I am a very competitive person by nature. Whenever I get into a game, I strive to win. But how to win at Catan? There are many strategy guides online, but most of them are way too long and in-depth theoretical for a casual player to read. Ain’t nobody got time for that, right? 🙂
Introduction to A Brief Guide of How to Win at Catan
Luckily for you, I do have that time. So, I studied the guides from all over the internet, threw some personal experience in it, and here it is: my winning guide for Settlers of Catan.
My guide is designed to make you a better Catan player in just 10 minutes. It contains all the vital parts you need, without the unnecessary ballast. The guide is focused on whats and hows and not on the analysis of whys.
Disclaimer: This guide assumes that you are familiar with basic gameplay mechanics and have some gameplay experience. Game mechanics and rules will not be discussed here. But since you probably already played a game of two of Catan, that shouldn’t be a problem and the guide should be easily understood even for novice players.
Initial Settlement Placement
The house stands tall if its foundations are firm. The same is true for Catan. I cannot emphasize the importance of initial settlement enough. Place them wisely and the rest of the game will go naturally from there. Place them poorly and you’re in for an uphill struggle with very bad odds to come out on top. Here’s how to approach this stage.
- Analyze the board. Every game of Catan is different and not all the resources will have the same value every game. Examine the numbers on the tiles. What resources will be abundant and which will be scarce? What are the best settlement locations?
- Have a basic game strategy ready at the beginning but be flexible if the situation (someone else goes for the tile you wanted) changes. That means already roughly know how you aim to win, which way to expand, which resources you’ll likely have more or a shortage off and how will you cope with it.
- Two main strategies are the ore+grain strategy that focuses on cities and development cards and brick+wood that focuses on many settlements and the longest road. Going for a certain strategy does not mean you neglect everything else – it only means you focus a bit more on one aspect. You are still gonna need all the resources one way or the other.
- Ore and grain are the most valuable late-game resources. Have a plan on how to obtain them, if you don’t go for the ore/grain strategy. Ports are a good way of doing this and are super powerful, especially in the late game. Having an open route towards a port is never a bad thing.
- Consider the order of action of initial placing. If you know there are players to settle behind you, there is no point in building a road towards a premium spot (you just waste a road). Contemplate expanding towards a less-than-premium spot (that you expect to remain open) or a port instead.
- Diversify your numbers. 8’s and 6’s are great tiles, but if that’s all you got, you are going to struggle. Other numbers will be thrown a lot, too. You’re better off covering as many numbers as possible (except the very rarest), so you get resources all the time.
- Don’t place your settlements too close to others or yourself’s (unless you are the one to place the last village) or you face the danger of being boxed in – having no place to expand. Placing your two settlements far away from each other is fine – but it will be harder to achieve the longest road this way.
Beginning of the Game
- Expand as soon as possible. Extend that road you have and build a village or upgrade to a city if possible. In the beginning, every resource card is worth more – having three villages is a 50% improvement over having just two.
- Trade a lot. In a good trade deal, both sides benefit and you can boost your progress. Be kind to other players and accept their trades (as far as they are good for you, of course) and they too will be more inclined to trade with you when you need them to.
- Don’t buy development cards, unless you plan to go for the largest army (56% of development cards are knights).
- Be flexible with your strategy. You might have initially decided on one thing, but the game has developed differently now and other opportunities presented themselves. A different spot is available, maybe a port is up for grabs or you are competing with another player for a spot.
Mid to End-game
- Be careful who you trade with. Don’t trade with the leader. Trade with others only when you get a really good deal.
- You should have a port or two by now to be self-sufficient. Use those instead of trading to get the resources you need. With the increased production (more villages + a city or two) 3:1 trades should not be a problem.
- Keep track of other players. You should at all times know:
- their victory points (including how many hidden development cards they have and how far from the largest army/longest road they are) and
- a rough estimate of their resource cards.
- By now, you should also have a pretty good idea of their strategy: where do they plan to expand, what resources they need and what they have in abundance.
Use this knowledge when placing roads and settlements (try to block others), trading, and when moving the robber.
- Use the robber wisely. Attack the tiles of the most dangerous player. Target tiles with the resources they need, will need in the future, or are in general shortage in that game.
- Do not hold more than 5 or 6 cards. You’ll be getting resources steadily now and will get over the limit of 7 cards often. Buy a development card, swap in a port, or build something instead of ending your turn with too many cards.
- Do not forget you can move the robber before your roll! Your turns should go in order:
- move robber (if it’s in a tile, you want resources from and you have a knight available),
- throw dice,
- Protect your valuable ore/grain tiles from the robber by having a knight available. These will be prime targets in the late game. Keep buying development cards and keep a knight ready to go.
- It should be very clear to you by now what you are missing for victory (whether it’s that last city, one more knight, 2 more road segments). Focus on obtaining that and don’t get sidetracked.
- Don’t show your victory points cards until you are ready to claim victory. Let them be unsure and think you got a knight there.
The tips in this article should be well enough to make you a competent Catan player. However, would you like to learn more, I will leave you with two links to the guides I found to be the most informative. But the internet is full of Catan guides, so if even that doesn’t fulfill your needs, go explore.
The first one is an all-aspects of Catan in-depth guide, while the second focuses mainly on different playing strategies. We’ve discussed the ore+grain and brick+wood, but those are just the two most powerful. While these two will get you far against causal, against super-competitive players, you better have an additional ace or two up your sleeve.
We’re just over a thousand words, so I’ve kept my promised to keep this short. I hope you made it through in 10 minutes, just like I said. Did you? 🙂 Was the guide helpful for you? Please leave a comment below.
Did you know that after more than a quarter of a century, Catan is still among the Most popular board games?