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Luck-based Or Skill-based, Which Side Is Heavier?

Updated: Mar 12

People claim that Settlers of Catan is a game of luck. Although that is definitely not true, they will not say that for no reason. In fact, Catan does suffer from a lot of random factors, both pre-game and in-game. Pre-game factors include:

  • 19 randomised terrain hexes + 09 also randomised harbour pieces

  • 12 different ways to place the number tokens alphabetically

  • Your specific opponents with their unique traits

  • Players' turn order

Despite being randomly generated, pre-game factors only affect the game on a macro scale. As they rarely favour any player, their impact is not considerable enough for anyone to blame. Besides, experienced players commonly have the flexibility required to overcome those factors. In-game ones, on the other hand, contribute on a micro-scale. They are:

  • A set of 02 six-sided dice, which get rolled every turn

  • A stack of 25 randomly shuffled development cards

Dice result and/or the dev. cards drawn oftentimes heavily lean toward an individual. What usually happens is a player suddenly gains an unexpected amount of luck over a short period and takes the lead. If someone is so far ahead, as soon as their opponents form an alliance against them, things will be balanced out. In a nutshell, luck exists as an undeniable force in Catan, but it is still manageable to a certain level. Therefore, good players need to develop their skills in risk assessment and adaptability in order to cope with any situation.

Coming to the second half of the article, we will be naming every non-luck-related skill necessary to make you a successful Catan player. A surprising fact is that they are all mentioned in the game's infamous slogan of "TRADE BUILD SETTLE". Let's go through them in a revert order.

  1. SETTLE: is the easy-to-learn skill among the three. It revolves around applying logic and maths to evaluate the map and point out the most appropriate locations for your strategy. "With enough resources for 01 road + 01 settlement, where will you place them?", "Which of your settlements shall be upgraded to a city first?" are typical questions to represent this skill. Worthnotingly, SETTLE is the only factor that matters during the picking-starting-settlement phase.

  2. BUILD: does not look much different from SETTLE at first glance; however, it is an entirely different story. SETTLE means "doing things right" using a given set of resources; meanwhile, BUILD implies the idea of "doing right things" by picking the correct combination of resources according to the situation. For instance, with 02 Sheep + 02 Wheat + 03 Ore in hand, will you upgrade a settlement to a city, buy 02 dev. cards, or invest in 01 dev. card and keep the rest? To put it differently, BUILD shares the same definition as resource management.

  3. TRADE: it is wise to say that TRADE is the most complex, yet game-winning skill. Along the way, it requires communication skills, card-counting skills, charisma & empathy. To be a decent trader, you must see the game not only from your point of view but also from your opponent's. Do not think just about yourself; instead, think about what the enemies need and what they can offer. A good piece of advice is to spend more time spectating, coaching, or being the banker of other people's games. Over time, observation and analysis will broaden your perception of Catan, thus improving the way you TRADE effectively.

Based on what has been analysed, it seems like the ratio between luck and skill falls around 50:50. Fortunately, thanks to the fact that luck factors can partially be foreseen and mitigated by professional players, we will say they only take part in 33% of the game's outcome. As a result, the remaining 67% is decided by skills. Hope that answer satisfies you. Please remember to drop a Like and share the article around if you find it helpful. Cheers!

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