Critical Play: Is this game balanced?

How to Place Your Starting Settlements in Settlers of Catan

I chose the board game Settlers of Catan, created by Klaus Teuber. The target audience is people 10+. 

Catan is a multiplayer game. I think it balances the challenge level for each individual player well. There is luck involved in the dice rolls, so younger players can get ahead, but there are also more complex strategies to engage adult players. There is a handicap for people who have many resources: when a 7 is rolled, those with more than 7 cards must discard half of them. That reduces disparity in resources.

Settlers of Catan cleverly reduces asymmetry at the start of the game through the method players follow to place settlements. The first player to put down a settlement has the greatest amount of picks available to them, and the last has the fewest. So once everyone has placed a settlement, the order is reversed and the last person gets to go first for the next round. Then the previous first player is at a disadvantage. 

There are multiple strategies to play in Catan. You can capitalize on a portion of the resources and trade to get more of what you need. You can go for building the longest road to get points. You can gain points through putting down more settlements or through development cards. I’m a novice player, but I think Catan has endured because there are many balanced strategies to victory that creates interesting and varied gameplay.

The resources in Catan can be used to buy different objects. You need one of each item to purchase a settlement, which are important for collecting even more resources to further develop your properties. There are many transitive relationships in the game since you buy and trade resources, and each resource is needed for different reasons. Every item has about the same cost-benefit ratio, creating balance. For example, you can trade 4 of anything for 1 of a resource. There are not many intransitive relationships in Catan because you can’t beat anyone or another object – the objective is to collect a certain amount of points first. The game objects are also similar enough that there are ways to compare them numerically, so there may not be many fruity parts.

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