My dad got me a game for Christmas, the Settlers of Catan. If you haven't played this yet, find a geeky friend and its likely he's got it. For those of you in the know, I have drawn some significant lessons from the game.
First is the robber. I have renamed mine the King. He wanders around the board and wherever he stops he taxes the locals. He doesn't allow any of his subjects to become too powerful (i.e. hold too many cards) and places a great strain on the economy. It's always bad when the King is moved, even if he is placed upon your enemy. Catan is a free-market universe, and demonstrates plainly that the way to wealth is trade. Without trade, both domestic and foreign (ports), it becomes nearly impossible to devlop new roads or settlements. When the king is rolled he takes away resources. If your enemy has less resources to trade, then you have less likelyhood to trade with that enemy for what you want.
The same concept of trade also makes four player games more fun. With fewer players, it takes longer to develop resources, even though individually each player produces at the same rate. In an economy, the more developers of resources the better. Think of the farmer again, why does he have so many children? To help him work the land.
But, there are a limited amout of resouorces, you argue. Myth. There are a limited amount of resources available using current technologies and information. What is lacking really is the human energy and creativity to go get those resources.
Creativity. Nothing evil is creative. God is creative, and evil is the absence of that creativity. Evil destroys. Kings do not create. They take resources, or redirect them, away from where they wouold naturally flow. A stream flows fastest when it flows straight. Near my house there is a park which has recently redirected a stream. They implimented something called meandering where the stream winds back and forth gradually, slowing the current to make an environment more suitable for certain fish species. When the stream was straight it flowed too fast for those fish. There is no more water in the stream than before, and no less, but it takes longer to get where it is going. Kings do the same thing. They divert resources.
In Scotland in the late mideval times the king was relatively weak. He would travel around the country visiting his various nobels and eating their food. He would bring his entourage with him as well, and tehy would eat the nobel's food, too. Usually the King would require certain changes to be made, and he would collect a tax and then move on. The nobel could only support the King for so long, it seemed. Perhaps the nobel started serving leftover veal as a hint that it was time for the king to go. I don't know. But the king would move on to the next noble's and stay awhile. This is precisely the manner of the Robber in Catan.
So long as the Robber remains in the desert, the people of Catan get along fairly enough. Sometimes they are disappointed about the development of their settlement, but that is no one else's fault. Sometimes players draw soldier cards. These are usually held in reserve until the Robber is placed on one of their resources, so that they can force him back off. The soldiers are primarily defensive. No one wants to use a soldier, for fear of retribution. There is an inherant danger to the use of force. If the Robber were never played, and soldiers were transferrable for resources, everyone's settlements would develop faster.
Certain resources are more esaily develpoed than others. A resource with a 6 or 8 on it produces 5 out of ever 36 rolls. That's pretty good. Other resources, like a 2 or 12 only produce 1 out of ever 36 rolls. These are in a sense, hidden resources. They are often neglected. Players prefer to build settlements other places besides on these hexes. But sometimes, the desire for a resource becomes great enough to demand placement of a settlement on one of these hexes. When it becomes necessary we will develop the resources that exist to suit ourselves.
Maybe someday, I'll develop a new set of rules for Catan: The Government - free Catan.