Today, we’re going to look at my favorite topic in Settlers of Catan.
Initial Settlement Placements.
This post is created by 12 expert catan players from the King of Catan Community and we’ll give you our best advice on settlement placements.
More specifically, we’ll look at how flexibility can improve your win-rate.
Let’s dive right in.
“What is resource diversity?” is a logical question you could ask.
Quite often, we hear from people – who explain the mechanics of Catan – it is mandatory to pick our first two settlement spots in such a way it allows us to have a tile on each possible resource from the start of the game.
What do they mean by that?
They highly value resource diversity: the amount of different resources you gain in Settlers of Catan.
But is it that important? Can you win in Catan without implementing your friend’s advice?
Absolutely! In this topic we’ll have a look at how resource diversity can be (almost) fully disregarded and result in victories.
(Almost) as in: we don’t recommend a sheep-only strategy.
1) You can go aggressive, all in OWS/road builder.
Let’s have a look at an example:
Keep in mind that the ports were: 3:1 to 6/2 and 2:1-wheat to the 5 ore.
Seeing first position going for 10/8/3 was a huge eye-opener.
What immediately sprang to mind was that I have to capitalize on red’s greediness to not place on the 8/5/10.
So, I knew that if I took 6/9/4, I was not leaving open a combination of placements which would incentivize another player to take the 5/8 ore.
Thus, I went all in OWS, securing me the win.
So, this is how everything played out:
Keep in mind that down at the 9/10 there was a 2:1 sheep port.
2) You can focus on producing plenty of a single resource and use the 2:1 port strategy in order to obtain the missing resource.
In this game, I have combined the road builder strategy with a strong 2:1 port strategy to get a few development cards (without which I could not have won).
Had I not been able to get to the sheep port, I would have been stuck at 7 points for the whole game (because I could have only built the longest road+5 settlements).
3) You can position yourself in such a way that your future settlements will provide you the missing resource(s).
To illustrate this, here I am playing as green.
As second position, I picked 8/4/3. When it came back to me, I knew that the 2/9/10 will definitely be left open. So, with a free road, I soon can settle on the desired 6 sheep, along with a valuable 2:1 ore port.
4) Another key aspect to consider, above resource diversity, is the scarcity of a given resource. The more you have of the scarce resource, the more you can trade it in your advantage for the resources you do not produce.
Let’s take an example:
As you could see here, both ore and brick will be highly valued throughout the game and, since they are on the coast, less players will be able to grab those.
Taking the brick example, it will be a great way for the player going 8/9/4 or 8/4/11 to trade for the wood (1 for 2?), which is plentiful.
5) Finally, to give some credit where it’s due, going for resource diversity might be the best option when the spots you are going for will provide you with sheer force of production.
For this part, I would suggest you check out our post about maximizing production.
People who place their settlements tend to think a lot about production and having access to all the different resources.
You want to get all these resources to be flexible.
Often, it is quite predictable which strategies the different players will pursue in the game. Unfortunately, the dice aren’t always cooperating, hence it’s not always possible to follow your game plan.
Getting no Ore as an “Ore-Wheat-Sheep-Player” means that buying a lot of Development Cards is out of the question.
If you can still produce Wood and Brick, you can try to change your game plan.
Sadly, even producing all resources can lead to difficult situations.
You can end up with a hand that contains 3 Brick, 3 Sheep and 3 Ore.
You will have to pass with 9 cards in hand, if no one wants to trade with you
This will happen more often than you could anticipate, because the other people will place their settlements in a way that you can’t get balanced production.
Often, you will end up with too much production of one resource and lack another one.
Later, almost everyone will occupy one or two ports two help them with these situations.
If you can convert the bricks into Wheat, you could buy a Development card.
Using the flexibility of the different ports is for example key to earn your last points in the endgame if the trading halted.
The port can also help you in the early game if there’s one resource you don’t produce.
That’s why it’s essential to keep ports in mind while placing your settlement.
On every board, people will have the choice between 9 different ports: four “3:1-ports” and one “2:1-port” for every resource.
The 3:1 port can be used by everyone, the special ports require a specific resource and thus, can sometimes be totally useless for yourself.
Additionally, you need a lot of Ore and Wheat in the Endgame to finish your position, which means that the two ports for these resources are often not that useful.
In the following example you’ll see how ports can influence settlement placement decisions.
In this game green had the choice between 2 different “5/8/10-spots”.
Which should he choose?
The only difference is that you can either get more sheep production with the 10, or get some bricks.
Most people would choose the 5-8-10 with the brick because getting three different resources seems to be better than only two.
Green chose the strictly worse spot – especially because there’s a lot of sheep production on this board.
Green tried to think about flexibility.
The chosen spot offers a “3:1-spot” like the one on the bottom, but you also get the sheep port.
Besides that, you get another settlement on the 5 Wheat later.
Green knows that he only needs a few bricks to win the game but he needs a lot of ore in the late game. Using the sheep-port can be more beneficial in the end game than the bricks you need in the early game.
If you need some brick, after settling on the sheep port, the 10-sheep spot can be translated to 1 ½ points of brick production.
If you want you can also convert the sheep to the precious Ore.
The spot at the bottom (if you don’t race blue to the brick-port), has 3 points of brick production, but you need 3 bricks to produce one ore.
Additionally, placing on the sheep port automatically grants you five more points of sheep production, which could be translated to 2 ½ points of “flexible production”.
You could also place on the 8/3/4 on top to get three different resources, but that means losing production. Furthermore the sheep port would get a bit worse.
Likewise, you would lose the flexibility of the ports.
If the 5/8/10 player gets cut off from his sheep port he can still go to the “3:1-port”, the 8/3/4-player getting cut off would mean needing another extra road to get to the next port.
Ports grant you flexibility in resource production which can be translated to more possibilities in-game.
Furthermore it’s best to pick spots that can be flexible with ports.
If you get cut off from your only accessible port your game will be slowed down a lot, if you have access to different ports with one road, it’s way harder to hurt your game.
In the next example you’ll learn why 3:1-ports are considered as better than 2:1-ports by many top performers in King of Catan.
Beginner players really like to use “port-strategies”. These strategies try to capitalize on “2:1-ports” to be the most flexible.
After the first section you could think that 6-11-12 is a perfect spot for this scenario. You get access to two ports with one road and you can produce the rare ore.
But this spot isn’t really great. Being flexible is one of my goals while placing my settlements but you have to think about production (Link to the Production article), too.
The 6-11-12 spot only offers 8 points of production (and 10 points after placing the 3rd settlement on the 11 ore).
Furthermore, you need to convert that ore into other resources, which means that you only get like 5-6 points of production (depends on how many Ore you’ll keep). There is no way you can keep up with the 5-6-11 which offers 11 points of production for 3 different resources.
To outproduce people who organically have access to all resources you must produce double the amount as they produce.
It can happen sometimes, but mostly you’ll be outpaced – especially in the early game where you don’t have access to the port.
Ports offer production by reducing the available “4:1-deal” with the bank to a mere “3:1” or “2:1-deal”, but you will still lose some of your production by trading in resources.
You need to get 4 ore to get a road with this spot, while other people only need 2 resources (wood and brick).
Having a port reduces the number of resources you need to trade in to get your desired one, which in return can be seen as upping your production.
Ports give you the flexibility that could be needed if the dice won’t roll as you want them to.
Still, you shouldn’t focus on ports alone.
Ports are important and sometimes it’s the right decision to lose one or two points of production to have access to a port, but porting resources means also reducing your production.
If someone organically produces all resources equally you can’t win against this player if you need to port for one of the resources if the dice distribution is normalized.
“Port-strategies” are often not successful because the other people will just outproduce you.
A common piece of advice you will hear regarding initial settlement placements is to make sure to diversify your numbers.
This means that when placing your second settlement, you should try to make sure not to double up on numbers you are already on.
So, what makes doubling up on numbers so bad?
The biggest problem with not diversifying your numbers is that it allows the luck of the dice to play a greater role in how well you do.
These are the dice results from a game I played recently.
Look at that, an almost perfect bell curve, exactly what’s expected to happen. No?
As any experienced Catan player will tell you, a distribution like that is actually less likely than one that is skewed in some way, like the one below.
If you got these rolls in a game and you were doubled up on 5 and 10 you would have a good chance of winning.
If you were doubled up on 4 and 8 you would get nowhere.
This is what we call feast or famine.
On average, if you double up you have a greater chance of an extreme outcome than if you place on five or six different numbers.
Another problem with doubling up too much is that you are more likely to lose cards when a 7 is rolled.
If you get your cards in bunches, it is harder to consistently keep your hand under eight cards, particularly once you’ve built up and are getting four or five cards at a time.
These two reasons are why most experienced Catan players will try to diversify their numbers as much as possible.
Now here is why you should ignore that advice in certain situations.
There are some scenarios where it is actually better to avoid diversifying.
In these cases you want to specifically double up some or all of your numbers for a better chance of winning.
So we see that there are quite a few situations where it might actually be preferred to avoid number diversity.
There are certain resources that pair well with each other. The main two pairs are wood/brick and wheat/ore.
As you can see, wood and brick complement each other perfectly as they are always used together in a 1:1 ratio.
Getting a complete road every time your number is rolled is very useful. By getting wood and brick with one roll you ensure that you can use them right away.
They also get you halfway to a settlement.
Wheat and ore are an even more powerful combination.
While they are not always used together or in a 1:1 ratio, with just wheat and ore you can do the most powerful move in the game, you can build a city.
Cities double your production on your highest producing spots and are a great way to get ahead in the game.
If you have coordinated wheat and ore then two rolls put you close to a city and once you put a city on the ore spot, two rolls will be more than enough for a city.
Additionally, wheat and ore are two of the three cards needed to buy a development card. High producing coordinated wheat/ore combined with decent sheep is a winning combination.
Another advantage of coordinated resources:
Since you produce these resources together you won’t need to hold a lot of one resource in your hand while waiting for the other one to roll.
This makes it easier to stay under eight cards and makes it less likely that you lose important resources when opponents steal from you or use monopolies.
Take this game for example:
I was red, placing second.
After blue took the really strong 6/5/9 spot I took the 8/4/3 (ore/double wood) spot.
For my second settlement I chose the other 8/4/3 as it allowed me to coordinate wheat/ore and wood/brick while still getting a bit of sheep.
I chose this even though there were still other good available spots that would have given me far greater number diversity.
This also gave me a better hope of competing with blue and his eventual city on that very strong first spot.
As you see from the results it turned out alright for me. (Notice how by the end of the game every 8 gave me a city.)
One caveat regarding complementary coordinated numbers, when playing with skilled players they will notice and try to slow you down by blocking the coordinated numbers, so keep that under consideration when making placements.
This blog post is the second of a series of posts about initial settlement placements, written by the players listed in the image above.
But now, I’d like to hear from you:
What do you find most important?
Resource Diversity or Number Diversity.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment, right now.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we totally recommend the following article as well.