At today's game day session, Diana introduced her boyfriend Jerry to Ed and me, and we settled in for an afternoon of four-person games.
By custom, the person with the least points in the game log gets the first choice of game, but as Jerry was a newcomer and didn't know our games, he deferred his choice to Diana, who picked Settlers of Catan.
As we have had a newcomer in each of our games of Settlers, we have only played with the Beginners' setup to date. We are starting to feel as though we are missing a critical aspect of Settlers strategy, as the roughly even Beginners' setup means that luck will be the leading determinant of who starts out ahead. We talked it over for a while, and we basically decided on Jerry's behalf that we were going with the Beginner's setup, so as not to put him at a disadvantage. We gave Jerry the orange color, which in our limited experience seems to be the one that fares the best based on the setup.
Our decision seemed to be borne out when Jerry, not only getting good rolls but catching on very quickly, darted out to an early lead. I played the red color and had hoped to build toward his grain hex, but he built straight into my roads and interrupted my progress there with a settlement. I had little choice but to continue on into that direction but it was only after three or four roads built that I had my first new settlement.
Things seemed very even for a while, and this being our first four-person game, we got a taste of how different the experience is from the three-person game. We all started bumping into each other and having a terrible time accumulating points. I felt that things were going reasonably well for me in the trading, although the chief benefit to me turned out to be development cards. I had my new settlement by grain, and I had updated one of my originals to a city. Meanwhile I had started a very long road that led in between my two initial settlements, and won first grab at the longest road card.
Ed also laid out a very long road, stringing many settlements together without upgrading any to a city for a while.
For a time Ed and I contended for longest road, but I ultimately seemed to prevail in the back-and-forth when he ran out of internal space and mine had broken out to the periphery.
Things were very even for a long time, with little progress by anyone. We were all terribly hemmed in, at least by the standards of the three-person game.
Jerry was the most hemmed in, and had left himself no places to build new settlements. He started trying to challenge for longest road (though we were coaxing him a little bit to try to upgrade more to cities.) When he did so, he eventually pulled the Longest Road card away from me, which seemed only a minor nuisance that would require me to build two more roads to reclaim it. I had more space than Jerry at that point and could, I thought, ensure that I would prevail in that contest.
In the meantime, Diana's fortunes began to improve and she soon had two cities next to one another and began raking in bricks. Everyone (save me) was raking in sheep. I had a temporary lead at one point, despite a weaker position on the board, due to holding the longest road card and a development card for a victory point. But then I made a critical mistake, building a settlement at the end of my long road instead of in the middle, so as to get in on Diana's brick action.
Diana seized an opportunity to build a settlement, cutting my road in half, and forcing me to return the longest road card to Jerry. This pretty much sealed my fate, because I had the weakest position on the board at that point.
We thought Diana was poised to win and traded with her very carefully. But Ed was in the hunt, and his long span of white roads and settlements covered a lot of territory and gave him many resources to draw from with many numbers. He claimed victory at a point where we were all certain Diana would have won on the next turn.