Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Strategies of Catan: Largest Army, Longest Road, Development Cards, the Robber & the Pirate

Overall Strategies
Initial Setup
Early Game
End Game & Ports


1) One of them is essential

You need either the largest army, longest road, or a lotta luck to win. While you should probably not start building them right away, you should figure out early in the game which one you are eventually going to shoot for, and how you will do it.

The size of the board and number of players could influence your decision. For example, it could take a different strategy to get the longest road on a crowded board, compared to a wide-open board. On a wide-open board, the player who can pump out the most roads can probably will get it, meaning it probably easier playing with a wood-brick strategy.

On a crowded board, the number of hex sides is the determining factor, and the player who can get to those faster will probably get it. The nod could still go to the wood-brick player here, as they can usually get to areas faster, but other factors might be more important in this situation, such as the starting location. However, this doesn't mean that the longest road is "harder" to get on a crowded board; after all, only one person can get it on any board. It just takes a different approach.

2) Be a contrarian

Note that the longest road and largest army are worth more if the other players aren't trying for them. The more roads/knights that you have to buy, the worse the investment. (Allen Doum) This could be more of a factor in determining which one to go for than the type of board and number of players. This means it might actually be preferable to go for the one that you normally would not, if there is going to be a lot of competition (for example, longest road when you are playing an Ore/Grain strategy).

3) If going for the longest road, don't make too many "side trips" with your roads
You only have 15 in the basic game. Remember, if you are the first person to get a road 15 in length, it cannot be taken away from you (unless someone splits it, as shown below).

This is much less important in Seefahrers, when the longest road could theoretically be 30 long (it includes ships). This also means that getting the longest road in a Seefahrers scenario can be much more costly if a race develops, a factor to consider when deciding between getting the Longest Road or Largest Army.

4) Doing the splits can make you uncomfortable

Remember if an opponent builds a settlement in the middle of your road network, your routes are split in two for purposes of determining longest trade route. (Matt Gardner) Also remember that no one can split your ship lines.

5) Triangulate

If you know you are not going for longest road, then building settlements off triangle forks saves you having to build two roads for each settlement, and instead allows to you build three roads (instead of four) to get to two settlements. (The Maus)

1) Victory points are great when you get them, but are not to be counted on at the endgame
There are seven victory point cards in a 36-card deck in the original (first and second edition) Mayfair version, which means you are drawing an average of five (at a cost of 15 production cards!) to get a point, and ten (30 cards!) to get two. It is much easier to get two points with far less than 30 production cards the old-fashioned way: build something. It gets worse with the Kosmos or later Mayfair versions (five victory point cards), diluting the mix even further.

2) Don't use knights too early
Save them if you can to keep the robber off of your hexes (play BEFORE you roll the dice in this case). However, don't get caught with too many development cards, as you can only play one per turn. This is especially important if going for the largest army -- get those knights out before the endgame.

3) Watch out buying too many development cards early
If you draw a victory point card (or two) at the beginning, it can really hurt your future development chances, as they don't produce. However, the rest of the cards CAN produce for you (at least indirectly). (Aaron D. Fuegi)

4) Save that Road Building card to the end if you can, if you are going for the longest road
It can be a great surprise when you play it on the last turn. It is also great to use at the beginning, to save the four resource cards and pump up that exponential growth rate a bit.

5) If you can't build anything, consider buying a card if you can
You will lower your card count and keep the robber away. Also, it is a great way to "store" resources for use later.

How much is a development card worth on the average, just in resource cards? If you assume that a knight card is worth one (from getting one resource from a player), road building is worth four, monopolies are worth three (this just evens the card out, of course you could get a few more or a few less), and discovery is worth two, then each development card is worth 1.3 cards in the (first and second edition) Mayfair deck. [Conductors note: this is true in the Kosmos/3rd edition Mayfair deck as well.] That is for a cost of three. Of course, that doesn't count victory cards, getting the largest army, etc. If you play a resource card at an optimal time, it can be worth a LOT more to you.

6) It is hard to get the robber off of you without Knights

Remember, a seven comes up only once every six turns on the average.

7) Know the odds

Your chance of drawing a particular type of card is as follows, in 36-card combined Basic/5-6 Player Expansion set (this is also the same as the first or second edition Mayfair Basic deck):
  • Knight: 56%
  • Victory point: 19%
  • Discovery: 8%
  • Monopoly: 8%
  • Road Building: 8%
Meaning, your chance of drawing any specific card, other than a knight, is pretty low. [Conductors note: the percentage chance is the same in a 25 card Basic Kosmos/Mayfair 3rd edition deck.]


1) As stated in many places above, try not to build around a hex in such a way that it will attract the robber

2) Watch out where you put the robber
You might need that resource, or suddenly create a shortage. Consider putting it on a resource you already have a supply for, and don't have to trade for. And of course, on someone who is ahead, or someone who has a resource you need. If you put it on a hex with fewer number of people, or a person who does not have any extra development cards (no knights) it will stay there longer.

Consider putting it on a hex so that you are left as the sole or major producer of a commodity. (Greg Aleknevicus) See notes on the Monopoly / Cartel strategies above for more info on this.

3) This pirate's most important function is to restrict ship building around its hex
You can completely block off an island in this way. Your main goal should be to stop others from getting victory points on the islands, not to get the most number of cards that you can. The cards are gravy.

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