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Learning Financial Lessons from a Popular Board Game

Learning Financial Lessons from a Popular Board Game
April 18
16:30 2016
Their parents may have learned about real estate and capitalism by playing Monopoly, but today’s young adults are learning financial lessons from the wildly popular board game Settlers of Catan.

settlers4thCatan has sold more than 25 million copes in over 30 languages and has created a cult following around the world.

Catan is a resource management game – available resources being stone, wood, brick, sheep, and wheat.

Players use these resources to build settlements, cities, and roads.

The location of a player’s cities and settlements determines which resources become available to him. There are also ports that can be utilized to exchange resources (i.e. 3 stone for 1 sheep) and development cards you can buy for a chance to steal resources from an opponent or gain extra victory points.

Location, Location, Location

Each player starts by placing two settlements and two roads on the map.

“It’s all about where you start out,” says world championship player Vinny Bonta from Columbus, Ohio. “If you really want a resource like lumber, for instance, you have to place your settlement onto a lumber-producing location in order to get that. So location is everything.”

The Value of Relationships

Need stone but have no settlements located on a stone-producing tile? You might have to trade with another player. Trade is a huge aspect of the game. The best players know that relationships are a valuable commodity.

“That is the biggest point that people miss,” says Vinny. “If you are friendly with someone, they are way more willing to trade with you. So socially, I am always talking and trying to build connections with people.”

As a player myself, I will warn you that hoarding resources or allying with the wrong person can ruin friendships!

Make Win-Win Trades

Playing_Settlers_of_CatanWhen it comes to trading, it’s important to think about what the other player needs in addition to what you need. If you can, memorize the cards other people are holding so you know what they need in order to build roads and settlements.

“Different people all have different resources, so each player is going to value those resources differently,” says Stuart Ritter, Senior Financial Planner and Vice President of T. Rowe Price.

“I might have a ton of wood, but need something else. That gives you the opportunity to create a win-win trade for both players.” Stuart admits that his 9-year-old son regularly beats him at the game.

Be Patient

Just like investing for retirement, winning this game takes patience. Long-term strategies win Catan, not lighting moves.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 4.53.11 PMAs one of the shirts in Catan’s online store says, “The fastest way to victory is taking the longest road” (the player with the longest road gets an additional 2 victory points).

“Achieving a goal is not something you accomplish in one or two turns,” explains Stuart. “So you really need to be patient in acquiring resources and building the things you want to build, and not going for the immediate gratification.”


Placing both your starting settlements on brick and wood tiles might pay off, or it might fail miserably (just ask Bill Ackman).

Even if you get lucky and the dice roll your way, you will still be dependent on trade to acquire the other resources you need. When another player knows you’re desperate for brick, he or she is going to offer you a lopsided trade that you won’t be able to refuse.

“Build on a variety of numbers, where you can gather a variety of resources,” says financial planner Steven Starnes. “You just can’t predict for sure what will perform better, so it is important to thoughtfully diversify investments.”

Be Flexible

You might have a brilliant strategy, but if one of your opponents gets in the way you’ll have to adjust. Plus, the board is set up differently each time, so you may not be able to use the same strategy every time you play.

“It is vital to react to what is in front of you and adapt to what is happening, and not get stuck where you were,” says Vinny.

Vinny placed 13th in the 2014 Settlers of Catan World Championships in Berlin.

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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