Monday, March 23, 2009

Catan mind games

The Settlers of Catan, and its associated add-ons, is, by a mile, my favourite board game. Without going into much detail, what I love is the luck/skill balance – it’s essentially a skill-based game, but with enough of a luck element to make things interesting (as opposed to chess which is pure skill, or Monopoly which has some skill but is mostly luck). So that’s why I love Catan.

At least, that was my view until recently.

This year (i.e. 2009) I have played about 15-20 games of Catan. I have won 2. In about 3, I have made silly mistakes. In a few, I played well but was outplayed by another player. In several, I simply got unlucky. I don’t intend this as a moan or whinge or excuse, but some games were actually ridiculous in terms of the luck. This has been frustrating. In many games this year, I have played superbly, possibly flawlessly, and not won, because of the luck element (i.e. dice rolls). In these games I have been satisfied with my performance, if not with the result.

Now, many people say that they don’t mind losing a game (of Catan, or football, or anything else) if they are beaten by a better player or team. I have always disagreed with this. I would much rather lose having played poorly, because then I know I can improve and do better next time. I hate losing when there is nothing I can do about it. Therefore, some of these Catan experiences have been quite painful for me!

Why do I keep playing? Because of the joy of the game itself, regardless of the outcome. Recently, I have come to realise what I really love about Catan. It’s not the skill/luck balance (because, as I have found, this is still biased towards the luck too much for my liking). What I love more is the player interaction. Whether it’s as simple as trading, or as aggressive as trying to influence robber placement, or as devious as offering trades before playing a monopoly, the player interaction and game psychology is huge.

Two days ago, myself and a friend devised a new addition to playing Catan. We thought it would be interesting to keep score of the psychological battles (phsych-outs) that occur during a game of Catan. Each player would independently and secretly note down the phsych-out points each player wins and loses through the course of the game. At the end, they would compare notes to see if they agreed on the player who won the most mind-games. It would also be interesting to see if this person won the Catan game as well.

Players might win points for:
Successfully persuading an opponent to place the robber in a certain place.
Successfully stealing a desired card from an opponent against the odds.
Trading away cards and then monopolising them back.
Winning a race for road or settlement placement.
Building a settlement to disrupt the longest road.
Stealing a metropolis.
Many other things, I’m sure…

Of course, the vital skill of tactical complaining would come into play as part of this.

I think this would be a lot of fun to try, as the mind-games and psychological side of the game is massive. The player interaction is unlike any other game I have played. So when I lose, even when I can do nothing about it, I always enjoy trying to phsych people out.


Joe 50 said...

Two things.
1. The greatest psych out of them all: breaking a longest road with a mighty knight!

2. Why don't you play with a probability equalising measure (if practical) such as the cards or my dad's online dice if you feel normal dice rolling gives the game too much of a luck imbalance?

Unknown said...

I think I might suggest it. I'd definitely be up for trying out your dad's one.