Motivation: I once had one surplus card on my hand, and knew the robbers would come soon. So I gave it to someone for free, to avoid losing more cards when they hit.
I was surprised by how badly this was received. Two of the three other players (the hosts of the game) acted upset, like I had tried to cheat. I had to take the card back, get robbed the next turn and 'giving cards away for free' was banned immediately. (Oh, how I hate mid-game additions to the rules. But that's beside the point.)

So now the question: Is this really illegal in Settlers of Catan? Is it generally considered underhanded in any way? If so, why?

My reasoning was like this:

Consider players A and B.
A wants to give B a sheep.
A trades a sheep and one rock to B, in exchange for wheat.
A trades the received wheat for the (formerly his) rock.
A and B now both have the same resources they had in the beginning, only the sheep has moved from A to B.

  • 4
    Can you clarify when you are giving away cards – is this during a normal trade portion of the turn? Also, what do you mean by "knew the robbers would come soon"? You only discard down to half when a 7 is rolled and you have > 7 resource cards. Dice rolls can be assumed to be independent, so the likelihood of a 7 occurring next doesn't change over the course of a game...
    – Hao Ye
    Dec 17 '14 at 1:11
  • The reasoning scenario you provided is different from giving away resources because each player starts and ends with the same number of resources so it is completely different from giving away resources for the purpose of having less cards. May 31 '16 at 18:09

Contrary to what mafu has stated in their answer, there is an official rule against this practice:

You may trade with another player between your turns, but only if it is his turn and he elects to trade with you. You cannot trade with the bank during another player’s turn. You may not give away cards.

(from the Almanac section of the rulebook, near the top of p14)

I understand that you can "effectively" give away cards by cunning sequences of "legitimate" trades, but it seems clear that this isn't really in the spirit of the game, and players should feel free to frown upon such sharp practice!

  • Yeah, thanks! This helped. When I asked the game hosts whether this was forbidden by the rules, they said that probably no, not explicitly, but then I'd avoid the robber. That was their main problem, which didn't sound very legit.
    – ver
    Jan 5 '12 at 11:11
  • My mistake! Thanks for pointing it out, it's been a while since I read the rulebook and I remembered it wrongly. Very interesting.
    – mafu
    Jan 5 '12 at 13:53
  • 6
    @ver, While you can't give away cards, you could easily do a trade that may be slightly against your favor (normally) to end up with one less card in your hand. I can't see anything against the spirit in that.
    – user606723
    Jan 5 '12 at 15:47
  • 1
    I absolutely would not expect anyone to frown upon this - it's perfectly valid. As is changing your mind after the first trade and leaving the asking player stuffed. The best way to do this is to trade 2 sheep for 1 sheep, or similar.
    – xorsyst
    Dec 19 '14 at 13:06
  • 1
    @xorsyst Trading 2 sheep for 1 sheep is also explicity forbidden in the rules. It is in the same section. "You may not trade like resources (e.g., 2 wool for 1 wool)." But of course you can offer any valid trade, they cannot make a rule on motive or strategy. So your goal might be to get a certain player to have more cards or certain cards even if you are getting something worse or end up with a lot less cards than you started with. May 31 '16 at 17:56

This question is answered in the official Settlers of Catan FAQ:

Trade - Can I give away resources or buy services with them, for example, to avoid being bothered by the robber?

No. On Catan, a trade always involves a give and take of resources. Consequently, Catan’s trade law does not contain a “trade” of something for nothing or for immaterial goods such as services.

Although you could get around this by doing the 2:1 then 1:1 trades, it violates the spirit of the rules and would be looked down upon by your fellow players.

  • You don't even need to go to the FAQ for this, it is explicitly forbidden in the rulebook! You are right though that it's hard to see how to stop getting around the rule by sneaky sequences of trades: I would suggest that, following the 2:1 trade, it is permitted for one of the players to renege on doing the 1:1 trade. This might makes players think twice before trying to "game" the rules in this way! Jan 5 '12 at 11:03
  • Right. I was pretty sure it was in the core rules, but I didn't have them to hand to check! I remembered seeing it in the FAQ, though, so I used that as a source and citation.
    – Aether
    Jan 5 '12 at 11:06
  • 4
    Catan's trade law?!?! So this island has not only already been settled, but its inhabitants have their own laws and just happen to be letting us invade their terriory?!?! :D ;) Jan 8 '12 at 0:43

The 5th edition rules do specifically prevent giving away resources directly:

You cannot give away cards, or trade matching resources ("trade" 3 ore for 1 ore).

There is nothing in the rules to prevent the thing you describe, namely using intermediary resources to effectively give away a resource without literally doing so.

As a result, this rule seems rather odd. All it literally prevents is a players gifting in particular situations (such as to a player with an empty hand). We need to dig into why this rule exists in order to evaluate what is or is not in "the spirit" of it. Here are some possible explanations, with their implications for the situation you describe:

  1. The rule exists to prevent kingmaking. A player who is decisively losing could decide they want one of the players in the lead to win and start gifting all of their resources to cause that player to win. The rule doesn't seem very good at preventing this, as a player can just as easily kingmake by giving resources to a player at extremely favorable rates, but it does still add logistical complications, which may psychologically disincentivize this. If this is the reason for the rule, then gifting a resource to avoid the robber is totally fine, as it benefits you to do so potentially as much as it benefits the player getting the free resource.

  2. The rule exists to prevent "7 dodging". The point of losing half your resources on a 7 is both to penalize hoarders and give some advantage to players in last. Thus, the rule is to preventing players from blatantly getting rid of resources to be at that safe 7 number. If this is the intent, the rule is not very good at this, as you can just make a 2 for 1 trade of different resources to get under the limit. In this case, giving away a resource is what the rules are trying (but failing) to prevent, and so is against the spirit of the rules.

  3. The rule exists to prevent players trading resources for non-resources, such as robber placements, settlement spots, loans, and futures. In my opinion, allowing these things makes the game better, but that is personal preference. If this is the reason for this rule, it's unclear what the spirit of the rules is with regard to "7 dodging", as the benefit you are getting is simply having fewer resources rather than some non-resource concession from the receiving player. What is definitely against the spirit of the rules in this case is trading extra resources to a player (to get down to 7 cards) in exchange for some of those cards back later.

At the end of the day, "the spirit" of the rules is defined by your play group. If the hosts have a particular interpretation of the rules for a game, that's typically what you have to go with. My group's preference is to house rule that you can trade resources for intangibles, in order to allow all of those fun things like futures and bribery.


There is an 'official' rule against this idea, since one player is unfairly favored over the others, and it may create trouble in practice.

In my games, we usually avoid this issue by trading 2:1 (with a player) to a resource you need anyway. If you got any 2:1 ports to reduce your number of cards, use those instead as it is fair to everyone.

Example: Assume you intend to build a city, but have two extra sheep you don't need and lack a wheat. Your number of cards adds up to 8. Simply trade the sheep 2:1 with someone to wheat and you'll not only avoid the robber, you'll also make progress towards your goal.

Either way, this pretty much only applies in the early game when you're unlikely to get many resources per turn. Later, when you've already got a number of towns built, you'll get new cards almost every turn so giving away one of them is less important.

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