Economics Board Games? Settlers of Catan

Lynne Kiesling

Anyone familiar with Settlers of Catan? My programmer RA told me about it this morning, and it sounds very interesting. You settle an uninhabited island, the roll of a die determines resource conditions, and you trade. Whoever does the best wins. Dice rolls during the game change the resource conditions. Totally a barter economy, but it sounds like it gets some of the fundamental economics right (like not being a zero-sum game).

May have to check it out. The only board game of consequence we play in the KP house is Kingmaker. Not much economics in it. Naturally, as a fan of the wrongly-maligned Richard III, I try to make sure a York wins when we play. Sadly, that makes my strategies a bit more predictable, and the KP Spouse is a Smart Bunny, so I don’t win that often. Have to work on that …

12 thoughts on “Economics Board Games? Settlers of Catan

  1. The nice thing about Settlers is that you are always involved in the game. You stand a chance to get resources with the roll of die regardless of who is rolling it, you get the opportunity to trade your resources for other resources each turn (although your limited to exchanging only with the player who rolled the die). One thing I find interesting about the game is that even if your lagging behind the other players in building settlements and roads, their advancement almost always is directly (or sometimes indirectly) beneficial to you. And its very hard for an individual player to run away with the game leaving all other opponents behind 🙂

  2. Settlers is a 3+ person game. I believe there is a 2 person game that approximates some of the rules, too. It is a fine game, Game of the Year, if I recall correctly. It looks imposing as you take it out of the box, but is not after you’ve played once. It definitely does get you thinking about the value of different resources and spaces to control those resources.

    You can read more about it at

    As I look at that, I recall that I have one of the other version of Settlers — a Starfarers version that I may play tonight.

    You may also notice links to Carcassonne on that page. That is another good economics related game. In general, german games are tremendous at teaching economics principles. My personal favorite 2 person game is Lost Cities, which has expeditions to find treasure. How you invest in them and how well rewarded you are are both functions of both your own strategy and luck.

  3. Do yourself a favour and buy the game. It can only be played with four players. There is a two and three player variant, and also an expansion set for 6 players, but they all PALE in comparison to the original game.

    The game is very well balanced and involves economic/resource management, statistics, and game theory.

    If you want a free (software) copy of half-decent AI players, goto and download the java client/server for free. Also on the download link is the Ph.D thesis that the developer did called “Real-time Decision Making for Adversarial Environments Using a Plan-based Heuristic” which is a rather fascinating read.

    There are also a few sites that can be found with a minimum of Googling that you can find active games being played with this java client.

  4. Setters has a few other things going for it too. First, no one is ever eliminated, so everyone plays until the end. Second, resources are scarce and tradable, so lots of player interaction occurs. Third, the map is reconfigured with each play and there are several roads to victory, so each time the optimal strategy is different. But it isn’t a pure libertarian utopia, their are thieves and armies to munch on your resources.

  5. Catan is pretty fun. It’s about trading, probability and diversification. You want to hold productive resources, but it’s also important to be diversified. There’s really quite a bit of strategy to the game. And as in life, you also need luck.

    My friend plays online all the time (if you purchase the game, you get a lifetime online membership I believe).

    The same friend gave me Powergrid for my birthday (as I work in the energy industry). Haven’t played yet… looks pretty complex.

    More on powergrid here:

    By the way, boardgamegeek is a top gaming site (if you didn’t know about it already).

  6. I played once with a bunch of people who had already played several times before. There was no trading between players. This was a six player game, so maybe that was the problem. Or maybe the problem is that this game isn’t so simple, especially after having a few beers.

  7. I played once with a bunch of people who had already played several times before. There was no trading between players. This was a six player game, so maybe that was the problem. Or maybe the problem is that this game isn’t so simple, especially after having a few beers.

  8. Ask N. — her nieces *love* Catan. I think there are variants as well.

    Hey, has the KP Spouse tried Set yet?

  9. Not quite. There’s a kid version of Catan that Katie loves.

    So maybe I should buy the adult version for us’uns?

    And your Landis post is FABULOUS.

  10. Ammonium: No trading??

    Heavens, you are not playing the game correctly 🙂

  11. I would recommend a few other board games that have the same niceties as Settlers, but with less dependence on chance (dice). Tigris and Euphrates and Princes of Florence (Florin?) are both really great for analyzing economic type decisions and playing based on those. Both are for 3 or more players, however. Anything by Rainer Knizia is usually good.

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