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Settlers of Catan: The Gold House-rule
This article assumes that you are familiar with, and have played the game Settlers of Catan. If you have not, then I am afraid that much of what is written here is going to make no sense. I highly recommend this game—it is a fun game, easy to pick up, and one that (I think) belongs in every game library. So...
If you have not played Catan before, go get a copy and grab 1-3 friends and have some fun. Once you have a few games under your belt, come back here and I think I have some ideas presented below that can increase the fun factor.
If you have played Catan before... welcome to my idea for how to bring this game to a new level of fun.
A Brief History of CATAN
Catan, or The Settlers of Catan in older editions, is a multiplayer board game designed by Klaus Teuber and first published in 1995 in Germany by Franckh-Kosmos Verlag (Kosmos) as Die Siedler von Catan. Players assume the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players are rewarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points is the winner. The game and its many expansions are also published by Mayfair Games, Filosofia, Capcom, 999 Games, Κάισσα, and Devir.
The Settlers of Catan was one of the first German-style board games to achieve popularity outside of Europe. By 2009, over 15 million games in the Catan series had been sold. The game has been translated into 30 languages. It is popular in the United States where it has been called "the board game of our time" by The Washington Post. A 2012 American documentary film titled Going Cardboard (featuring Klaus Teuber) is about this game's impact on American gaming communities and what came of it.
With an introduction like that—a board game that has a documentary describing the impact it has had on the board game industry as a whole—it would be perfectly fair to say that someone like me (with only a few credits in gaming) has nothing to add. But this would be wrong. Very few games are perfect.
Consider Carcassonne. This is another of the Euro-style games that has had huge impacts on the gaming industry as a whole. However, even after they had won just about every award a board game can win, they realized they had a minor and a major flaw in the game:
- Minor: how cities are scored
- Major: in how Farmers are scored
So they changed it. The changes were minor (some would even say trivial). However, they simplified and improved things. Yet this was enough to lead to some to demand that the awards be removed from all printings with the updated rules.
The Settlers of Catan has a similar issue. There is one aspect of the game that can create serious issues (i.e., loss of fun) while playing the game. This is something has been noticed in many of the spin-off games (such as the dice game) where Gold has been added as a resource. With this one, simple addition to the game, things can be smoothed out that, otherwise, can become problematic.
The Problem Defined
The game has five major resources (as shown above). These are:
- Bricks — produced in Hills
- Lumber — produced in Forests
- Wool — produced in Pastures
- Grain — produced in Fields
- Ore — produced in Mountains
- (Desert produces nothing)
Production is random, but (mostly) predictable. The island where the players are vying for control consists of 19 regions (3× Hills; 4× Forest; 4× Pasture; 4× Fields; 3× Mountains; and 1× Desert). Each of the non-desert regions has a production number (2 through 12) which indicates when it will produce resources. Looking at the board you can see the general rate at which each resource will be produced.
However, several things can conspire to ensure that even if you do everything right, you are not going to get what you need. For example:
- If you are third or later to place your initial settlement, you can find yourself locked out of the required early game resources (i.e., Brick, Wood, and to a lesser degree Wool).
- The placement of early roads by other players—or perhaps the production number arrangement—can make obtaining early or late game resources difficult or impossible.
- Trading with other players is key to the game. If you cannot get people to trade with you (either due to events happening within the game, or the metagame), then progress for you can stall and come to a complete halt.
- The placement of the robber can ensure that even well-placed cities and settlements can become little more than stagnant points of interest on the board.
- etc., etc. and so on.
All of this is part and parcel to the game. No game should be so simplistic as to not have such challenges. The problem comes when you are playing the game and you have just had 16 turns go by and you have gotten to do nothing because one or more of the above situations has rendered you impotent.
- You have a hand of cards that consists of a Wool and an Ore, nobody will trade with you (because they do not need Wool or Ore).
- You would love to have some Lumber, but the Forest with your 6 production number has had the robber land on it five out of the last six times it was moved (and you lost the Grain you need to thievery each time).
- The other resources your could trade (either with other players or the bank) are sitting on good production numbers but they are not getting rolled and have not for some time...
So here you sit. You are in the game in a technical sense, but it has been more than a dozen turns since you last got to actually interact with anything (i.e., the board, the bank, or another player). You are having no fun at all, and it is all just because of a few quirks in the way the game handles resources.
The Problem Corrected
With one simple addition (and a handful of simple rules for handling that addition) all of the issues above can be mitigated. Fun can be restored to players having even the most difficult of hills to climb in the game, all without taking anything away from the game. The game does not change and become something else; the game does not cease having the need to carefully plan your strategy in order to win. All that happens is this: a player is never going to have to endure a half-game of nothing to do.
The first thing that is needed is a set of tokens of some sort to represent Gold. Gold is a resource; but it is not represented as a card. Poker chips, glass beads, card-stock chits, wooden cubes, or some other marker should be used. The market has 6 Gold per player (e.g., a four player game should have 24 Gold).
The following information is written in such a way as to inform you as to where, exactly, in the rules book (and Almanac) the new Gold Resource rules belong.
The Turn in Detail
1. Resource Production
After the active player rolls the dice and all production has taken place, any player that did not receive a resource this turn (either because they had no settlements next to a region that produced, or because the robber was blocking production) receives 1 Gold resource.
The active player then collects 1 Gold resource for each city (not settlement) that player controls.
The active player rolls the dice (results: 3 and 5). The two regions marked with an '8' produce this turn. All players who had no settlements and/or cities adjacent to these two regions collect 1 Gold resource instead. The active player then collects 1 Gold resource for each city he or she has.
a) Domestic Trade
Gold is a resource. As a resource, it can be used as part of any trade negotiation with other players.
b) Maritime Trade
During your turn, you can always trade Gold at a 4:1 ratio by putting four Gold resources into the bank and taking any one resource card of your choice for it.
If you have a settlement or city on a 3:1 harbor, you can trade Gold more favorably: at a 3:1 ratio by putting three Gold resources into the bank and taking one resource card of your choice for it.
Special harbors (i.e., the 2:1 specific resource harbord) do not impact Maritime Gold Trade in any way.
4. Special Cases
a) Rolling a '7' and Activating the Robber
If you roll a '7', no one receives any resources. This includes Gold resources.
Gold resources do not count as cards in a player's hand. Thus, Gold is not counted when determining if a player has more than seven resource cards. However, all players lose one-half of the gold they have on hand (round down) when the Robber is activated.
A player has six resource cards and nine gold when a '7' is rolled and the Robber is activated. The player has seven or fewer cards, and so no card-based resources are lost. The player does have nine Gold, however, and will lose one-half (9 ÷ 2 = 4½ → 4 Gold) leaving them with five gold after the Resource Production phase.
Note: Gold is lost on the roll of a '7' without regard for the amount of gold a player has. A player with two Gold resources will lose one of them when a '7' is rolled.
If you have tried this variation, let me know what you thought of it!
- Did not get anything this turn? Collect some Gold.
- Your turn and you have a couple of cities? Collect some more Gold.
- Need some Ore to build a new City and nobody will trade with you? Spend some Gold.
- Need to make a trade, and the person you are trading with has three Gold on hand? Offer them a Gold in addition to a card and remind them that with the four Gold they will have, they can acquire anything they want.
Adding Gold to the Game is a simple thing. A minor thing. It is a resource that, by itself, cannot be used to build a Road, a Settlement, a City, or acquire a Development Card. But, it can help to grease the wheels of Local Trade, provide additional options for Maritime Trade, and ensure that even on those spans where you have gone four turns without a settlement or city producing anything, you still got something out of it. And that one card (equivalent) over four turns may be just enough to turn a long boring span of nothing to do into a long tense (but still fun) span of possibility.