Catan for Beginners: A Guide to Basic Strategies for the Game
If you’re new to the fantastic board game Catan, you may be hoping that there’s some magic insight you can use to start winning right away. One of the great things about this game is that it remains challenging no matter how many times you play it, even though the basic premise is simple. With that said, there are fundamentals of Catan strategy that can give even a total beginner a fighting chance to come out on top.
General Principles for Catan Strategy
Before diving into specific Catan tips, you’ll want to keep these general ideas in mind:
- Keep it simple to start. For your first games, follow the basic rules closely, and don’t introduce many variations. Likewise, try out one basic version of each strategy so you learn the strengths and weaknesses of each.
- Respect the dice. The dice represent the element of chance, but not everything about them is out of your control. Noting which resource tiles have “good” numbers can give you a hint about which strategy to use.
- Watch out for OPS (Other Players’ Strategies). Don’t forget to take note of what your opponents are trying to do. No matter how well your plan is going, you could still lose if you overlook what other players are doing until it’s too late.
Two Simple Strategies
While a typical beginner approach is to just try gathering as many resources as possible in a balanced way, most Catan enthusiasts agree it’s better to be more precise. That doesn’t mean concentrating 100 percent of your efforts on one resource, but you'll make faster progress toward your goal of 10 Victory Points by having a clearly defined focus.
Settlement and Road Strategy
A settlement-based strategy provides a solid foundation to build the bulk of your Victory Points, but you may need to add a little something extra in the end. Concentrate on gathering mostly wood and brick, enabling you to quickly build lots of settlements and roads. While settlements alone can’t get you to ten points, you can augment them with a good trade or maybe a well-timed Development card purchase. Prolific road-building could garner you the Longest Road card, netting you two points.
Placing your settlements well improves the effectiveness of this strategy. Remember that numbers like 5, 6 and 9 have a higher chance of being rolled. Locating settlements on resource tiles with those numbers will boost your chance of getting resources on each roll. Since your strategy depends on getting a lot of wood and brick, you’ll want some settlements on tiles for those resources that also have “good numbers” in terms of probability.
Urban Development Strategy
Focused on ore and wheat instead of wood and brick, your urban development strategy will center around building cities and buying development cards. Since cities provide double the resource gains of settlements, building a city or two can help you amass resources more quickly and use your vast wealth to pursue Victory Points. Sometimes it may take a while to get enough resources to build your first city. For that reason, urban development can sometimes get off to a slow start.
Buying development cards is a powerful part of this strategy. The value of a Victory Point card speaks for itself. However, other development cards are just as potent for the psychological effect they have on your opponents—especially Knights. Creating the impression that you’re amassing Knight cards may discourage other players from using the Robber on you; it may even cause opponents to adjust their strategies to compete for the largest army. Just keep in mind that you can’t use a development card during the same turn you receive it.
Tactics to Advance Your Catan Strategy
Some approaches to playing Catan are more accurately described as tactics rather than strategies. These are actions and tools you use to pursue the strategy of your choice, and some are more advantageous than others.
Trading with other players is an essential part of any game of Catan. Effective trading means pursuing a net advantage for yourself, while not being so ruthless that nobody will trade with you. The ideal situation is trading during your turn with someone whose turn is not next. You can use what you got from the trade immediately, while they will be delayed in benefitting from the resources they got.
Trading happens more freely in the earlier stages of a game. Once you’re all desperately grasping for those last crucial Victory Points, everyone gets much less generous! Don’t forget that Maritime Trade is always an option; if you have an abundance of a resource, you can trade it to the bank at a 4:1 ratio for something you need. If you control a port with an even better trading ratio, you have yet another option for profitable trade.
Deploying the Robber allows you to lock others out of a given resource tile while adding to your resources at the expense of another player. This is a bold tactic to quickly gain whatever you need to advance your strategy. The downside is that the negative impact on other players makes you a target for revenge, especially if the player you’ve robbed has a Knight that can send the Robber right back to you in their turn. The safest use of the Robber is probably to rob a player whose turn was just before yours; since they’ve just had a turn, it will be a while before they can go again and pay you back.
Monopoly is a tool you can use either as a tactic or a strategy, but one way is much easier than the other. As a strategy that requires locating your settlements so that you totally control access to a resource, a monopoly is hard to achieve. If you can accomplish it, this type of monopoly can put you in a very favorable trading position against opponents who are desperate for the resource you control.
However, you may decide it’s not worth pursuing the long and difficult path to a strategic monopoly when two Monopoly development cards lie there just waiting to be bought—if you’re lucky enough to find them. Playing a Monopoly card to claim all of a given resource from every player is an exciting moment in your urban development strategy. Just like Robbery, however, this tactic invites revenge; it may be best to play it when you are very close to having enough points to win, or to sabotage an opponent who is on the verge of winning before you.
Remember, you won’t get many chances to practice your Catan strategy if your fellow players don’t enjoy playing with you. For that reason, the best strategy of all may be to play fair and keep a sense of humor. With a good strategy, a positive mindset and the protection of a great set of card sleeves, you can keep developing your Catan skills game after game.