Mark's Settlers of Catan Strategy Guide

Settlers of Catan is one of the best board games to come along in the last 25 years. I've learned a few things about it, both from my own experience and from others'. Here it is.

General Guidelines

The Importance of Brick and Wood: Brick and Wood (in that order) are the most important resources on the board. Brick is more important because there are only 3 brick hexes compared to 4 wood, but Brick is spent just as often as Wood.

The Importance of Initial Placement: The first 2 settlements you put down are by far the most important ones you will place. Analyze the board and place carefully. It logically follows that every other open spot after the initial placement will be second-best.

Unspent Resources are Lost Resources: As long as a resource card is in your hand, it can be lost / stolen by the robber on a roll of 7 or play of a Soldier. When resources are converted into roads, settlements, Cities, or Developement cards, they cannot be taken from you.

There Are No Bad Development Cards: 'Nuff said. Year of Plenty is widely regarded as the best overall dev card.

Development Cards Have No Dependencies: To build a, road, you need an open lane. To build a settlement, you need an intersection where you can legally place it and one of your roads leading into it. To build a city, you need to have a settlement built first. Development cards are the only thing you can buy that has no prerequisites. (Note: Your first 2 cities have all their prerequisites met in the form of your initial 2 settlements.)

Count the Dots: When in doubt of where to place, expand to, or upgrade, count the number of dots beneath the numbers on the three hexes. The sum of those dots is the total number of chances in 36 that you have of collecting a resource. Drop your settlement or City on the intersection with the most total dots on the three adjacent hexes.

Probabiltiy is King: Settlers of Catan is one of those games that involves some luck and some skill. The following table shows how the numbers break down. (A 7 is, of course, more likely to be rolled than any other number.)

Best 6 8
Second Best 5 9
Middle Ground 4 10
Second Worst 3 11
Worst 2 12

The Dark Side of 6 and 8: While 6 and 8 are highest probability for collecting resources, they are also the numbers most likely to attract the robber.

Robber Trouble? Get Help! If you place a settlement on a 6 or 8 (or any other number for that matter), it is often useful to have another player border that hex as they will be as eager to kick the robber off of there as you. This way, you don't have to buy all the Soldier cards.

The Importance of a "Spread" of Numbers: It is possible to place your starting settlements in such a way that you only collect resources from only 3 numbers. (This could happen if you place your first settlement on an intersection with neigboring hexes that have 8, 4 and 5, and your second settlement on an intersection that also borders 8, 4, and 5.) Access to only four different numbers is not much better. If your settlements border 5 or 6 different numbers, you're much more likely to collect resources. Ideally, you would be able to place your first settlement on a 4, 5, 6 intersection and your second settlement on an 8, 9, 10 intersection (or some other combination that yeilds those same six numbers).

A Probability Is Not a Guarantee: As my father the Statistician pointed out to me, just because the laws of probability suggest that a number will be rolled more frequently, in practice the dice come up however they want to come up.

Big Picture Strategies

A "strategy" is a long-term plan you will follow starting right from your initial placement, and guiding your purchasing strategy all through the game.

Any Plan Is Better Than No Plan At All: Don't just plop your settlements anywhere and then sit blithley collecting resources, spending them when you finally get a lucky combination. When the time comes to put down a new road or settlement, it shouldn't take you 5 minutes to decide where to put it. From the moment that the board is first set up, you should form a plan you will implement at the beginning and pursue for the whole game.

  1. Decide which long-term plan the board calls for. A given plan will not always be viable, depending on how the tiles / numbers fall. Let the board tell you what plan is the best for this particular setup.
  2. Determine where your best (and second best, and third best) initial placements are on the board that will help you collect the resources you need to carry out your plan.
  3. Pick out your best (and second best, and third best) expansion areas.
  4. Actively work toward collecting (via trades, stealing, etc.) exactly the resources you need to carry out your plan.
  5. Have a secondary plan to cover the weak points of your primary plan.
  6. Be flexible as the game progresses. If your plan needs modification, figure out how to change it (e.g. someone took your "best" spot and you need to fall back to a "second best" spot). If your plan becomes totally unworkable (e.g. you wanted to expand but got cut off), figure out a new course of action, abandoning your original plan if you must.

The following are several long-term plans are detailed below that you might pursue. (This is not a comprehensive list.)


Benefits: In this strategy, you want to lay down roads as fast as possible and build new settlements. Doing so will help you grab more land for yourself while simultaneously preventing anyone else from grabbing it. Additionally, you'll collect more resources from your new settlements.

When to Expand: A Brick-rich, Wood-rich setup that also features at least an average amount of Wheat and Sheep calls for expansion.

When Expansion Is Tough: In a Brick-poor or Wood-poor environment, expansion will be very difficult. The kicker is, to win you pretty much have to expand. In an adverse setup, you will probably need a port and a city (or two) to get the resources necessary to expand. Dev cards like Road Building, Year of Plenty, and Monopoly will be helpful, meaning that you might need to buy dev cards to expand.

Initial Placement - Resource Perspective: You want to collect four resources: Brick, Wood, Grain, and Sheep - in that order. You want to be collecting Brick and Wood three times as often as Grain and Sheep (if not more often). The optimal placement would put your first settlement on an intersection with Wood, Brick and Grain and your second settlement on an intersection with Wood, Brick and Sheep. High probabilities on all of these would be ideal, but Brick and Wood are the most important.

Initial Placement - Cutoff Perspective: The ideal placement would put your initial settlements on opposite sides of the board so that if one of them gets surrounded, you can still expand from the other one. If you're serious about expanding, you'll put that second settlement on the opposite side of the board even if the number probabilities are lower. In this way, you can collect resources from the settlement/city most likely to be surrounded but spend them on the one that has some breathing room.

Building: You should be able to put down roads twice as often as you put down settlements, which is exactly what you need per the "2 roads between settlements" rule.

Weak Points:

Helpful Development Cards: THE Expansionist dev card is "Road Building". Given that you're dependant on the luck of the draw, buying dev cards is not a core part of this strategy.

Additional Points: Getting 2 points for Longest Road is well within your reach with the Expansionist strategy. Go for it. Keep expanding so you can hold onto those points.

Upgrading to Cities

Benefits: This strategy attempts to increase resource colleciton (and ultimately gain points) by upgrading settlements to cities.

When to Upgrade: An Ore-rich, Wheat-rich setup calls for upgrading.

When Upgrading Is Tough: In an Ore-poor (and to a lesser extent, Wheat-poor) setup, Upgrades will be difficult at best. Such a setup would call for a different primary strategy than this one. You can win without upgrading, but it the winner almost always has at least a couple of cities in the end.

Initial Placement: Ore and Wheat - in that order - are the most important resources, for 2 reasons: [1] you need 3 Ore and only 2 Wheat to upgrade, and [2] there are only 3 Ore tiles but 4 Wheat tiles. Ideally you would be able to put both your initial settlements bordering 2 Ore and 1 Wheat each. As this would mean that your starting settlements would both border at least one Ore hex, and that the robber could completely halt production from that Ore hex, the ideal placement is not realistic. Better is to have each of your initial settlements border one Ore and one Wheat hex each. (As always, go for good probabilities and a larger spread of numbers.)

Building: The most resource-efficient course of action is to upgrade your two initial settlements. This will allow you to collect more resources to help pay for your expansions and further upgrades.

Weak Points:

Helpful Development Cards: The Monopoly card could help you collect the Ore (or Wheat) that you need to upgrade, as can Year of Plenty.

Secondary Plan: If you can place one of your initial settlements by a Sheep hex, you can collect the needed resources to buy lots of Development Cards which can help in many ways. (More on the Dev card strategy below.)

Getting a Port

Benefits: You want to own and control a port which will enable you to make more favorable trades. You will also not need to trade as much with other players, so you won't be helping them out by giving them what they want.

When to go for a Port: There are two (ironically opposite) situations that call for owning a port:

When not to get a Port: Answer: you usually shouldn't. This is a secondary plan, not a primary one. (See the 'Weak Points', below.)

Initial Placement - 2:1 Port: A 2:1 port offers the most favorable maritime trades. You would want to maximize this advantage by amassing huge quantities of a single resource. Place your initial settlements on single-resource hexes. Since the 2:1 ports are resource-specific, you should earnestly consider placing one of your starting settlements on it so that [A] no one else takes it before you (possibly out of spite), and [B] you will not need to make costly 4:1 trades as you expand toward the port.

Initial Placement - 3:1 Port: A 3:1 port offers less favorable maritime trades but makes up for it in other ways: [1] There are more of them; [2] They are not resource-specific; [3] You can collect more than one resource, possibly spending them directly rather than trading them (which is always more efficient). Another advantage is that you could place your initial settlements near a port, rather than right on it and collect resources from more hexes. If someone takes a 3:1 port you were eyeing, there are plenty of others to choose from.

Building: Your purchases should be geared toward collecting more of the resource(s) that you can spend at your port. The most resource-efficient way to accomplish this is to upgrade to cities before you expand to new areas. When you expand, you can move toward toward areas that will get you even more of the resource(s) you can use at your port. Surrounding a single, high-probability hex can go a long way, but it makes that hex very attractive to the robber.

Weak Points: The Port plan has numerous downsides:

Helpful Development Cards: A well-played Monopoly card can really help you maximize the use of your port. The effect is felt most with a 2:1, but 3:1 is still good. Victory Point cards are also helpful as the port itself does not earn points.


These are short-term maneuvers that could appear in the game regardless of the strategy you're pursuing.

Effective use of the Monopoly Card

Wait a While: Most people tend to play this card too soon, asking for what they want rather than asking for what people have been picking up. I think the game designers were trying to give us a hint when they made the rule that a development card can not be played in the same round that it is bought. Wait a little while and see what people have been picking up.

The ideal set of conditions for playing a Monopoly card is:

At this point, you play the Monopoly card and announce the resource that everyone just picked up. Use what you can use, trade in the rest for what you need, and spend, spend, spend. If you can, end your turn holding no cards.

Taking a guess: If the end of the game is drawing nigh or you need to do some building fast and can't afford to wait for an "ideal" set of circumstances to arise, you'll need to take a risk. The following table summarizes the best to worst choices:

Choice Resource Explanation
Best: Sheep There's four Sheep-producing hexes and only 2 things you can buy require Sheep.
Second Best: Wood There's four Wood-producing hexes and only 2 things you can buy that require Wood. On the other hand, people spend lots of Wood on roads.
Middle Ground: Wheat There's four Wheat-producing hexes, but 3 of the things you can buy require Wheat. People also tend to spend Wheat 2-at-a-time when buying Cities. Spare Wheats are usually spent on Development Cards.
Second Worst: Brick There's only three Brick-producing hexes and people spend lots of Brick on roads.
Worst: Ore There's only three Ore-producing hexes and people spend Ore in large quantities (3-at-a-time) when upgrading to cities. Spare Ore are usually spent on Development Cards.

Dirty Pool: A really dirty trick is to wait until you have collected lots of a scarce resource that everyone at the table (including you) wants a lot. Trade them all away but demand very pricey trades (2 or 3 other resources in exchange for 1 Ore, for example). After you've traded them all away. Play the Monopoly card and announce the resource you just traded away. Spend everything you have as quickly as you can (getting rid of all your cards on that turn if possible). Warning: People tend to remember this kind of thing.