Settlers Of Catan Strategy For Beginners

Settlers of Catan, rebranded as just Catan these days, is easily one of the most popular board games in the world, selling more than 32 million copies worldwide and even having multiple digital adaptations, and is credited for spearheading the renaissance of board gaming.

Of course, with all the people around the globe knowing how to play Catan, this may leave you questioning if you have what it takes to compete with other people who have been playing the game for quite a long time already, and that’s where we come in.

There are quite a lot of strategies that you can use to be able to keep up with veterans of the game, or at least bring your Catan game up a notch, and we’ll be showing you a few of them and discussing why the following strategies are viable.

Players who are just beginning to learn about Catan can use different strategies, such as building settlements, dice probabilities, road placement, bank trading, development cards, and robber efficiency, all of which can be effectively utilized in various situations.

So even though you would think that you’d be left behind when playing Catan with your friends who have been playing it longer than you, we’ll be discussing these strategies that can definitely bring you closer to their level.

Build Settlements

This may seem like an obtuse tip, because obviously you’d want to build settlements to gain more future resources and to actually gain points, but more often than not, newer players actually try to cover more ground by building more roads than settlements, especially with how cheap the roads are, which only need 1 brick and 1 wood, compared to settlements, which need 1 brick, 1 wood, 1 sheep, and 1 wheat.

Newer players also think that they could simply block other players from being able to build settlements by continuously building roads while also expanding their own future network of possible settlements and gaining the lead on the bonus points for having the longest road, but doing so would actually net you less resources over the course of the game simply because you don’t have enough settlements that would give you the resources you need to build, in turn leaving you less room to pivot if your strategy turns sour.

So don’t worry too much about being blocked off by other players’ roads when it comes to building settlements, because in the long run, you’d have way more resources than they would have, which also means that you have more opportunities to actually build your settlements or even upgrade them into cities.

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Figure Out Frequencies

While this sounds like a case of using math to pave the way to victory, it’s actually more about simple counting, because at the start of the game, when you’re placing your initial settlements, you have to try and work out which of the spaces would give you resources the most number of times, and you can do this by adding up all the pips below each number.

Here is a table of all the pips below each number, relating to the probability of rolling that number with the dice, with more pips being dice results that appear more frequently than the lower amount of pips.

Numbers Pips
6, 8 ••••• (5)
5, 9 •••• (4)
4, 10 ••• (3)
3, 11 •• (2)
2, 12 • (1)

So for example, if you have a board with a junction of 9, 4, and 11, and another junction of 6, 5, and 12, building a settlement on top of the 6, 5, and 12 junction would increase the chances of you gaining a resource for every die roll because you have a total of 10 pips on it compared to the total of 9 pips on the 9, 4, and 11 junction.

However, you should also take into account the kind of resources that these junctions would actually provide you, because there are actually four different spaces each on the board that produce wood, wheat, and sheep, while brick and ore only have three spaces each.

Which means that, if we take the same example we used before, if you have a 9, 4, and 11 junction that produces brick, ore, and wheat and the other junction of 6, 5, and 12 producing wheat, brick, and another wheat, you would probably want to build a settlement on the 9, 4, and 11 junction instead because the resources that you can get from building there show up less frequently than the resources that are present on the other junction.

Remember that this usually only applies to the initial placement of settlements, because as you go along the way, it would be pretty hard to actually contest great spots without wasting resources.

settlers of catan strategy forbeginners

Point Roads Outwards

In addition to the initial placement of settlements at the beginning of the game, the proper positioning of roads during this stage is also an often overlooked aspect of playing Catan, as most often than not, players think that road placement is simply a matter of gaining either the longest road bonus or as a means to get around the board, but it’s that second bit that actually opens up the issue regarding haphazard placement of roads.

If you see a player build one of their roads and point it inwards towards the center of the island, more often than not, it’s because they’re aiming for a great spot that would be beneficial for their game plan, but if it’s such a glaringly great spot, then you’d have to bet that they’re not the only player vying for that spot, and winning wars of attrition in Catan is simply a losing battle because you’re losing resources that you might not be able to gain any time soon in the process.

So rather than fighting for a specific precious spot, you should point your opening roads towards the coast, because more often than not, you’d probably be cut off from accessing certain areas if you point your roads inwards, preventing you from building settlements, which, in turn, would also prevent you from gaining more resources in the future.

Don’t Overlook Portless Bank Trades

At first glance, bank trades without ports may seem inefficient, after all, you’re trading 4 of the same resource for 1 measly resource, and of course you’d think that it’d be better to build towards ports instead, because generally, it’s way better to trade with ports, because then you’d be trading 3 or even 2 resources for 1 other resource, depending on which port you settle on.

However, the key thing to remember is that you actually have to build a settlement on a port to even reap the benefits of that port, and there simply are times when you’re stuck with settlements on a junction in the middle of the island that produces nothing but wood, sheep, and ore, and since this is open information, players will quickly realize that you don’t have any means of producing brick or wheat, leaving you unable to build anything at all.

But the bank actually lets you trade with them on a 4:1 ratio no matter where you are on the island, so even if that trade comes with a steep price, you’re often better off trading with them than hoping another player takes pity on you, especially if you have an abundance of a specific resource anyway, which, in turn, would actually let you build towards something else, saving you from being stuck.

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Dig for Development

Development cards will often be overlooked by newer players because while they’re pretty cheap to buy, only needing 1 wheat, 1 sheep, and 1 ore, drawing from a stack of random cards usually feels like a case of wishing for the best, especially if you don’t know what’s in them.

So how about we see what’s in that 25 card deck then?

Name of Card Effect Copies in Deck
Knight Lets you move the robber 14
Victory Point card (Market, University, Great Hall, Chapel, and Library) Gives you 1 victory point hidden from the rest of the players 5
Road Building Build 2 roads for free 2
Year of Plenty Take any 2 resources from the bank 2
Monopoly Steal all resources of a specific type that the other players have 2

As you can see, within those 25 cards, there are basically no duds, and even though wheat and ore are pretty valuable, if you have built a settlement into a high frequency wheat or ore junction, you’d have plenty of them available throughout the course of the game, so occasionally dipping your toes into the development deck won’t be a problem.

The one thing that I have to caution you about the development deck is not the quality of the cards, but the depth in which you would dive into it.

While there are times that focusing solely on the development deck actually would be a winning strategy, with the deck containing five raw points and potentially getting two more points from getting the Largest Army bonus by getting the most knights, do remember that this deck is also available to other players, and if they see you gunning for the development cards, chances are someone at the table will try and fish some of those victory point cards out of the deck, so develop with caution, but don’t be too afraid of it.

catan board

Robber Efficiency

The robber is one of the mechanics of Catan that applies the most subtle layer of strategy, and it usually comes up often in games because a player can move the robber by rolling a 7, which is the most common result from rolling two six-sided dice.

To understand how to utilize the robber well, you have to know what the robber does in its entirety, which is a three part process:

  1. When any player rolls the robber, ALL players need to discard half of their resources if they are holding 8 or more resource cards.
  2. The player who rolled the robber then moves it to any other space, and the player who moved the robber will then choose a player with a settlement on that space to randomly steal a card from.
  3. The robber will prevent the space that it is on from generating resources on future turns for all players who have settlements on that space.

For a pretty unassuming wooden piece, the robber sure gets a lot done from one simple move, and newer players are understandably afraid of having half of their hand wiped out by a simple die roll that may not even be their fault, and it is generally reasonable to assume that it’d be better to use your resources than to have them discarded without being used.

The thing is, even if 7 is the most common result when rolling the dice, it’s still a dice roll, so you shouldn’t let your fears of being robbed dictate your gameplan.

For instance, I have had a game before where I was playing with someone who doesn’t like taking risks at all, and so every single turn that she has 8 or more cards in hand, she’d splurge most of those cards on roads or development cards, fearful of the dreaded robber roll.

However, if she actually just stuck to her guns, she could’ve actually built settlements and cities across multiple turns which would have netted her plenty of points, because that robber never awakened from its slumber.

The other thing to note about the robber is that since it lets you steal a card from an opponent and block potentially plenty of their future resource gains, number frequencies or rarities of resources can actually help you with deciding where to move it.

For example, if in your game, only two of the four players can actually produce wheat without trading, and one of those players is you, then it would be in your best interests to actually block the other wheat player from gaining more wheat in future rounds, securing the value of your wheat production for trade purposes.

Or maybe you simply want to block a 6 or 8 space with two cities on it from constantly spitting out resources for other players by putting a robber on top of it, which is also a great way to utilize the robber.

Settling For More

Do note that even though these strategies will be a huge help in winning you some games of Catan, there are plenty of variables to consider, and as such, these strategies are not foolproof ways of winning, but they definitely will help you even up your game, so you should never forget to:

  • Build settlements
  • Take note of frequencies
  • Never point roads inwards at the beginning of the game
  • Remember that 4:1 bank trades exist
  • Utilize the development deck
  • Don’t be afraid of the robber
  • Use the robber to create monopolies and block great supply

There’s plenty more strategies for successfully dominating a game of Catan, but no matter which end of the ladder you get to climb, remember that we’re all here to have fun, and winning is only always a great bonus for the shared stories we get to experience in the world of board gaming.

Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

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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.