Settlers of Catan is commonly classified as a gateway game into modern boardgaming. For me, it truly was a gateway that took me into deeper waters where I’d latch on to other faves like Agricola and Power Grid once I discovered how thrilling boardgaming is. I’ve clearly not abated in this enthusiasm.
The things that make Settlers of Catan such a great game to introduce new gamers to is its combination of easy-to-learn rules and mechanisms, player interaction, and obvious heuristics/goals that are easy to grasp. Because of that, the strategies that I’ll outline in this Settlers of Catan strategy guide shouldn’t be any sort of rocket science. So as you go through this list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind while you’re playing the game, I’d recommend using it as a tool to gauge how well you’ve been playing Catan and whether there are any holes in the strategies you’re using. If you want it in video form, you can check it out on the My Board Game Guides Youtube channel. Otherwise, if you’re fine looking at it in text form, then read on!
Settlers of Catan Do’s
1. Initial placement is everything:
Because of how this game unfolds, everything you do from then on out is based on where you place your first settlements. It determines what resources you get, what your expansion paths are and also what strategies you’ll pursue. For example, going wood/brick gives you access to roads and more settlements while grain/ore gives you largest army and the ability to get the cities out fast. As you place your initial settlements and roads, try not to point your roads towards the middle of the board since that’s where people will rush to colonize, opening you up to hefty competition.
2. Aim for a variety of resource numbers:
Resource production stability is one way for you to maintain a good even pace to inch your way to victory. Because of that, it’s advisable that when you do your initial placement, try to get a variety of starting numbers. For example, placing your two settlements adjacent to two 8s will give you a game that lends itself to feast or famine. Feast, if people roll 8s a lot, but famine, if they roll the equally-common 6s instead. So make sure you’re covering a good spread of the dice roll results and that’ll make things go much much easier for you.
3. Understand which resources are scarce:
The interesting thing in Settlers of Catan is that no matter your strategy, you’ll need every resource eventually. And if one of the resources turns out to be rare, expect competition to be fierce! Use those rare resources to your advantage by trading aggressively and cutting deals that would be borderline highway robbery.
4. Invest in knights:
Using those strategies above, means you’ll be able to vault into the lead compared to lesser opponents. Taking the lead is dangerous because it then attracts bandits to try to block your resource generation or steal resources from your warm, living hands. That’s why it’s important that you grab development cards to acquire knights. Not only do knights prevent people from getting the robber to squat in your territory, they’re also useful as threats too, if you can wave it around as a retaliatory measure or to get a trade deal through.
5. Use the robber wisely:
It probably goes without saying, but robber placement should hinder the biggest threat to you and in general, experienced Catan gamers will be understanding if that’s what you do. Less forgiving is when you use it early on, hitting many people at once. That tends to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths as they look for retribution. Having multiple people gunning for you is not fun. Also, if you can’t figure out who to sic the robber on, place it on the person to your right. There’s a high chance it’ll stay there longer.
Settlers of Catan Don’ts
1. Trade with the person in the lead:
For trades to get approval from both sides, the trade would have to benefit the other person in some way. This concept of mutual benefit means that if you trade with the person in the lead, then they’re more likely to stay in the lead or even extend their lead. So avoid helping out your opponents by not trading with someone who’s in front.
2. Forget to pay attention to people’s point totals:
Sounds obvious, right? Well, what’s not so obvious is the fact that people often only count the raw score that their opponents have without paying to the potential score that they might actually have. For example, if someone has 2 Knights and 3 more development cards up their sleeve and everyone else has a single Knight at most, that player might already have another 2 points in the bag from the special Knight achievement. Failing to account for this and that player can sneak a victory from right under your nose. So don’t get caught with your pants down.
3. Forget to defend your achievements:
If you’re so good or wily enough to get a hold of the achievements of Longest Road (2 VP) or Largest Army (2 VP), don’t forget to defend it! 2 points in a game of Catan puts you 20% closer to the win condition than before. Being lax in defending those achievements is really damaging to your game because losing it results in a 4-point swing in someone else’s favor. You lose 2 points while someone gains 2 points. Losing an achievement changes the game’s dynamic and the board position can radically change when that happens.
4. Leave a settlement spot empty after building the road space(s) needed:
Honestly, if it’s economically feasible, you should be able to plop down a settlement after building the required road segments needed to build a settlement in the first place. I’ve come across many scenarios where people are unable to do so and wind up losing that location to another enterprising player. The reason for that is because once the road structures are placed and no settlement is placed afterward, you’ve created a huge priority for people to focus on because they know that if they take that spot, they’ll not only deny you a chance at getting that spot, they will have gotten you to waste your efforts building the roads to that spot.
5. Ignore ports:
For a game that’s about trading with other players, it’s easy to forget just how crucial ports are, especially in the end-game. Towards the end of the game, people will not want to trade with you because doing so will bring you closer to victory, so you’ll have to rely upon autarky to grind out those last few victory points. Ports help you in that regard by giving you favorable trading terms at the stage of the game where you’re already producing a lot of goods anyway. So make use of them, get the resources you need for cheap, and laugh as you achieve that final 10th victory point.
Hopefully these tips will help you to build your strategy foundation in Settlers of Catan and help you play better. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave your own tips in the comments section below so that other players can learn and get better at the game!