A more realistic Catan

I’ve been a board game geek since I learned to read and write as a child. I enjoy a large variety of games, personal favorites include Twilight Struggle, Pandemic, Chess, Go, but one of the games which I always come back to is Settlers of Catan. Catan is one of my favorite games for many reasons, it has everything, betrayal, growth, returns for your investments, and exactly the right mixture of both chance and skill.

Settlers of Catan is also one of the most realistic board games out there in terms of how real world economic principles appear in playing the game. Purchasing houses, roads, and cities are investments. The robber is the tax collector, redistributing resources, generally from the more wealthy player to less affluent players. Settlements and cities give a regular return on investment over the course of the game, and no two places on the board (generally) are equally good. The 7 is the most likely to be rolled, but it will only be rolled roughly every 1 in 6 rolls over the course of a game. 6 and 8 are the most productive numbers on the board, but each of them will only be produced 5 out of every 36 rolls each. Simply investing in the two most productive numbers will not allow you to win the game. There are different resources the game generates, and each of them is essential for victory. Opportunity Cards are random, but they are all beneficial. While different choices will provide different returns on investment, there is no truly BAD play, (except for putting a city on a 2, 4, 11 spot, that will almost never pay off). It teaches you critical economic lessons including opportunity cost, which can help you become a wiser person in your every day life. There is a very severe wealth tax where anyone with over 7 cards has to pay 50% when a 7 is rolled.

But that runs into the one way where Catan differs from the real world, there is essentially only one type of asset class, and there is no trading resources later in the game. I believe this limits Catan’s ability to teach people deeper lessons about how the real economy works where not all asset classes are the same.

Resource tiles are very similar to stocks, they have unpredictable returns over the short run, but over the long run they are always a good investment, albeit unequal. It would be useful to have two more game mechanics to act like real estate and bonds, along with one more which will mimic selling infrastructure you already own.

Starting with real estate, real estate is very expensive to purchase, comes with a maintenance cost, but also a steady source of income once you are renting it out. A real estate mechanic would be like paying 2 of every resource (which makes it hard to acquire) but then it will give you one of any resource you want on each of your subsequent turns. This would give a very predictable trickle of money to you as long as you hold the asset, similar to property in the real world.

The other asset class, the bond would work like so. You can invest as much as you want in the beginning, but that money will now be locked away until the term is up. Mimicking the 4% real rate of return in the real world, this bond would double all of your money after twenty rounds. It does not impact the robber’s calculation. The benefit is a guaranteed amount of cash after that amount of time, but it is a slower rate of return than building a city or settlement. The cost is if you pull the money out before the term is out you get no interest.

The final game mechanic to make Catan more realistic is that you cannot demolish or sell property in Catan. The game mechanic would require you to announce you want to sell your asset first (otherwise it would get obnoxious) but after you announce the sale the bidding war will commence. The seller would get 75% of the resources in the purchase (25% would go to a capital gains tax to the bank) and the buyer would replace the seller’s asset with one of their own.

This will answer several important questions in economic, is it truly worth putting money in a bond versus stock (house/city)? Is it worth selling an asset to a rival? Is the real estate market better or worse than the stock market?

I want to play a game of Catan using these mechanics to see if anyone would use them, and if someone did how well they would do in the game compared to someone who sticks with what is essentially the 100% stock account which is in the base game.

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