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The Settlers of Catan: Chat Transcript - 28 January

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Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008

Scurra> OK - let's talk Settlers then
Tube_Maxwell> I'm ready
Scurra> First up - my friend Dave asked a group what they liked about the game (to see what came up)
Scurra> So, to begin with - the first thing they said was that they like the random board set-up
Scurra> I think this is a key component of the design
Tube_Maxwell> I like that too.
Torrent> Ive only ever played on BSW, but it strikes me as the second greatest generator of choas
Scurra> It's that element of ensuring that everything is always represented in a very compact space whilst, as Torrent says, ensuring a healthy amount of chaos
Tube_Maxwell> A game with tons of wheat feels very different than one where you can't get any.
zaiga> I think the random board is a good thing
Torrent> that you can have a board setup that could make it really an unfun game
zaiga> I agree with that too, there are certain setups that make for very slow games, but I like the idea of games that have a different setup each time
Tube_Maxwell> It is hard when you have a board with horrible wood or brick, it makes the beginning really drag
Scurra> Now there is a second component to the "random board" of course and that is the "number markers"
Scurra> Some people just put the markers on the resources randomly whilst others follow the "spiral" pattern that ensures the production numbers are spaced
zaiga> That's a horrible idea
zaiga> Spiral good
Scurra> oh I agree
Tube_Maxwell> I think the spiral pattern is there for a reason
Scurra> but the combination of the two factors makes for a very different experience each time
Torrent> that sounds somewhat better.. so one player cant get a spot with 3 6's
zaiga> I think the spiral thing is pretty clever. If you don't follow it you may have certain hotspots and that would tend to favour whoever may start placing villages
Scurra> (there are only two 6's! - there are two of everything except 2 & 12 IIRC
zaiga> Correct
Scurra> Indeed, I think that the spiral pattern is the thing that elevates the design but it is also a limiting factor (something we'll come on to later when we discuss "expansions" )
zaiga> But the fact that the start of the game can drag sometimes becomes brick and wood are so rare is not so nice
Scurra> Indeed - and there is no good way around that
zaiga> Not really, except perhaps roll quickly
Scurra> So the trade-off against the "random" map is, indeed, the random "rolls"
zaiga> Perhaps if the resources needed for roads were different than that for villages it might have helped things a bit
Scurra> What the group disliked was the non-uniform distribution of the dice rolls
Scurra> Over a long period, the rolls will indeed average out but within an individual game you can get some pretty peculiar results
zaiga> Yes, but isn't that the case with every game with dice?
Scurra> Exactly - that's why *I* don't consider it an issue - but they clearly did
Torrent> I think it is more pronounced in Settlers.
zaiga> It's part of the game and you just have to play the odds and hope the odds will work in your favour this time. Sometimes it will and sometimes it won't
Torrent> there is a basic problem I was reading about somewhere, that some of th resources are more useful than others
Scurra> (can I come back to the imbalanced resources thing a little later?!)
Scurra> Oh yes - I am a totem for bad rolls - if I'm on a 6, everyone else goes on an 8 because they know 6s won't come up! OTOH I tend to be very much luckier with 2s and 12s than other people...
zaiga> Well, if people don't like dice they can play other games. Not every game works for everyone.
Torrent> Someone on one of the forums recommended Deck of Dice.
zaiga> I am very good at rolling 7's
Scurra> I do not advocate a deck of dice for Settlers at all
zaiga> Agree
Scurra> Rather oddly, I think it distorts the feel dramatically even though it ought to improve it
Torrent> playing on BSW I couldnt tell
Scurra> The reason I like the dice in Settlers is because most people *can* get a handle on frequencies even though they don't realise it which is one the key reasons Settlers works - the learning curve is very shallow
zaiga> I don't see how a deck of dice could improve Settlers It's flaw is not that is has dice
Torrent> Like i said before I think it is more pronounced in Settlers.
Torrent> In other games poor rolls means slow progress, Settlers it can mean no progress
Scurra> and that's a part of the design - it should be skewed like that
zaiga> The strategy learning curve you mean?
Scurra> no I think I mean the rules learning curve
Scurra> the strategy learning curve is very peculiar in Settlers
Scurra> It seems to have "dips" in it
zaiga> Well, I don't agree with that. I think Settlers is quite a complex game for a non-gamer to learn
Scurra> Really? Where do you think the problems are?
Scurra> (I must note that I always use the "preset" board when introducing people to the game though)
zaiga> Well, there are quite a bit of rules actually. It's just that we have become accustomed to them so much, we forget that Settlers is still a medium weigth game
zaiga> I mean, it's more complex than something as Carcassonne
Scurra> oh indeed. Although even Carc is "heavier" than it seems
Scurra> OK, so there are complexities in the rules interactions, that I admit although I reckon that "roll the dice, collect resources" is pretty easy to grasp but the "set-up" phase is complicated (which is why I like the preset system)
zaiga> Oh yes, each individual rule is not too complex
Scurra> and, of course, the set-up phase exhibits one of the major weaknesses of the game which is that you can get "locked out" almost through no fault of your own
Torrent> that is the part of the game that I dislike.
zaiga> True, if all the good places are gone by the time you get to place your village
Torrent> I don't mind faring badly if I played badly, I dislike faring badly just because
zaiga> And setup is so crucial for the rest of the game
Scurra> Right
zaiga> Half the game is setup and the first couple of turns
Scurra> Which is partly why I said that I think the strategy learning curve has "dips" or "kinks" in it
zaiga> Sometimes a player can be technically "eliminated" before someone has even reached 5 points - Which is what I dislike most about Settlers
Scurra> Since the set-up phase assumes much greater importance once the players have experience and players have to re-evaluate certain aspects
zaiga> Yes, agreed
Torrent> right
Scurra> (like the Harbours)
zaiga> There are other games where setup is very important too, but at least you can still "play" even when you do badly at the setup
Scurra> One of the reasons this happens in Settlers is, of course, because the game avoids "conflict" (as in "battles") - It's full of conflict in other ways
zaiga> You can battle for a good spot on the board
Scurra> And this lack of "battles" is why players get stuck
Torrent> Player Interaction is through "Blocking" and refusal or agreement to Trade
Scurra> Yes, once something is placed, there is no way to move it. Now I think this is a terrific feature of the game but it doesn't lend itself to "social" play very easily (unlike, say, Carc, which has that quality of being playable in "social" or "cut-throat" modes!)
zaiga> Hmm, I think Settlers *can* be a rather nasty game
Scurra> Yes, that's what I was saying
zaiga> Players blocking eachother with roads, refusing to trade, placing the robber, using monopoly cards - In that sense there is a lot of interaction
zaiga> But I think there is a good reason why players cannot destriy eachothers villages, roads and cities: the game could potential never end
Darkehorse> what makes it cool is the multiple paths to victory thingy
Torrent> The Robber I think is the most anti-social part of things, the most cut-throat
Scurra> Ah yes, the Robber
Scurra> Let's do that next... since it crops up on lots of people's hate list. The Robber acts as a "hit the (perceived) leader" tool
zaiga> It certainly does
Scurra> but it can also serve as a game lengthener
Torrent> or hit the guy with lots of mountians and hope you can nab an Ore
Scurra> and, indeed, as a strategic weapon
zaiga> Mechanic wise the game needs a devise like the Robber, because the game often has a runaway leader. You need something to claw him or her back
Torrent> but does the Robber actually stifle the Leader that much?
Scurra> yes, it's clearly there as a control mechanism
zaiga> I think it is effective enough
Scurra> My experience is that it's pretty good too
zaiga> That plus trading embargoes
Scurra> (speaking as someone who almost always ends Settlers games on 9 points )
zaiga> But it does make the endgame drag... typical of a lot of race-style games
Torrent> I think it ends up being quite a double-edge sword.
Scurra> Yes, we were talking about "end-games" in the chat last night
Torrent> potentially hurting the non-leaders as much.
Scurra> Settlers is interesting in that it doesn't have that "big finish" ending
Torrent> But my opinion is colored as Im an absolutely horrible Settlers Player
zaiga> In Settlers you are typically waiting for the right roll to finish your last point
Scurra> but because you can't "lose" points, the end is inexorable
zaiga> You can lose the Longest Road or Biggest Army
Scurra> Fair point
zaiga> But yes, eventually it will end
Scurra> But I think that if things are going that badly, the loss is because someone else has won with them!
zaiga> I think that you only need to concern yourself with the Longest Road an/or Biggest Army at the very end
Scurra> So from a design stand-point, Settlers has a clearly defined end-point that can be seen arriving allowing the players to try and do something about it without causing the game to stall
zaiga> Earlier on extra villages and cities are more importnat because they also generate income (leading to the runaway leader problem)
Scurra> well, it does depend on where those villages are, of course! but in general that's true
zaiga> You don't really need to make a choice between VP's or resources
Scurra> you aren't, surely? I mean the choice is between resources, isn't it? (where you try to build)
zaiga> Yes, do you choose resource X or resource Y? A village here or a city there? What is more effective?
Scurra> which brings us back nicely to the random board issue
Scurra> one of the neat features (that it takes some players a while to realise) is that not all resources are created equal
Scurra> I can't recall directly, but there is less Brick than Wood isn't there?
zaiga> Havent you done your homework?
Scurra> My set is locked in a cupboard somewhere at our Games club
hpox> Yes.
zaiga> I don't know. I do know that there is a bit too much sheep
hpox> 4 woods, 3 bricks
hpox> 4 sheep
zaiga> Ah
Scurra> Ah - now the sheep issue is interesting
hpox> It's interesting that there is the same number of Woods and Sheep tile but it looks like Sheep is more plentyful (even when the 5,6,8,9 aren't on them) because of it's value!
Scurra> When I finally got to see Seafarers, I finally understood the Sheep issue which takes us on to how Settlers has been "expanded"
Darkehorse> what is the sheep issue?
Scurra> Earlier, Torrent noted that not all resources are used equally. Sheep are particularly underused (even compared to Rock/Stone)
zaiga> You simply don't use sheep as much as the other resources
Darkehorse> I see.. Gotcha
Scurra> But in Seafarers, you use Sheep to build boats - heaven knows why!
zaiga> I wonder why they didn't switch the number of sheep and brick tiles
Darkehorse> sheep wool = sails
zaiga> I think Sheep float very well
Scurra> darke, yes d'oh! Although wool sails would be a bit dodgy
Scurra> When I first saw Seafarers, I thought "aha - this is how the game was originally designed" and the basic game is the cut-down version
Darkehorse> guys, duh!
zaiga> It was, wasn't it?
Scurra> Well, it was an evolution of Entdecker, certainly
Scurra> But by cutting the boats out, you are left with that odd Sheep thing that doesn't really make sense except in the wider context
zaiga> So... point?
Scurra> It reflects on the design process
hpox> I guess they didn't switch because it added tension. Having everything balanced is not always a good idea.
Scurra> If you look at Settlers on its own then the Sheep thing looks slightly odd, but when you see it with Seafarers, it makes more sense
Scurra> So sometimes you can have something in a design that relates to a "wider" game without it being wrong
zaiga> Of course, it's a very minor issue
Scurra> indeed - it doesn't really matter that much
Darkehorse> Perhaps settlers is flawed in that respect.. It really is one of the first games to focus so greatly on design, perhaps Klaus screwed up.
zaiga> I wouldn't say Klaus screwed up
Scurra> and I have wondered if the "harbours" were a way of helping to rebalance that aspect a little
Darkehorse> It's not a screw up persay, perhaps an oversight.. Heck perhaps he intended settlers and seafarers to be one game but mayfair made him cut out the sea aspect of the game
zaiga> Are there more harbours of a certain type?
zaiga> Darke: that's more or less how it wents
Scurra> Seafarers is a much more complex experience
hpox> It's not that much of a problem in our games...
zaiga> It doesn't break the game in anyway and it's always fun when someone want to trade a lot of sheep
Scurra> (Oh yes, I've built an entire city out of sheep before now)
Darkehorse> Honestly I've only played the game 3 times so I'm getting a lot of good insight into it
Scurra> I want to stress that I don't consider it a problem that there is a component that is related to a wider game) because it clearly works as part of this one
Scurra> However, the question then arises - can you take a single game too far?
zaiga> As long as it is not a problem when you play without the expansion
Scurra> People start to talk about the Settlers "franchise"
zaiga> Ah yes, you can take a single game too far!
Scurra> both by adding more and more to the basic game, and by translating the game to other environments
zaiga> I think the basic game is fair enough, but it's immense popularity and all the expansions bewilders me
hpox> I'm waiting to see how far Puerto Rico goes...
zaiga> I love Puerto Rico, but I am not interested in any expansion
Scurra> Well I proposed "Starport Carcassonne" when H&G was first announced - it seemed like the logical extension
XXOOCC> Was sprechen sie, meine herren?
hpox> XX: We are talking about "Settlers"
Scurra> So do people think that "Starfarers" was a Settlers too far?
zaiga> English, por favor
Scurra> Or is that "Stone Age"?
XXOOCC> Not me.. I think its the only sup worth buying )
XXOOCC> (although I got the other sups for free)
Scurra> Yeah, but that's because of the Flash Gordon ships, isn't it?)
Scurra> I have to admit that each different variant I have played has brought something interesting to the mix
XXOOCC> I think the game is 'different' enough to be worth the money
zaiga> I don't care for any of the expansions, simply because I don't think the basic game is THAT great. And even if it were I think I wouldn't care. I just don't care for expansions
Scurra> from the Encounter cards in Starfarers, to the Development tracks in Stone Age
XXOOCC> I haven't played Stone Age as yet.
SVan> i remember getting seafarers when it first came out and paying 40 dollars for it, and thinking wow that was way too much money for that
XXOOCC> you get tons of toys with Starfarers
hpox> The only thing I dislike about the expansions is that you need one to play 5-6. Common.
SVan> it turned me off from the getting any other ones
zaiga> Although I must admit that Stone Age sounds kinda cool
Scurra> The Stone Age one is excellent
Scurra> Although it's a fixed board there are mechanisms that drive you out of your starting location
SVan> although i'm not saying it was bad, quite the opposite
SVan> does it play much differently from settlers?
Scurra> It's hard to say really!
Scurra> The basic mechanic is obviously the same - roll and collect resources
XXOOCC> A bit, yes.. you can (IMO) tell that the same designer was involved in both )
Scurra> but the movement mechanic is very innovative
Scurra> Now from a design point of view, having found a robust mechanic should you exploit it to death or not?
Scurra> Teuber seems to have opted for the "to the death" approach (although I don't think he's near it yet!)
XXOOCC> ...we do... if it sells...well... sell it.
zaiga> Oh I would reuse mechanics, but not a complete gamesystem
SVan> exactly
XXOOCC> there are now 4 versions of War PIGs, and a fifth is on the way...
Scurra> (whereas Knizia has gone for the "sell the exact same game again but rename it" approach... )
SVan> i think minor mechanics are free game, major ones are taboo
zaiga> I think someone interested in selling a game has different priorities from someone designing a game
SVan> imo at least
SVan> i think expansions are good for a game, if they bring something new to the table
XXOOCC> You do need to give something extra each time, some unique aspects, or you p-o your fanbase (IMO)
XXOOCC> Zaiga: they shouldn't... not if they want to be a successful designer.
Scurra> Yes indeed. But I do wonder if there's a whole room of people trying to develop the Settlers mechanic in different ways (kind of like a team of writers for a TV show)
XXOOCC> "Play this! I know whats fun better than you do!" is just hutzpah. You give the player what they want.
zaiga> Chris: I agree that a designer should care about whether something will sell or not, but I don't think a designer should come up with variations on the same thing over and over again.
XXOOCC> ...again... if the 'new game' is not unique to a large extent... you DO (uderline and doublescore) p-o your fanbase...
SVan> i guess the words "selling out" could classify here

doho123's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
The Settlers of Catan: Chat Transcript - 28 January

Regarding the sheep thing: At some point, a long time ago, I had read that Settlers, for all practical purposes, WAS the base game and the Seafarers expansion combined. However due to cost, it was decided to cut back the game a bit and remove the ships (and naturally, the extra tiles). So whatever discrepency you might feel about the sheep is most likely that: the game was orginally designed with sheep also paying for boat sails.

And amongst my friends, we rate Starfarers higher than Settlers. The game feels a little more balanced against crummy dice rolls, and the government subsidy for bad luck players is a nice touch (however, it does tend to point out that needing the subsidy fixes something that is inherently broken in the system). And we find the encounter cards to be fairly fun to read to the other players.

Joined: 08/16/2009
The Settlers of Catan: Chat Transcript - 28 January

One element that I didn't see mentioned in the chat that I have seen before is the fact that the board, once it is set up, is non-fiddly. In other words, once you lay a road it stays there, the only replacement is if a village is converted into a city. I think this contributes to the overall 'clean' design of the game.

I have always thought that if each 'player' had a dice deck, and could choose what numbers to roll it would make the game more strategic. Once you have played a dice card it is unavailable to you until you have used all of your remaining dice cards - so at some point you are going to have to choose that 2 or 12.


Torrent's picture
Joined: 08/03/2008
The Settlers of Catan: Chat Transcript - 28 January

In the vien of Game Francise, Carcassonne is a good example of this. Both with exspansions on the base game and with independant differently themed games. But from what I know of Carc expansions they all seem to add things to the base game, adding different ways to score, but not changing the base method of play.
I wonder if there is a comparison somewhere of the two francises.

Scurra's picture
Joined: 09/11/2008
The Settlers of Catan: Chat Transcript - 28 January

doho123 wrote:
So whatever discrepency you might feel about the sheep is most likely that: the game was orginally designed with sheep also paying for boat sails.

Yes, I think I mentioned that - I saw Seafarers and thought "aha - this is how the game was originally designed", without actually knowing that! (because it made so much more sense that way.)

IMO Seafarers detracts a little from the whole Settlers experience by permitting a far more random board set up; one of the wonderful things about the original island is the sheer neatness of the shape and the interactions which are different in Seafarers.

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