Home > Economics, Settlers of Catan > Trading – People, Ports, or Production?

Trading – People, Ports, or Production?

Settlers has a lot of trading in it. What’s the best way to do it? I’ve played with people who swear that it’s more advantageous to not trade with anyone until you have 5 points(relying on their own production), and I’ve played with people who only ever used the set rates of 4:1 or the 3:1/2:1 ports to trade.

From an economics standpoint, it is not advantageous to cut yourself off from trading with other players. The main reasoning that I have heard to discourage trading with opponents is the fact that you are directly giving an opponent a resource that he/she deems valuable. Why not keep it for yourself and not help them? The fact is that whether you participate in the trading or not, there is a market available to trade resources at a changing price, and your opponents will participate in it whether you do or not. In fact, the maximum participation in the market will give the most stability and fairness to the pricing of each resources. My advice is then to participate in the trading between players, but with the correct knowledge and foresight. A beneficial trade is one where each player is receiving resources that help him/her the same as the other. Trades need to be mutually beneficial and to the same degree of benefit.

This means that for every trade, I should have a good idea of why my opponent is trying to obtain a certain resource – do they need a 3rd ore for a city? Are they fishing for victory points in development cards? Maybe trying to steal the largest army away from an opponent? If I know what they’re doing, I can make sure I’m receiving something that will help me as much as whatever I’m giving helps them. That’s how we establish the market price. By all means trade, but make sure it’s mutually beneficial (unless you can dupe an opponent into making the deal more beneficial to you!).

And what about trading with the “bank”? Admittedly, the set 4:1 ratio is a steep price, but not a price that should be ignored. For example, if market prices rise to something near that ratio, I might choose to trade with the bank instead. Also, we have all been in situations where no player has the resource we need. If we judge our price to be near that 4:1 ratio, it is a good idea to use the bank as a trader of last resort (sounds kind of like the Federal Reserve Bank). This system works well – a free market with a kind of accountability rate to make sure that prices don’t get too high. The 4:1 rate to the “bank” gives players the option to duck out of the market and make a deal that is sure to only benefit themselves.

What happens when that 4:1 limit on the market price is cut down to 3:1 or even 2:1?

Ports: Ports are ways to cut the set rate with the bank down from 4:1. There are two types of ports, the general 3:1 and the specific 2:1. General 3:1 ports cut the trading rate of 4:1 down to 3:1 for any resource, while specific 2:1 ports cut the rate from 4:1 to 2:1 for only one resource. Now, it’s obvious that both ports are beneficial – they give you a lower rate to escape the market at. It’s also obvious that the ports give different advantages and comparative disadvantages. Let’s investigate that.

2:1 Ports: The obvious advantage of these ports is that the rate of trade is lower. The disadvantage is that there is less flexibility – only one type of resource can be traded.

3:1 Ports: We look at an inverse of advantages and disadvantages here: the advantage is flexibility (any resource can be traded at the rate of 3:1) and a disadvantage in the higher rate of 3:1.

So, while we look at the pros and (relative) cons to each, there is no obvious advantage given to either port – both have valid advantages. If we refer back to our general strategy for utilizing resources, we know that we will be more prone to settle on certain resources. We also know that some resources become less valuable as the game goes on. From experience, we all know that it is rare to have a uniform distribution of resources in your hand – generally there is a surplus of some and a lack of others. This is where the 2:1 ports gain ground in comparison. I know how to manipulate the supply of my resource (it is a direct correlation to where I am settled), and I know which resources I will need and which I will not, and when the shift will occur. Finally, the single most useful advantage of the 2:1 port is the fact that you can have multiple ports. Settling on 2 separate 3:1 ports is no different than settling on a single 3:1 port, but adding a second 2:1 port gives more utility, as it increases the flexibility of your trade rate.

So, the 2:1 ports are more useful than the 3:1 ports, if used wisely. A 2:1 brick port is useless to me if I have deemed brick useless and therefore not settled on it. Planning port settlement into an overall strategy gives an obvious advantage, as 2:1 ports can be utilized well, and 3:1 ports can be added on for extra flexibility.

The stats back this up as well.

Winners settle on 2:1 ports 74-79% of the time.
Winners settle on 3:1 ports 52-57% of the time.

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