Settlers Of Catan Seafarers Strategy

The optimum Seafarers of Catan strategy is: take several different factors into account when making decisions, plan initial placements according to the individual scenario, keep hand size to seven or under, trade advantageously, gather information, and ensure that the strongest player is always targeted.

Settlers Of Catan: Seafarers brings new elements to the original
game, expanding the strategic and tactical options available to players.

A successful approach to Seafarers involves balancing several
different options, many of which may change as the game progresses.


Strategic road building

Look carefully at the board for initial settlements

At the start of the game a player should look carefully at the board
in order to work out where the best places are for their initial

If you are the first player to choose where to place your first
settlement then you have the pick of any of the options on the board,
but will then go last when you place your second settlement.

While an obvious strategy is to place a first settlement on an
intersection which has one or two red number tokens next to it, it is
important that the second placement complements the first.

Work out a possible strategy based on the map and scenario

A player should also already have an idea of the kind of strategy
that they might follow in the game, and this should be based on the
opportunities provided by the map.

For example, an intersection with an ore hex which is near to a ore
harbour might suggest a strategy that relies heavily on this resource
which then allows you to build cities more easily.

Alternatively, a balanced strategy which spreads across the five
different resource types might be viable if the number tokens suggest
that these hexes will produce regularly.

Another viable option is to ensure that you cover a wide range of
number tokens so that you gain at least one resource on almost any
given roll.

Consider your road building strategy from the start

A player should also consider their road building strategy from the
start when placing roads next to their initial settlements.

If a strategy is based on gaining the Longest Trade Route then the
two roads should probably point towards each other, while a trading
strategy would need the roads to lead to a harbour.

In Seafarers it is also possible to build initial settlements on the
coast and to place a ship instead of a road.

Building on the coast is a strong move if the scenario requires
moving away from the main island and towards smaller islands,
especially if settling there will earn extra victory points.

Work out where each victory point is

Even at the start of the game a player should be aware of what the
specific scenario rewards.

In the basic game the shape of the board and the ways to gain
victory points remain the same from one play to another, but in the
Seafarers expansion each scenario provides new challenges in the quest
for victory points.

Think about the scenario

Some scenarios provide special victory points for settling on
smaller islands, while others reward the player when they attack a
pirate lair.

While victory points can be gained in all the ways from the basic
game, such as having the Largest Army, the Longest Trade Route, by
gaining development cards or by building settlements and cities, it is
the new ways offered by each scenario that open up the strategy in the
Seafarers expansion.

A player should balance the demands of the scenario with the layout
of the board and the various resources in order to work out what the
winning strategy is likely to be from the very start, beginning with
their starting position and initial placements.

Plan your route through the game

As well as being careful with their first settlements, a player
should also think about their preferred route through the game.

While the dice rolls and other events may obstruct this from time to
time, it is always important to plan how to reach a desired goal.

If a player is going to focus on shipping routes and ship building
then they need to plan how they will acquire the resources needed to
build their ships, and might focus on only one or two resources.

An initial settlement on the coast should always be considered

A strategy based heavily on ships and shipping routes would need at
least one initial settlement built on the coast.

However, if a player thinks that the best way to win is to pursue a
strategy that relies on building cities and purchasing development
cards, then they might stay on the main island and only build ships as
a smaller part of this overall strategy.

It is important to remember that there is not one single way to win
in Seafarers, but that the strategy most likely to help will be the one
that reacts best to the scenario and the layout of the board.

Coastal Settlement Seafarers Of Catan

Catan Seafarers Tactics

During the game you should be as flexible as possible with regard to
the other players while still pursuing your own strategy.

At all times you should know how many victory points your opponents
have, always considering that any unplayed development cards could be
victory point cards.

Always target the leader

You should always work to weaken the strongest player at the table,
and if somebody is within one or two victory points of winning then you
should target them aggressively.

For example, if a cetain player is holding the Longest Trade Route
card you should work out if there is a way for you to take it back, and
the same applies to the Largest Army card.

Stealing either the Longest Trade Route or Largest Army card not
only takes two victory points away from your opponent but then gives
them to you, which results in a four point swing.

Use the robber to target the strongest opponent

Just as a player should target the leader’s achievements they should
also use the robber or pirate to attack the strongest opponent.

The robber allows the active player to steal a random resource from
somebody who has a settlement or city on that hex while the pirate
prevents expansion or movement along one of the sea hexes.

The robber will weaken the strongest player if it is placed on a hex
where they have settlements, and continues to do so until it is moved

When the pirate is on a sea hex it will prevent the building and
extension of sea routes, and could stop a strong player from building a
new settlement on a new island.

By stopping route building the pirate can be used to prevent a
strong player from gaining extra victory points.

dice roll of 7

Avoid being caught by the robber or pirate

Just as in the base game, a dice roll of 7 will activate the robber,
but in Seafarers there is also the option to move the pirate instead.

While there is nothing a player can do to stop the robber or pirate
being placed on a resource hex that they own, a player should still
always try to keep their hand size to seven cards or fewer.

Usually this means that a player should build roads, cities,
settlements or ships when you can in order to spend the resource cards
held in hand.

Spend resources to keep ahead of the robber

Another way to keep hand size under eight is to buy development
cards for the abilities they provide.

Buying a development card also gives a player a chance of gaining an
extra victory point.

When waiting for a turn it is possible for a player’s hand size to
become large, and in this case you should think about a trade at a rate
that enables you to reduce to seven cards.

With more than seven cards in hand you need to weigh up the
advantages and disadvantages of trading against being caught by the
robber or pirate, but it is almost always the better option.

Catan Seafarers Robber

Trade with the weakest opponent

Just as in the base game of Catan a player should try to trade with
the weakest opponent where possible.

In an ideal trade both sides of the deal will end up stronger than
they were before, so it makes sense not to help the player who is in
the lead.

Trading should be done with the player who does not pose a threat as
it prevents the strongest and most experienced players from being able
to fulfil their plans.

Even if a player is trading with their weakest opponent they need to
ensure that every resource card counts, so be careful to strike a good
deal at all times.

Trade with the weakest opponent

Listen to every trade

In every Catan game, whether the original base game or Seafarers or
anything else from the Catan universe, it is crucial to listen to every
single trade that goes on at the table.

Even if a player is not involved in a trade they should be listening
to the different resources that are being offered in every negotiation.

In every trade that somebody offers they will be giving away
information about the resource cards that they hold in their hand.

Deny your opponents the resources they need

Every single resource that you know one of your opponents holds is
information that can be used against them.

Even more powerful than knowing what an opponent holds can be
knowing what resources they need.

An advanced tactic would involving trading for the same resource
that your strongest opponent needs and holding onto it in order to make
them trade at a disadvantage.

You can trade with the harbours

Trade can also be done with the bank at a rate of four to one, with
general harbours at three to one, and with specialised harbours at two
to one.

If you can link your strategy to access a specialised harbour then
the amount of trading you need to do with other players will be

Although using harbours is rarely the cheapest way to trade
resources it does ensure that your opponents are unable to strengthen
their hands.

Seafarers of Catan trade with the harbours

Gold fields are valuable

Gold fields are a new addition to Seafarers that are not in the
Settlers Of Catan base game, and they appear in certain scenarios.

When a gold field is activated it produces gold, which must be
traded in for a resource of the player’s choice.

While this makes a gold field valuable in terms of placement they
are often difficult to reach, so a player needs to balance the cost of
getting there with the advantage that they might offer.

Think about blocking off a gold field

If a gold field appears to be particularly useful you should
remember that building cities or settlements on opposite corners of the
hex will prevent any other player from being able to build there.

It is possible to block off a gold field because a player cannot
build an adjacent settlement to one that is already there, as any
additional settlement must be at least one intersection away.

Catan Seafarers blocking off a gold field

There is no Longest Road in Seafarers

Although the base game of Settlers Of Catan rewarded the player with
the longest road with two points, in the Seafarers expansion this no
longer exists.

Two bonus points in Seafarers are given to the Longest Trade Route
instead, which can be made of roads or ships or any combination of the

Roads and ships always need to be linked to each other by a
settlement on the coast of an island.

Longest Trade Route becomes more valuable if it can be linked to a
strategy that also gains extra victory points when a player settles on
a new island.

Catan robber on a green hex

Don’t forget open shipping routes

One of the things in Seafarers that many players forget in most
games is that any set of ships that is not attached to a settlement at
both ends is an open shipping route.

In an open shipping route the last ship may be moved freely on a
player’s turn, and this can be a significant advantage.

Open routes allow for flexibility with ships

An open ship ship can be attached to another shipping route, or it
could even start a new one if you have a settlement on the coast and
want to strike out in a new direction.

Unfortunately a ship on the edge of the pirate hex cannot be moved,
but otherwise every ship at the end of one of your routes should be
thought of as something that can be freely moved.

Seafarers of Catan - some blue ships

Rush for victory points at the end of the game

Just as in the original Settlers Of Catan, an effective strategy at
the end of the game can be to make a rush for the last victory points.

In other words, rather than working towards victory point by point,
a player should think about ending the game by taking several points at

For example, a player could play a Knight development card to claim
the Largest Army, extend a shipping route to gain the Longest Route
Card and build a settlement on the shore of a new island for special
victory point, gaining six points in a single turn to win the game.

Rushing is a risk but can be devastatingly powerful

Rushing for points at the end of the game is a risk, but has several
benefits as a player can come from behind to win before their opponents
expect it.

One of the benefits of rushing is that opponents will trade with you
more easily because they do not perceive you as a threat.

Trading carefully enables a player to put a plan like rushing into
action, but it does need to be considered carefully, as the game can
easily be lost if your timing is wrong.

Summary of strategy:

  • Check the layout of the board at the start of the game
  • Take note of opportunities provided by hexes near to harbours
  • Consider a balanced strategy across the different resource types
  • Think about placing an initial settlement on the coast and
    building a ship instead of a road
  • Think about the different strategies for gaining special victory
    points in the scenario you are playing
  • Plan your route through the game, whether city building, buying
    development cards, trying to build the Longest Trade Route, or settling
    on new islands
  • Note where every victory point is

Tactical advice:

  • Be as flexible as possible
  • Know how many points your opponents have at all times
  • Target the strongest player at the table – steal their bonus
    cards and send the robber and pirate after them
  • Build aggressively to avoid being caught by the robber or pirate
  • Trade with the weakest player
  • Listen to all negotiations and trades that are done at the table
  • Consider taking what the strongest player needs
  • Always remember the possibility of using the bank or harbours for
  • Gold hexes are valuable, but can be expensive to get to so assess
    their value
  • Build settlements on opposite sides of valuable hexes to block
    opponents from gaining those resources
  • Building shipping routes to new islands can earn the Longest
    Trade Route card and extra points according to the scenario
  • Don’t forget open shipping routes
  • Think about a rush for points in order to secure the win

About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.