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Gimme all your sheep: Settlers of Catan strategy and tips

Updated on June 13, 2013
3D Catan(!) by Jon Stefansson on Flickr
3D Catan(!) by Jon Stefansson on Flickr

"Ugh, sheep!"

"I'll trade you hay. Or wheat. Whatever."

Settlers of Catan is a strategy board game first created in Germany. Whether you play online or on the board, the rules are the same: the first person to earn ten victory points wins. There is a strong element of luck involved due to the nature of random dice rolls and shuffled development cards, but a key factor in winning Settlers of Catan is strategizing your game from the get-go.

Location, location, location

At the beginning of the game, each player lays down their pieces on the board. The initial placement is vital, as it not only determines which resources the player will earn throughout the game, but also which resource cards they'll receive at the start.

Territory in Settlers of Catan is set up as follows:

  • Each hexagonal piece is either a resource or the desert.
  • Each piece has a number chit placed on it ranging from 2 to 12. There is no 7 chit, as this is the number for the robber, a gray pawn that can be moved around the game board to steal and block other players' resources.
  • Each number chit has dots on it to represent the likelihood of that number being rolled by the two dice used in the game.

Early resources of value are wood and brick, as they allow you to build roads. Wheat and sheep are also useful in building settlements. Cities require wheat and ore, and development cards, special cards that allow you to earn surprise victory points or generate an army, require these cards as well.

When setting up your initial placement, have an idea of what your play style is. One strategy is to place your settlements on the intersections of every resource regardless of dice roll odds. This guarantees a chance at getting every resource throughout the game. Unfortunately, if all your dice roll odds are low, you may set yourself up for failure.

Another strategy is to monopolize certain resources. If you claim all the wheat, for example, you may have trouble with initially getting building materials, but you might get so much of your resource that you can trade for what you need. If you go for a monopoly, try to place a settlement on a port for that resource for better trade values.

Ideally, you'll want a good balance of dice roll odds and diversified resources. Unless you want to aim for the Largest Army card, a special card worth two victory points that requires a number of development cards, it's best to forgo placement on ore if there's better placements for brick, wood, wheat, and sheep.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you want to aim for the Longest Road card, another special card worth two victory points. If so, you'll want to build your settlements close enough to feasibly connect. This also means being sure that your settlements have an even number of links between them. Nothing sucks more than being unable to connect your settlements!

Trading and playing

It doesn't hurt to be nice to your fellow players, especially in the beginning. Don't move the robber and deliberately anger someone unless you're ready to have a target placed on your back. It's only the endgame where you can attack with impunity.

Speaking of the robber, it does not pay to hold onto too many cards. If a player rolls a 7, any card of eight or more cards will be automatically halved. In this sense, trading is wise. Not only can it be beneficial to building an empire, it can also foster goodwill amongst other players.

See what sort of resources you're getting to refine your strategy. Even though you may want the Longest Road card, if another player is swimming in wood and brick and building a road even as you struggle to gather a single resource, it might be best to focus your attention on development cards or turning your settlements into cities.

Whatever your strategy, stick with it until you see results. Don't try to halfheartedly build roads or pick up development cards: especially in the beginning, where resources can be scare, you need to find a strategy that works and stick with it.

Catan in progress by AKX_ on Flickr
Catan in progress by AKX_ on Flickr

The endgame, where everything comes together

Trading can be vital to securing your final position. This is especially true when you're locked in stasis, unable to build more settlements or stuck with roads going nowhere. When you trade, especially towards the end of the game, try to stay one step ahead of your trading partner. If a player announces they're looking for ore and wheat, they're gunning for a city. Be careful not to give them the resources they need to win.

In addition to keeping track of other players' resources, you need to be mindful of your own and make every turn count. Look for opportunities to secure either Longest Road or Largest Army, as the two victory points you earn from either of these cards can be the key to clinching a win.

Although at the end of the game, it may seem a moot point to build more settlements or try to take new territory, if a new settlement gets you valuable end-game resources like wheat or ore, go for it. Even though sheep seem like a nuisance in the beginning, they are invaluable when you're aiming for development cards in the endgame.

SHEEEEEEP by Todd Huffman on Flickr
SHEEEEEEP by Todd Huffman on Flickr

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