This is a primer for The Settlers of Catan that will cover the high-level strategies and specific tactics you can use to improve your play. I am assuming you know the rules and will just jump into the strategy. Check out the video version above or the text version below.
4 Primary Strategies:
Here you just want as much brick and wood as possible, so you can expand and build settlements. This is the easiest strategy for a newbie to use, but the more I have played Catan, the less I like this one. It works great in the early game because you can expand quickly and cut off your opponents from the spots they want but the challenge is staying relevant as the game gets into the later stages. You can usually get to 7 points fairly quickly with your 5 settlements and your longest road, but you need a plan to get those last 3 points. The keys to succeeding with this one is getting tons brick and lumber early, but then expanding to places where you can get wool, grain, and ore for the late game. Also, make sure you have at least two road segments of a lead over everyone else to make it hard for them to steal it from you and build a settlement for every two or three road segments so no one can build a settlement on your road to break it.
The idea here is to get as much ore, wheat, and sheep as possible, but an equal-ish share of each so that you can buy tons of development cards. You’ll also want some brick and wood to build your first two roads and third settlement. This is the best general strategy in the game, but can be defeated by the port or wheat monopoly strategy if the board greatly favors them. With this strategy, you control the game by directing the robber around the board with your soldiers and surprise everyone with victory points, monopoly cards, and road building. Overall, this allows you to control the game and keep your plan a secret since your development cards are hidden. You appear to be less of a threat when you have less points showing, but hidden victory points from development cards.
This involves gathering lots of a single type of resource and then get its corresponding 2:1 port. During initial placement, do not forget to carefully consider how rich the board is with a resource and whether you think you can settle those areas while also getting to its 2:1 port. In a 4 player game, it’s possible to put a second settlement on a 2:1 port if the board is laid out to greatly support it, but you’re usually just positioning your initial settlements so that you can expand to a 2:1 port for your third settlement. This strategy is risky – if everything goes right for you, you can run away with the game, but if it does not, you will be destroyed by your opponents. On the flip side, if someone else is going for this strategy, do everything you can do to keep the robber on their primary resource’s production settlements because they will be completely hand-cuffed and will not be able to win – they are relying entirely upon that one resource.
You will need to get some development cards with this strategy because if the robber stays on your main producer of your 2:1 port resource, you are guaranteed to lose. The nice thing about the port strategy is that you are not confined to any one particular strategy so you can roll with the punches. If the longest road is open, go for it. If the largest army is open, go for it. If you see a nice settlement spot a couple segments away, go for it. Very flexible.
Here, you want to get all the major wheat producing settlement locations before your opponents so you can deprive them of wheat throughout the game. If they have no wheat, they cannot build settlements or cities or development cards. They simply won’t be able to get any points. Most board layouts do not support this strategy, but when there is a lack of wheat on the board and you can settle the primary wheat-producing spots on the board, you can dominate with this strategy.
Each number token has dots on them, which represent the likelihood that its number will be rolled. At a very basic level, your goal is to maximize the number of dots you have , which is the most important concept in placing your settlement.
A secondary goal is getting access to all resources. If you have a settlement on Lumber/Brick/Ore, you would want another settlement on Grain/Wool so that you have access to all types, even if one has a low probability of occurring. Another way to get access to a resource where you do not have a physical presence is to get a 2:1 or 3:1 port. That counts too, but trading 4:1 is just so wasteful that I don’t count that one.
A tertiary goal is to avoid overlapping resource numbers. For example, if you already have a settlement on 4/9/10, you do not want to overlap by putting another settlement on 3/9/10 because you will be relying too heavily on rolling 9 and 10, which will make your resources come inconsistently. You will go through full rounds without any and then get a flood in other rounds, which puts you at greater risk for losing resources to the robber.
Initial placement is the most important decision you will make, so take your time!
Make sure you have a good supply of Lumber and Brick between your initial settlements because you will be building some roads right away. It’s even better if it can be under your second settlement so you can get a Brick and Lumber in your starting hand.
When you have 8-9 points and just need one or two more, do not try to draw development cards to get them unless you have absolutely no other options. Just save up for a city or expand to a settlement spot because those will be guaranteed while you could be going round after round without getting a victory point.
Fish for hand information when you get a monopoly card by asking everyone, “does anyone have resource X?” to help you decide if you can expect a good supply of that resource before burning a monopoly card. You can even trade a bunch of that resource to people for other resources before using monopoly so that you can get it right back. However, if you do that, everyone will absolutely hate you for it.
Overall, just be nice and unassuming. Your opponents will constantly be faced with opportunities to help you by trading you needed resources or hurting you by placing the robber on your hexes and you do not want to give them any reason to dislike you.