I have been playing Catan since 2000, introduced to the base game (Known as “The settlers of Catan” at that time) at 15 years old and I still remember the game. I was hooked instantly. It was a refreshing change for me from gaming with models (which I no longer do) and paved the way for board games in general for me. So here are some of my key learnings from the legendary game that might just aid you in your games.
Take A Look At The Board
This might sound ridiculous, but with random resource placement, every game is different. So, you should need a different strategy and approach each game you play. Take a moment, particularly if you are the first player to place, to look at not just where you want to place the first settlement, but also at where you want to get that all important second settlement placed as well. You might not get it, opponents may scupper those plans but get a feel for your options before placing. Also, take in where the ports are against your placement and where you could capitalise on trading opportunity.
Looking at a board could give you a good feel of what that strategy to victory may look like. You will rarely get the perfect resource distribution so if you know ore will be finite for you, concentrate on a road and settlement expansion strategy with a view to gaining ore from trade. If brick is scarce then city and development card production could be critical. Your starting places will influence your game so taking that moment is pivotal.
Trading Has To Benefit You
Exactly what the title says. If you make a trade with an opponent you have to be getting something out of it. Making a trade for trades sake is a big NO. You are only handing your opposition an advantage here because you can bet they get something out of it. The worst thing you can do as well is complete a trade with someone that then leads to them producing something to the detriment of your game. So, have an eye on what they could be up to as well just to make sure you are not proverbially “shooting yourself in the foot”. To say I have offered wood out for a return only to be cut off by a road being built is an understatement. Those moments hurt. Of course, on the flip side your trade could severely hamper someone else’s game to your benefit, that is always worth doing.
Don’t Upset Your Opponents
If your gaming table is like mine then it will be fuelled with banter which is brilliant. Catan is a game that naturally brings out the banter. However, if you are that player that starts pushing the thief around early or cutting people off early doors, in my experience, you get picked on by the group very quickly. Your game will be slow, people will be reluctant to trade when you need it and it is not the most enjoyable gaming experience. Go quietly to begin with, be helpful and observant and let the other players get under each other’s skin first hopefully allowing you to go about your business and on to victory. If you are able to make a bit of an alliance that is always useful, but know at some point that has to get broken if you are to win.
Don’t Underestimate Development Cards
In my early days of playing I was route 1 with this game and looked to build build build!!! That is not the only way to succeed. With the opportunity for 2 victory points in a large army as well as other VP’s buried in this deck. With the need of only ore, pasture and wheat this could be a subtle route to victory as you do not get in the way of opponents. It’s a very satisfying victory when pulled off.
Then, on top of VP’s, you have your other cards that are the huge curve balls to the game and what opposition never see coming. Your Monopoly or Road Building. Played at the right moment can be devastating for your opponents and will leave you chuckling no end.
Grab A Port
Keep an eye during set up on where the ports are and how close your placement is to them. Sometimes a resource can be quite scarce resulting in limited availability and trade-ability of the resource. Having a settlement on a port gives you a significant advantage in trading far less resource for what you need with the Catan bank and puts you in the driving seat for progressing in the game. I have even been known to start on a port to get this advantage as I want a specific port guaranteed to me. If you are playing Seafarers starting on a port will also give you the option to set sail as well so lots of additional things to consider.
Expansions Make The Game
Adding expansions to the game is so much fun and keeps the game fresh and entertaining. Whether it is Seafarers, a 5-6 player expansion, scenario or other option they’ve all be worth it. The base game is brilliant and is still awesome to play. Give the expansions a go as well to keep Catan current on your table.
Like any good card player, you need to be paying attention to the resource production phase and what opponents are collecting to have a feel for what they could be getting up to. This will influence on whether you choose to trade with them, or, whether you might choose to steal from them. If you know they are holding cards you need then turning over the soldier (from your hand if you have one) to play the thief on them tactically could be an excellent play, but you need to be aware of what they hold.
Equally it is critical (and possibly obvious) to pay attention to your hand size. Don’t be regularly going above 7 card hands, you only risk losing half the hand when a 7 is rolled and it always hurts. This might be the only time to trade when there is no benefit, to avoid this.
I hope I have provided something useful to you here. There is so much more happening in this game than meets the eye. It might just be time to dust off your set and put these tips to work in a nice game of Catan. Enjoy.