Critical Play Balance

Write about how the four types of Game Balance relate to your game experience. Also, discuss the Three Ways to Balance Game Objects (Transitive, Intransitive, and Fruity) in your analysis. You are welcome to write glowing praise or brutal teardown essays. Show us your feelings! 😀


Name of game: Settlers of Catan

Creator: Klaus Teuber

Platform: Board game

Target Audience

This is made for groups of family, friends, or really anyone to play! Players should be above 8 years old to play as it requires a fair amount of logical thinking and reading. You can play with 3-6 players in the basic version of the game.

Formal Elements

Players, Rules and Procedure: 

This is a player vs. player game as you compete to gain “points” and reach 10 points before any other player. You can gain points by building settlements, cities, and through special achievements like building the longest road or winning a card that assigns you points. You build by acquiring resources (like brick, wheat, sheep, wood, and ore) which can be traded into the bank to build specific buildings. You get resources by placing your settlements along hexagons that contain particular resources. Each hexagon has a number placed on it, and when that number is rolled, anyone with a settlement/city on the hexagon can collect that resource. On your turn, you roll a die, and everyone collects their resources. Then you can trade resources with other players before deciding to build anything or buy a special card.. After you build, it is the next player’s turn. The game ends when someone reaches 10 points. An important limiting rule is that any settlement/city must be at least two roads away from any other settlement/city, and  you can’t build a road directly next to another player’s road. Another rule is that whenever a 7 is rolled, any player with more than 7 cards has to discard half the deck.


Conflict, Objective, Outcome: 

The fun (and stress) of Settlers of Catan arises from the conflict between players. You want to trade with fellow players but want to prevent them from building in a way that blocks your ability to reach 10 points. Another player’s success directly impedes yours, because you want to reach 10 points before they do. Therefore, players will often explicitly not trade with the leading player, and try to block each other’s roads. Another source of conflict is the “robber” which can be moved when someone rolls a 7. The robber is placed on a resource hexagon and nullifies the hexagon so no resources can be derived from it. In my experience playing the game, the robber in particular creates a lot of strategic conflict between players. Players will often bargain with each other to try to prevent, say, a robber being placed on their square in exchange for a promise of future trading. The objective of the game is to build settlements and roads, upgrade your settlements to cities, and eventually reach 10 points. The final outcome is that 1 player wins by getting 10 points and all other players lose.


Resources and Boundaries: 

The resources in this game are explicitly called “resources” and they allow you to build your structures for points. Brick, wood, sheep, wheat, and ore are what give you power in this game. In terms of boundaries, you play on a limited number of hexagons which define the bounds of the game and the rules described previously limit your movement on these hexagons.


Types of Fun and Moments of Success and Things I’d Change:

This is a fellowship game in some ways — you have fun trading with and bargaining with other players. I also think this is a challenge game: you work to get 10 points by slowly building your civilization.

I thought the greatest successes occurred when players tried to implement higher level strategy by, say, lying to each other, or going back on previous deals. Settlers can become a very fun Mafia-esque game of relationships. To change the game, I would make the starting positions less unequal (I will discuss this more below). I was able to win because my position was so optimal.



Balance in a single player game does not apply here. In terms of balance in asymmetric games, players in Catan does start players off with some unfair advantage based on where you get to place your initial settlements. Sometimes, this isn’t a big deal and all positionings are fairly equal, but in the recent game I played, I won the game because I had way more resources than any other player. This isn’t fun because my winning was far more luck than strategy. Some players were blocked from getting almost any points because they couldn’t access a particular resource. In terms of balance between strategies, many strategies can work in Catan and it depends on how the game plays out. I think the game is well-balanced in this way; sometimes, getting special cards is a great strategy. Sometimes, going for the longest road is very advantageous, whereas other times you get stuck in a war of roads and it isn’t a good move. In terms of balance between objects, there is good balance between different resources. There isn’t any particular “better” resource since they are all important in some way; therefore, there is good balance between objects. 

You can balance game objects through a transitive, intransitive, or fruity approach. In terms of the transitive approach, all resources are essentially equal unless a particular player has a trading port. In terms of the intransitive approach, no resource is better or worse than another, but at points in the game if a particular die roll has been uncommon, some resources become very valuable and you want to trade for them. I was often searching for ore because we rolled few 5’s in this game. In this game, the fruit relationship applies because the resources are conceptually different and valuable in different ways to different players.

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