Archive for August 2009

Must Resist… Fist of Death…   3 comments

Found via the Volokh Conspiracy, a link to an op-ed in the Times, one touted as “read this if you believe in Peak Oil and there’s a chance you no longer will” by Stephen Dubner on Freakonomics, as well.

Now, personally, I think the whole question of where we stand on the Peak Oil question is moot, so I haven’t spent too much time comprehensively reading about it.  Burning hydrocarbons (whether you’re using oil or coal, and to a lesser extent natural gas) is simply not sustainable as a long-term energy plan.  Regardless of whether we’re close to crisis or far away, we know we are too dependent on hydrocarbons, we know they’re bad for the environment and they’re bad for us, and we have several possible alternatives that we can explore.  Just start doing it, already.  As an aside, Mr. Dubner, your claim that energy companies are doing this is both laughable and extremely poor reporting… the major players in the energy field are all publicly held companies.  Their financials are available online (here is Shell’s, just to get you started if you want to go look at some really big numbers).

The U.S. Army has expenditures related to international aid missions, that doesn’t make the U.S. Army an aid organization.  Shell, Chevron, BP… they all have alternative energy divisions.  Look at the numbers, dummy.  There’s a reason they’re still called oil companies.  Virtually all of their capital assets are oil production facilities, oil pumping facilities, natural gas facilities, pipelines, distribution centers, subsidiaries, you name it.  They’re all designed to move oil, refined gasoline, and natural gas around.  This is a huge amount of money.  What’s their investment in renewable and alternative sources as a percentage of their overall portfolio?  I’ll let the reader go and find out, but I’ll give you a hint: replacing petroleum with any other energy source is an economic investment that makes the Manhattan Project look like a kiddie game of Monopoly.

Mr. Dubner’s Freakonomics partner Mr. Levitt offered these two points on a recent post:

What most of these doomsday scenarios have gotten wrong is the fundamental idea of economics: people respond to incentives. If the price of a good goes up, people demand less of it, the companies that make it figure out how to make more of it, and everyone tries to figure out how to produce substitutes for it.

… but, Mr. Levitt, you’re an MIT-trained economist, for Christ’s sake.  You must know this is a vastly oversimplified (to the point of being absurd) analysis.  Supply and demand is pretty easy to compute when you’re talking about elastic resources like a luxury good.  When you’re talking about fuel, there is a point beyond which people can’t consume less (like, say, if you’re in the Northeast during a 100-year blizzard, you turn on your natural gas furnace, or you… ya know… die!)  When you’re talking about a basic good that has become coupled to another basic good (about 1/3 of the world depends on food grown via inorganic fertilizer, produced currently courtesy of… the petroleum industry), the elasticity drops critically at the low end of supply.  Without “enough” oil, basic life sustaining functionality goes away, and people starve to death, freeze to death, etc.  Granted, this will indeed have an effect on demand, driving the price back down (get rid of 5 billion people, our energy resource problem is suddenly a whole ‘nuther ball of wax)… but that’s not precisely the sort of externality we want to ignore.

Another side note: with regards to substitutes, there is the additional problem that the costs of those substitutes are not well understood, because they’re not used on the same scale as petroleum.  Bumpin’ things up a notch has some interesting side effects.  One example from the Wikipedia page on Peak Oil:

A 2003 article in Discover magazine claimed that thermal depolymerization could be used to manufacture oil indefinitely, out of garbage, sewage, and agricultural waste. The article claimed that the cost of the process was $15 per barrel.[65] A follow-up article in 2006 stated that the cost was actually $80 per barrel because the feedstock which had previously been considered as hazardous waste now had market value.[66]

Say what you like about Wikipedia as a source (and yes, there are problems with using Wikipedia as a source), at least they know how to put links in their articles to source material.  Back to Levitt’s piece:

I don’t know much about world oil reserves. I’m not even necessarily arguing with their facts about how much the output from existing oil fields is going to decline, or that world demand for oil is increasing. But these changes in supply and demand are slow and gradual — a few percent each year.

To quote those Wikipedia overlords, “Citation needed”.  Even if this is historically the case, past behavior is no guarantee of future performance.  This is one of the core principles of the Peak Oil hypothesis: that the changes in demand will steadily grow, but that the change in supply is about to drop precipitously.  You can counter this by explaining *why* you believe a precipitous drop will *not* occur, but you can’t counter it by pretending that the Peak Oil folks aren’t claiming it to begin with.  It’s pretty hard to claim any credible stance on the issue when you start off by saying “I don’t know much about world oil reserves“.  Given that this is the case, how can you make any sort of reasonable claim about supply?

ALL that aside, the original op-ed piece that got me fired up is a classic example of wretched argument.  Here’s a deconstruction.

On the whole, I expect economists to understand supply and demand better than geologists. On the whole, I expect geologists to understand the actual geological supply and oil technology better than economists. On the whole, I expect both groups to make higher math errors when trying to model complex related rate problems, as modeling is a wicked problem.  The “if it runs out, we’ll just move to something else” idea belies the huge capital infrastructural cost of migration, no economist worth his salt would haul out such a simplified analysis. I’m getting really tired of wide-claiming op-eds and articles that make a number of broad assertions without supplying any sort of credible evidence to back up their claims.  From the op-ed, some choice tidbits:

…along comes Fatih Birol, the top economist at the International Energy Agency, to insist that we’ll reach the peak moment in 10 years

Top economist at the IEA sounds like someone who has at least a reasonable claim at being a credible expert.  If you’re going to argue against claims set forth by this person, I hope you have some big guns to bring to the fight (spoiler alert: none cited).

Peak oil theory has been promoted by a motivated group of scientists and laymen who base their conclusions on poor analyses of data and misinterpretations of technical material.

What data? Which technical material? On what basis can you reasonably make the claim, “their conclusions are based on faulty data”?  You’re not a geologist, whose reports are you reading?  What are your sources?

A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry goes about finding fields and extracting petroleum.

What facts? Under what grounds do you propose that you, Mr. Lynch, have a better understanding of how the oil industry finds and extracts petroleum than people who are geologists?  Your snippet bio indicates that you have some claim to credibility, but without knowing more about the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we don’t know if your background is in management, economics, political science, geophysics, or what.  This is obviously a transdiciplinary problem, how do we know you’re not the proverbial blind philosopher trying to describe an elephant?

One leading proponent of peak oil, the writer Paul Roberts, recently expressed shock to discover that the liquid coming out of the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest known deposit, is around 35 percent water and rising. But this is hardly a concern — the buildup is caused by the Saudis pumping seawater into the field to keep pressure up and make extraction easier. The global average for water in oil field yields is estimated to be as high as 75 percent.

This paragraph is utterly meaningless without additional context (see The Law of Diminishing Returns).  We aren’t provided any information about the Ghawar Field (here’s some).  If the global average for water in oil field yields goes as high as 75%, what does that mean?  What is the effect of rising water percentages in the yield efficiency?  Are fields that have 75% water return as productive as those with 35%?  What is the difference in production costs?  Is 75% the cap?  Can the Ghawar Field support 75%?

When a new field is found, it is given a size estimate that indicates how much is thought to be recoverable at that point in time. But as years pass, the estimate is almost always revised upward, either because more pockets of oil are found in the field or because new technology makes it possible to extract oil that was previously unreachable.

This is somewhat misleading, and again utterly meaningless without a diminishing returns analysis.  Oil fields are usually given two estimates; an overall size, and a recoverable size.  The recoverable size limit certainly is revised upward, because new technology does make it possible to extract more oil than the technology that existed when the field was originally discovered.  But unless you have credible evidence that oil fields are being regenerated (that is, some geological process is in fact feeding more oil into a field), the point remains that at some point the field runs out of recoverable oil.

Yet because petroleum geologists don’t report that additional recoverable oil as “newly discovered,” the peak oil advocates tend to ignore it.

This may or may not be true. Without some sort of evidence, it’s nothing more than a veiled ad hominem; “they’re lazy and therefore wrong.”

A related argument — that the “easy oil” is gone and that extraction can only become more difficult and cost-ineffective — should be recognized as vague and irrelevant.

If it’s formulated that way, yes, it’s vague… it’s not necessarily irrelevant.  Again, you’re missing the context of diminishing returns.  This is a foundational principle of economics, claiming that it’s irrelevant casts doubt on your ability to provide a reasonable economic analysis.  The argument may be currently *wrong*, because oil exploration technology is advancing fast enough to keep up with the diminishing returns curve for now, but again at some point there is no more recoverable oil in the field.  It doesn’t matter how great your extraction process is if there’s nothing there to extract.  Oh, and it’s not just Peak Oil theorists that make these statements, oil company execs have said it as well.

When their shaky claims on geology are exposed, the peak-oil advocates tend to argue that today’s geopolitical instability needs to be taken into consideration.

So far you’ve done nothing to warrant labeling the claims on geology as shaky (if anything, your argument has strengthened the other side, as you’ve lacked any sort of substantive evidence).  The rhetorical device here is transparent, “See, their last claims stunk!  I’ll use coupling to frame the rest of this sentence to imply that their next claim isn’t even relevant!”

When the large supply disruptions of 1973 and 1979 led to skyrocketing prices… All sorts of policy wonks, energy consultants and Nobel-prize-winning economists jumped on the bandwagon to explain that prices would only go up — even though they had never done so historically. Prices instead proceeded to slide for two decades, rather as the tide ignored King Canute.

Historical comparisons are of value only so long as major conditions don’t change, or are accounted for properly in your analysis.  Massive industrialization of China and India (represented by huge upswings in those countries’ GDP in the last two decades) has rather changed the game, wouldn’t you say?  Or not?  I’m not an economist, but if not, can you explain why not?  Prices dropping over a 10 year window don’t necessarily indicate anything interesting.  Production and consumption are the metrics you need to measure, here.  If production exceeded consumption, of course prices would drop in the short term (yes, Virginia, a decade can be regarded as short term).  If those “Nobel-prize winning economists” (side note:  Who?  And why wouldn’t they qualify as an expert?) made a prediction based upon production and consumption, was the prediction actually wrong?  Without knowing which faceless Nobel-prize winning economist the author is talking about (there aren’t that many, m’friend, call out the names!), we have no way to research their actual claims.  I smell a Straw Man around here, somewhere.

Just as, in the 1970s, it was the Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, today it is the invasion of Iraq and instability in Venezuela and Nigeria. But the solution, as ever, is for the industry to shift investment into new regions, and that’s what it is doing.

Do I really need to point out the glaring problem with these two sentences?  Here’s a deck of 52 cards.  I’ll buy any card that you flip over off of you for $1.  However, if you flip over a face card, you have to pay me $0.10. You must flip over a card every minute.Sounds like a good deal, right?  Anybody would play that game.

Oh, did I forget to mention that when you’re out of cards you have to shoot yourself in the face?

Still want to play?  This shell game works as long as there are shells to turn over.  Unless you’re going to start talking about the economic feasibility of using Titan as a source of petroleum, you can’t just continue to “shift investments to new regions”… sooner or later, there are no more worlds for you to conquer.

In the end, perhaps the most misleading claim of the peak-oil advocates is that the earth was endowed with only 2 trillion barrels of “recoverable” oil. Actually, the consensus among geologists is that there are some 10 trillion barrels out there. A century ago, only 10 percent of it was considered recoverable, but improvements in technology should allow us to recover some 35 percent — another 2.5 trillion barrels — in an economically viable way.

Like I said up above, I haven’t read a lot of the Peak Oil literature, so I have no way of knowing how accurate this characterization may be (and I’ve already spent too much time on this post as it is).  There may be looney bin Peak Oil people who don’t understand the difference between what the economically viable supply and the actual supply.  But even if they don’t understand, that doesn’t mean that they’ve introduced a very big error into their analysis.  Let us assume that the 10 trillion barrel figure is correct.  Let us assume that 100 years ago, 10% was an accurate recovery figure.  Let us further assume that today, 35% is an accurate recovery figure.  What does that tell us? (spoiler alert, not much, actually)

Well, it tells us that it took 100 years to increase our recovery percentage by a factor of 3.5.  Does that mean we can increase that factor by the same rate?  Is the rate of recovery change increasing, or decreasing?  Will we get another 3.5 factor in another 100 years?  Or will it be in 10 years?  Or will it take 100 years to change our recovery factor by even an additional 2%?  Or is our recovery rate going to go *down*, because we lose capabilities that we currently have?  Technological capability isn’t just a matter of engineering, it’s also a matter of politics.  You can’t really open pit mine anymore in the United States with the exception of grandfathered sites.  How many existing oil technologies might we actually *lose* as their environmental cost becomes better understood?  If you’re publishing an op-ed on the subject you should have ready answers to these questions, no?

Mr. Lynch’s premise may be entirely correct.  Peak Oil may be a bunch of hooey.

But if this is supposed to be a credible analysis, I’ll eat my foot.

[edited] A piece explaining the other side (relies on an overly heavy personalization voice to get their point across, but at least it isn’t full of cruddy logic).

Posted August 26, 2009 by padraic2112 in politics, rants, Uncategorized

Inevitable Consequences   Leave a comment

Johnathan Chait over at The New Republic offers an analysis of the health care debate with an interesting slant.  From the article:

I still think there’s a pretty good chance at passing significant health care reform. But if health care reform fails, liberals need to understand who to blame and how to fix it. They need to start knocking off Democrats like Conrad and Joe Lieberman, who seem to be trying to kill health care reform, even if this temporarily costs the Democrats some seats. They need to commit the party to reconstituting the rules of the Senate along majoritarian lines–yes, even if this helps Republicans pass their agenda when they’re in charge. If health care reform can’t pass now, then a filibuster-proof Democratic majority isn’t worth having. At that point you have to consider blowing up the party and waiting a decade or two to rebuild a new one that’s able to address the country’s actual needs. [ed. note. -> emphasis mine]

One of the problems we have right now (and by “we”, I mean the American political process) is that the system is gummed up to prevent wide majorities from actually running with an agenda.  One would think that I would generally be a fan of this sort of thing (as I claim a moderate position), but in fact, I think of it as an overall bad thing.  You see, when you increase barriers to change, you’re actually making it harder for either party to do anything, and it takes extraordinary circumstances (like everyone getting behind a war) to get a full slate of consistent policy proposals to pass.  This leads to some pretty wildly oscillating policy implementations.

To sum up my political position in the briefest possibly way, I think that top-down solutions are good for some sorts of problems, and bottom-up solutions are good for other sorts of problems.  I think top-down frameworks for bottom-up solutions (a hybrid model) are not a bad way to go, very generally, for federal-level implementations.  Generally, my problem with the political parties can be expressed as “Democrats are often focused on top-down solutions when bottom-up ones (or a hybrid model) makes more sense from a design standpoint due to implementation details, and Republicans are often focused on bottom-up solutions when their bottom-up solutions show serious consequences at edge cases and really don’t scale well.”

What I *do* know, however, is that our political process makes it unnecessarily difficult to make a concerted effort to implement any sort of design whatsoever.  It’s one thing to have the Executive be a check on the Legislative (via veto) and the Judicial (via judicial appointment), the Legislative be a check on the Executive (via appropriations) and the Judicial (via the lawmaking powers), and the Judicial be a check on both.  It’s not even necessarily a bad idea to have the Legislative branch have some degree of checks on itself (via the two-house system)… but there is something seriously wrong when the Legislative checks and balances are out of whack.  Turning “filibuster” into a formality and changing the Senate to “automatic supermajority required, by default” was a bad idea, and continues to be.

[edited to add]:

If some group wants to filibuster, that’s perfectly fine.  MAKE THEM DO IT.  Make them stand up in front of the cameras for hours on end, and talk.  And talk.  And talk.  The entire point of having a political process like a filibuster isn’t just to help the minority block majority bullying… yes, it’s a definite function, but it comes at a political cost.  You have to get up there and start talking, and the the voting public gets to watch you and what you say.  Back in the early days of the republic, this was less of a major issue as the voting representatives weren’t as decoupled from their constituencies as they were in the early- to late-1900s.  In our now-connected world, this has consequences that the pre-Internet age world lacked.  The whole concept of cloture came about because there was little or no political consequence to using a filibuster.  Newsflash to the political parties, that’s changed.  If nothing else, CSPAN clips of Michelle Bachmann taking her unscripted turn at filibuster would at least fulfill my digital entertainment quota for the next decade.

Posted August 25, 2009 by padraic2112 in politics, Uncategorized

More on Argument   1 comment

Corey and I were having a discussion over Gale recently, and during a conversation he said this:

“In my highschool philosophy class, we had a Professor (or an Associate Professor?) from a school (I think it was UMKC) come in and talk about framework arguments one day, asserting that most every argument you’ll ever hear is a framework argument, and unless you can get past that you’re wanking.  That’s what it seems to me that 99% of internet “debates” are.  You know?”

Corey’s right.

For those not dabbling in philosophy, syllogistic logic, or argumentation theory, a framework argument goes something like this: “I believe in a class of thought (liberalism, libertarianism, free-market capitalism, Zoroastrianism, logical positivism, whatever).  Your point is contraindicated by some premise in my class of thought.  Ergo, your point is wrong.”  You see this a *lot* in political discourse.  You also see the inevitable related behaviors: “Your point is a point that is commonly associated with a class of thought with which I disagree, ergo I will assume that you are a believer in that class of thought and argue against the class of thought, rather than the point (which I will coincidentally ignore completely, as it is inconvenient),” and “Your point is a point that is commonly associated with a class of thought with which I agree, ergo I will assume that you are a believer in that class of thought and assume all base principles are true in our discussion.”  There’s also my most favoritist extended version of this, “Your point is a point that may or may not be associated with the fringe of a class of thought with which I disagree, but I will counter your point by using a badly-constructed reductio ad absurdum to imply you’re a loony.”

Not to give reductio ad absurdum a bad name in general, but it’s so grossly misapplied in today’s discourse I would like to see a two year moratorium just on the principle of forcing people who misuse it to find something else to abuse horribly.

This is annoying when you’re not a liberal, and conservatives assume that you are because you are discussing a political stance that is commonly associated with liberalism, or vice versa.

It’s deuced rare to see anyone acknowledge that this is even a problem in today’s “discourse”, much less write a couple of thoughtful posts on the subject.  From the first link:

This is critical – free market advocates, particularly in recent months, have tended to adopt pretty straightforward anarcho-capitalist rhetoric even though precious few of those advocates are actually anarcho-capitalists. The reason this is such a problematic line of attack is that anarcho-capitalist rhetoric only makes sense if you’re willing to go the Full Monty in favor of anarcho-capitalism.  If you’re not willing to go that far, then you have to be able to argue against a particular government proposal for intervention or in favor of a particular proposed deregulation on terms specific to that proposal.  Simply assuming that what already exists is in some way more of a free market than what would exist if a particular government action were taken too often ignores the way in which the very system one is defending is already dependent on any number of government interventions. [ed. note: emphasis mine]

I suspect that Mr. Thompson and I might disagree on a topic or two, but at the very least arguing with him over beer and peanuts would likely be the sort of discussion that would be worth having in the first place.

Posted August 24, 2009 by padraic2112 in philosophy, politics, rants, religion, science

My Favorite Spam   3 comments

When you’re a systems administrator, you are usually on default RFC mailing aliases like “root”, “postmaster”, “hostmaster”, and “webmaster”.  You’d be surprised what sort of random emails get thrown at those addresses.

Back when I worked at Idealab, this made the rounds as the most notable random email sent to a “webmaster” address, and it’s still one of my favorites:

—–Original Message—–
From: redacted []
Sent: Sunday, February 11, 2001 6:16 AM
Subject: i am sad

i don’t have any friends. I sit alone at a big table at school, during
lunch.:(  I can’t get a boyfriend, cauze my shower broke, and i smell like
fish. Will u be my friend???

Posting it here for posterity.

Posted August 17, 2009 by padraic2112 in noise

Compensating for Murphy   10 comments

I realized that my previous post did not fully clarify the scale in question; let me assure everyone that the scale is intended to measure only the impact of random chance upon gameplay, it is not a value judgment.

Someone might look at that scale and immediately infer game snobbery (“Oh, so Pat thinks Chess is the end-all of games, huh?”)  That’s not accurate.  In fact, precisely the opposite.

When I was somewhere between 10 and 12 years old, I remember deciding that Chess was an uninteresting game to play.  This was, admittedly, naivete on my part, since my reasoning was based upon a set of false assumptions.  Those assumptions went something like this: “Each piece has established rules for movement.  There’s only 64 squares on the board.  Therefore, there’s a limited number of possible outcomes for moves and countermoves.  Once you know them all, there’s only a limited number of moves you can make before the winner of the game is decided.  So the winner is the person who can memorize more moves and countermoves.  Bo-ring!”  One of the problems with being a smartass kid is that you often times reach conclusions before you have all of the evidence intact for buttressing up your assumptions (pop quiz: where was my logic broken, there?)

Turns out, the mathematics behind Chess are a bit more complex.  From the standpoint of training your mind, Chess is a worthy endeavor, since the total number of possible scenarios outweighs that which one can keep in one’s head.  Even chess Grandmasters are limited in the number of possible scenarios they can reasonably compute as outcomes to their possible moves on any turn.  Heck, even the brute force method used by Deep Blue and other Chess-playing computers has limitations.

That said, while I was wrong as to why Chess was “boring”, I was right in one aspect… you can program a computer to beat a human.  Deep Blue beat Kasparov in 1989 (which reinforced my smart-assitude to no end), and it’s only gotten worse.  Given the set of fixed options, today’s computers are going to beat the snot out of a human player, even someone who spends a lifetime studying Chess.  The reason for this is that brute force approach: the computer can plot out possible combinatorics faster than a person can, more accurately, and retain the outcome for comparison.  Over and over again.  Chess is too complicated to program out the endgame from the first move, but there’s a limit to how many comparisons a human can calculate internally, and the graphs intersected twenty years ago.  The computers will continue to win.

In the meta sense, then, I was even right about Chess being boring at least as far as the way my brain works… brute force approaches lack style and poetry.  If the brute force approach is the optimal approach, then the game is, at heart, lacking in style and poetry.  Sure, in an individual match between players you might see style having an impact, but that’s because humans can’t optimally use the optimal approach!  In the main what works best for Chess is straight computation.  Ugh, if I liked that, I would have been an applied mathematician or (horrors!) an engineer.

See what I did there, Hammer?

I like games with an element of chance.  Not too much (unless you’re playing with a four-year-old, “War” is about as boring as a game can possibly be), but enough to force style and poetry back into being an element of the game.  Having a great strategy in Acquire or Risk is important; being able to recover your position at least somewhat after a run of bad luck is equally important, if not more so.  Winning while beating your opponent is an important aspect of gameplay for any game… but winning while beating your opponent *and* Murphy is better, and oh so much more delicious.

Posted August 17, 2009 by padraic2112 in Uncategorized

Settlers of Catan   3 comments

Cousin Monica asked for a review of Settlers of Catan, and Kitty said earlier today, “You should get back to writing”, so I suppose the Fates are channelling hard for me to get back to the WordPress interface.

Settlers of Catan is what we used to call “board games” and which are now more generally referred to as “tabletop games”.  The basic version is designed for 2-4 players (my opinion: optimum 3), and the first expansion is designed for 5-6 players (both 5 and 6 are worthwhile configurations to play).  In addition to the basic game, there are other expansions (Seafarers of Catan, Seafarers Expansion for 5-6 players, Knights and Cities, just to name a couple) and a card game version for 2 players.

The premise of the game and the basic setup can be found on its wikipedia page, so I won’t talk about it here.  I have an scale for games that goes something like this:


A —— B —— C —— D —— E —— F —— G

“A” class games are like the two-player card game War.  The B class games are games like Craps, when “strategy” consists of knowing what the odds are and that there are bad bets, but not much else.  C class games are games like Sorry, Monopoly, and Yahtzee.  There’s some strategy involved, but the game is heavily dominated by luck (pop quiz: why is Yahtzee not like Craps?)  D class games are balanced right in the middle, about half luck and half strategy, like Risk and Acquire.  E games edge a bit more towards strategy, but there’s still a decent luck element.  F games are games that are heavy strategy, but there’s still a bit of luck involved, like Civilization.  G class games lack luck entirely or almost entirely, like Chess, Checkers, and Go.

Settlers of Catan is an odd game; the dice play very, very significantly into the way the game rolls out, as does the initial splay of the board (the board is randomly generated each game, unless you’re playing one of the scenarios).  However, there are many different strategies a player can choose to build his or her empire in the game, so you can compensate for a run of bad dice rolling.  In addition, the game has a huge emphasis on haggling and horse trading, like Advanced Civilization.  If you can pay attention to what is going on in the game and you have at least halfway decent luck, you can manipulate the outcome by monopolizing the trading cards that the players in the lead are desperate to get.

On the whole, I like Settlers of Catan (of course, the siblings will attest to the fact that I’m a fan of games where trading resources is a big component, so take that for what it’s worth… if you don’t like haggling, you’ll probably not be enamored of Settlers).  Playing with four players on the normal board can be frustrating for one player, however, as the board placement can make it very difficult for four players to have equal opportunities in the beginning.  You can wind up beginning the game so far behind that you’d rather play solitaire.  Four players on the full six player board actually overcompensates; there are so many opportunities on the board that it’s not as challenging as it might otherwise be.

It’s best with 3 or 5 players.  If you’re looking for a good 4 player game, discounting Bridge and Hearts and the like, I’d stick with Acquire or another relatively new game, Carcassone.  Of course, Settlers is pretty easy for kids to pick up, too, so that’s an important factor if you’re looking for “family night” type games.

Posted August 17, 2009 by padraic2112 in Uncategorized