Critical Play: Balance | Settlers of Catan

I chose to evaluate Settlers of Catan, one of my favorite games. It is an analog game, though there are online versions, created by Kosmos. The target audience is people aged 12 and older who are interested in strategy and negotiation based games. The formal elements of the game include the dice rolls, the resource cards, the tiles, and the cities settlements, and roads. The game is played by first setting up the board, which can be set up in thousands of unique ways. Then the game proceeds in a turn based style where players take turns rolling the dice and then choosing to utilize their resources to expand their empire and amass the required number of “victory points” to win. The game intends challenge fun and fellowship fun, and it accomplishes both. The strategic thinking involved relate to the former, while the social interaction it fosters relate to the latter. I was fortunate to roll a 12 (1/36 chance) towards the end of the game that propelled me to victory when playing with my friends!

Of the four types of game balance, the second relates to my experience most. Each player has a different starting position and resources, which is determined by a dice roll and the inherent randomness of board construction. As a result, even an optimal player could find himself at a disadvantage at the start of the game. In my case this didn’t clearly apply, each of the 4 starting positions were relatively balanced despite being quite different in terms of resource breakdown.

Looking specifically at the objects, the value of different spaces on the board that have the same resource but different numbers (and therefore probabilities) would be a transitive relationship, as there is a clear way to derive the benefit accrued from settling and expanding on the space. Intransitive relationships exist between resources, as different combinations of the 5 resource cards are needed to build roads, settlements, cities, and buy development cards, the four ways resources can be spent. The value of each resource therefore depends on the player’s desire for which of the four goals is in mind. Finally fruity expresses itself in the purchase of development cards, which are a black box and therefore are very difficult to balance.

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