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How to Win at “Settlers of Catan”

Picture this: It’s a Friday night and your friends want to go out. You, being the indoor hermit that you are, suggest that you guys stay and play board games instead. Because you are a man/woman of culture, your board game of choice, 9 times out of 10, turns out to be “Settlers of Catan” (or Catan for the real OG’s out there). One by one, your friends reluctantly cave into peer pressure to join you on a night of strategy, alliances and (inevitably) sorrow.

For the uninitiated, the game goes like this: Players assume the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players gain points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points, typically 10, wins.

Below are some common strategies to remember if you want a shot at the winner’s table:

Get One of Every Resource

You’re going to need all of wood, brick, wheat, sheep, and ore, so why not make sure you have them all at the start? Place your first settlement so you get 3 different resources, and pick up the final 2 with your last placement. Don’t be the poor sap who’s blocked by one missing resource and has to resort to making inefficient trades to the bank.

Maximize Probability

Each number has pips on it indicating its probability (out of 36) of being rolled on a given throw of the dice. Place your settlements looking to maximize your probability of getting resource cards (if you’re placing numbers according to the recommended spiral convention, the best you can do is 13 pips, e.g. 5/6/9). To maximize pips, you should generally avoid the desert and the coast.

On a semi-related note, placing your settlements near the desert can provide you a geographical vantage point, as it will unappealing for other players to expand towards you.

Acquire Ports

Choosing late in the round often leaves you with poor choices, and coastal options may become appealing if they come with a port (though make sure it is one with 2 hexes adjacent, not one!). Especially good are ports that match nicely with your best resource-gathering tiles. Ports can be a life-savers if you possess a large amount of one particular resource (looking at you, sheep herders) as they allow you to trade for any other resource in the game and are unblockable.

Get a Good Distribution of Numbers

The ideal is to get as many different number placements as possible. This seems a little counter-intuitive, but it is great for inexperienced players as it keeps them in the game regardless of how the dice shake down. The dream initial placement is something like 4/6/9 and 5/8/10… 2/3 of the time, you will be getting a resource card, and you’ll feel involved throughout.

Don’t be Mean

As much as Catan is a game about resources, it’s also a game about connections and building alliances. Being nice and cordial to other players helps to open up trade opportunities, form coalitions, and makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved. On the other hand, much of the banter around the table involves dissecting other players’ strategies and why they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing and how you are barely hanging in there, not a threat to anyone, and should be dealt with fairly. Being mean is a good way to get beat up on by everyone else.

In the end, Catan is a deep and enjoyable game to experienced and inexperienced players alike. Make sure to make the best of your (admittedly long) games and have some fun without burning too many bridges!


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