Settlers of Catan - Basic Strategy Guide

Settlers of Catan front cover
After the initial set-up phase of Settlers of Catan, a number of basic strategies for winning the game become available to players. In this article, we'll take a look at each of them in detail, covering their benefits, risks, and why a player might choose one over the other.

How to Win

To start, let's review the base game's victory conditions. The winner of a game of Settlers is the first player to reach 10 Victory Points (VPs).
Victory Points can be earned with Longest Road, Largest Army or Development Cards, as well as by building Settlements and Cities These can be collected using any combination of the following:
  • Settlements: 1 VP
  • Cities: 2 VPs
  • Longest Road: 2 VPs
  • Largest Army: 2 VPs
  • Certain Development Cards: 1 or 2 VPs

Each expansion from the Settlers of Catan series will add new ways of gaining points, and make other ones less appealing. For now, let's stick to the basic game.

Every player begins Settlers of Catan with 2 settlements on the board, granting them 2 Victory Points. This means you only need to earn another 8 Points. Furthermore, each player has 4 City tokens, and so can earn up to 8 points by converting settlements into Cities. Because of their high value, most players will focus on building settlements and upgrading them to cities to earn the majority of their points. Longest Road or Largest Army can then be used to collect the last 2 Points. It's less common to rely on Development Cards as a supplementary strategy because of the uncertainty of what you'll draw.

Common Strategies

Since the general approach to take is fairly obvious, the real trick to winning Settlers of Catan is deciding how to build your settlements and cities the most efficiently, and choosing your supplementary strategy well. Here are 4 possible methods:
  • Ore & Wheat
  • Wood & Brick
  • Resource Monopoly
  • Development Cards

Ore & Wheat

An Ore & Wheat strategy allows a player to expandtheir initial 2 settlements into Cities as quickly as possible. This allows those Cities to generate extra resources early in the game, giving the player their means of further development. This strategy is highly dependent on good initial placements and creates very tempting targets for the robber. For this reason, an Ore & Wheat player will need to collect Knights to protect their cities, making Largest Army a natural choice for those last 2 points.

An Ore & Wheat strategy produces Cities and Knights easily.

Blue has chosen to focus on Ore & Wheat, quickly upgrading their Settlements into Cities. They've also bought a number of Knight Development Cards, making Largest Army a likely victory.

Wood & Brick

Like Ore & Wheat, a Wood & Brick strategy focuses on civilization building to win. Focusing on Wood and Brick resources lets a player expand quickly to build more Settlements, and usually makes them a shoo-in for Longest Road. On a crowded board, this strategy can let a player get to the most desirable locations first, blocking other players and gaining access to new resources. After their 5 Settlements have been built, some Wood & Brick players find it difficult to upgrade to Cities, and may need to use a port to collect the necessary resources.

Red is using Wood and Brick to expand to new settlements and build a long road

Red has focused on Wood and Brick, quickly expanding to new settlements and taking over the Wood Port to gain other resources. They are likely to win Longest Road with further expansion.

Resource Monopoly

A Resource Monopoly uses control of a single resource and favorable trading to collect all the resources needed to expand. By creating an artificial scarcity of a resource, a player can often get 2:1 or 3:1 trade offers from their desperate opponents. This strategy allows for more flexibility in choosing a supplementary strategy, but is quite risky. It's the most dependent on board layout, and can be seriously hampered by the robber or bad rolls. A player also has to be careful not to antagonize the others through too many unfair trades, which can lead to getting cut out of the trading loop, though this can be mitigated with clever use of ports.

Development Cards

A Development Card strategy usually looks very similar to an Ore & Wheat strategy at the start. The goal is to collect cards that give Victory Points, using Knights and the robber to slow down other players. This is a very risky strategy, and usually becomes a last resort after a player has been blocked from Largest Army or Longest Road, or is switched to opportunistically if they happen to draw a number of valuable cards.

The Importance of Set-Up

As discussed in our previous article on set-up strategies, the layout of the board and placement of a player's first 2 settlements will have a huge impact on the strategy they use to win in Settlers of Catan. Certain layouts will lend themselves well to a Resource Monopoly, while others may make Ore & Wheat much more desirable than Wood & Brick. Turn order during this initial placement round will also have an impact--after all, it's no use trying to go for Ore & Wheat if all of the Ore hexes have already been claimed.

What's Next?

If you feel as if you've perfected your Settlers of Catan strategy, it's time to shake things up by adding an expansion or two from the Catan Series.

if more game guides are what you're after, check out our article on strategy in Carcassonne, or flip through our Quick Guides to the Ticket to Ride and Arkham Horror series.