You may have played many games of Catan and even explored the world of Seafarers, but Catan: Cities & Knights is a different proposition entirely.
Cities & Knights shakes up the original game and makes it less about trading and much more about expansion and growth.
You’ll need to build up and move your network of knights, reinforce your cities with walls, and seek out new advances.
There is also the recurring threat of invasion by barbarians, and players will need to work together to see off their attacks.
Get yourself up to speed with Cities & Knights by watching this official video which will show you how to play this version of Catan.
It seems like an obvious thing to say, but to be strong at Cities & Knights it’s imperative that you know how to play the base Catan game well.
If you like splashing around in your games and are happy just to go with the flow then you can get by more or less okay in Catan, but you will get destroyed in Cities & Knights so your fundamentals need to be solid.
There is so much more to think about in this game that if your basic strategy is as solid as a house of cards then it will come down as soon as other players get up and running, so have your basic principles sorted.
There are some aspects of the strategy of base game Catan transfer easily to Cities & Knights, and the process of dice rolling and resource production is identical between the two versions of the game.
This means that you need to think about your initial placements in the same way you would do when playing base Catan, striking a balance between a variety of different resources and the chances of getting them.
The distribution of the dice rolls means that hexes with 6s and 8s on them are the ones most likely to produce resources, while 2 and 12 are the least likely.
However, it’s not just a case of going for the most likely numbers, as you’ll need to get a spread of different resources to avoid having to rely on trading later in the game.
In base game Catan one you popped a city on a certain hex you’d get two resources every time that hex produced, but that has changed slightly in Cities & Knights.
Brick and grain hexes still produce twice as much when there is a nearby city, but the other three hexes now supply new resources, called “commodities” – cloth, coin and paper.
Commodities can be used to upgrade your cities by building markets, cathedrals and libraries, and these in turn make it easier to acquire Progress Cards which represent advances in trade, politics and science.
Progress Cards replace the Development Cards from base Catan, so any strategy that would have relied on going through the development deck to dig out points or other advantages is a complete non-starter in Cities & Knights for obvious reasons.
It’s also much more important in Cities & Knights to go after these cards in order to keep up with your opponents.
While in the base game Development Cards were an optional route to help you towards victory, the various elements of the game are much more tightly wound in Cities & Knights, so falling behind on Progress Cards is likely to have a severe knock-on effect on your entire game.
In order to grab them you will need upgraded cities, so you need to be thinking along these lines from the very start of the game, and perhaps even as early as the initial placements.
After a few plays you may well have a preference for Progress Cards in a certain category, in which case you can plan to build towards acquiring them and focus your strategy towards that goal.
One of the new features of Cities & Knights is the metropolis.
There is one of these for each of the three Progress Card areas, and they are awarded to the first player to reach the fourth level in each of them.
They are built on cities and are worth two points in addition to the two for the city itself, so a city with a metropolis is worth a whole four points.
You only need thirteen points to win, so any city with a metropolis is a really important part of that haul.
You can also steal a metropolis from another player if you can reach the fifth level of that Progress Card area before they do, and the best bit of this little nugget of information is that nobody can then steal it from you.
Steal a metropolis from another player and you are adding two points to your total while lowering theirs by two – that’s a massive four point swing!
So remember – cities mean Progress Cards which mean metropolises which mean points, and points win games.
Do you see now how important the cities are in this version of Catan?
They are the engine that drives the development of your civilisation as you work towards victory.
Cities & Knights would be a much easier game if it were just about building cities and grabbing resources, but there are some changes in the rules that fundamentally alter the feel of the game.
The knights and the Barbarians are a core aspect of the game even though there is no Largest Army card, and we’ll get to them in a moment.
However, while it’s tempting and fun to be aggressive, don’t underestimate the value of walls – these are cheap to build and will open up your options hugely.
While walls don’t get you any points, building them around a city (you’re allowed a maximum of three) will increase your permitted hand size by two cards when the robber comes to visit.
Build a single wall and you can safely have nine cards in hand, but get all three of them built and you can have thirteen cards at all times, which is a huge advantage.
This allows you to save resources safely for building, but also grants extra firepower and flexibility when trading.
Like Progress Cards, walls need cities so building them remains a powerful strategy.
Unfortunately the Barbarians are always looking at Catan, eyeing it up and hatching plans to steal its resources.
When they attack, all of the players on the board get their active knights to band together and see them off.
If the Barbarians are defeated then the player with the strongest active knights becomes the “Defender Of Catan” and gets a Victory Point.
However, if they are victorious then the player with the weakest knights (or any player who didn’t contribute any knights at all) has one of their cities pillaged and removed from the board.
Given how important cities are this can be a terrible result, so you always need to be ahead of the weakest player when it comes to the strength of your knights.
Stay ahead of the weakest player and you’ll never lose a city when the Barbarians attack, but be out front in terms of strength when the Barbarians are repelled and you’ll also get a Victory Point.
The above advice about knights and Barbarians is really important early in the game, because your first city is usually the spark that gets your engine running.
Unlike the base game, in Cities & Knight the robber is not moved until the Barbarians’ first attack.
Resource hexes are therefore not blocked until a little way into the game, which means that the early game is an ideal opportunity to get things built without interference.
You need to use this opportunity to do at least a couple of things:
- Build your first city
- Get some knights onto the board
The city needs to be built in order to set you up for all the advantages and possibilities that they bring, and the knights need to go onto the board to ensure that you are defended when the Barbarians attack.
If you are the weakest player when they first arrive and you and the other players cannot see them off then your city (if you have one) will be pillaged, which will put you at a huge disadvantage when compared with the other players at the table.
So build fast early in the game in order to get some secure foundations in place for your strategy.
Knights are also powerful in other areas, another reason to ensure that you are keeping up with the arms race on the board.
By moving them around you can be in a strong position to:
- Move the robber away from you
- Displace another player’s knight and weaken them
- Break up a road and steal the Longest Road card
These are all moves that can be critical in tipping the balance of a game, but they are all possibilities that need to be kept in mind for grabbing an advantage.
However, using a knight for any of the above moves inactivates them, which means that they would not be considered in a Barbarian attack, so these options are best avoided when they are near, else you will need to spend some grain to activate them again.
Cities & Knights is won when a player reaches thirteen points, and one very powerful move is to sprint for those last few points rather than creeping over the line.
Get to twelve points and everybody else at the table will know that you are only one step from victory and even poor players will realise that you should be the main target for their aggression.
However, if you can grab a handful of points with a couple of moves at the end of the game then you can even come from a little way behind and snatch the win.
Building a metropolis and a city on a single turn represents a gain of three points, for example, and you can smile at your opponents as you cruise past them for victory.
It can be tricky to pull this move off but you always need to be aware of it, and you should think of it as the final sprint for home after pacing yourself for the rest of the game.
Many of the tips from our Catan strategy article also apply here, such as trading with weaker players and always listening to their trading to get an idea of what they have in hand.
Cities & Knights is quite a different game, though, and it is important to gather various strategic strands together in order always to be in with a chance of victory.
This video by Games Made Easy offers a recap of the main rules of the game as well as offering some ideas for strategy at the end.
Cities & Knights is an exciting step up from base Catan, rich in possibilities which mean that there are some very deep and subtle strategies to explore once you get to know it well.
However, if you take the following tips on board you’ll always be in with a chance of victory:
- Think about resources and dice rolls when selecting your initial placements
- Building cities to gain progress cards, walls and the possibility of metropolises
- Stealing a metropolis can be a devastating move
- Make sure your active knights are stronger than the weakest player on the board
- Build a city early and protect it
- Sprint for the last few points to hide your strength
- Trade with the weakest and avoid helping the strongest
- Listen to other people’s trades so you know what they have in hand