Settlers of Catan

Articles originally published at news:rec.games.board
They are just collected and not really sorted out....


I noticed strategy doesn’t get talked about too much on this board.  So here are my strategy / tactics for Settlers.  Feel free to add to the
discussion, or rip it apart.  Anything to make this newsgroup a little more interesting.

1.   Settlers is a game of numbers, so you had better learn them. Before you place settlements, figure out how much the intersection is
worth.  For those of you who don’t know what the bell curve on 2d6 is, you probably should not be reading this newsgroup.  However, for those who do, here is a refresher.  Below is the number of times (out of 36) that a particular number shows up:

Number on die / chance number comes up out of 36

2 :   1
3:      2
4:        3
5:          4
6:            5
7:              6
8:            5
9:          4
10:      3
11:    2
12: 1

So if you have a settlement on a 3/5/10 intersection, the chance that it will produce something that turn will be 2+4+3, or 9 out of 36 (1 in
4).  Using this info, any intersection can be ranked on just production value from 0 (the edge of a desert on the water) to 15 (three hexes
having an 8 or a 6).  Note that a 15 is not supposed to happen.

So, all things being equal (which isn’t the case, of course, as the type of resources is important), the intersection with the highest total
number is best, as it will get you more resources.  If you pick an intersection with a lower value, it should be a better combination of
resources for your beginning strategy.

How fast you grow is exponential, not linear!  This means that the more resources you are getting, the faster you can build more
settlements/cities, and get even more resources.  It’s how compound interest works, and why if you invest a little early on you get a huge
advantage later.  This means that even a small numerical advantage in the beginning can yield a huge advantage later on.  A popular strategy is to go for a port on the first turn, which means you are on an intersection with only two hexes at most.  It had better be worth it,
because it is going to have to offset the increased production of someone who placed two inland ports, with a higher total production
value.

An exponential growth rate means that the numbers do not “even out” over the course of the game, as some claim.  Numbers coming up early in the game are much more important than later in the game.  This means that the robber is also more important early in the game.  If the robber lands on someone early in the game, its effect is far worse than later.

2.  Settlers is also a game of strategy, so you had better have one when you start out.  There seem to be four popular strategies around right now:

The Ore/Grain strategy.  This is an initial placement to get ore and grain early, to produce cities fast.  This means that you will probably
be focusing on getting the largest army later on (you need either the largest army, longest road, or a lotta luck to win), and going for ore
and grain ports.  This is a good strategy with lots of people on a small board, as you don’t need as much room.  Lots of players mess this up by not focusing enough on settlements.  It is really easy to find yourself with four cities and zero settlements at the endgame, and not being able to get another two settlements because you are boxed in.  Conversely, it is a good idea to box others in.  It is a good strategy for Seefahrers, as it is harder to get boxed in.

The Wood/Brick strategy.  This is a strategy to build settlements and roads fast.   This means you will probably be focusing on getting the
longest road, and wood/brick ports.  This is not as good with lots of people on a small board, as you need room to grow.

Straight numerical advantage strategy, not trying to any one resource in particular.   This strategy really tries to maximize production.  You
need to trade a lot.  This works better in games with more people, and a 3x port is essential.

The monopoly strategy.  This is a strategy to gain control of a particular resource.   This works better with fewer people, as there is
less trading going on.  You will need a port to trade off your excess (and to restrict supply).  This doesn’t work too well later on in the
game, as everyone has ports, or is willing to trade four resources to get what they need.   As the sole strategy, it can really backfire if
your monopoly doesn’t work, or if the other player’s strategy doesn’t need your resource (for example, trying to monopolize brick when
everyone else is trying to build cities).  It works best combined with another strategy.

Too many players have a “favorite” strategy, which is suicide.  You need to pick your strategy based on how many people are playing, and what the board gives you at initial placement.  Don’t fit a square peg in a round hole.  Be flexible.

3.  Put yourself in the other players shoes.  Figure out their strategy, so you don’t trade them something they need, and so you can beat them to a particular spot on the board you both might need.  Don’t let other people become self-sustainable!  Once they don’t have to trade, you are probably finished.   Also, get into the habit of counting their victory points every turn, and figuring out how the player will probably go for what they need to win.

4.  Victory points are great when you get them, but are not to be counted on.   There are seven victory point cards in a 36-card deck (at
least in the US), which means you are drawing an average of five (at a cost of 15 production cards!) to get a point, and ten (30 cards!) to get two.  It is much easier to get two points with far less than 30 production cards the old-fashioned way -- build something.  And guess
what!  Victory point cards won’t produce for you either.  It gets worse when adding in the 5-6 player cards in, as they do not have any victory points, diluting the mix even further.

5.  Watch out where you put the robber.  You might need that resource. Try to put it on a resource you already have a supply for, and don’t have to trade for.

6.  Don’t be a target.  This means hiding points to near the end if possible (do you really want the longest road with five segments, and
being ahead in points that early on?).

7.  If going for the longest road, don’t make too many “side trips” with your roads.  You only have 15.  Remember, if you are the first person to get a road 15 in length, it cannot be taken away from you.  This is much less important in Seefahrers, when the longest road could theoretically be 30 long.

8.  Placement at the beginning is crucial!  Try to block off hexes by placing your settlement exactly opposite of another person’s
settlement.  This means that no new settlements can later be placed there.   Along with helping you restrict resources to other players, the
hex becomes less of a target for the robber.  Conversely, if two different players are already on a hex in a four person game, consider
jumping in too.  A robber will not stay there long with three players wanting to get rid of it.  The worst combination is three settlements
around a hex, split among two players.  You deserve to get the robber here.  If it is an eight or a six hex, prepare to have the robber move
in more or less permanently.  Remember how important the robber is early in the game!

9.  Many people try to get a combination of numbers so they won’t be locked out.   For example, instead of placing between two hexes with a 5, they will place between two hexes with a 4 and a 6.  Note that over time, you will get the same amount of resources, but the distribution will be different.  It is easy to be caught with over seven cards if you have an inordinate amount of settlements on the same numbers.   More important is to be on the same numbers as others, so you don’t fall behind if it shows up.  How many times have you been in a game where the same number comes up, and everyone has it but you?

10.  This pirate’s most important function is to restrict ship building around its hex.  You can completely block off an island in this way.
Your main goal should be to stop others from getting victory points on the islands, not to get the most number of cards that you can.

11.  The gold hex is fun, but in a lot of scenarios it is more like fool’s gold.   (For those of you without the expansion, the gold hex
gives you one of any resource).  Think about it.  Say it costs three ships to get to a gold island in a particular scenario, and then you
need to build a settlement that only borders on one hex.  That is a total card cost of ten.  Let’s see, the gold hex produces on a 10, that
is one every 12 turns (3 out of 36).  That means you will get back your investment in 120 turns.

The moral here is to watch where you build in the beginning.  You should be focused on production.  Going to islands (or anyplace with a low production value) will get you victory points, but leave you seriously behind others in total production.   Better to wait if you can.  Of course, this doesn’t mean to let players beat you there…


>1)  People seem pretty split on trading.  It seems that some will only trade kicking and screaming, as they see big problems with helping other players. Others don't seem to mind, as long as they make sure to look out for number one.

In my regular group, the typical thing is that whether or not trades are made depend upon how close someone is to winning or if someone's obviously ahead.  Obviously, we don't trade with the one who's ahead.

>The benefits from trading are not always equally distributed.  I would take the position that they seldom are.  So how does one make sure they are distributed more in your favor then the other person?

>a)  Try to trade as close to your turn as possible, and preferably on your turn.

Due to the way the rules work, this is basically a choice between trading on the other person's turn or yours.  Obviously, you'd like to do the trade on your turn, but there are 2 factors against this:

1. If the other person is using a port to get you what you want, it must take place on his turn.

2. He may be more willing to make a trade (or make a better trade) on his turn.

If you have good forward planning ability, the best thing is to make a trade you need as early as possible.  The opportunity may not  present itself later, and the other guy is more eager to make a favorable trade during his turn.

The most you'll delay him is 1 turn, and if that 1 turn makes a difference, one of you shouldn't be making this trade.

>b) Conversely, try to trade with others who are farther away from their turn, if all things are equal (seldom is this the case, of course).  Of course, you don’t have much of a choice if it is not your turn, as you have to trade with the person whose turn it is.

The only time you have a choice is on your turn, and it doesn't matter then.  As far as you're concerned turn order doesn't matter in choosing who to trade with.  No matter who you trade with, your turn is now and the other will get exactly one turn after yours
before your next turn.

You don't care whether the guy to your left or the guy to your right thwarts you.   The fact that it took a little longer if it was the guy to your right doesn't benefit you at all (since you didn't have any chance to act during that extra bit of time).


>To stop a trade, you can always promise the player who turn it ISN'T that you will trade with them when their turn comes around, by arguing how they will benefit from this and how the player whose turn it is will be hurt, by the reasoning above.

We consider the above exteremely bad etiquette and will slam such a player for the rest of the game (or if repeated attempts, the rest of the session).  The rules state that you can only trade on your turn.  The above is effectively performing a trade (although slightly delayed) and we consider it a very suspicious move--akin to excessive whining.  It is reasonable to point out that a player currently has more VP, or many cards in hand...  We also do this to help speed up the game (we ended up with excessively long games 2+ hours) and try to limit nonrelevant discussion during the trading phase.

This doesn't apply in giving advice to new players (of course) -- as long as the suggestion is in the best interest of that player (ie there is
a good reason why they might want to trade with you instead of the current player).   This doesn't come up too often since anyone should be experienced after, at most, two or three games.


All the posts have been great, and I want to thank everyone who has responded.  No strategy will work in every situation -- they are more of a general guide -- and the deficiencies everyone has been finding in mine help me know when NOT to try them, especially if I ever play one of you : )

After reading all of these posts, I have begun to see some of the ways my group(s) have played that I just took for granted, and how other groups play completely differently in that they try for different strategies or consider some game functions more important than others.  This is a great insight, as it helps me to figure out how to how my strategies may not work against some other groups, and how better to approach play in my own groups. I want to comment on couple of things.

1)  People seem pretty split on trading.  It seems that some will only trade kicking and screaming, as they see big problems with helping other players. Others don’t seem to mind, as long as they make sure to look out for number one.  I have always tried to trade as much as I can in the early game, primarily out of one big fear -- if I don’t trade with Player X, Player X is going to trade with Player Y.  In this case, Player X and Player Y will have a better distribution of resource cards (and hence will build more) than me.  This is especially bad if X or Y is an adjacent and direct competitor with me for future resources.  If you don’t trade with X, someone else will.  This leads me to take the position that trading is necessary, and instead to focus on the question of how to make the trade as advantageous to you (and as disadvantageous to others) as possible, as long as it is going to happen anyway. The benefits from trading are not always equally distributed.  I would take the position that they seldom are.  So how does one make sure they are distributed more in your favor then the other person?

a)  Try to trade as close to your turn as possible, and preferably on your turn.   Why?  If you trade on your turn, you are probably going for something you need at that moment.  For example, you need one more grain to make your city.   Trading on your turn means you KNOW where this card is going -- to your city.   However, the other person who is trading a grain to you, for a wool say, does not know they are actually going to use that wool on their turn.  They might be trying for a settlement, and when their turn comes around do not have a clay.  Or maybe the robber stole a card.  Or a monopoly card was played.  Or they wound up producing a wool themselves on that 12 they didn’t think they would roll.  In any case, when their turn comes around, they may or may not be using that wool for something.   You, on the other hand, KNOW you will be using that grain.  If they don’t use that wool, that trade was a bust for them, and you were the one who got the greater benefit from that trade.
The farther from your turn you make a trade, the greater the chance that something will happen that will make that card you got worthless, or of losing the card entirely.   And that means the other person probably got more benefit out of that trade than you. If the person the who plays the turn ahead of you is trying to make a trade with you, try to wait until your turn instead, if you can.  They will have to wait another turn to produce what they wanted.  Of course, if they really want to they will trade 4 to 1 or through a port, and then you are stuck…
To stop a trade, you can always promise the player who turn it ISN’T that you will trade with them when their turn comes around, by arguing how they will benefit from this and how the player whose turn it is will be hurt, by the reasoning above.

b) Conversely, try to trade with others who are farther away from their turn, if all things are equal (seldom is this the case, of course).  Of
course, you don’t have much of a choice if it is not your turn, as you have to trade with the person whose turn it is.

c) Trade with people who are losing, or are no threat to you.  This is a no-brainer.

d) Trade early on as much as possible.  You don’t want to fall behind on that exponential growth race.  I recently played a game in which early on another player made a four-to-one trade with the bank, rather than trade one-to-one with me.  I thought she was nuts, but then I was a little biased.  However, in order for me not to have the benefit, she fell on the sword herself.  I made a two-to-one port trade to get that resource instead, and was therefore two cards ahead of her.  The real winners were the other two players.  Losing this many production cards this early on did not help her growth rate at all, and I wound up winning in a very close battle that she might have won instead.

e)  Remember, you can always trade for stuff besides cards, though it isn’t binding.  How much is it worth to someone for you to build a road and block off a potential port of their immediate competitor?  This is useful when you REALLY need a card or cards and have no cards to trade that the other person wants.  And you can always trade wood and brick in unequal trades to the person whose turn it is, to stop someone from getting the longest road (or whatever) when you can’t build there yourself.

These comments are probably a lot less useful for those of you who play with the German 5-6 player build rules (anyone can build on any turn).  However, I have never played them.  I would be interested in knowing how they affect the game, however.

2)  One strategy I left out is the “Sheep-O-Matic” strategy, because I felt it was a little silly.  It is a variant on the monopoly strategy.  A friend of mine sometimes likes to go after wool hexes.  At the beginning of the game, the wood-brick players will be ignoring them, while the Ore-Grain people will only be trying for them if they are convenient.  Since both strategies need wool, he can often trade somewhat easily.  He goes for a wool port (the Sheep-O-Matic) to get cards he can’t trade for.  While I have never see him win with this strategy, he doesn’t do too badly.  I haven’t seen him try this yet in Seefahrers, where it just might work (everyone needs wool for sails).



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