What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games! So, you want to learn how to win more often in Catan, huh? You’ve come to the right place! I’ve collected the best strategies, tips, and advice from all over the internet, including from World Championship level players, to help bring your game to the next level.
I’ve divided this guide into 5 main sections – general strategies, settlement placement, development cards, the robber, and trading. If you want to skip to any of those sections you can use the video chapters, or the links in the description.
Let’s start by talking about some of the overall strategies you can take in Catan. The first strategy is the “Balanced Approach”. In this strategy you are simply trying to diversify your resources as much as possible by placing your settlements on a wide variety of resources, with a variety of different numbers. The goal of this strategy is to ensure that you have access to every material in the game, without relying on trading with other players or the bank. This is a very basic strategy that prioritizes flexibility over efficiency, and doesn’t provide you with a clear path to victory. Because you are not optimizing for any particular resources you are likely to fall behind when it comes to building cities and settlements, and are less likely to earn the largest army or longest road compared to a player who is optimizing for those strategies.
Rather than attempting to collect every resource, it’s generally more effective to focus on only a few resources. The two main ways to do this are the “Wood / Brick” strategy, and the “Ore / Wheat” strategy.
The “Wood / Brick” strategy focuses primarily on building new settlements and roads. This strategy allows players to expand quickly, which can increase their resource gathering potential. By focusing on roads, players can not only reach desirable spots on the board more quickly, but can also cut off other player’s expansion opportunities. This strategy is also in a good position to build the longest road. There are two main downsides to this strategy. The first is that you cannot win the game with wood and brick alone – building 6 settlements and getting the longest road only gives you 8 victory points, so as the game goes on you will need to figure out how you plan to get the last two points you need to win. The other downside is that you can end up wasting a lot of resources competing over the longest road card, and getting this taken away from you can be a huge swing in the game.
The second resource-based strategy is the “Ore / Wheat” Strategy. This strategy focuses on building cities and buying development cards, and lends itself towards getting the largest army card. By building cities as early as possible you can increase your resource gathering, with the added bonus that your first cities will probably be on your original settlements which should be in prime locations on the board. While you can technically win with only your first two cities, the largest army, and 4 victory points, you will most likely need to expand to build at least another city or two, so you can’t avoid wood and brick entirely. Also keep in mind that cities are expensive, which make this strategy a bit more resource intensive in general, and you probably won’t be able to grow as quickly in the early game as a result.
Which of these two strategies you choose will depend on a number of factors, including which resources are more common on the board, and which strategies other players are using. It’s always easier to execute a particular strategy if those resources have good numbers, but it gets more difficult if multiple players are competing for those resources. This is especially true if multiple players are competing for roads and settlements, as this can lead to a more crowded board. It often pays to be the contrarian and go for the strategy that nobody else is using.
There are two more strategies that are a bit more situational. The first is the “Monopoly” or “Cartel” strategy, in which a single player (or subset of players) try to control the production of a particular resource. This strategy can be tricky to pull off, but can be effective in rare situations. If you are trying to monopolize a resource you should pick a resource that is difficult to get – this usually means brick or ore, since there are only 3 hexes of each. Ideally there would be two well-numbered tiles of this resource somewhat close together, so that you can gain a strong foothold with your initial settlements – this is easiest when you are the fourth player and can place your settlements back to back. It also helps if the remaining tile (that you don’t control) has bad numbers. By controlling the production of that particular resource you put yourself in a strong bargaining position with the other players and can make advantageous trades to gain the resources you are missing.
The other situational strategy is the “port” strategy, in which you monopolize an advantageous 2-for-1 port and focusing on trading with the bank. This strategy has the disadvantage of giving you fewer resources on your initial settlements (if you place one of them at a port), but can be advantageous if you are able to produce large amounts of the resource you need to trade. Much like the previous strategy, this is only possible for certain configurations of the board – you need access to good production of your tradeable resource near the desired port. In rare instances this strategy can be combined with the monopoly strategy to completely deprive other players of a particular resource by controlling the production of that resource, and trading it through the port rather than with other players.
Now that we have looked at some of the general strategies you can take, let’s look at some tips and strategies around building. Where you choose to build your initial settlements is incredibly important, and can guide your decisions for the rest of the game. When choosing a location there are two main things to keep in mind. The first is your overall strategy – early growth is very important in this game, so you want to choose your settlements in a way that allows you to begin executing your strategy as soon as possible.
The second important factor is the numbers on each space. When rolling two dice not every result is equally likely – numbers towards the middle of the distribution such as 6 and 8 are much more likely than numbers towards the edges, such as 2 and 12. Some versions of the game have dots on each numbered tile – these represent the odds of rolling that particular number. There are 5 ways to roll a 6 on 2 dice, so the 6 tile will have 5 dots on it. You will want to place your initial settlements on intersections with high odds – such as a 6, 5, and 9. This intersection has a total dot value of 13, which means you will gather resources more than ⅓ of the time. Compare this to something like a 2, 12 and 11 intersection, which will only collect resources 1/9th of the time.
To really drive this point home, suppose you want to collect ore. You can actually get 25% more ore by building on a wheat tile with a “6” and trading 4-to-1 with the bank than you could by building directly on an ore tile with a 2! If you had a port, or were trading with other players, then you could do even better.
Equally important is building on a diverse array of different numbers. If all of your settlements are clumped around a few numbers your ability to gather resources will be very uneven – you might collect a ton of resources when your numbers are rolled, but will go long stretches without collecting anything. By building on a range of different numbers you have much better odds of collecting some resources with each roll. In fact, if you have settlements on a 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10, the dice will land on one of your numbers 2 out of 3 times!
While you should definitely prioritize the resources that benefit your strategy, building on highly productive intersections is very important due to the exponential nature of Catan. Building settlements and cities increases your resource gathering ability, which in turn makes it easier to build. If you are able to start the game with great resources, your production will just get better and better over time. On the other hand, if you start on low production tiles you will inevitably fall further and further behind as the game progresses.
Now let’s talk about Development Cards. There are 5 different types of Development cards that you can collect, and I’ll touch on each kind briefly. Then I’ll discuss some general strategies around resource cards.
The most common type of development card you will encounter is the Knight. Knights are useful for two main reasons – keeping the robber off of your tiles, and getting the largest army. Nobody likes the robber on one of their tiles, and often just the threat of a face-down Knight card can serve as a deterrent – players may be worried that you will move the knight to one of their tiles in revenge. For this reason, some players will lie and pretend that their development card is a knight, even when it isn’t. I would not encourage this strategy, as it could lead to the other players discovering that you are lying, and no longer trusting you.
The second most common development card is a victory point. These cards are pretty straightforward – they provide you with a point, and get you that much closer to victory.
Next there is the road building card. This card is valuable because it can help you quickly build a new settlement in an advantageous location, block an opponent’s expansion, or even help you take / maintain the Longest Road.
Next is Year of Plenty. Year of Plenty may seem like a bad deal, since it costs 3 resources but only gets you 2. However, I prefer to think of it as the best port deal in the game. Normally you are trading resources with the bank 4-to-1, 3-to-1, or at best 2-to-1, but this card lets you get a 3-for-2 trade for any pair of resources you need!
Finally, there is the Monopoly card. This card is probably the one that requires the most strategy to use correctly, and using it effectively requires paying close attention to what your opponents are doing. There are a few things to keep in mind when playing the Monopoly card. First, which resource is the most common? By having a rough idea of what resources have been drawn, you can maximize the number of cards you collect. You can also pay attention to which resources your opponents need for their strategies, and choose the resource that is going to cripple their ability to build the most. Or, if you happen to own a 2-to-1 port there is always the possibility of collecting all of those resources and trading them away to the bank.
There is one final power-play you can make with the Monopoly card. If you have a surplus of one particular resource, you can trade away that resource with the other players, then use the Monopoly card to collect back everything you traded (and then some). This can be a very effective move, but will also make everyone else at the table absolutely hate you, so if you do attempt this make sure that you win the game shortly afterwards.
The main thing to keep in mind with development cards is to wait for the right time. If used correctly, the Monopoly, Year of Plenty, and Road Building cards should all be able to give you at least 1 victory point after playing them, and if not you should probably wait before playing them.
In addition to your own development cards, it’s also important to keep track of your opponent’s development cards, so that you know how close everybody at the table is to winning. If you aren’t sure what development cards your opponents have, assume that it’s a victory point card (because even if it isn’t, it will likely help them acquire at least 1 victory point when they play it).
Now let’s talk about the Robber. There are two main aspects to dealing with the robber – keeping it off of your own tiles, and deciding where to place it on your opponent’s tiles.
There are a few ways to avoid, or at least mitigate, the damage done by the robber. The first is by not putting all of your eggs in one basket. You should not build settlements where one of the tiles is great and the other tiles are mediocre, because if the robber is placed on your great tile it can basically shut down the production of that settlement. This can be especially devastating if you build cities or multiple settlements around a single great tile, which basically turns this tile into a huge glowing target. By diversifying your tiles you can not only mitigate the damage done by targeting your tiles, but prevent them from being such a large target in the first place.
Another way to limit the damage done by the robber is to build settlements on tiles that are shared by other players. This not only makes these tiles less of a target (because now multiple players will avoid placing the robber there), but the robber will spend less time on those tiles because multiple players will be invested in removing it.
The third strategy is to avoid being a jerk, because jerks tend to get targeted more often for some reason.
When it comes to placing the robber there are a few main things to keep in mind. First, if you know that another player is close to winning you should probably place the robber on them to buy some time. Another thing to pay attention to is their development cards, as they could be knights. If you place the robber on a player with a knight, they may place it back on you as “revenge”. However, this can still be useful, as it forces them to use their development card, and you gain some useful information.
When there isn’t a clear target for the robber, one good strategy is to place it on the player whose turn is before yours. Even if that player does have a knight, it will take several turns before they get a chance to use it, as everybody else gets to take their turns first. If that player tries to get in a “robber war” with you, you have the clear advantage, as your turn is directly after theirs and you can player your knights much more quickly. This strategy also has the added benefit of only ticking off one of your opponents, rather than all 3. For related reasons, placing the robber on the player who comes after you should be avoided unless you have a very good reason to do so.
Finally, let’s talk about trading. Catan is the type of game that requires cooperation between players in order to be successful – it is almost impossible to win completely on your own, especially if the other players are working together.
The first trading tip is, once again, don’t be a jerk. People don’t like trading with jerks, and if you are constantly offering bad trades people aren’t going to want to trade with you at all. While you certainly want your trades to give you an advantage, you also want them to be fair. In Catan, as in life, trading should make everyone involved better off – although there are certainly ways to ensure that you get the better end of the deal. This doesn’t mean you can never ask for trades that are technically “unfair”, such as asking for a 2-for-1 trade. Just be careful not to do it too often, don’t be a jerk about it, and only do these types of trades if it still benefits both players.
You should always trade on your own turn, rather than your opponent’s turns, so that you can use what you get right away. Even if you are giving your opponent something that they need, asking them to trade during your turn gives you an advantage in a few ways. First, a larger gap between receiving the resources and using them creates more uncertainty. It’s possible that they could have gotten those resources without trading if they had waited until their own turn. Second, asking them to wait and trade on your turn can put them slightly behind, and causes your opponents to build a turn after they otherwise would be able to, which gives you a slight advantage.
Until Next Time
Of course, there is a lot more to Catan strategy than I can fit in this video, so if you are interested in learning more I would recommend the ebook “Catan Strategy: A Complete Guide to Winning the Popular Board Game” by Mark Oxer – it’s available for free if you have Amazon prime.
However, that’s all I have for today. If you found this video helpful, give it a like and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. I would also love if you left a comment telling me which games you would like to see me make a strategy guide for next! If you want to see more you can check out my Ultimate Monopoly strategy guide, and I also have a bunch of videos on a wide variety of game design topics on my channel. And join me next time for the next entry in my Evolution of Pokemon design series, this time looking at Generation 8 – Sword and Shield. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you next time!