Settlers of Catan is a moreish game. Play it once and you’ll be forever lost in the endless cycle of sheep farming. A few rounds in, you’re trading your soul for a brick. Don’t worry, we understand. We’ve all been there. But no longer. Today we share our winning Catan strategies!
Even if you’re a Catan guru, we have winning tips for experts and newbies. We cover the best initial placement strategy, trading strategy, sneaky tips, and what to expect as you maneuver your way to ten victory points! Read on for how to win Catan!
Three Quick Catan Tips (TLDR)
Keep these three tips in mind as we dive into nitty-gritty Catan strategy!
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- There is one less brick and ore hex on the board, meaning they will be more scarce throughout gameplay.
- The amount of dots under the hex number means the probability of this number getting rolled out of 36 rolls. In Catan, seven is the most probable roll, showing up, on average, once in every six rolls.
- Whatever your most abundant resource is, try to be close to a port with a fair trading ratio. If you’re a sheep farmer, position yourself nearby the sheep port to trade these fluffy mammals for other resources.
These are the bare minimum keynotes to remember when placing your initial settlements. It’s fine to trade resources, but as the game progresses, you don’t want to be forced into uneven trades because of resource scarcity.
Catan Tips for Beginners
The first time I ever played Catan, I won as an underdog. I’m guessing it’s because my opponents weren’t expecting a newbie to fly under the radar as I did. Alas, it’s totally possible to sweep the table as a beginner.
Rules aside, keep your eyes peeled for numbers, resources, ports, and opposing strategies. If you and another player are competing for the same resource, you may be playing the same tactic.
What are some beginner tips and tricks to win in your first Catan game?
Calculate the supply
Each number on the grid has a line of dots or pips below it. These pips tell you how many dice combinations result in that number – in other words, how likely it is to be rolled. The higher the number of pips, the higher the likelihood of it being rolled!
Resources with low probability will be harder to come by, more valuable to trade, and harder to keep in your possession.
Look at the grid to see what resources have the lowest probability to know what you’ll be competing over as the game progresses.
Likewise, getting a settlement surrounded by high probability numbers means you’re more likely to get resources. An amazing placement would be an 8-9-5 settlement or 6-9-5. These are high probability rolls.
For reference, here’s a table showing the probability of rolling each number in Catan. There’s no need to memorize these because the pips on the numbers show you the probability!
|4||1&3, 2&2, 3&1||3||3/36||8.3|
|5||1&4, 2&3, 3&2, 4&1||4||4/36||11.1|
|6||1&5, 2&4, 3&3, 4&2, 5&1||5||5/36||13.9|
|7||1&6, 2&5, 3&4, 4&3, 5&2, 6&1||6||6/36||16.7|
|8||2&6, 3&5, 4&4, 5&3, 6&2||5||5/36||13.9|
|9||3&6, 4&5, 5&4, 6&3||4||4/36||11.1|
|10||4&6, 5&5, 6&4||3||3/36||8.3|
Build strategic roads
As you place roads, avoid setting yourself up to be blocked. Roads pointing towards the outer edge of the board are less of a risk than those traversing the middle.
Connecting to a port is a smart decision if you supply the necessary resources.
Diversify your numbers
Beginner players tend to build both settlements on similar probability numbers. If your first settlement is on a 3-6-9 hex, you shouldn’t place your second settlement on a 3-5-9 hex. Not only does a 3 come up less often, but you’re also not diversifying the dice rolls.
The robber is your friend (sometimes!)
The number seven is the most common roll in Catan. Whenever you roll a 7 or get to move the Robber, it’s best to block another popular or scarce resource hex.
Also, don’t hoard cards in your hand just to lose them when the robber appears. Discarding resources sucks, especially when you’re one ore card short of a city!
Find a strategy and run with it
Later in this article, you’ll learn all about resource-based strategies – and they work!
Some players farm sheep like it’s their full-time job. Others mine day in and out for ore.
There’s no perfect answer to what resource is best to stock up on, but always remember ore and brick are rare in Catan.
Leverage your position in resource production so you don’t have to sell your soul and all your wheat for one brick.
Catan Initial Placement Strategy
We analyzed the tactics used by Catan champions and found a few key takeaways. Champion players claimed that initial placements account for 60% of Catan’s strategy! They are not to be rushed.
Before you place your initial settlement, analyze the 3 Ps:
Which resources have the highest probability of being rolled? Although sheep are usually plentiful, if their hexes have low probability numbers, they’ll be hard to collect during the game.
Which resources are nearby their corresponding ports? This sets you up to trade to the port instead of making uneven trades with your opponents.
Those little dots under the dice roll numbers are called “pips.” Ideally, you’d like at least 11 pips in your starting settlement location, but settling for 9-10 is okay.
Second Settlement Placement (Diversify!)
As important as the first, but with fewer options – the secondary settlement placement!
If you’re the last player to place the initial settlement, you get to immediately place your secondary settlement. While it sucks to watch the ideal spots go in the first round, you actually have an edge because you can diversify your resources strategically.
This tactic is all about diversity. What resources are you missing from the initial placement that you can swoop in on this round?
You additionally have the power to determine how far apart your initial and secondary settlements are from one another. The other players will have a harder time diversifying and connecting their two settlements.
Catan Trading Strategy
There are two types of trading in Catan:
- Domestic Trading: player to player
- Maritime Trading: player to bank, player to port
If you’re lucky enough to connect to a port, you’ll have more favorable trading rates.
- Special Port: 2:1 trade for a special type of resource
- Generic Port: 3:1 trade for any three cards of the same resource
In the first few rounds of the game, trading is effortless. Everyone’s focused on their short-term moves rather than amassing resources. (Don’t forget that a 7-dice roll is lurking not far behind).
The worst trade you can make is 4:1 with the bank. Occasionally, it’s strategic to trade with the bank instead of an opponent to stop them from getting the resources they want. The 4:1 trade is a bit soul-sucking though.
So, how do you optimize your trading strategy?
- Try to always trade as close to your turn as possible so you can use the resources immediately. So much can happen in-between turns that could cause you to lose resources. There are the robber, monopoly development cards, and the ongoing construction contests that can throw you off your game at any time.
- When it’s your turn to trade, trade with whichever player is furthest from their turn or is lagging behind.
- Use trading to prohibit your opponents from winning valuable victory points, such as the longest road. It could cost you the game otherwise.
- Trading 2:1 with another player isn’t as bad as you’d think so long as you don’t enable them. Holding on to a pack of cards to trade 4:1 with the bank is very risky when a robber comes around.
- You may find that opponents are stacking their cards turn after turn. Try pushing them to make a decision by trading them 2:1 resources with whatever their special port resource is. This way, you’re not directly helping them win, and there’s a small chance they’ll be sidetracked before they get the chance to make a port trade.
What’s the Most Valuable Resource in Catan?
When looking at the big picture, brick is the most valuable resource in Catan.
Here are the ratings:
- (Tied with #4) Wheat
Sheep might be at the bottom of the food chain, but these baaaaa-d boys have their own Catan strategy completely mapped out around them!
Roll out the red carpet, because we’re talking about the…
Queen of Sheeps Strategy
Your Highness, the Sheep Queen, is not a bad strategy after all.
While the other players fight it out over ore and brick, you’ll be sheepishly relaxing in your pastures and trading with your wool port.
Nobody’s going to rob you unless they want sheep, so you’re free of all confrontation.
This strategy only works if:
- You have control of the wool port
- You only need to trade for one or two other resources
- The board is low on ore, or unbalanced
If you do not have the sheep port, you’re going to lose – no ifs, and’s, or baaaa-ts about it.
Other Resource-Based Strategies
Instead of collecting sheep, some players opt for other resource-hoarding mechanics.
The Ore-Grain Strategy
Collecting ore and wheat allows you to build fast cities or rack up development cards. If ore is abundant, you’ll be able to transform settlements before the robber strikes.
This is a powerful strategy because your initial placements are often the best producers. Upgrading means you have x2 the number of resources being generated in your starter/free placements.
There’s good and bad news though.
The good news is that you’ll be resource-rich and able to purchase loads of dev cards in your spare time. The possibilities of you achieving the largest army are higher than others.
The bad news is you’re a walking target for robbers and traders who want to slow your role.
The Wood-Brick Strategy
Collecting wood and brick early on is a recipe for the longest road and expansion.
You want to build quickly and efficiently, placing settlements on other brick/wood hexes to speed up the process. However, it’s important to not ignore ore hexes or you’ll be stuck when you need to upgrade to cities later in the race.
The only downfall to this strategy is that all the other players will be quick on your tail to block your construction of the longest road.
The Road Boy Strategy
Branching off of the previous resource hoarding techniques – this tactic is all about sabotage.
First, build as many roads as you can to completely disrupt your opponents from their construction goals. Your main objective is to cut off everyone’s supply so you can later build wherever you like, racking up resources in peace.
Advanced Catan Strategies (For the Win!)
Playing like a pro looks a bit strange in Catan. You’re focused on two roles: offense and defense.
It’s not enough to take the best initial placements; sometimes you need to take a slightly inferior spot to block an opponent’s setup. This goes for both roads and starting settlement placements.
Road to wins
Place your roads in the direction you’d like to go next. Although it may point to another great spot on the board, it’s better to take the risk.
Trade like a shark
Never settle for the first offer in a trade. Hold out for a secondary card or something you really want/need. Chances are high that if nobody speaks up, your opponent will upgrade their trade to make a deal.
Don’t be too stingy that you make rivals, causing players to target you with the robber.
Get sneaky with development cards
This is the best way to disguise how many points you have and make you less of a target. When you’re very active on the player board, racking up cities and settlements, players will view you as a threat.
You can mitigate your risk by racking up dev cards in secret. You’ll amass power play moves with the Monopoly card, build the largest army with a ton of knights, or get a few free roads built for your efforts.
Keep an eye on your opponents
What did your opponents collect in the previous round? Are they working to build a city or plotting a road to a port? Whatever it is, pay attention.
Knowing what other players need allows you to control the situation. If you assume your opponent is constructing a city soon, don’t trade them any ore or wheat resource cards.
This is a huge helper for you when you need a bunch of one resource and nobody is budging. Playing the monopoly card pulls all these resources from your opponents in one swift action.
Cities over settlements
More times than not – upgrading your initial and secondary placed settlements to cities early in the game is a cemented win.
You begin producing twice the amount of resources than your opponents right out of the gate, allowing you to speed past them to the finish line. You won’t have to beg for resources as much as others, but you’ll have a target on your back.
Keep your hand close to your chest throughout Catan. You never want to seem like a threat in case players turn on you.
Being a hegemon early in the game with a bunch of cities is a power move, but not a complete end-all. Still, it’s best to make high-point plays in one turn rather than over a few rounds to avoid detection.
Laying low lets you do your own thing in secret before you hit the board with cities, dev cards, and the longest road. Players won’t know what hit them!
Do as others don’t do
If you can avoid it, try to not copy the same plan of action as another player.
If they build left, you go right.
If they make leeway towards sheep farming, you mass-produce wheat.
The less competition over a common goal, the better for you.
Talk the talk
Despite the fact that Catan is a tabletop game, players do a lot of trash talking to pin the target on opponents’ backs. You should do the same.
Keep the attention off of you for as long as you can by shifting the focus to someone else.
Look at Player Two over there, building road after road, suspicious? I think so!
Encouraging rivalries forms alliances and breaks ties so you can slither your way to 10 victory points.
My favorite tactic is convincing all the other players at the table to trade me resources to block the winning player from victory. This almost always works in my favor, and it’s worth a try!
Don your poker face to appear as an underdog until you sneak in the backdoor with your largest army and secure the win!
Hide victory points
Beginners like to boast about victory points with the longest road and largest army – avoid this!
Don’t even mention your victory points or reveal them until absolutely necessary. Then you’re undetectable until the last possible second when you suddenly have 2 more victory points. Oh, snap!
Final Secret Tips for a Guaranteed Win Every Time!
We couldn’t decide if these final sneaky tricks are beginner or advanced, but we couldn’t leave without telling you.
These are tips I learned personally through trial and error and after four to five games. It really helps to play with a new mixture of players every time to encounter a range of tactics. Whenever I play with my gaming night crew, each player almost always uses the same strategy as before – so it’s predictable.
All tactics aside, I have never come in last place by implementing any of the following tricks and tips. They’re not concrete, but they did help me to win almost every time. Let me know if these work for you as well as they worked for me!
Be intentional with the robber
If the robber is on your hex before you roll, do NOT take a card from a player with eight cards. You’d be doing them a favor by letting them keep all seven cards.
Block two players with one move
Whenever possible, cut off as many players with one hex block as you can. If the number has a low probability, it won’t be worth it. A high probability hex with two or more players is like a dream come true.
Check your resource management
You can still win if you need to trade or hustle for two different resources, but three? It’s close to impossible.
Without grain, sheep, or ore – it’s extremely difficult to finagle a win.
Hassle the strongest player
When in doubt, always bother the strongest player. All your opponents will understand why and be relieved that you didn’t target them. You’ll have fewer foes, and the leading player might crumble with consistent attacks/blocks.
Ask and you shall receive
I know I’m going to be unpopular for this, but it’s how I won my first ever game of Catan!
I really needed ore, badly. Nobody would trade me for it even though I was not in the lead. I asked to trade and everyone offered me awful trade ratios, like three wheat for one ore.
In the end, I used the monopoly card, got everyone’s ore and won the game. Just like that!
I can promise you two things with this trick:
- You’ll be Catan enemy number one.
- You’ll have a ton of the resources you were needing without breaking the bank.
Use your cards
It sounds obvious, I know.
Losing resources on a 7-roll is more tragic than spending them on a settlement, road, or development card.
Unless you’re confident you’ll get to build before an opponent wrecks your plans, use your cards!
Conclusion – Catan Strategy – How to Win Catan!
I am 100% sure that you’re going to play Catan like an absolute pro next time. Now that you know how to watch the table, you’ll be able to make smarter moves and win!
Always keep an eye on the competition and that road you’d love to build. Think one step ahead and with light hands (holding preferably less than 7 cards when a robber pops up!).
Good luck Settlers and may the odds ever be in your favor!
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Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.