. You would just make a specific trade offer, then as soon as anyone accepts it, you're both bound to make that exact trade. You just wouldn't be allowed to bluff. And if you wanted to try to trade with a specific person preferentially, you'd have to offer just to them first. – Cascabel Mar 30 '16 at 20:59
  • @Jefromi I interpreted the question as simply "When are take backs allowed?" I don't think the OP was proposing a new system - he was just providing examples. – Rainbolt Mar 30 '16 at 21:07
  • Okay, well, one way or another that system (offer+agreement is binding) was under discussion, whether it was the OP or someone they played who suggested it. I was trying to point out that, for example, the issues in your last paragraph are part of that system: you get more hand secrecy, but you can't really bluff or negotiate. – Cascabel Mar 30 '16 at 21:17
  • @Jefromi Oh, I see. I assumed that bluffing was an acceptable part of any board game, but you are pointing out that that may not be the case if your play group implements a system that doesn't allow bluffing. When I have time, I'll add a corrolary to MTG and explain the difference between bluffing and lying, and explain that while the rules of Catan don't say anything specifically about bluffing, it is probably acceptable unless your play group says it isn't. – Rainbolt Mar 30 '16 at 21:59
  • Yeah, it's definitely acceptable in general, it's just this particular convention that'd remove the ability to do it. (And my impression is that it'd mostly be an incidental consequence - you'd pick this convention more because of the hand secrecy issue.) – Cascabel Mar 30 '16 at 22:02
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Trades are done when cards change hands, not before, not after. Another player isn't allowed to take cards that are in my hand, I can only give them. If I propose a trade and then change my mind, the other player has no recourse for obtaining the card I offered, unless I consent to the trade. Similarly, once the cards have changed hands, I have no way of forcing my opponent to give it back if I change my mind. In Catan, possession is ten tenths of the law.

Proposing a trade to the table as a whole is usually just a shortcut for proposing it to one player at a time. Even if the leading opponent is the first to speak up about a trade, I would much prefer to trade with someone who isn't winning. Again, even if he's the first to "accept" the trade, he has no way of forcing me to carry it out.

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The rules don't explicitly declare it as "locked in and done" at any one point. Catan isn't MTG; the rules aren't that specific. It's a social game, so the first rule is don't be an asshole. That said, you can say you have an open call to trade wheat for bricks, but that is just a matter of you letting the other players know what you want. Exposing the cards in your hand isn't required, AFAIK. That means that in regards to your specific example, you could put out an open trade agreement on your own turn, then if another player wants to trade with you on their turn and offers it to you you can take it up. However, you are never obligated to make a trade.

As far as take-backs, etc goes, generally the trade is considered done when both people have exchanged cards. But the specific timing of that is up to your group. I would not allow trade-backs once any other action (negotiation, card usage, rolls, etc) has taken place.

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Bluffing

I have very important addition to this part of Rainbolt's answer. Catan is game without hidden information. By the rules and how it is implemented in Catan Universe online version, every move in terms of resources is open to everyone. When you gather resources from first settlement, when you roll the dice, when you trade (both people and bank), when you buy, every person have to see what you get and what you give out. Hence, you can remember all resources that every player has. As I see trade, you can't offer resource that you don't have.

Trading

Proposing a trade to the table as a whole is usually just a shortcut for proposing it to one player at a time.

If you have several options to trade, e.g. two or three players agree to trade, you select the one that is good for you. If you don't want to trade with specific player (who have 9 points or you just don't like that guy) you can decline trade request.

  • I don't think the fact that all gaining and losing of resources is public is relevant here. A lot of games make it technically possible to fully track who has what at all times, yet still expects memory and tracking ability to be a big part of the skill of the game. (In Dominion, the designer has specifically said that taking notes is not allowed, because remembering what people have is one of the skills that the game seeks to employ). It's the same with Catan; being able to remember what resources a player is holding is a skill that can help you do well in the game. – GendoIkari Jul 12 '16 at 14:08

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