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)

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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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