The Golden Rule of Catan Strategy: Be Unblockable

Catan strategy is as much about judgement calls as it is about heuristics. That being said, I have found that there is one heuristic that can help you through many of the judgement calls you face: be unblockable.

Being unblockable simply means that other players have difficulty hindering your progress. The most powerful way to accomplish this is through board position. Self-sufficiency is a large part it. I cringe when players advise forgoing a resource claiming they can get it through trades. If you’re relying on other players for a key resource, all they have to do to stop you is stop trading you what you need. You’re too easily blocked and it’s going to be very difficult to win if you’re expecting another player to trade it to you.

Self-sufficiency, meaning you have a way to get everything you need on your own, is only the first part. Of course, the only way to be truly unblockable from the robber is to be on two sources of every resource. This would require you to be adjacent to 10 total hexes, which is unlikely. If it occurs, it’s likely it’s so close to the end of the game that having it is fairly inconsequential. The more important thing to focus on is to be on multiple sources of key resources, particularly wheat and ore.

Being on multiple sources of wheat is a key enabler. I wrote in the 10 Catanments post about the importance of wheat in allowing you to spend resources and help avoid sevening out. By blocking your wheat, you’re losing not only production but you’re also likely to lose cards by sevening out on your hand full of unspent resources. So, rule #1, if possible get yourself to multiple sources of wheat early in the game.

In many cases, you will be forced to sacrifice too much in order to produce wheat on two spots, particularly with initial placement. This is where the judgement comes in– in general, it’s not worth it to sacrifice another resource entirely just to get on two sources of wheat. But that being said, it should be the first thing you look for once you do have all 5 resources.

Now, I mentioned earlier that one of the difficulties in having your wheat blocked (or heaven forbid, not producing it at all) is the difficulty you have spending resources. So another way to be unblockable is to have an effective use of ports.

A useful port is nearly a necessity. It’s just too much to expect the dice to give you exactly what you need when you need it. For a balanced strategy 3:1 ports are invaluable. They drastically reduce your risk of sevening out as there is no 7 card hand you cannot build something with, so it’s easier to keep your hand size down. Aside from the 3:1, one of the most powerful strategies that can arise is the ‘dual port’ strategy. When you have access to two 2:1 ports of resources you produce in fairly high quantities (5 pips or higher), you will be nearly impossible to block. Whereas a single port strategy is easy to block by simply blocking that resource, a dual port strategy always leaves a ‘wild’ open. I won the 2013 Capricon semi-final with a highly effective dual port for wheat and sheet (I am red below):

The last way to be unblockable is to simply block other people instead. Knights can be some of the most valuable cards in the game, especially at a table that knows how to use the robber effectively. In my 2012 Masters tournament semi-final, I collected a couple knights early and used them to block a 6 ore hex that two other players were on. This was their only source of ore, so by keeping it covered I prevented them from buying development cards to uncover it. Anytime a 7 was rolled and the robber was placed on me, I moved it back on my turn. As long as I could keep a queue of 1-2 unused knights, I could essentially ensure that I stayed unblocked for most of the game. Here’s me taking my winning turn, you can see my queue of knights and the 6 ore currently blocked.

Despite the many strategies for doing so, the heuristic stays the same. Be unblockable, and you’ll have a much easier time winning even when everyone is out to try to stop you.

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Insulating Your Valuable Resources — Settlers of Catan Hand Management Strategy

This is a Quick Tip – Easy Fix article focusing on concise strategy tips in 500 words or less.

The main theme of this article is hand management, which is a deep and varied topic. However, this article focuses on one small tip–insulating crucial cards in your hand. Often, either through a useful rob or lucky 2 or 12 roll, you will have a card in your hand that you desperately need to hold onto. During initial placement, you’ll occasionally find yourself placing your 2nd settlement on a 12 or 2, for the sole purpose of starting the game with that resource. You can then use that resource, particularly if it’s sheep or wheat, to settle on a much more productive source with your first expansion.

So, for example, say I placed my 2nd settlement on a 5, 9, 2, and that 2 is my only source of sheep. Now, if that sheep gets sniped by the robber? I’m toast, especially if the other players are good and recognize that they can either drive a super hard bargain for a sheep, or force me to burn 4:1. I’m left waiting for a 2 to roll, or collecting cards for a costly trade to the bank. Thankfully, insulating your hand can help mitigate the possibility.

The best way to avoid getting your critical card stolen is to properly pad your hand with other cards. Say, for example, I have 4 cards. A brick and wood (a road), a sheep, and another wood.  I am on a decent amount of wood and brick. Should I build a road this turn?

If I desperately need to cut someone off to a spot, then probably. Otherwise, it’s best just to hold my cards and wait for my next turn for a couple reasons — first, it’s always good to have information about where other players are going before I build a road — and second, it helps insulate my sheep with two more cards in my hand. By having 4 cards in my hand instead of 2, the probability of having my sheep stolen is cut in half.

Moreover, if I am on no duplicate numbers, there is no possibility I can be over 7 cards by the time it’s my turn again (as I can only get 1 resource on each of the next 3 rolls). Next turn, when I perhaps have 6 or 7 cards, and I can build my road and still have some ‘padding’ in my hand for my coveted resource card.

A common mistake is trading 4:1 or 3:1 for a card and simply holding onto it with a small hand size. You’ll often see players do this when they’re saving for a city, trading in for ore or wheat and simply letting it sit in their hand, ripe for the picking. These make great robber targets, as stealing that one ore they traded the bank for is, to your opponent, effectively stealing 3 or 4 cards.

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The Final 3 Catanments — Settlers of Catan Endgame Strategy

This is the final entry in a series on the 10 Catanments. Read the first two parts here: Part 1 , Part 2.

These final 3 Catanments detail strategies that are most effective in the endgame:

8. Deflect attention
9. Know your opponent’s routes to victory
10. Plan ahead to time your win

8. Deflect attention
Reason: Avoid the robber, slow down other players, effectively limit biggest competiton

Being a target in Catan is never good. Your hexes are blocked more often, you get more cards stolen, and you’re unlikely to receive beneficial trades. Settlers is, at its core, a social game. A player with suboptimal strategy can succeed by manipulating the other players to avoid slowing him down at the expense of slowing down his biggest competition.

There are two main components to deflecting attention. The first is to make is seem like you’re just having an awful time doing anything. Even when you’re pulling in resources, they’re the wrong ones, and even when you build that crucial city, it’s not even what you wanted to do that turn. It’s just not your game. The other component is to make it seem like your opponents are doing quite well. Even if they don’t have many points on the board, it’s easy to make it seem like a player is on the verge of something. Generally every player has something going their way that you can pick up on. Fear is a powerful tool, and if someone is afraid that another player might win in just a few more turns, they’re far more likely to try to thwart that player. It’s your job to make them aware.

You can even take it one step further and deflect attention on to one particular aspect of your opponent’s strategy. If you know you are going to need Largest Army or Longest Road to win, finding a way to convince the other players limit the critical Development Cards/Road resources from your biggest Army/Road competition is incredibly useful. If you know your competition needs a sheep to buy a development card to stay ahead of you in the Army race, you had best do all that you can to make sure he or she does not get that sheep.

These tactics are particularly important when there is a player of lower skill level at the table. Generally, if there are two players at the table who are more skilled, the one that controls the less experienced player the best (in that they can get the player to do what they want) will be the most successful. When playing with a low skill player, it is your job to make sure they realize their consequences of their actions (i.e. trading a player 2 wheat when he just received 3 ore), and ensure that nothing goes down that disproportionately hurts you.

Deflecting attention is a fine art. Doing it too blatantly or obnoxiously can backfire. Be subtle but convincing, and read the personalities at the table.

9. Know your opponent’s routes to victory
Reason: Effectively limit opponents, extend the game

If someone else wins, you don’t. It seems obvious, but I’ve seen countless players trade with a clear leader just to accomplish something menial. Sure, it may have slightly helped them, but they also put the leader far closer to winning, and thus themselves (and you) far closer to losing.

Knowing what your opponent needs to win is going to help inform your own building tactics, as well as your robber strategy. If Largest Army, for example, is going to go a long way in helping your opponent win, it may behoove you to go for it yourself, while also convincing opponents to block the leader’s critical development card resources. Likewise, if your opponent is out of places for cities (or has already built 4), you may want to forgo blocking his ore in favor of a spot that is going to prevent him from building any settlements– and conversely if he has already built 5 settlements.

Moreover, if you are behind, anything that prolongs the game is in your favor. If a player is about to win, there is absolutely nothing wrong with trading away resources to allow another player to take away the Longest Road from the leader. At that point in the game, anything that keeps the game going another turn is beneficial.

10. Plan ahead to time your victory
Reason: Win more quickly, prevent opponents from catching up

Winning at Settlers is often an exercise in timing. In a game with points that can be taken away (Largest Army, Longest Road), you need to make sure that if either is in jeopardy, you’re holding it in a position to win.

So, much of this planning has to do with ensuring you have Largest Army and/or Longest road when they will give you 10 points. Take a scenario where all players (including you) have 1 soldier played, and you have 2 soldiers face down in front of you. When does it make sense to play one of these soldiers, even if the robber is not on you? One answer is when one of your opponents buys another card, and it’s close enough to the end of the game that, if they pass you in Army, you’re unlikely to catch up.

The other scenario is if you’re likely to be able to win in 2 turns. Say, for example, you can take the Longest Road this turn, which puts you at 8 points. If you flip a soldier, you now only need to flip your 3rd one on your next turn and you win. If you can use your 2nd soldier to block a hex that will prevent your opponents from passing your road, you’ve likely succeeded in winning the game on your next turn. Had you taken the road but not played your soldier, you would have had to try to hold the road for 2 more turns, with a non-ideal hex blocked.

The same goes for your building choices at the end of the game. Are you out of settlements and no one is on track for Army? Rather than saving for that city you need, you may be better off buying development cards, particularly if you’re out in the lead and have become a target. If you’re saving for a city, it’s going to be more difficult to get the 5 cards you need while you’re consistently being robbed. Buying development cards will both keep the robber off you, as well as give you a chance of pulling a Monopoly or Year of Plenty to help you build your city. In rare cases, if you take Army and pull a point, you could perhaps win the game without even building a city if you can find a way to take Longest Road. It’s not an ideal way to plan to win, but in a game where ore is tough to produce, it’s a very real scenario.

That concludes the series on the 10 Catanments! Many of these themes will be expanded upon in more detailed posts, but this overview will hopefully lay the groundwork for developing sound Settlers of Catan Strategy.

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The Middle 3 Catanments — Settlers of Catan Midgame Strategy

This is the second entry in a series on the 10 Catanments. Read the first part here.

The first 4 Catanments detail some of the essential characteristics of effective resource production. The next 3 Catanments detail aspects of mid-game strategy– development cards, the robber, and ports.

5. Get maximum value out of your Development Cards
6. Know your opponents’ resource needs and use the robber well
7. Use ports methodically

5. Get maximum value out of your Development Cards
Reason: Ability to use development cards to address deficiencies, protect vulnerabilities.

In a base game of Catan, there are 25 Development Cards
14 are Knights
5 are Victory Points
2 Road Builder
2 Year of Plenty
2 Monopoly

Knights are perhaps the most underappreciated development cards. I will leave the discussion about robber strategy until the next Catanment, but using knights has unique strategy not completely synonomous with using the robber. Knights in general serve 4 functions. They:

1.) Allow you to protect your most important spots
2.) Allow you to block your opponent’s most important spots,
3.) Allow you to draw a resource, and
4.) Allow you to earn points through Largest Army.

Pretty much anyone will agree that initial placement is supremely important in Catan. But what if you could swap a player’s ‘8’ hex with an 11? It would seem pretty unfair right?

This is exactly what Knights do. They keep your numbers at maximum potential by keeping the robber off them, while making your opponents’ numbers worse by blocking the production. If you keep someone’s 8 blocked 60% of the game, you’ve effectively reduced it to an 11 or 3 — turning 5 pips into 2.

I’ll talk more about why Knights are so effective in the Catanment below, but Largest Army deserves a few words here. It’s decidedly stronger than Longest Road because it’s much harder to take from you while you have it. The timing of your knights is just as important as what you do with the robber afterwards.

Knowing when you need to buy a development card is a tricky thing to learn. It’s best to use a simple adage– when in doubt, buy a card. It’s just too tough to take Largest Army back once someone gets ahead of you in knights. If you both have 2 knights played, but your opponent didn’t buy a card this turn, it is essential that you get a knight if at all possible. Otherwise, he can buy one on his turn, and you’re stuck a turn behind playing catch up. Largest Army points are crucial because they’re not only 2 points for you, it’s 2 points that your opponent doesn’t have.

Of course, 44% of the time, you’ll get something other than a Knight card. 20% of the time it’s a point. The other 24% of the time it’s a Road Builder, Year of Plenty, or the game’s most powerful card, the Monopoly.

Road Builder: The power of this card is highly dependent on when you get it. Early in the game, it’s hard to beat– it opens up possibilities to acquire spots you otherwise would never be able to get to, and it allows you to carefully thwart an opponent who is otherwise setup quite strong.

Year of Plenty: In most cases, a Year of Plenty (Invention in most recent editions) should be used to build a city. Be patient and use it for the things you will otherwise have difficulty doing (know your weaknesses), or to maintain a lead in Knights and Largest Army.

Monopoly: The game’s most powerful card is also one of the most difficult to use. If you have the ability to track exact cards, you are already a large step ahead. But for those who cannot, an easy way to keep track of what is in abundance is to pay attention to particular rolls. Just like Year of Plenty, you want to Monopoly a resource that allows you to do something you otherwise would not have been able to do (lock up longest road, build 2 cities, buy 3 development cards, etc.)

6. Know your opponents’ resource needs and use the robber well
Reason: Effectively limit opponents’ ability to build, win important races (Spots, Army, Road, etc.), steal desired resources, force opponents to 7 out

Using the robber poorly is one of the most common mistakes in Catan. There are two components to good robber strategy– robbing the correct hex, and stealing from the correct person.

The most common robber mistake is robbing the hex that is ‘hot.’ The 9 ore is getting rolled time after time, and players choose to rob it since it seems to be a gold mine for other players. This a mistake because yes, just because the 9 has been rolled frequently doesn’t mean that it will continue to be rolled, but mostly because the players who have been raking in ore from the 9 no longer need ore. The best course of action, in this case, is to block those players’ wheat hex, because that is precisely what they need to pair with the ore that is now clogging up their hands. By blocking their wheat and using the robber effectively, you are both preventing them from  gaining the resource they need to build, and also making it more likely they will 7 out as building becomes more difficult.

7. Use ports methodically
Reason: Manage hand size, avoid 7ing out, protect valuable resources, adapt to game conditions

Ports can be powerful if used well. Take the humble 3:1 port. Though it only saves you a single resource for every trade to the bank, it is likely to save you many more throughout the course of the game for one simple reason– it makes you much less likely to 7 out. With a 3:1 port, there is no 8 card hand that cannot be used to do something. Two sets of 4 of any of the settlement resources becomes a settlement, any set of 4 ore/wheat/sheep with 1 of the other becomes a development card, and so on. Moreover, it also provides flexibility in the endgame to pursue your unique path to victory.

That being said, a common mistake is port resources of a type that is unlikely to be produced again. If, for instance, you are statistically on much more wood than brick, you should be careful about porting brick 3:1 in cases where you have a temporary shortage of wood. There are situations where you may still want to, but in general, that brick may be much more valuable to save as it’s unlikely it’s going to show up again any time soon.

As a general rule, you should not worry about trading to get under 8 cards if doing so will hurt you more than 7ing out. In the case above, we may have some superfluous resources that won’t hurt us if we have to discard them, and in fact, losing those cards is less harmful than losing all 3 of our precious brick to the bank through a port trade.

Many of these same principles apply to 2:1 ports. In general, a balanced strategy that incorporates 2 useful 2:1 ports is a nice alternative to a 3:1 port if it’s unavailable. The flexibility these ports provide in the endgame allow players to win quickly and efficiently. Though strict port strategies (get on all the sheep and the sheep port) often fail, ports are an excellent compliment to an already solid city/card* or balanced strategy

*Note: if you decide to go heavy into the development card resources, perhaps foregoing wood and brick, ideally your first expansion should be to a 3:1 port (or alternatively, a wheat, ore, or sheep port)


Those are the middle 3 Catanments. The next post will wrap up the series with tips for the endgame in the final 3 Catanments:

8. Deflect attention
9. Know your opponent’s routes to victory
10. Plan ahead to time your victory

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Official Launch coming in October!

It’s been a crazy month. Just a few weeks ago at Gen Con I won the Catan World Qualifing Tournament out of over 2000 players who participated. Just so happens that the World Tournament is the exact same weekend as my wedding, so I deferred to the 2nd place player to represent the USA on the world stage. It was still an incredible experience to come out on top after so many games.

Shaking the hand of Guido Teuber, son of designer Klaus Teuber. Photo by Levi Baer

I have a lot of big things planned for the main October launch. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect:

1. Complete review of the Gen Con World Qualifier tournament and a run down of my Semi-Final and Final games — including a full analysis of placement from the Final Board.

2. Detailed entries on the final 6 Catanments.

3. A stand-alone strategy article addressing a single issue, to present an example of a typical post.

Thanks for sticking with the site through this ‘beta’ period. We will be up and running on all cylinders in just one short month.

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The First 4 Catanments — Settlers of Catan Initial Placement Strategy

This is the first entry in a series on the 10 Catanments

The first four Catanments must be important right? I mean, they’re the first and all. I grouped these four together because they all play off one another when trying to determine initial placement, which, as we all know, is one of the most important components of the game. They are:

1. Produce all 5 resources
2. Balance your compatible resources
3. Plan your expansions carefully
4. Bet high on Wheat and Ore

Let’s take them one at a time —

1. Produce all 5 resources
Reason: Self-sufficiency, Reduced reliance on trading, Harder to be limited by blocking

Why is getting on all 5 resources so important in a game with trading? Isn’t it better just to take whatever the best numbers are, and then trade for what I need?

In theory, sure. But, this means you are dependent on both A. Others having the resource you need available to trade, and B. Others being willing to trade. Both of these are wildly unpredictable. Say, for instance, you decided to forgo brick with the expectation you will be able to trade for it. All it takes is a few early rolls that give players lumber, and poof, all the brick that is produced gets spent as soon as it comes in. Early imbalances in the rolls can really swing the demand for resources, even if brick is much more abundant than wood on the board. Plus, if you’re too reliant on trading — particularly as the game goes on — other players may just decide to let you sit and anguish. Don’t forget that other players know what you can’t produce, and may force you to pay handsomely for it — or just refuse to trade you that resource at all. After all, that’s one less person they have to beat.

Moreover, producing everything is just more efficient. If you placed on a 6 sheep with your first settlement, do you really need that spot with the 9 sheep? Even if it’s statistically the ‘best’ spot left on the board, you’re probably much better off aiming for something you can’t yet produce, an 11 ore, for example– as it will prove much more useful during the course of the game (and not to mention give you one to start the game with). A 9 Sheep has 4 pips, meaning it will be rolled, on average twice as much as the 11 (2 pips). But, if you need to trade 4:1 for that ore you need, you’ll need the 9 to roll 4 times as much to make it worth it — which means you were probably just better off placing on that 11 in the first place. I will also note the excess “waste” cards also clog up your hand, which means you’ll likely have to discard on 7s much more often.

So, in general, being on all resource should be marginally preferred over better numbers of resources you don’t need. That being said, you should always strive for better numbers over worse ones.

Of course, it’s often not possible to get on every resource to begin the game. In this case, you want to place carefully so you can do 1 of 3 things:

  1. Build toward the 5th resource and build on it with your 1st expansion
  2. Build toward a useful port so you can port for the resource you need
  3. Place on large amounts of wheat, ore, and sheep so you can use development cards to acquire the resources you need.

These will be reiterated when we talk about Catanment 4 (Plan your expansions carefully), but first, a related idea.

2. Balance your compatible resources
Reason: Ability to spend resources efficiently, fewer costly trades, 7-out less often, self-sufficiency

Though being able to produce all 5 resources is important, it’s only half the battle. Balance is as important as diversity. Good balance means far fewer 4:1 and even 3:1 trades (if on the port), as well as fewer discards on a 7, and the ability to build quicker and more efficiently.

What do I mean by balance? Let’s examine the building costs card —

What resources always pair together? You’ll notice you never need a wood without a brick, ore and sheep always need wheat, and in general wheat is the most commonly used resource (the universal donor, I call it). It’s objectively way more important than sheep, because it’s used in all the same things but is also used twice to build a city.

What other conclusions can we draw from by simply examining the building costs card? Well, the first takeaway is that we will never need any more wood than we have brick, or vice versa. A lot of brick doesn’t do us much unless we have a lot of lumber to pair with it. When placing your initial settlements, is the spot with the 8 brick really that good, if it’s unlikely I will be able to get on much wood with my 2nd settlement? On overabundance of brick will just clog up your hand, and cause you to 7 out more often, so unless I am going to get on a brick port or 3:1 port really quickly, I might want to keep looking before I place.

Likewise, if you have a lot of ore, you’ll always want to be on plenty of wheat, since ore is never used without it. When placing your initial settlements, keep in mind the balance of your spots, and use this to inform the value you place on initial placement locations.

3. Plan your expansions carefully
Reason: Helps achieve balance, Harder to be limited by blocking, Sets player up for victory

Building for balance is a big strategic key. Your primary goal early in the game is to find a way to produce all 5 resources. Like we talked about, this could mean 1 of 3 things:

  1. Build toward the 5th resource and build on it with your 1st expansion
  2. Build toward a useful port so you can port for the resource you need
  3. Place on large amounts of wheat, ore, and sheep so you can use development cards to acquire the resources you need.

For now I will focus on the first 2 points, Building toward resource you need, and building toward ports.

One of my favorite sayings about initial placement in Catan is “it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you end up.” Often times, in order to get on the amount of wheat and ore I want, or to balance my brick and wood well, I might have to forgo getting on sheep to start the game. Sheep is probably the most common resource I forgo, then brick and wood, then ore, and finally wheat. Ore comes in as just slightly less detrimental than wheat to go without because you can at least expand and build on an ore hex without one, whereas you you cannot as easily do the opposite without a wheat.

But, if you are forced to forgo a resource, ALWAYS place your roads such that you can find a way to efficiently produce it. Obviously, the best thing is to build towards the resource itself, but you can’t get too greedy especially when there are still a few people left to place. Pay attention to where your opponents want to build, what resources they still need to get on, and how likely they are to place on the spot (or the one adjacent to it) you’ve pointed your road towards.

The alternative is building to a port, which most often will be a 3:1 port. It may seem like you’re only saving 1 card when you’re trading to the back, but 3:1 ports have some added benefits I will discuss in my analysis of the “Port” Catanment in the next entry. If you’re going to get on a 2:1 port, it’s best if that port is not for the resource that complements the resource you don’t have (i.e. a wheat port if you need ore), unless you have a strict overabundance of it. This is because it will be difficult to both port for and spend the resource on the same turn if you’re porting what you need to pair with it. That being said, if you have wood but not brick and are heading towards the wood port, you might be best off just porting that wood for what you need to build cities and buy development cards and not worry about your lack of brick, using the final way to get the resources you need: Development Cards.

Which leads us to–

4. Bet high on Wheat and Ore
Reason: Makes best spots more productive, ability to utilize development cards to stay unblocked and gain resources

I just spent all this time talking about how being on everything is important, and here I am telling you that wheat and ore are the most important. But the truth is, if you’re going to be on a lot of anything, you want to be on a lot of wheat and ore. Play one game where you’re unable to produce wheat, and enjoy struggling to do much of anything all game, let alone win. For this reason, your number one priority when placing your initial settlement should be locking up a source of wheat. If it looks like there’s not going to be left when it’s your turn to place again, you better think very carefully before placing on any spot without it.

Ore, of course, is Wheat’s natural complement. And it’s crucial for two big reasons:

Cities are incredibly powerful because they double the production of your best spots. In a 4 player game, the likelihood of there being very many good spots to expand to is limited, which means making the most out of your initial placements is crucial.

The other benefit is that cities can beget more cities. Unless you have a huge overabundance of wheat or ore, your first city should generally go one of these resources — whichever one is going to let you build more cities quicker — or both if they share a spot.

Now, if you’re going to be on a lot of wheat and ore, you’re also going to want an adequate source of sheep (usually a 5 or 9 suffices just fine, especially since it’s likely to quickly become ‘citied’). Development cards are as important as what you have on the board. How you manage your soldiers and other cards can give or take a win just as much as a poorly placed road, city, or settlement can. Controlling the robber is a crucial part of the game, and Largest Army is one of the strongest ways to victory in a game — it has the effect of both keeping your key spots protected, blocking the spots others need to accumulate points, AND is much more difficult to lose when compared to the Longest Road. I’ll leave it at that for now, and say that buying a development card is almost always the right thing to do, especially once you have your initial settlement core established (usually 1 or 2 expansions). More development card strategy will come when I discuss the next 3 Catanments in the next post.

That’s the 1st 4 Catanments. To boil it down to a few take away strategy points, I would say:

Being able to produce all 5 resources is key. Always ensure you’re on a strong source of Wheat. Bet highly on Cities and Development Cards to protect those spots. Try to maintain good resource balance and plan your expansions. All of these will help you remain self-sufficient and make you difficult to block which will allow you to accumulate points quickly.

The next port will detail the next 3 Catanments which deal primarily with mid-game strategy:

5. Get maximum value out of your Development Cards

6. Know your opponents’ resource needs and use the robber well

7. Use ports methodically

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Basic Settlers of Catan Strategy – The 10 Catanments

What better way to start a series of strategy articles than to boil down all of my basic strategy advice into 10 commandments, and do a series of articles detailing each one. Okay there’s probably a better way, but I like this way. Consider it an introduction to how I think about the game. Here is a preview of the articles to come:

The 10 Catanments

1. Produce all 5 resources

Get on all resources with your starting settlements with those resources on the best possible numbers. This often requires planning ahead and predicting where other individuals are going to place before you get to place again. I you can’t place so that you can build toward the fifth resource — or on a useful port — by your 3rd settlement.

2. Balance your compatible resources

Try to balance your resources well in terms of probabilities. Wood is only useful if you have the brick to pair with it, so it may not be worth trying to build to a lot more wood unless you have a port or another way of getting to brick. If you’re unbalanced in some way to start (ie way more ore than wheat, or way more brick than wood, etc), use your subsequent settlements to become more balanced. You will ‘7 out’ less often because you will be able to build more often.

3. Plan your expansions carefully

Be efficient. Don’t build more roads than you have to. Is it worth building three more roads to get to a spot that is just marginally better than the spot that I can get to in one road? Sometimes, maybe, but usually not. Build to the spot that is going to help you fulfill the first 3 commandments, and allow you to get to the next spot you want to get quicker.

4. Bet high on Wheat and Ore

If you have to make a choice, go with the better Ore and Wheat spots, and make sure you do not get locked out of either of these. Wheat is the universal donor — it’s key to doing nearly everything in the game, and being left without it will make it more difficult to amass points and will cause you to ‘7-out’ more often.

You can explore the first 3 Catanments here.

5. Get maximum value out of your Development Cards

Cards can be as important as what is on the board when it comes to winning at Catan. Which means knowing how to use Knights, Monopolies, Road Builders, and Year of Plenty as effectively as possible is as important as anything.

6. Know your opponents’ resource needs and use the robber well

Block the number your opponents need to come up most. If you’re battling for Army, block your opponent’s ore or wheat (whichever one they do not have in their hand).

7. Use ports methodically

Trading 2:1, 3:1, and 4:1 each has its place, but all must be executed carefully. Don’t trade away something that you can’t expect to be coming back in anytime soon, and be patient about trading for things you should be pulling in easily.

You can explore the middle 3 Catanments here.

8. Deflect attention

Convince others to put the robber on your opponents. Make it seem like you can’t win, even when you know you can. Persuade others not to go through with trades. Your tongue can be your own catch-up (or lead keeping) mechanic.

9. Know your opponent’s routes to victory

Pay attention to the other players, and know what they need to do to win. Then do whatever you need to prevent that. If you’re behind, anything that makes the game go on is good for you.

10. Plan ahead to time your victory

Always think about what you have to do to win, create plan to win and then execute it. Alter this plan if necessary, but always do exactly what you think you need to do to win — and plan ahead for it.

You can explore the final 3 Catanments here.

I’ll end with the ‘Golden Rule’ – Be unblockable. Either with development cards, effective placement and expansion, a great use of ports, make it so players cannot limit your ability to accumulate points with the robber.

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Settlers of Catan Strategy |

Over the next few weeks I will be rolling out Inspired by, it’s intended to be a a go to resource for strategy tips for the world’s favorite game, the Settlers of Catan. For such a popular game, the quality of strategy articles to be found online was a bit disheartening, so my goal for this site is to fill that void with weekly strategy articles backed up by experience, evidence, logic, and play philosophy.

Especially early on, feedback is always welcome. Email me at with any tips, suggestions, or ideas.

In the meantime, settle on!

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