Settlers of Catan Strategy Guide
One of the most popular—and best—resource-management games on the planet has made wood and sheep addicts of us all. (Hey, don’t take that the wrong way!) If you want a fun, family-friendly board game with lots of collecting, trading, and building that plays in under an hour, Klaus Teuber’s The Settlers of Catan has it in spades…you know, the kind you till soil with.
Object of the Game:
The first person to 10 victory points wins. You accumulate these victory points through settlements (1 VP apiece), cities (2 VPs), the Longest Road card (2 VPs), the Largest Army card (2 VPs), and special development cards (1 VP apiece). As with any good board game, there are several paths to victory, though you’ll generally want to focus on settlements or cities and supplement the necessary victory points for the win with either the Longest Road or Largest Army.
Dice Roll Odds:
Chances are a 6 or 8 will come up more often during the course of a game than a 3 or 11. When placing your settlements, pay close attention to the resource tiles with the higher percentage numbers. Here’s the percentage breakdown each time you toss the dice:
• 2 & 12 = 3%
• 3 & 11 = 6%
• 4 % 10 = 8%
• 5 & 9 = 11%
• 6 & 8 = 14%
• 7 (Robber) = 17%
Start of the Game:
The most important part of your game may very well be your initial settlement placements. No pressure, though! If you go first, look for the most advantageous spot based on the resource tile numbers and your play strategy. Numbers like 6 and 8 are prime real estate, with 5 and 9 falling just behind. You can immediately tell the value of the tiles by looking at the dots at the bottom of each number chit: five dots equal excellent; one dot, not so good. If you’re going for a settlement strategy, however, you might want to pass on that 6 sitting on ore and choose the 5 forest tile. Generally, you want the higher percentage numbers if they’re available; you can usually trade extra resources you don’t need for a resource you do need.
If you go second, you still have plenty of prime real estate to choose from. Remember, an intersection with three different resources is ideal, unless you want to corner the market on a particular resource. After you drop your settlement, you place your first stretch of road. Make sure that you’re not heading toward the same area as the first player and try to guess where the others will place so you can secure a small section of Catan for yourself.
The third player has a big choice: go for the better tile numbers or go for the better board position. The probably will not be the same. You do want higher percentage numbers for your settlement; however, if this traps you between the first two players with little room for expansion, then you might want to place on a spot with some breathing room and less satisfactory numbers. Pay attention to the actual resources still available; you may not get great numbers, but you should get resources that fit your strategy (i.e., brick and lumber for settlements and road, or grain and ore for cities).
The fourth player has the benefit of placing both settlements in a row. At this point in initial placement, you won’t have many great number options. Look for open space on the board where you can expand easily, and you should definitely consider a 2:1 port if you can secure a decent numbered tile or two tiles of that same resource. Failing that, a 3:1 port can help you if the other players have cut you off from a particular resource. Because you drop two settlements back to back, make sure you place them on intersections that you can link, with room for future expansion. You might not have the best shot at high percentage resources, but you can ensure that you are the early frontrunner for the Longest Road.
When you turn order comes back to you, survey the board and take the best resource/position available. You might be cut off from your first settlement, but that’s okay—you can still succeed with two smaller communities. You do get resource cards from all tiles that your second settlement touches; however, it’s more important to hold a better numbered tile or a better location than to worry about those first few resource cards.
Let’s say we have a sample setup like the picture above with Blue, Orange, Red, and White players. Red goes first and plays on the intersection with the best resource numbers: ore (6), brick (5), and grain (11). White plays next and goes for another good resource spot: ore (6), brick (4), and lumber (11). Blue goes third and decides to take the 2:1 lumber port, which lucky also lands on the best lumber location (6) and a crappy grain field (2). Orange goes last, and thus places two settlements. Cut off from the middle of the board, he opts for the 3:1 port touching on grain (9) and wool (10), as well as a prime real estate spot still remaining: grain (8), lumber (4), and wool (10). Orange has ample opportunities for grain and wool, some lumber, and he’ll have to expand for ore and brick (or use his 3:1 port to convert extra resources for his missing ones).
For her second settlement play, Blue picks up a really good resource location near his first settlement: brick (8), ore (5), and wool (10). Blue owns one of each resource tile; however, a 2 won’t be rolled often (or at all!), so she’ll be looking to expand for a nearby grain location as quickly as possible. Between Blue and Red, White is cut off from his first settlement. He chooses to drop his second settlement one a good resource location far away from his first settlement and picks up lumber (6), wool (9), and ore (3). Finally, Red places her second settlement as close as she legally can to her first settlement. She doesn’t have much room for expansion, but her second settlement does net good resource numbers: wool (9), lumber (4), and grain (2).
Even before the real game begins, you should have a firm strategy in mind based on your initial placements. Though you can’t always help where you place, it’s usually a good idea to avoid putting too many settlements on the same number. When you do, it’s feast of famine. If the number comes up, you get a ton of resources and may even have to dump half of your hand if someone rolls the Robber. If the number doesn’t come up, you’re hurting for resources.
Your play strategy will determine how your first turn, and all the turns to come, proceed. If you go the settlement route, invest in lots of brick and lumber, which gives you the resources you need for roads and half of your resources for settlements (grain and wool are the other two). Notice that you don’t need ore—that can wait until later if you want a city or development cards. Roads are key: they expand your little empire out to the necessary intersections, and if you can get out to an intersection first with roads, you will generally convince other players not to go there unless they can reach the same spot and build on it immediately.
If you go the city route, you’ll have fewer settlements, but the ones you have will steadily grow into cities and produce double resources for adjacent tiles. Look to expand toward grain and ore spots, and when you have the opportunity trade for wool. Development cards are a natural fit with the city strategy, so those extra sheep will come in handy when you want to buy cards for victory points or Knights.
It’s also possible to play a hybrid strategy that’s a little of each of the two main strategies. Generally, this is what happens during the course of a game, since you might not have enough room to expand for the pure settlement strategy or might not be able to gather enough grain and ore to convert all your settlements to cities. Stick to your initial strategy early on so that you can focus your efforts on productive turns. You can always adjust strategies as the game moves on.
No matter what your strategy, expand early and often as the game progresses. You can’t build more settlements (or cities) without new areas, and the more settlements/cities you create, the greater access you have to resources. Given a choice, go for a new settlement early over a city, since this will give you access to other resources (or new numbers on the same resources). Wait for cities toward the end of the game when you’ve settled into your winning strategy, know which resources you need in mass, and want a couple more victory points to cross the finish line. Two benefits of expansion, even if you don’t gain a lot of new settlements, are limiting your opponents’ options and putting yourself in the running for the vital Longest Road card worth 2 victory points at game’s end.
The board layout will determine where your roads take you, but keep in mind that there are only 3 brick and 3 ore tiles (and 4 of the other types). If you’re playing for settlements or Longest Road, covet any open brick tiles remaining. If you’re playing for cities or Largest Army, snatch up ore tiles.
Trading is how you’ll get that final resource for a set or stockpile resources that you might be lacking. In each trade, make sure it puts you ahead of your trading partner. For example, if you trade for a brick to build your next settlement, you gain a victory point and, more important, a spot on the board that limits what others can do and gives you a chance and new resources. So long as you didn’t trade your opponent the last ore she needs to build that city on a 6 mountain, you probably made out better in the deal. Something to keep in mind: when you trade with another player, you’re only aiding a single player; when two other players trade, two players benefit. If you control a monopoly on a resource, don’t be afraid to ask for two or three resources in exchange for that rare resource. Players will be desperate for it, so it’s more valuable than a one-for-one trade.
To Rob, or Not to Rob:
The Robber begins on the desert, and it should stay there for the early game. As much as you may want to snatch a single card from someone or shut down a potential resource producer, it’s not worth the negative publicity. If you drop it on someone early on, that player might return the favor later, and if they’re out for a vendetta, he might stick the Robber to you multiple times and you’ll lose out in the long run. If there’s an obvious victory point leader, feel free to target that person and announce that you’re just “trying to even things out for everyone.” As the game gets later, use the Robber to your advantage to shut down your closest competitor if you’re in the lead, or gain a quick advantage to overtake someone with a move on the board, or steal that one resource you’re missing.
Keep a low profile leading into the end of the game. You don’t want a target on your back on each player’s turn. A good rule of thumb is to wait until you have at least 7 points before making the big push for the victory. If you can strike quickly—say, ideally, gaining 3 points in a single turn—you can surprise your opponents for the win.
With all your settlements and cities in play at this point, you should be generating enough resources to do almost anything you want. The bad news is that at least one other player is likely in the same position; you don’t have much time left. Make sure every turn counts and you maximize your victory points. It’s crucial to try and trade during other player’s turns so you’re ready for your turn.
Watch your opponents carefully and count the resources they have left to win. You might be fighting over the same final resources, so a timely trade or Robber can mean the difference. If no one wants to trade with you (probably a wise move!), don’t forget that you can trade in to the bank at a 4:1 ratio. Plan out your resource allocation so that you make a big play each turn and stay below the seven-card threshold before you make your final winning play.
It’s almost impossible to win without either the Longest Road card or the Largest Army card. It’s possible to pick up the final victory points through development cards, but you only have a 16% chance of landing a single victory point development card—not great odds. It’s better, though, to go for the Longest Road if you’re set up with lots of brick and lumber resources and the Largest Army if you have wool, grain, and ore pouring in. The Longest Road is easier to snatch with a string of roads at the very end; much harder to sneak up on everyone with Knights for the Largest Army because you can only play one development card per turn. As you ramp up to 7 victory points, figure out how’re going to reach 10, plot out exactly how many resources you need to get there, and don’t let anything stop you from gathering them in the next two to three turns.
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