A friend, brother-in-law, and occassional board-game opponent of mine (who I will henceforth refer to as “Josh”) once told me a story about a very bad experience he had playing Settlers of Catan as a newcomer in a previously established group.
Let me get across an important fact here: Josh loves Settlers of Catan. He has every currently-available expansion for the game. He has been known to stay up all hours of the night playing multiple games. It’s his number one game.
And yet, when he played with one particular group of guys, he didn’t have any fun. Why? Well, apparently their method of playing essentially ruined the game.
This is not even about house-ruling here. As I heard it from Josh, these guys would utilize game-breaking methods of trading resources that… well, that broke the game, without technically breaking any rules.
Here is an example: one player might have a large number of one particular resource – say, 5 sheep, and with a hand size around 11 cards. Another player would have only 2 resources in their hand – lets say, a log and a brick (yeah, I called it a Log, not lumber. What of it?). The 1st player would then make an agreement with the second to, say, trade their 5 sheep for the 1 brick, which would protect their hand from the nefarious “robber” roll on the start of the next player’s turn. Then the two players would trade their resources back, the 1st allowing the 2nd to keep say 1 of his sheep, but returning the rest in exchange for the return of the brick.
So in the end, they technically haven’t done anything illegal as far as the rules of the game, but their methods circumvented many of the important balancing elements of the game. There was not really any house-ruling here, just some sort of agreement to allow this activity.
This is the strangest behavior I have ever heard of regarding a game. I’ve heard of games being house-ruled to death, but this? It almost sounds like those players are board with the game and need to move on to something else, but instead have contrived strange ways to make things more interesting to them, i guess?
The main issue here is that this kind of thing excludes new players. Any outsider with any motivation to keep a semblance of a game going should feel very uncomfortable partaking in such peculiarly imbalanced trading, but that would make them feel like outsiders even more, like they aren’t in the “inner circle” where such trades are acceptable. Not only that, but if such a trade is offered to the newbie, do they compromise the rules of their favorite game to join in? Or maybe they worry that this kind of deal is just a set-up to “prank” the new player.
And if the new player has never played Catan before, they would encounter what would seem to be an imbalanced, broken game.
I’m not sure where this kind of tradition would form – after all, if one of my friends offered me 5 sheep for a brick for safekeeping, I would agree at the moment – and then most likely refuse a return trade when the time came, and that would stop anyone from trying anything similar.
In addition, this activity would seem to totally tilt the game towards the player who is gaining a large number of resources, allowing them to avoid the robber which is a huge part of the balancing act of the game.
I cant think of any other example in which players have simply used the rules to their advantage to circumvent consequences and break the game, without other players calling them out or refusing to play that way. Have any of you ever tried a gaming group and ran into problems like that? Not house-ruling, but simply methods of play that exclude anyone not party to the dirty dealings going on?