Friday, January 21, 2011

Settlers of Catan : Creating a Scalable Board for N Players

I love the board game Settlers of Catan. Seriously, I’d play it over Monopoly or Risk any day. It’s a fairly simple and fun game that involves building a network of settlements and trading resources with other players. It’s a very social game and it has a good mix of luck and strategy. I highly recommend it to all, even to those who generally hate board games. For those who have never played before, a here is a link to the rules.

A while back I introduced the game to my circle of friends and it was an instant hit. Settlers of Catan quickly became a weekly event and it wasn’t long before more than four players were interesting in playing on any given night. Since the original game was only designed for 2-4 players I began researching the possibility of expanding the gameplay to N number of players. The resulting statistical analysis uncovered a formulaic means to accommodate for more players while still preserving the gameplay atmosphere of the original 2-4 player setup (the exact details of which I’ll discuss in proceeding posts).

Now the makers of Settlers of Catan do have an official 5-6 player expansion set available, however, I have a few gripes with it. Most significantly the expanded board is too ‘open’ and it ruins the game. Basically players have too much room to expand, which means there is less contention for resources, less trade, and overall less competition between players (less fun, really). Most of my issues with the official expansion are exposed at length in this amazing article Settlers of Catan 5-6 Player Expansion Alternate Rules, an article which inspired much of my early analysis. Also the 5-6 player expansion simply isn’t large enough. I’m looking for a solution that can accommodate the often 7+ players who would show up to play.

From the start my goal was to create a scalable version of Settlers of Catan without altering the rules of the game. I will only be accounting for the increased number of players by adding more tiles and ports for a larger island, as well as a proportionate increase in resource/development cards. All other rules and aspects of the game will remain the same, that is, I will ignore the rule changes proposed in the official expansion. The robber will still force a player to discard half their hand with 8 or more cards and players can only spend resources on their turn (no special bonus building round).

I refrained from meddling with the core rules because otherwise the game deviates into a completely different game. Admittedly, the core rules begin to breakdown as more and more players are added, but multiple playthroughs have shown that game still holds up pretty well with 8 players (at which point rule changes are necessary). Rule amendments can improve the woes of a large Settlers of Catan match, but for now I’ll just stick with the original rule set.

So, the only real task then is to create a larger island. In order to accomplish this I’ll need to know three pieces of information:
  • How many additional terrain tiles do I need?
  • In what shape are the tiles arranged?
  • How will the chits (number tokens) be ordered?
Finding the best answers to these questions became another one of my crazy hobbies.

1 comment:

  1. So you've actually played it with eight people?