How to Win At Settlers of Catan, Part 1: Placing Your First Two Settlements

As I start a blog, I wonder how many people care what I think about some things. Is a blog really necessary? Well, no, it’s not. But I do know several people who want to beat someone at Settlers more often, or at least have more to do each game. Honestly, I thought about calling this, “How to Beat Me At Settlers” or “How to Beat Your Spouse At Settlers.” So on the downside, I will probably start losing a lot more once my closest friends read this. On the upside, my blog will have at least one post that people will read out of more than charity.

Brandy Bartle demonstrates how good it feels to beat your spouse at Settlers of Catan.
Brandy Bartle demonstrates how good it feels to beat your spouse at Settlers of Catan.

This post will only deal with placing you’re first two settlements, but this is half the battle. Future posts will deal with the early/mid game (from 2 to 6-7 points) and with the end game (7 to 10 points).

(BTW, Sorry for frequently not using the standard names for resources like saying “wood” instead of “lumber,” and “sheep” instead of “wool.”  Old habits die hard.)

1. Pick Good Numbers

Statistically, with two dice, the closer a number is to 7, the more likely it is to be rolled. Settlers makes it easy for you, by putting dots on each number. A number that has five dots on it is five times more likely to be rolled than a number with only one dot on it.

So pick spots with good numbers and you will get lots of cards. Get lots of cards and you’ll do well.

This also means you should avoid building on the sea, because you only get two numbers instead of one. But at the same time, there will be some coastal spots which still have better numbers than some inland spots.

That’s the basics. Now on to deeper strategy…

2. Monopolize Scarce Resources

The great thing about Settlers is that the game can play very differently based on which numbers fall on which resources. One board can produce a lot of wood, and the next game no one can seem to get any!

Resources which are scarce are more valuable. If you are the only player with wood, you’ll be able to get good trades for wood, often getting multiple cards in exchange for a single wood. Or you can just sit on it, and build roads while everyone else waits to get 4-of-a-kind. Usually, you should trade, but more on that next time.

So before you place your first settlement, ask yourself, which resources will be hard to get this game, and which resources will be easy? Go for the scarce resources first. For example if wood has a 2, 12, 3 and 6, while sheep has a 6,8, 5, and 9, you should seriously consider placing your first settlement on the wood 6! This can occasionally be more helpful than getting the absolutely best numbers, or getting one of every type of resource. Out of the strategies in this post, this is the one I get the most advantage from because so few people take it into account.

Pro tip: Brick and Ore are more likely to be scarce than Wood, Wheat, or Sheep because they only have 3 hexes while the other resources have 4 hexes!

3. Get a Variety of Resources

It’s a common strategy to try and have all five resources available from your starting settlement. This is not a bad idea, BUT it’s also not as good as securing good numbers and scarce resources. I don’t have all 5 resources in most of my starting set ups.

However, it is a good idea. You’ll probably need every kind of resource and its always easier not to have to rely on trading. Having a variety of resources can speed up your growth, which is the name of the game.

In any case, don’t build a settlement on three hexes that all have the same type of resource and then on the matching 2:1 port. I know it seems like a good idea, but I have only seen it work once.

4. Focus on Resources That Pair Well Together (ESPECIALLY ORE AND WHEAT)

So you can’t get all five resources together on decent numbers… This is a common problem. DON’T try to get variety at the cost of building a settlement on a spot with horrible numbers. Instead, prioritize. Get the scarce resource. And pick resources that pair well together.

Brick and Ore are two resources that pair horribly. You can’t build anything with them together, ever! So if those are your main products, get ready to trade a ton. What resources pair well?

Wood and Brick are the obvious choice. To build settlements, you’ll need twice as much wood and brick as you will wheat and sheep, because you need to build roads. And they’re an important pair in the beginning of the game when you’re competing for the best open spaces left on the board. Not to mention longest road… (Actually, if you’re already thinking about longest road, stop it. More on that in a later post, but don’t go for longest road right away.)

In most situations, Wood and Brick aren’t actually the best combination. That distinction goes to Ore and Wheat, which combine to make cities. (Not development cards! Again, more on that in a future post.) Cities are amazingly powerful and you only need two types of cards to make them, as opposed to settlements, which you need four types of cards. If you get good numbers on both Ore and Wheat, you should have a good game unless you get really unlucky.

Pro Tip: In 3 and 5 player games there is more space, making wood and brick very useful all game. In 4 and 6 player games, there is less space, making wood and brick very important in the beginning, but increasingly less valuable as the game goes on. So Ore and Wheat are definitely the best pair in a 4 or 6 player game. They are probably still the best pair 3 and 5 player games too.

Lastly, sheep don’t pair directly with anything and are usually the least valuable resource (unless they are scarce), so they are often the easiest resource to neglect.

5. Roads

Where to place your roads? Especially with your first settlement, its hard to know where to place a road, because you’ll probably end up blocked. In general, it’s better to build toward the sea, especially towards a 3:1 port or a 2:1 port you’re pretty sure you’ll use. You can also build towards a spot you’re pretty sure will be open, because it has bad numbers. With your second road, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of where will be free once the game starts.

Don’t build your roads toward each other, EVER. Your goal should be to move towards new settlements, NOT Longest Road.

Pro Tip: DO be a jerk and place your settlements where they cut off your opponent’s roads.

Concluding Thoughts…

The “why” of some of these decisions will be more obvious in the next section: Early-Mid Game Strategy. But basically, these suggestions will generate the most cards or the best combination of cards to help you grow quickly.

If this was too long and you need a brief strategy, Ashley has 3 basic strategies:

  1. Pick the best numbers.
  2. Get ore (and wheat) so you can build cities early.
  3. Try and get a good variety of numbers, but not at the expense of picking the best numbers.

Lastly, no amount of strategy will secure a win in Settlers. There is still a ton of luck involved. But these strategies should help you be competitive in every game and win occasionally. So have fun!


2 thoughts on “How to Win At Settlers of Catan, Part 1: Placing Your First Two Settlements

  1. Don’t forget to talk about building on the same resource and then building on that 2 for 1 port right away! The strategy will one day work!


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