Settlers has always had a special place for me among other boardgames due to the extraordinary number of sessions I played during my college years, however the amount of plays naturally lent to some amount of growing tired of the game. Now whenever my friends and I play Settlers, we almost always play with the Cities and Knights expansion (we did in this session), sometimes combine Seafarers (we did not in this session), and use an additional house rule we've developed (we did in this session):
A standard deck of cards is placed along with the commodity cards on the table, henceforth referred to as "dummy cards." Every player starts the game with a virtual "mini-aqueduct" - on any die role where they would be able to get resources from the aqueduct, if they do not have the real aqueduct yet they can take one of the dummy cards. The dummy cards have no use for building, however they count as a (useless) commodity and can therefore be traded at the best rate that you could currently trade commodities. Every player can trade them 4 for 1 by default; if a player gets a 3:1 port they can then trade the dummy cards 3 for 1, and if they get the Merchant Guild (which allows you to trade commodities 2:1) they can then trade the dummy cards 2 for 1. The dummy cards do not contribute to the 7 card limit for rolling a 7, and they are also not included in random card draws when the robber hits someone.
We played with these rules last night in a 4 player game. The players:
- White: Me
- Red: My brother Adrian
- Blue: Joe, who had only played one game of Cities and Knights in the past but was familiar with Settlers
- Orange: Ian and Megan, husband and wife who were sometimes alternating doing laundry. They amusingly passed several notes to each other on paper to communicate their thoughts on future trades or building plans without having to reveal them in public.
The board setup had the desert not on the edge of the board, but not in the middle, so the resources that were between desert and ocean were never placed on all game, despite there being a 9 on brick hiding back there.
I rolled highest, and I placed my initial settlement on the highest production spot in the game, the 8 Wheat / 5 Ore / 10 Ore. Adrian passed the opportunity to place on the second best spot I thought, leaving that to Joe. Ian and Megan got their two spots in the center that gave them some good balanced production but low access to ports or commodities, and Joe made a placement that nicely complemented his initial one, although I forget the actual numbers. I knew that he would be who I had to look out for this game. Adrian placed his city on the only remaining spot in the middle of the board that had 9 production, leaving me to look around the edge of the board or on the desert. I was not too disappointed: the 2:1 Ore port was available with a 4 Ore / 8 Sheep. That would be perfect, although I'd be starving for Brick and Wood for most of the game.
I got the first Knight out, well in advance of the Barbarian ship looking like it was going to get close. The 4 seemed to come up quite often early in the game, giving Ore and Coin to myself and Joe who shared that ore hex with me. Joe in fact ended up flipping pages on his city improvements just as fast as I was, leaving the others behind, so I was getting very concerned. I managed to get a second city before the Barbarians hit, knowing that this would cause us to lose, despite Megan and Ian having a level 2 active knight and Adrian having one himself. Joe had a knight, but the turn prior to the Barbarians attacking he didn't have a wheat to activate it and it seemed likely that he would get another turn to get the wheat, so he wasn't very concerned. Then we proceeded to roll four ships on the event die in a row, making the Barbarians hit right on his turn. He lost his initial and only city.
In the meanwhile, I was amassing a large collection of the dummy cards, since I was only on four different numbers (8, 5, 4, and 10), but I never spent any of them. It is a well known strategy in our group that if you can stockpile your dummy cards until you get some ports then it's worth doing so (since you can hold as many of them as you want), unless by trading them early you can boost your production. Naturally my stack was beginning to attract the attention of others, especially since I had been able to get a second city. It did not help that I got one of the Victory Point cards as a blue progress card and then a road building card, which allowed me to build a new settlement on my 8 Wheat and the 3 for 1 port. In the meanwhile, Joe, despite losing his city, was still probably my biggest threat. He had started sprawling out with settlements and could easily grab longest road for himself. He didn't do so, to my disappointment, since I had gotten a Wedding card and no one had more victory points than myself. The Barbarian ship was not moving at all for several rolls, and Joe and I were both gathering a number of progress cards.
Then suddenly the Barbarian ship started rapidly moving; I had 6 points (two cities, settlement, Victory point card) and Joe still tied me (1 city, 4 settlements). I had recently gotten the Merchant Guild and the Fortress, and I figured I could quickly upgrade my knight to get a Mighty (level 3) Knight to keep myself safe and possibly get a Victory point for myself. No one else had really been building knights due to the fact that the Barbarians seemed to be taking a breather for a while. Eyes turned to my stack of dummy cards, especially given my Merchant guild, and everyone was wondering how many resources that would turn into. A series of 7s started being rolled; I kept being the target because of my dummy cards, and then Joe played the Blue progress card that lets you steal a Knight on me with the Barbarian ship two spots away from attack. Ian rolled - a Ship! I rolled - the Barbarians hit! So I lost my original city, keeping my second one, bringing me down to 5 points. Well, at least I got to play my Wedding card and get something from Joe for that. I also was able to spend my coins (the only cards I had kept after all those 7s, supplemented by my own roll) to get a Monument, bringing me ahead of Joe again, to 7 points.
The next four rolls were great for me. I got some resources myself, but I also got two yellow progress cards - two Resource Monopoly cards. With that added to my existing Resource Monopoly card and my Merchant card things were looking up, despite my recent loss.
When it came to my turn I immediately played all four of my progress cards. I monopolized Brick, Ore, and Sheep, and moved the merchant (bringing me to 8 points) onto my 8 sheep. I had the resources in my hand, partially from the Ore monopoly, for a city, so I rebuilt the one that was destroyed by the Barbarians (9 points). Then I traded sheep two for one until I had 4 cloth, to get the Bank for another monument (11 points), which went over that new city. I had had one wood in my hand from trading with Joe during his last turn, so I used that to build a road, and then I finally had to resort to dipping into my dummy cards. Four of them made two brick for two more roads, allowing me to take longest road (13 points). A wheat from my hand and six dummy cards translated into a settlement (14 points), leaving 10 dummy cards which of course was turned into a city (15 points).
So the turn after I had to lose my city and was brought down to 5 points, I won the game with 15 points.
Admittedly this relied on the use of the dummy cards to accomplish this feat, but I would have gotten very close to winning in this particular game even without them, and I am just still amazed at how many points I was able to get in one turn. From now on I expect to be ganged up on once I start approaching 5 points, unfortunately.