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Subject: A Game with a Fatal Flaw rss

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Evil Roy
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Rules Overview:

As this is a widely known game with many other reviews detailing the rules I will only include a broad overview here.

In Settlers a map in generated by setting out hex tiles, each one of which generates a particular resource (wood, stone, brick, wheat or sheep) with the single exception of a desert tile which doesn't generate anything.

Players build settlements and cities on the corners of the hex tiles and roads connecting them along the edges.

Hex tiles generate resources randomly according to the value on dice rolled at the start of each player's turn. Settlements next to a hex gains one of that resource and cities next to a hex gains two of that resource when the value matching that hex is rolled on the dice.

Resources are spent on building roads, settlements, upgrading settlements to cities and buying cards that give some benefit.

Players gain points for building settlements and cities, having the longest road, the largest army (the most soldier cards) or certain cards that are worth one point each. The first player to 10 points wins.


Game Play:

Settlers can be a satisfying game where you build up your infrastructure, accelerate in generating resources and hopefully reach 10 point before your opponents. There is plenty of player interaction in competition for places on the board (which quickly fills up), via trading with opponents and through use of the robber (which I didn't bother to mention in my overview, oops). As such I can understand why this is such a popular game and is considered a classic of the genre.

However, it has (at least to my mind) a fatal flaw which means I hope never to play the game again. The problem is that once a player gets ahead he generates more resources than his opponents and gets further ahead. This happens in many games but the reason that it's such a problem in Settlers is that if you fall behind you have nothing to do. Without generating resources all you can do on your turn is roll the dice and then pass them to the next player. Meanwhile your opponents take longer and longer turns as they build more and more with the resources they generate. This means that in almost every game of Settlers that I've played somebody ends up having a miserable game because they have nothing to do. This hits new players particularly hard but even with experienced groups an unlucky run of dice rolls can leave you stuck behind with no way of catching up.
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Chris Morse
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Evil Roy wrote:

The problem is that once a player gets ahead he generates more resources than his opponents and gets further ahead.... This hits new players particularly hard but even with experienced groups an unlucky run of dice rolls can leave you stuck behind with no way of catching up.


Been there, and it is not nice at all.
I found 2 things helped.
1, remember it's just a game, don't take it personally (as I said, this was to help me).
and 2, a carefull plan can go a long way to using what you do get.
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David
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An early leader is not uncatchable. Using the Robber on him and not trading with him will hamper his ability to further develop, giving the rest of the table a chance to catch up.

I'd put the flaw more the other way around, that a poor start (often a poor choice of spot, but sometimes just very unlucky series of rolls, like no 9s) means you have no chance of winning.
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Serge Gagnon
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I remember when I first played this game many moons ago and the reason why I stopped was because of the fatal flaw described. If you didn't get the roll for the resources, you basically sat there and did nothingsoblue.

However, if you had the chance to play 'settlers of america', they rectified this fatal flaw beautifully by adding the element of money. So if you did not get resources, you got money instead in which you could use to purchase what you were missing.

There were other new mechanics also introduced as it is a completely different game but our group loved the element of money and not being at the mercy of the diceroll. So, we played with the house rule that if you didn't get a resource, you would get 1 dollar and can purchase a resource for 3 dollars. Brought balance to the game, and it did not affect our viewpoints of trading as people would still be racing for the 10 points.

Just a suggestion...

Cheers!
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Your first two placements are going to give you up to 6 different numbers. If you're behind people tend to trade with you, if you're ahead they tend to not trade with you and put the robber on your hexes.

We always roll to see who starts first and then place counter clockwise.

The problem you describe was more frequent for us at first when we read the rules wrong and when we placed two clockwise circles starting with the first player instead of coming back counter clockwise for the second placement. This was especially bad for the sixth player before we got it right.

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Jason Moslander
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This does happen often, but I still enjoy the game even when I am in this situation. Usually I try to challenge myself to win using an avenue I don't usually use.

I have seen players come from behind and win. You need to influence the other players to gang up on the leader while you catch up. This is as simple as saying he has 6 points plus that "victory point" in front of him. This makes the other players think twice about trading with him.

Although it does have this one flaw it is nothing compared to some other games. Great game overall. It needs to be higher on the rankings list.
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Gordon Robinson
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It is my favourite game so obviously I don't agree with you that it has a run away leader problem. We consistently finish a game within an hour and that never feels like a drag even with a bad run of the dice. We often play more than one game in a row. Usually in the turn that a player reaches 10 points at least one other player would also have reached 10 if the game had continued.

Over the last 9 years Settlers has brought more enjoyment to my family and friends than any other game. It is not played much within my gaming group but then it is not a 2+ hour heavy weight so they are not target audience.
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Andy Leber
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jmoslander wrote:
This does happen often, but I still enjoy the game even when I am in this situation. Usually I try to challenge myself to win using an avenue I don't usually use.

I have seen players come from behind and win. You need to influence the other players to gang up on the leader while you catch up. This is as simple as saying he has 6 points plus that "victory point" in front of him. This makes the other players think twice about trading with him.

Although it does have this one flaw it is nothing compared to some other games. Great game overall. It needs to be higher on the rankings list.


I also can't disagree with the complaint. But I also still enjoy the game a great deal. I don't play nearly as often, and the luck factor and kingmaker aspects do frustrate me a great deal.

Sometimes you get stuck with bad numbers... sometimes you have GREAT numbers. But if you choose 6, you know 8 will come up 4 times as much. But it's still fun, in general. It doesn't hit the table much though, because me, and my one friend that likes Settlers the most, just play on Asobrain. It's so much easier than setting up the board.
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ErikPeter Walker
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That can happen, but not nearly as often as in, say, Alhambra: The Dice Game.
I think Settlers' biggest flaw is that rolling a 7 in the early game is brutal (as losing one card out of 4 you spent ages collecting) and rolling a bunch of 7's later on (when you could be collecting lots of resources instead) makes the game drag.

Also 7's defy calculated risk. If you try to keep fewer cards in your hand (so as to not lose half of them), you are more vulnerable to a random stolen card. If you hold on to your cards, you will lose 4 or more instead of just one. Finally, sometimes there's nothing you can do to prevent yourself from having too many cards when a 7 is rolled.
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Jon M
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I think a runaway leader can be targeted by not trading and with the robber.

The game has a runaway loser problem. If you don't get resources then it doesn't matter if people are prepared to trade with you as you have nothing to trade.

You could try the money variant as suggested which should combat a total lack of resources. One variant is that you get 1 dollar per roll where your number doesn't come up (so if the robber is on you, tough). You can then spend your current visible VPs to get a resource.
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Gordon Robinson
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Voxen wrote:
I think Settlers' biggest flaw is that rolling a 7 in the early game is brutal.
I have played Settlers with many groups including official competitions and everyone uses the rule "no robber for the first 2 rounds" 7's are re-rolled. I assumed this had been written into the latest additions of the rule book. It will sort out your early game robber problem. It would be brutal to have a robber on your best producing hex on the first turn!
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This seems to be a review with a "fatal flaw."

The issue of runaway leader is ameliorated by several things:

1. Use of the Robber
2. Trading (either to benefit those behind the curve or trade embargoes vs. the leading player)
3. Good expansion and the benefit of experience



I'd also point out that we always play with the Seafarer expansion which avoids the only real issue with the base game (that of running out of room to expand).
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Holmes108 wrote:

I also can't disagree with the complaint.


    Yeah, well. You know. I mean . . . new players are always at a disadvantage. Settlers is damn near a perfect game.

    I mean, you're entitled to complain about anything you want. The board is damn ugly. But much of what makes Settlers of Catan work occurs off of the game board, in the interactions between players and in the internal gear-churning in each player's brain. If either of those mechanisms aren't functioning properly the gameplay will suffer. That's something that can be laid at the feet of any game with the same result -- remove a part of the play and the game falls apart. The key with new players is to let them know that bad beats are ok, and that you shouldn't give up. The damnedest things happen in Settlers of Catan IF you stay in the game.

    Often getting boxed out on the board means you have to make development cards work, or a port work, or build what little space you have into cities and hope for your odd rolls to dig you out of the jam. Settlers is the ultimate find-a-way-to-make-it-work game and that has to be the approach you bring when you sit down to the table. Indeed you'll have patches where you generate nothing turn after turn and that makes for a very challenging game morale-wise. But the dice always come around and you need to make those glimpses of opportunity pay off.

    Settlers has no formal catch-up mechanism. God Bless. I hate catch-up mechanisms and although I liked Settlers of America it has a big fat chunk of catch-up built into its buildings/cargo binding that yokes the leader. That disappointed me.

    But Settlers of Catan provides the opportunity to catch up by the social structure that the game brings to the group. Players farther behind pose less of a threat and become more attractive to trade with. It's important for those players to use persuasion to tilt the playing field in their direction. This is a social skill not a technical one and it's what emerges from Settlers of Catan when people with a bit of experience sit down to the table.

    Do I complain when I don't get resources five or six turns in a row? Hell yes. That makes me the guy to trade with. And that's the nature of Settlers. Do I downplay my success if everything falls my way? Sure. "Hey, I'm just getting lucky. It could happen to anyone; it'll come around your way." Managing the perspective of the other players is something that Settlers distills into this microcosmic life-metaphor in a pretty remarkable way. You can tell that Teuber spent months getting the base game settled in. An experienced player rarely comes out of a game of Settlers thinking "I did everything right."

    Settlers of Catan came out in the early nineties when decision-then-luck was still a viable concept in serious gaming. I wouldn't bet the mortgage on a game of Settlers, but I'd wager you'll learn more useful, real-life lessons from this game than you will from any of the darlings in the top 25 on this site. Sometimes you get knocked, sometimes you get lifted. Good players wring out wins from tough positions.

             S.


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Sag, you make a lot of good points that I agree with wholeheartedly.

But,
Sagrilarus wrote:
Settlers has no formal catch-up mechanism.

I would submit that the Robber is a very major formal catch-up mechanism. If the score is 8-4-3-3, it's obvious who the robber will be visiting. And that's part of what made it a revolutionary game, that runaway leaders are less of a problem than in traditional games.
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JohnnyDollar wrote:
Sag, you make a lot of good points that I agree with wholeheartedly.

But,
Sagrilarus wrote:
Settlers has no formal catch-up mechanism.


. . . it's obvious who the robber will be visiting.


    I suppose. I see it as so-obvious and so available to everyone (including the leader) that I almost hate to consider it that way. But I'll concede the point.

    The thing about the robber is that it's not part of your considerations as you're stewing on your position and trying to figure out how to dig out of a problem. If it comes up it comes up, but that's pretty much beyond your control. Depending on your personal needs it may not be your best choice to stick the leader when you place it, but again that's a luck-then-decision issue, when I tend to think of Settlers as a great decision-then-luck kind of game.

             S.


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Evil Roy wrote:
This hits new players particularly hard but even with experienced groups an unlucky run of dice rolls can leave you stuck behind with no way of catching up.


Any time you play a game with dice, an unlucky run of dice rolls is probably going to cause you problems. However, if this is happening one time in one hundred, I would hardly call that a fatal flaw.

As others have posted, there are many things you can do to offset unlucky dice rolls. Runaway leaders can be hampered by restricting player trades as well as use of the robber. I'd be willing to bet if you reviewed the games you played, there were conscious moves on the parts of the other players that contributed to the leader's victory more than dice rolls.

Sure, in the long run you are going to have SOME games that are won due to the dice but these should be far and few between with smart game play.
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Evil Roy
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kjamma4 wrote:
I'd be willing to bet if you reviewed the games you played, there were conscious moves on the parts of the other players that contributed to the leader's victory more than dice rolls.


Yes, I'm sure you are right. However, if a player can spend the game unable to do anything because of a lack of resources, whether caused by luck or bad play, that makes for a miserable game for that player.

The best games are still fun to play even if you do badly. Settlers is not one of these.
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This 3 dice variant (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/134095/change-luck-for-s...) is one of the best and easiest variants I have seen to help mitigate the luck some. It would also be another good way for people to gang-up and stop a runaway leader.
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Evil Roy wrote:

The best games are still fun to play even if you do badly. Settlers is not one of these.


    What would you recommend?

             S.


 
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Evil Roy
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Sagrilarus wrote:
Evil Roy wrote:

The best games are still fun to play even if you do badly. Settlers is not one of these.


    What would you recommend?

             S.




Dungeon Lords is the first game that springs to mind.
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RAVENTROLL wrote:
However, if you had the chance to play 'settlers of america', they rectified this fatal flaw beautifully by adding the element of money. So if you did not get resources, you got money instead in which you could use to purchase what you were missing.


This isn't really something unique to Settlers of America. Credit where credit is due, right? It's been on the Geek for a while...

The famous WELFARE variant

In a nutshell...

1) Earn a welfare chip when you don't collect resources on a roll (not counting 7's).

2) Turn in a number of chips equal to your current VP total (not counting development cards in your hand) for one resource of your choice (of those you could possibly collect based on your board position).

3) If you CAN turn in a set of chips, you MUST turn in a set of chips. No hoarding.
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jmoslander wrote:
I have seen players come from behind and win. You need to influence the other players to gang up on the leader while you catch up. This is as simple as saying he has 6 points plus that "victory point" in front of him. This makes the other players think twice about trading with him.


Sounds like something isn't quite right here. By "VP in front of him" you you mean a development card? Because those should remain hidden.
 
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Jon_1066 wrote:
I think a runaway leader can be targeted by not trading and with the robber.

The game has a runaway loser problem. If you don't get resources then it doesn't matter if people are prepared to trade with you as you have nothing to trade.


This.

Runaway leader is not a problem since the game gives ample opportunity to pull the leader back. I've rarely seen games where players B,C,D were angry because A was too far ahead, but I've played a lot of games where players A,B and C were in a dead race but player D could do little but watch and wait for the game to end.

However I wouldn't call it a "fatal flaw" as much as a minornitpick. It really does not happen that often and it's rarely that one gets very behind very early in the game, it's more of a mid-to-late game thing. Compared to a similar situation that can happen in Risk for example this is really, really not that significant.
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Klaus Brune
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Just to throw a quick twist into the discussion here...

People have been mentioning how to deal with a runaway leader. BUT ... if you're in a position to BECOME the runaway leader, there are things you can do to make it more difficult for people to hamper you... by the time they realize they need to stop you, it's too late...

1) Make sure you have a stash of knight cards in your hand to deal with the robber.

2) Make sure you have a 2-1 port for one or more of your better resources. That way if people stop trading with you it matters less.

3) Play a meta-game.... "Look, I'm going to win anyway. Not trading with me is just going to drag it out longer. May as well move the process along so we can start another game before midnight."

Okay just teasing with that last one
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Gruumsh wrote:
jmoslander wrote:
I have seen players come from behind and win. You need to influence the other players to gang up on the leader while you catch up. This is as simple as saying he has 6 points plus that "victory point" in front of him. This makes the other players think twice about trading with him.


Sounds like something isn't quite right here. By "VP in front of him" you you mean a development card? Because those should remain hidden.


I think that is why it is in quotes - if the leader has a face-down development card, the assumption is that it is a Victory Point card.
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