Bad Expansion Spot

Catan Strategies – 5 Tips for the Perfect Starting Placement

In All, Catan, Strategies by Zach Hillegas1 Comment

Have you been looking for new Catan strategies as of late? Are you the one in your group that just can’t seem to get those sweet, sweet points? If so, it’s possible that you might need to rethink your strategy! The Settlers of Catan, while a fundamentally simple game, can be surprisingly deep in its variety of strategy, and there’s some simple things that you might just be missing out on. Here are some things to consider if you’ve found yourself in a losing streak, or if you’re just looking to improve your game in general! Keep in mind that, while these are generally good rules of thumb, every game is different!

In this article, we’ll be focusing on placement. Your starting placement is one of the most important decisions that you’ll make in any game of Catan. While it might not seem like a super important decision, your starting placements are half of your strategy. A good placement can ultimately win you the game, and a bad one can leave you miserable, living under Catan’s poverty line and leaving you without production. Because this is such an important part of the game, we’ve prepared a list of things that will help you find the most prime Catan real estate.

#1 – Determine the value of resources

Rare Resource

On this board, clay is the obvious weak resource. While a 6/9/4 placement is not as good as a 6/9/5, having access to the “rare” resource will give you more trading power. On the other hand, wood is the most accessible resource this game.

Resource production is not created equal in The Settlers of Catan. In just about every game, some resources will be stronger and others will be weaker. A key strategy before you even look at placement spots is to determine which resources will be scarce in the game. For example, you may see an 8 on a wood hex that still has available spots. Awesome! However, if you take a closer look and find that all of the other wood hexes have sixes and eights on them, then your 8 wood isn’t really anything special. You’ll be getting a lot, but so will everyone else.

Alternatively, then, you’ll want to take a look at whichever resource will be the hardest to obtain. For example, if there’s only three clay tiles, with values of 4, 11, and 12, then it’s safe to assume that there won’t be very much clay in the game. 11s and 12s aren’t exactly common, so most of the clay in the game will be coming from that 4 hex. Settle on that hex! When nobody else is getting clay, you’ll be glad you settled there. Between being able to build things that other people can’t, and having high trading power, it’s worth settling on a “rare” resource. This is one of the most important strategies if you’re first player. First player has first and last dibs, so take advantage of that by grabbing the most valuable resources. Sometimes this will result in a slightly worse combination of numbers, but the trading power you’ll have will more than make up for it.

#2 – Complimentary Placements

final placements

The eventual final placement of our hypothetical scenario.

One of the biggest placement mistakes is simply grabbing the best spot you see on the board and not actually thinking about where your second placement might be. It’s important to make sure that you’re well covered both in number and resource variety, so your first placement will only be half the story. Even if your first placement has good numbers, if it doesn’t leave room on the board for a second one that will give you more, then it ultimately won’t be very useful. The idea here is to plan for both of your placements, instead of just thinking of one at a time. Scanning the board for complimentary spots will be a boon to your spending and trading power. This requires a more detailed analysis, so we’ll break it into two parts:

#2a – Resource Variety

Yellow Resource Variety

Since yellow is last, she gets to place back to back. That 6/5/10 spot is pretty good, but she’s lacking clay and rock. Unfortunately, there’s not a single clay/rock spot on the board save for the one at the bottom, which isn’t that helpful because one of the numbers is a 12.

Making sure you have access to all of the resources is important. Sometimes there’s a tempting combination of numbers, but it might not always be the best choice if it gives you no resource variety. Between your two placements, you should try be on each resource. This means that, if you place on a wood-clay-wheat combination, that your next placement should have at least rock and wool together, since that’s what you’re missing. This is where complimentary placements come into play. Let’s imagine said wood-brick-wheat spot has some good numbers. Great! Now you just need rock and wool. But upon closer inspection, you realize that ore and wool together are nowhere to be found together on the board. Maybe they’re even really far apart. Maybe they are bundled together, but they’re on really low numbers. In any of these scenarios, it most likely means that most of the other good spots on the board are just going to give you more wood, clay and wheat. If you plan ahead and look at compliment spots on the board, then you might just score two spots that work in harmony with each other and give you all the resources you need.

In the above picture, each player placed their first spot with a potential complementary spot on the board. Unfortunately, you can’t always anticipate where other players are going to, and sometimes your ideal spot will get taken (more on that below). In this case, Yellow doesn’t have the greatest complementary spots available, resource-wise. As a result, she’ll move on to the next step…

#2B: Number variety

Yellow Number Variety

Because she can’t get all the resources she needs, Yellow takes a different route. She decides for optimal number variety, also gaining a 4 rock, meaning she only lacks clay. She hopes to capitalize on high production and use the wood port (more on that later) to make up for her lack of clay, which will be rare this game.

This is similar to the last one, only it applies to numbers instead of resources. The idea behind number variety is that you want to be on as many different high numbers as you can. Say you’ve found two potential spots that will give you all your resources. You’ve got a wood-clay-wheat, and a ore-wool-wood, only this time, you notice that both the spots have the same numbers! In this case we’ll imagine they’re both on an 8, 5, and 10. This means that you’ll produce well if any of those roll, but it also means that you would only collect resources from three different numbers. It’s no fun when you’re not producing, and that will most likely be the case if you don’t spread out your numbers. A much more ideal setup would be an 8-5-10 placement, with a secondary placement of 6-9-4. These are all good numbers, and you’ve got a variety, meaning that you’re more likely to collect on any given roll. It’s not always possible to get good number variety, and you will more often than not have a duplicate number (unless you want low numbers), but it’s important to be as diverse as possible.

Going along with our example, Yellow wasn’t able to find the most ideal resource variety, but she’s got it made with numbers; the only ones she’s missing are 2, 9, 11, and 12. Of those three, 9 is the only one that rolls frequently. Though she couldn’t cover all the resources, she will have good production with her numbers, and she has a potential workaround for clay through her wood port (more on that in a moment).

#3: Observe your neighbors

Red Mistake

Red was first player, and was able to snag the best spot for clay, but didn’t pay much attention to what his neighbors might do. He lacks wheat and rock, and all of the wheat/rock spaces are in relatively good spots that would obviously get taken by other players. Now he lacks a good spot for an ideal complementary placement. Sometimes, you’re able to find combinations where the hypothetical second placement doesn’t benefit anyone much except for you.

It’s important to take note of where everyone else is going. Unless you’re the last person to place, you’ll have your opponents placing before you can put down your second settlement. It’s not uncommon for them to take one of the awesome spots you’re looking at, but sometimes you can take some preventative measures by looking at what they’re doing. For example, perhaps there are several complimentary spots on the board. There’s a good clay-wool-wheat spot with an awesome wood-ore-clay complimentary spot. However, if your neighbor before you happened to place on one of the same combinations, then you’ll both be competing for the same complimentary spot. Sometimes, your placement will have a complimentary spot on the board that nobody else needs, which will remove the pressure from having to worry whether it’ll be stolen or not. If you need brick and wheat, but everybody else already has it, you can place your first spot somewhere else knowing that your ideal second spot will still be available when it’s your turn again. This is highly contextual and will depend on each game, but looking at your opponents’ spots might just make you aware of something that you didn’t notice before.

In our hypothetical game, Red wasn’t paying much attention to what the other players might do. While he got the best spot to guarantee himself clay, his best complementary options, wheat/clay, were sure to be taken by other players. The 9/6 combo is too good of a spot for other players to pass up (and would have given him duplicate numbers), and the 8/5/9 rock spot is also way too good to not get taken, leaving his only option as a coast spot with a low number.

#4: Take a look at that beachfront property

Yellow Wood Port

By placing on both a 6 and an 8 on wood, Yellow hopes to take advantage of the nearby wood port. She would have to obtain two clays (which she does not produce) to get there, but with her diversity in numbers, she should be able to produce enough to find a way. This is also advantageous, because wood is the most abundant resource this game; it won’t have high trade value but that won’t matter if she can trade it all day for 2:1.

Ports play an important role in The Settlers of Catan. Being able to trade two-for-one can make your game, so looking at the ports on the board during your placement is critical. I’ve found that, more often than not, it’s hard to find ideal port placements in the beginning of the game, but sometimes there’s that magic spot and, if so, you’ll want to take it. It goes without saying that High number resources that are next to their respective ports are extremely valuable. A brick port on an 8 brick hex will give you immediate, valuable trading power. It’s also possible that there will be a complimentary port. If there’s a wool port that’s not connected to a wool hex, but you happen to have a 6 wool in your first placement, then settling on that port might just pay off for you. The real money is when you can find a good port on two hexes that compliment your first placement. This, however, is rare, and getting right on top of a port should only be a priority when it works really well. You are, after all, losing another resource and number by doing so. If getting on top of a port isn’t worth losing the extra resource, then placing near a port can be a good alternative, potentially allowing you to nap it pretty quickly.

Going back to Yellow, she had decided to place near the wood port. The port itself wasn’t valuable enough to place directly on to (giving only an 11 and a 4), but there was a 6 wood spot nearby, giving her a 6 AND 8 for wood, the two best numbers in the game. If she could build out to the port as her first settlement, that would give her superior trading power for the rest of the game. The trick would be getting the two required clay she needs for that in a game where clay is rare and she doesn’t produce.  Due to her good spread of numbers, she would most likely be able to work something out.

#5 – Keep an Eye on Expansion Options

Bad Expansion Spot

Not the best spot for Red to put his road. He doesn’t have much expansion options, but putting his road that way doesn’t allow him to settle anywhere that his first placement couldn’t get to. Trying to get to the 8 or 5 near his top placement would have been a better choice.

Sometimes, if the numbers and resources are good enough, you can get away with getting a spot that doesn’t let you expand very far. However, making sure you have room to grow is extremely important to think about, and if you don’t give it any thought in either of your placements, you might find yourself boxed in. This is where the road placement comes in very handy. Placing the road is actually very important, and doing it wrong can set you back.  Make sure that your road points somewhere that you can move out to, even if the numbers aren’t the greatest. A common mistake is also pointing the road to a goldmine of numbers and resources, only to have an opponent place there next turn, turning your path into a dead-end. If the potential options are really valuable, it might be worth it going the less enticing route so you have have guaranteed open space.

Above, we noted how Red chose an option that didn’t give him very good second-spot potential. While he could have chosen the 8-3 spot near him that would give him both resources, he decided to go on the 10-8 spot (in the picture above) instead, which doesn’t give him rock, but gives him a slightly better number for wheat, which will likely be more coveted than rock this game. However, he didn’t place his road very well. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see that the only places he can move to from that road are places that his other road could move to faster. He would have been better off going one of the other ways.


Overall, placing your starting settlements is a huge part of the game, and there are many things to think about – perhaps things that you never considered before! Although it’s rarely possible to have all of these strategies together, due to how the board might be arranged or how others choose to place their settlement, it’s good to go through each of these steps to try to get the best combination possible. Happy settling!

About the Author

Zach Hillegas

Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he's not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, or spending time with his lovely wife. Zach is currently studying for a degree in Business Management. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his gallery here!

Comments

  1. Thanks for your strategy. I don’t know this tricks. However, I’m new in this game. So,it’s help me to play better.

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