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.