The Settlers of Catan game has basic rules and the game is easy to learn. However, these simplicities do not mean that the game is easy to win. On the contrary, winning Settlers of Catan requires a little bit of luck but mostly a well implemented strategy. Determining the most effective winning strategies changes from game to game, and sometimes even in the middle of a game. The multiple strategies to win, make playing a Settlers of Catan game unique every time.
What can you control and how quickly can you control it? Most Settlers of Catan strategic tactics revolve around element control. This control may mean that you have a dominant position for a specific element and thereby you can leverage that dominance when bartering. Control can also be limiting an opponent’s element dominance by way of keeping the robber on their primary locations. The rest of this article discusses these and other strategies in more detail.
Build Settlements Before Cities
Sometimes the game just starts out perfectly. Your numbers are getting rolled like crazy and you are collecting cards hand over fist. If you are getting bricks and wood then everything for you is coming up roses. Start building roads and settlements and quickly grab up the locations that compliment what you already own.
What do you do if your numbers are rolled early in the game and you’re collecting a lot of ore and wheat? The obvious thought is to build cities. However, this could be more detrimental to your overall game. Consider first that most settlements on the Catan board have one great number, one moderate number, and one lousy number. Once you place cities on these locations you have just made your two great numbers targets for the robber. These elements will no longer be producing.
To make matters worse, when your Settlers of Catan game starts off fast it is usually because you’re moderate and lousy numbers were producing early. So as the game continues these numbers produce less and your best numbers are now blocked and now you can only build roads and settlements. If your opponents successfully limit your expansion, for even a short time, then by the time you can build there may be nowhere left to build.
Diversify Your Locations
In order to have the best chances at collecting elements you want to make sure that your land locations are diversified. When selecting your first two locations it is advisable to make sure that you have opportunities to collect every element.
Diversification of your land also means collecting elements by owning different numbers too. By doing this you are also increasing your odds of collecting elements more frequently.
Diversification is important, but don’t overthink this process. If you’re best remaining options are to get good numbers and you have to take two wood and wheat that would be better that taking a well-diversified location with lousy numbers. Similarly it would be better to take a location that has well diversified land even if you had to accept two 9’s and a 6 as oppose to having well diversified lousy numbers (i.e. 2, 11, and a 3).
Using the development cards as a strategy is a great second tier option if you need to change you game plan in the middle of the game. There are 25 development cards in the Settlers of Catan game and 14 of these cards are soldiers. So every time you purchase a development card there is a 56% chance that you will get a soldier.
Using the soldiers can be useful when you need to slow down a dominant player. Collect these cards and keep the robber on their best position. If it has to be removed because a 7 is rolled then use another soldier to put it back on them. This inhibits their progress and also randomly steals cards from their hand. Executing this plan not only limits their resources but also frustrates them and this could lead to silly mistakes which also helps you get back into the game.
Conversely the development cards can be used to defend 3 against 1 when everyone is teaming up against you and putting the robber on you when the 7 is rolled. Using the soldier cards provide you with a way to remove the robber and keep your valuable real estate open to collect elements.
Whenever you use this strategy there are some additional benefits that you may receive along the way that will contribute to your win. First of all you may end up with the Largest Army which gives you 2 more points.
The remaining development cards are two road building, two victory points, a monopoly card, and a year of plenty. If you are trying to collect soldier cards and you bump into one of these cards your game will still benefit. Although you only have a 24% chance on getting one of these cards, so it is always best to purchase development cards with the idea that you will obtain a soldier.
Taking advantage of a single element and then using it to your advantage is an element monopoly. This strategy is generally available to the last person who chooses their location on the Catan board. When you are last to choose your location then you get to choose two spots in a row. This means that you can choose a 2:1 port with your first location and with your second location you can diversify with a 3 element location that affords you the maximum amount of cards to start the game with.
The element monopoly strategy may look something like this. Choosing a 2:1 port on wood and then selecting another location that provides you a wood element every time a 9 is rolled. When you place your roads you will want to place them in a way where you can build toward another wood preferably with another number between 4 and 10.
The idea is that you will have multiple avenues to collect wood and then you can use this element very strategically. If you need to barter with anyone for an element they cannot ask for more than one wood because you can always trade it 2:1 via your port for anything that you want. Essentially because you control the supply of this particular element you can also influence the demand. And as the game progresses and you establish cities on these locations you become an even bigger distributor of this element and with a 2:1 port you may not even need to barter with others to take this strategy to the Winners Circle.
This strategy can be used for any element. If you are able to obtain the 2:1 sheep port you may be able to use this port to your advantage later in the game without specifically seeking the sheep locations. Inevitably the game gets to a point where everyone has too many sheep and they are looking for other elements. Because they have so many sheep they won’t think too much about trading an extra sheep in the deals you make with them, but these extra sheep will make a big difference to you because they will provide you indirect access to the elements that others cannot get.
Avoid the Longest Road
The longest road can be worth 2 points to your final score, but pursuing the longest road as a part of your overall strategy is a fool’s errand. If you find yourself competing for the longest road early in the game you will be wasting resources that could be better used to build your Catan colony with settlements, cities, and development cards.
To make matters worse if you are sitting on eight or nine points and 2 of those points are the longest road then others may team up to take the longest road away from you. I have seen a player with 8 points willing trade two or three roads to another player for very little in return.
This bartering technique does fall within good game etiquette because the trade does benefit both parties. One player jumps to the overall lead and the other player obtains the longest road and 2 more points. It also extends the game for everyone else too, so there will be very little controversy with this type of trade.
However this does put the person who lost the longest road in a very difficult situation. Because they not only have to try and get the longest road back, but while doing so they need to find another point on top of that. Resource management at this point becomes very difficult and the objective nearly impossible to accomplish unless you can beat the odds and purchase a development card and get a Victory Point.
The Longest Road does work well when it is pursued at the end of the game and no one sees it coming. If you are slowly building your Catan colony and you start to close in on 7 points showing then you may want to take an account and see what is needed to get the longest road. If you only need three roads and you have an undisclosed Victory Point then working to build these final three roads certainly is a strategy worth taking.
I would recommend building these roads covertly though. If you can build one road toward another valuable spot on the board then go ahead and do so while you have the elements in your hand. But if you start to build roads willy-nilly then your opponents may become wise to what you’re up to and start defending. So it may be better to just wait until you have all three roads in your hand and build them all at the same time.
Make Good Choices
So there are choices that you get to make, but they are often dictated by others. Whenever you can make a decision that is beneficial to you and can still impede your opponents then take advantage of those opportunities.
The first choices that you will have are to find your settlement locations. Sometimes there is a clear location that is great because it has three important elements and three good numbers too. When you take this spot that great for you, but you are most likely leaving another spot open that is also diversified with at least two good numbers. The location in the middle of these two spots should be looked at closely. Chances are it is a nice location that may not be great but it would be very good. This choice makes the other two really good spots unavailable to everyone else which is also to your advantage.
Another choice that you will make in Settlers of Catan is the how you will barter. Early in the game you want to make sure that you are making trades that are mutually beneficial. If your trades are giving you a road and your opponents are getting settlements then you need to demand more from your opponents. If you find that trading is not equitable, or advantageous, to you then stop trading with this individual and choose to barter with other players until your original trade partner is willing to give you more.
Beware of the Seven
Another way to phrase this is “to hoard or not to hoard?” Whenever a seven is rolled on the dice any player who is holding more than 7 cards has to lose half of their cards. So the answer to the question is, It Depends.
Early in the game it is an okay strategy to hoard your cards so that you can make the big moves you need to in order to establish your future settlements locations that can later become cities. These early moves lay the groundwork to your success and if you get blocked out of any development then you will just be playing the game out until someone else can finish the game.
Later in the game turning in cards and getting assets becomes a better strategy. So even if you have to scratch plans to build a city and take a development card instead, that’s okay. Soldiers become more valuable as the game progresses and having a soldier is better than losing half your cards while you are waiting to get one more ore.
“I love it when a plan comes together.” Sometimes when you play Settlers of Catan everything just goes your way and no matter what strategy you chose you find yourself with 10 points before anyone else.
Other times nothing goes your way. Clearly you never had a chance, but your skill at implementing these strategies kept you in the game and you were still able to scrap and claw your way to a respectable 7 points.
However, more frequently than not the game you will experience is somewhere in the middle. The game will ebb and flow and you will have to work through both good and bad circumstances. So the strategies presented in this article are generally used in some sort of combination. There will be times to use the robber, times to buy development cards, and even if you couldn’t get a port early in the game obtaining one later will still prove beneficial.