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Settlers of Catan: Tips and Tricks for beginners

Settlers of Catan: Basics

In this guide, we will assume that the reader has a basic conception of the game to give more space to the most important concepts.

Briefly, Settlers of Catan is a game that is based on statistical calculation for the definition of the resources that are delivered to the players during the turns and that with these resources they can progress in the game if they can compose fixed sequences.

The player who manages to have the greatest flow of resources and transform them into the greatest number of sequences wins the game.

Said this way doesn't sound funny, does it?

In reality, Settlers of Catan is truly a fun and extremely rewarding game if you know the correct information, which is easier than the first ruling can refer to.


Run the Numbers!

As many of you have certainly noticed by playing Catan or looking at the image above, not all numbers are written with the same size or colour (usually 6 and 8 are written larger and in Red colour while 2 and 12 are written in a small font and black colour). For what reason?

Simply to help the player understand the statistics associated with these numbers at a glance. Red or large numbers are best and small numbers are worst. This greatly simplifies the game and takes away one of the most boring parts.
In some editions there are also dots underneath the numbers (usually from 1 to 4), the statistically disadvantaged numbers have a low score while the statistically more advantaged numbers have the highest score.
It is therefore important to be able to grab the best numbers with the placement of the first settlement.

The first Advice is therefore to carefully evaluate which combinations of numbers have the best overlap.
For example, having a number written in red (6 or 8) adjacent to a hex with 5 or 9 and again a 4/5 or 9/10 in the third hex can be an excellent position.

The second piece of advice is to also consider the resource associated with it to avoid having good numbers but not being able to build anything good. (We will go into detail on this in the following paragraphs but I anticipate that Brick and Ore are both precious resources).

Search for 8-9-5 (or 6-9-5) with good Brick or Ore production

The third piece of advice is to consider the Roads and the second Settlement carefully.

Usually, the first Road is played with a "small blind" because we do not know where the other players will be placed, in this case, I recommend not aiming for dominant positions (because they will easily be taken by the other players) but to place them strategically. If you are afraid of losing the advantage of the Road, point it towards the outside of the map, where the competition may be less intense.
You could then point it at a nearby Harbor (improving trade from 4: 1 to 3: 1 or to trade 2: 1 a specific resource that we expect to have in abundance) or at secondary numbers not so good as to be a first choice but still relevant to the game economy.
The second settlement, if possible, must meet some secondary requirements:
- Prefer different numbers from the first settlement
- Prefer different/supplementary resources from those of the first settlement (unless there are strategic choices)

Having diversified numbers allows you to easily earn resources regardless of the numbers that come up with the roll of the dice and allows you to always have resources to trade or to build. This limits the effect of luck (or bad luck) throughout the game.
Having diversified resources can help you avoid running into a lack of a specific resource because other players don't give you the right trades.
It is not possible to have access to all the resources with the right numbers so inevitably we will have to deal with the other players or with the effects of the Robber.

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Never underestimate the effects of Harbors on long gaming sessions

The fourth Advice refers to the Robber.
The number 7 is the one that statistically has the highest number of odds with the roll of two dice and therefore you can assume that it will appear very often.
For this reason, always try to keep the number of cards in your hand not too high to avoid discarding resources (unless it is necessary to close the game in the next turn) and so as not to be the main target of your opponents.
On the contrary, use the robber to your advantage to block the most important resources for the opponent's strategy (usually Brick or Ore, sometimes Grain) or to easily steal the resources that we currently lack to progress in the game.

Remember that you can play the knight on your turn before the die is rolled to hope for a double theft or to free an occupied resource.

4 tiles for Lumber, Grain and Wool, only 3 for Ore and Brick

4 tiles for Lumber, Grain and Wool, only 3 for Ore and Brick

Not all resources are born equal

As you may have noticed in a game session or from the image above, not all resources are distributed equally across the island.
There are slightly fewer hexes that produce bricks or ore than other resources.
This means that these resources are slightly more valuable and important than the others.

Fifth Advice base your strategy on Brick or Ore.
The "Brick" strategy is based on the rapid creation of roads to block neighbours and grab the best remaining areas by founding new settlements. To do this you will also need an accessible source of Lumber.
The "Ore" Strategy is based on acquiring development cards and rapidly transforming your settlements into cities to increase resource production. To do this you will also need an accessible source of Grain.

As you can see wool seems to be the least influential resource in the world of Catan, the settlers are probably nudists.

Seriously, I usually consider Bricks and Ore as primary resources, Lumber and Grain as secondary and Wool as tertiary.

My personal ratings:




valuable resource for a strategy on the transformation of settlements into cities and the accumulation of development cards



valuable resource for a strategy on the roads and in new settlements



The only one resource used in three combinations, always useful also as a bargaining chip



used in two combinations (3 if we consider the expansions), supporting the brick



used in two combinations(3 if we consider the expansions), used as a bargaining chip of little value. only useful in multiple for development cards or expansions with ships.

Last Advices

The last suggestions before leaving us are to not aim for the longest road or the largest army of knights immediately but to keep them for the last victory points because these often become very competitive if done in the early stages of the game.

Be ready to change your plans as there will surely be unexpected events. Swap strategies if conditions require it.

Search for "number combo" in the table, sometimes you can find both the Lumber and the Brick that share the same number (same for ore and grain). These are not to be used immediately but to be structured in the medium to long term, having a road or a bonus development card every 5 (or 9) rolled can make the difference.

Finally, the last and most important of all tips: Have fun!

© 2020 Christian Allasia

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