This Seafarers board was set up randomly with the following hexes:
5 2:1 harbors
4 3:1 harbors
9 open sea
When randomly placed, the board consisted of 5 islands:
A large island in the top left that contained all the wool
A single-hex island in the top right
A single-hex island in the middle left
A large island in the middle/bottom right that contained all the brick
A 3-hex island in the bottom left made of wool, wheat, and ore
Bonus points were awarded for reaching a new island.
Blue placed first and grabbed a great spot that provided wool, wheat, and ore. Her last placement provided lumber and more lumber but was just a couple roads away from brick. Red placed second and grabbed the best brick spot. It also bordered 2 wood hexes. Her second placement provided wool and ore. Yellow placed last and settled for the best production spot left - 3 wool hexes - and also took the middle of the "development card" island.
As expected, brick was very hard to come by. Road building was slow going, except for Red. With access to brick, wood, and wool, she quickly grabbed longest road. She tried very hard to trade away brick at a 2 for 1 premium, and it worked occasionally. Yellow, with great access to wool, wheat, and ore, quickly bought a handful of development cards. He wanted to upgrade to cities, but keeping his hand below the limit won out over waiting for the right card combination. He had 3 knights before anyone else even had 1, and he quickly grabbed the largest army. He also got a road building card, which alleviated his dependence on brick. Blue hung around, building a city here and a settlement there.
Red expanded her road/shipping route to 9 units, with the other 2 players way back at only 5. That’s what having a near monopoly on the brick will do for you. Red made it to the single-hex island in the middle but was forced to build on the right side. Yellow was using the pirate ship to block off the left side of the island so he could gain access to the 2:1 wool harbor. He was producing a lot of wool - 4 hexes worth, to be exact. Red made the best of the situation and used the right side as a means to connect her 2 original settlements. Blue kept plodding along with a city here and a settlement there. It was still anyone’s game.
Red connected her 2 starting settlements with a long and winding road/shipping route. She cut the board in half with an 11-unit road. No one was close enough to realistically challenge for longest road. She finished the game at 13 units long. Towards the very end of the game she threw down the 5 cards needed for a settlement, looked down at her pieces, and realized all of her settlements were already on the board. This setback cost her dearly.
Yellow had solidified his largest army at 5 knights. No one else was even remotely close enough to challenge. He also set himself up to be a great seafaring nation, in honor of his Portuguese heritage, and no longer needed bricks to win.
Blue was still hanging in there with some well-placed cities and settlements. The robber cut her hand size in half a few times, but that was simply because she was producing so many cards. Towards the end of the game, she made it to the other single-hex island for the bonus point. In the process, she cut off access to the island for the other players. Her slow and steady "build-out and build-up" strategy gained more and more momentum as the game went on, and she pushed ahead at the very end for the win.
Blue - 12 (4 cities, 3 settlements, 1 bonus point)
Yellow - 10 (2 cities, 3 settlements, largest army, 1 bonus point)
Red - 10 (1 city, 5 settlements, longest road, 1 bonus point)
Blue survived and ultimately succeeded by staying under the radar. She spent the early game in last place, and didn’t take the lead until the very end of the game. This is usually a smart strategy in Settlers. Her cities allowed her to collect lots of resources as the game went on. She had the unfortunate luck of sharing a prime robber spot with Red and often suffered from a production shut down as a result. If that hadn’t happened, she probably would have taken the lead earlier and gotten a bit more attention from the robber anyway.
Red did a great job at building the longest road and using her resources to essentially cut the board in half, forcing Blue to stay on one side and Yellow to stay on the other. Her monopoly on brick gave her an early game advantage, but the other players eventually found other ways to work around it. Still, Red was a bit too focused on the longest road and didn’t pay enough attention to critical harbors or upgrading to cities.
Yellow was in a tough spot placing third/fourth. The third-best spot was far worse than the 2 best spots, and he opted for good development card production but awful access to wood and brick. He made it work as best he could, but his inability to build roads and settlements when needed proved to be his undoing.
As usual, a bit of the outcome has to be attributed to dice rolls. 10, 11, and 12 were rolled unusually often, while 9 and 2 were hardly rolled at all (2 came up once). This outcome favored Red and Blue greatly. But what the dice giveth, the dice taketh away. Blue and Red were also banking on production from a 6-hex that had multiple settlements/cities. This was also the robber’s favorite hangout, and he seemed to always be on that spot when a 6 was rolled.
Overall, this session left me both satisfied and frustrated with Settlers, which is how I've felt the last dozen or so times I've played. It's an amazing game for what it does (if that makes sense), but the more I play the more I hate those dice.
The frustration of not getting any rolls kills the game for a lot of people, even if it doesn't happen that often or for very long. It's the perception and it's the very opposite of fun.
I highly recommend the welfare variant. If you don't receive a resource on a roll other than a seven, you receive a welfare token. On your turn, you can trade in a number of welfare tokens equal to your VP total for a resource of your choice. Tokens can't be traded/robbed/halved although you might want to play with this.
This guarantees a base income for players while leaving the strategies and choices of the game intact.
I find it very useful when playing with seafarers with the initially small access to resource tiles.