I have returned! As I write I am dragging myself out of the pit of despair born from weeks of pathetic crying and self-righteous wailing. I emerge holding aloft a warm light for all mankind, an unnecessarily arrogant and wordy guide to crushing your loved ones at a dumb board game. The name of that game, that most glorious and infuriating game, is CATAN.
Now, beyond the game itself, Settlers of Catan is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. I mean it’s crazy out there.
There are tournaments for this game, seriously! So without further gilding of the lily, here we go!
5 Steps to Winning Settlers of Catan
Step 1: The Thousand Yard Stare
There are two kinds of people who play Catan- people who play, and people who win. Players actually like the game. They like building settlements and counting sheep and helping a brother out when he’s short on bricks. Winners only like this game when they’re winning. When they are confident of their victory they are pleasant and generous, otherwise they will sneak into your room at night and cut up your meeples.
Know who you are playing with. Winners can be easily identified by their general enthusiasm for Catan and the soulless glaze that comes over their eyes when they envision your inevitable, humiliating defeat. If you see a Winner, get out now. These people are serious. They do research. RESEARCH.
Or if you finish reading this guide: You can stay in the game, look as harmless as possible, and shove them down where their smug asses belong.
Once you’ve identified your Players and your Winners, make a habit of aiding the Players whenever possible and impeding the Winners in the most irritating ways imaginable. Believe me, they will do the same to you.
Step 2: Get Meta With the Resources
Most Catan guides advise you build settlements for all five resources. This is a great idea, but realistically you will rarely be able to do it effectively. The best places to build are intersections where 2 or 3 different resources touch and each of those resource tiles has a number between 6 and 9, preferably 8. This is because theoretically it is more likely for two dice to roll the middle numbers than the high or low numbers.
But probability is still a theory folks! I had a game where I had a settlement on two eight tiles and only rolled 8 three times the entire game. You never know what the dice will roll, so if you can’t get a 5-9 tile for all resources, get several less desirable tiles for the same two or three. Here’s where capitalism saves the day.
Rather than waiting around for the almighty dice to bestow a blessing, take fate into your own hands by trading hard and trading early. Look at the other player’s settlements. Figure out what resource they don’t have access to and supply it. Try to monopolize either wheat or ore, as players will have an insatiable hunger for them when the time comes to build cities and buy development cards. If it’s practical, build towards a port with a good exchange rate. Offer to exchange resources for other players at the cost of one or two cards. Deal constantly, but never let them have the better end of the deal. It’s all about putting the other players in a position where they have to help you in order to get what they want.
Step 3: All in the Details…
There are several ways to get victory points in this game and they are not created equal. You may get some victory points for settlements and cities and for building the longest road, but for the rest you have to go fishing in the development deck. From there you have access to free victory points, extra resources, and Knight cards. After drawing three Knight cards you become eligible for the Largest Army points.
The temptation for most players is to go for longest road, since it requires no extra effort outside of normal play. But roads are relatively inexpensive and it can be difficult to keep the longest road qualification. Players often get preoccupied with keeping Longest Road over other, more reliable methods of getting victory points. Instead, focus on amassing the Largest Army. It’s much more difficult to draw 3 Knights than to build roads and in drawing all of these development cards you will inevitable gets other useful bonuses like free roads, additional resources, and even victory points.
Additionally, each Knight you draw allows you to move the robber, which gets us into…
Step 4: Be That Guy
Not every game of Catan gets vicious. But most do. And when they do, you want to be the good guy. You want people to need you and to want to deal with you, so help them out and don’t do anything to alienate them unless there is no other option. Then, when someone is being a chump, use all those Knights you’ve been drawing to punish them. Don’t move the Robber willy-nilly, rather look at your biggest competition’s field and hand, guess what they want to do next and what they need to do it. Then, move the Robber to a position that will block that player from accessing what they need. If there’s not a player who really deserves the Robber, then don’t use it.
Step 5: Begin With the End in Mind
Yep, I went there. 7 Habits for Highly Effective People preference for the win. Anyway, after the initial stages of the game where you are establishing yourself, take a turn to look at the board, your hand, and the other players and figure out a plan. Catan is all about managing resources, and truthfully every player would eventually earn 10 victory points if the game when on long enough. The winner is just the person that gets there first, so usually the winner is also the person who got there most efficiently. Figure out how many points you can realistically expect to earn from each avenue: technical points from Longest Road and Largest Army, standard points from Settlements and Cities, and fortuitous points from Development cards. Then find out when you will pursue each avenue and start collecting the cards you need. That sheep that’s being offered might not seem attractive now, but what about later? Plan for the future and don’t let any opportunity for advancement pass you by.
And that’s it! So go, readers, go and win the game, but don’t ever let yourself be a Winner! Catan has a huge element of luck to it, so just do your best and enjoy the wheeling and dealing for what it is. Have fun!
Skip-A-Turn Variation: Full Sheep Alchemist: You aren’t trading resources at the ports, you’re transmuting them! Clap your hands and make cool sound effects as you turn the eternally worthless sheep into bricks, wood, wheat, and ore! Soylent Green is sheep, guys. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t living in a sheep based economy.