Some know him as “The Robber”, some know him as “Pain Incarnate”, and some know him as “The One Who Makes Life Miserable”. All I know is that he comes out on a seven and removes half of my hand. Who is the Robber from Catan?
Okay, so let’s overanalyse something – let’s pull apart who the robber is and what his function is.
It occurred to me today that the Robber from Catan is an incredibly interesting character within the mythos of the game. From a gameplay perspective, he has two very specific functions – to move resource between players and to stop players from just hoarding cards. Those are his very basic functions; however, I suspect the little blob of plastic has much more to him than that. I suspect he may be more than he appears. The Robber has a story.
Believe it or not, the Robber really does have a back story. The website catan.wikia.com has its own page on the Robber and who he is; however, even then there is a fair amount left to the imagination. The description, the myth of the Robber, is left a little bit vague. According to the legend, he is a notorious villain. The Robber (who has never really been given a name) set up base in the desert of Catan, soon after the first settlement was built (it was named Candamir for the record…according to the myth…because hey, the more you know). Another story states that he only came to the island once rival clans started dividing it up, taking residence in the desert off the back of being irritated with the settlers. Finally, there is one other story says he is the descendant of “the strongest legionaire of the Roman army and possibly even from Neanderthals”. Those, in my opinion, are somewhat contrasting stories. No. I say all of those are wrong. They can’t be true based on what we really know. There are intrinsic truths that prove those theories wrong.
No. The Robber is none of those things (he may be from Neanderthals, but that doesn’t really make a difference). Instead he is an incredibly misunderstood character, and here is why.
The Robber: The Secret of Catan
Let’s explore what we are told about the Robber. Firstly, he is a villain who robs for his own greed. That is what one of the official backstories says. Secondly, he came to the island when it started being divided up.
Both of these, however, are wrong. Why? It’s actually remarkably simple so long as we go back and just look at the fundamentals of what we know.
Firstly, the Robber does not rob for his own personal gain. If a player has more than seven cards in their hand then they must discard half; however, it doesn’t go to the Robber since the Robber does not have a hand. Without a hand he cannot steal for his own gain. Instead he just takes and replenishes.
Secondly, he does not appear when the first settlements do. Instead he is deployed during set-up, so the robber is not a result of the settlements. Instead he pre-dates them. He is already there when Player One places their first settlement and road. Thus, according to the mythos, he cannot be the result of the towns forcing him to become a Robber. No. Instead no one made him a Robber, because he is not a Robber.
Instead, when the Robber takes resources they are returned to the bank which, in the state of Catan, is a community pool. Giving back to the bank is as good as giving back to the environment, so can he really be held responsible for evil when all he does is return to the earth? To explain this notion, when the player gathers resources they take it from the bank. They are not purchasing, but rather harvesting. The bank is the earth.
One more piece of evidence is that the Robber is not a person as, when a seven is rolled, every player needs to check their hand, whether they are near the Robber or not. The Robber knows when a seven is rolled and he knows whether players have more than seven cards (ohh, I’ve only just seen what they did there!). He has abilities far beyond the realms of man and instead is something more.
Can one man sit on a mountain and stop entire towns from receiving goods? No, but the Robber can. Thus the Robber is more than a man.
The Robber: The Deity of Catan
The Robber knows all and can influence all. The Robber giveth and the Robber taketh away. The Robber gives back to the earth. These are not the criteria of a thief. These are the criteria of a deity!
Maybe we have been harsh on the Robber for all of these years, and maybe he/she/it hasn’t been after our goods after all.
Instead the Robber appears to be there to test our morals, to keep us from getting greedy, and to serve justice if needs be. We are given an option to steal cards from players, but be warned if we do it too much. Be warned if we collect too many cards. This means the Robber is no thief but instead a deity, potentially on a pantheon of others, protecting us from ourselves.
This idea strangely gathers traction. It makes sense, intrinsically so, behind the scenes as the Robber is not evil. It is neutral, simply guiding and testing us along the course of the game.
So maybe that is it. Maybe we have been too harsh on the Robber. Maybe his name is not Robber, but instead just Rob or Robert? I don’t know, I’m spitballing; however, maybe we should change how we think about him. Maybe he is not so evil after all.