How to Win At Settlers of Catan, Part 2: The Early-Mid Game (2 to 6-7 points)

The Philosophy: Make Points That Make Points

In the early game, if I have 4 points that consist of two settlements and a city, while “Jim” has 5 points consisting of three settlements and Longest Road, I am winning, even though Jim has more points.

That may seem strange, but Jim’s Longest Road doesn’t actually do anything. All other things being equal, a city and two settlements will outproduce Jim’s three settlements.

So the goal is to make points that will most help you make new points… to spend your cards in the way that will get you the most cards over time.

1. Make Points That Make Points: Don’t Go For Longest Road

In the above example, Jim’s Longest Road doesn’t help him get more points. AND, since it inflates his point total, it may make him a target. He may get hit by the robber more. People may trade with me instead of him because he has more points! So don’t go for longest road early on. Most importantly, someone will try and take longest road from you, and then you have to waste even more cards to keep your useless points!

More on road building in a minute.

2. Make Points That Make Points: Don’t Buy Development Cards

If on one of your first five turns, you look down and see that you’ve bought two Development Cards, slap yourself. You were only one card away from a city! No two development cards are worth an early city.

Yes, Development Cards do usually generate new cards, but on a very limited basis. A city will get you a lot more cards than a Development Card. (The Monopoly card can be the very rare exception.) So try and save up for cities.

This point is shorter than the others, but not less important. So, for emphasis: build cities, build cities, build cities.

3. Be Efficient With Your Roads

In general, don’t build more roads than you need to build a settlement. This is to prevent three sorts of waste: cards, space, and especially time.

Cards: When you build more roads than necessary, you waste (or use inefficiently) the cards you spent on the extra road. This is actually the least bad form of waste, since you might have built that road later anyways.

Space: This is the most frequent form of waste. Someone is focused on getting to a trading port, and builds three roads to get there, when they could have built 2 roads a settlement, and then 2 more roads and the settlement on the desired port. Yes, the former strategy gets you to the port faster, but the latter approach nets more production, and 2 points instead of 1 point. Don’t take an area that could have help two of your settlements/cities and turn it into a an area which only holds one!

Time: Settlers is really a game of velocity. You make points that make points because that is a faster way of getting to 10 points than other methods. Generally speaking, if you build more roads than necessary, you’re wasting time. Or in physical terms, you are wasting every single card you would have gotten if you had built earlier.

Generally, after the opening setup, there should be a couple of spots available where you can build a single road and then a settlement. Those should usually be your first goals.

The exception to this rule is when you are competing with another player for a port or a really good space. It may be worth building less efficiently if you are able to claim the space instead of losing it entirely.

4. Compete for Space

In the early/mid game, the people with the most points are not your enemies. The people who are able to build settlements where you want to build settlements are your biggest enemies. Hit them with ever robber you roll. Block the resources that they need most to expand. Trade them ore so they focus on a city instead of the settlement space you want. Cut in on their trades with others and offer the other people better deals. To quote You’ve Got Mail, “Go to the mattresses.”

(Just kidding, I know it’s originally from The Godfather.)

After the start of the game, identify any potential spots that could be contested. Pick the best/most contested spot and go for it first. The other spots can wait until later. Robbering the points leader can wait until later. Do what you can to secure your spaces.

The spots with the biggest numbers are likely targets for competition, but also consider what resources your neighbors lack. Obviously, if you don’t have any of a resource (for example: lumber), you may want to focus on a wood hex. But keep in mind that your neighbors will have similar thoughts. They will likely build toward their biggest needs. So cut them off (unless you really need something else).

Another aspect is to build to cut others off from large sections of the board. Especially in 3 and 5 player games, there are often large chunks of unoccupied land. These areas usually have mostly bad numbers. If your initial settlements put you in a good position to do so, consider building roads to cut others off from the space. The numbers may not be great, but you’ll have far more room to expand than your opponents. Unless one of your opponents greatly outpaces you in building cities, you have a very good chance of winning.

5. Assess Your Late-Game Competition

First go after your rivals for settlement space, then assess those who are most likely to win. Count points from settlements and cities (ignore all other points unless they have 7+ points from all sources). Whoever has the most points is probably winning, but also take into account how good their numbers actually are, if they the most city potential, what ports they have, and how much space they have to expand. Target them with the robber and try and get others to do so and to trade with you instead of them.

In the next segment, I’ll talk about trading strategies and in part four, I’ll talk about the end game.


SPAM: Why Does The Bible Tell Christians to Kill Non-Christians?

Welcome to SPAM, or Stuff People Ask Me, a series on the random theological questions I get asked.  This edition’s question is based on Deuteronomy 13:6-11.

13:6 Suppose your own full brother, your son, your daughter, your beloved wife, or your closest friend should seduce you secretly and encourage you to go and serve other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have previously known, 13:7 the gods of the surrounding people (whether near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other). 13:8 You must not give in to him or even listen to him; do not feel sympathy for him or spare him or cover up for him. 13:9 Instead, you must kill him without fail! Your own hand must be the first to strike him, and then the hands of the whole community. 13:10 You must stone him to death because he tried to entice you away from the Lord your God, who delivered you from the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. 13:11 Thus all Israel will hear and be afraid; no longer will they continue to do evil like this among you. (NET)

All of the Old Testament laws are relevant to Christians today, but they don’t necessarily apply directly.

The Mosaic Law is still relevant to Christians today, every bit of it. But there is a difference between being relevant, and applying word for word into action. As Christians, we need to be careful about applying a series of laws which were written in order to govern a nation of nomads 3,500 years ago.

Israel was a nation, and Christians aren’t. We aren’t a government. We also don’t live in a nomadic society, which is very important. Nomads travel around from place to place–they don’t build a lot of permanent structures. Which means they can’t maintain jails. Imagine trying to have a justice system without prisons! You can’t arrest people! While the Israelite legal system does allow for monetary compensation, there is a certain point at which you can’t uphold a society by handing out parking tickets. So if it seems like the Old Testament laws hand out the death penalty like candy on Halloween, remember that it was written for a people who didn’t always have the option of putting people in jail.

Jesus gave instructions for how to deal with sin in the Christian community, and it didn’t involve the death penalty. (Or jail.)

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives his first major instructions on what it means to be a church. And what is the thing that he talks about?–Christians sinning against one another. This should tell us something very important about the reality of being a church community: we will sin, and we will hurt one another, and we should seek reconciliation in Christ.

Step one is calling the person to repent. As opposed to Deuteronomy 13, Jesus commanded us to give others a second chance. And a third. And fourth. To infinity and beyond.

This call to repentance is done one on one. If that fails its done one on three. If that fails its brought to the whole church community. But the goal is to help the person, and to do so as privately and as gently as possible.

Finally, if the person refuses to turn away from their sin, even under the encouragement of the whole community, then they are removed from that community. Even this is designed for their benefit, in hopes that they will repent.

But note the lack of a step which involves stoning to people to death. It’s gone. We don’t stone people. Or at least, we shouldn’t stone people–remember what Jesus’ first lesson on the church was about?

Even this is only for other Christians.  Jesus doesn’t want us dispensing judgments on people outside the church community in this lifetime (though there is still eternal judgement, and we may play a role in that process).  Jesus wan’t just silent on punishing people outside the church–he told us not to do it (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43).

Christians aren’t called to create a holy nation, we’re called to go out to make disciples in every nation.

It’s important to read Deuteronomy in context. The Israelites were called to create a holy nation–a country set apart from the rest of the world. Israel needed to remain pure to safeguard God’s teaching and promises, and to prepare the way for Jesus. But like most of us, they just wanted to fit in. They wanted to ditch God so they could hang out with the popular kids.

And so many of the laws of the Old Testament are designed to remind them not to compromise–to remember their mission. It’s why you can wear cotton or polyester, but not mixed together. Why you can eat this and not that. And it’s why the laws against worshiping other gods are so harsh.

In contrast, Jesus isn’t calling us to be a holy huddle. We’re not called to insulate ourselves. Instead, Jesus sends us out. In his final teaching to his followers, when Jesus is summing up his life and his teaching, he finished with this:

28:18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28:19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 28:20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20, NET)

GO. TO ALL NATIONS. That is Jesus’ command to us. Not to form a community which maintains its holiness by keeping others out, but a community which proclaims the holiness of Jesus Christ in every community across the world and calls others to receive holiness from Jesus.

Deuteronomy 13 is a reminder to us that we still need to be holy.

We have the same temptation the Israelites did. We can be tempted to abandon our mission–to abandon Jesus. We have to be in the world but not of the world. We can’t conform. And sometimes we may need to step away from a TV show, a sports team, a hobby, or a relationship–even one with a family member–in order to follow Jesus.

The first disciples left their nets (their jobs) to follow Jesus. Is there something which is enticing you to sin? Which whispers to you, “Find your identity, your comfort, your identity in me instead of Christ?” Leave that thing with your nets, and follow Jesus.

In Christ,
Brandon Ray Boulais

Some random notes:
Technically Christians are creating a holy nation when we make disciples.  But it’s not a literal country the way Israel was.
I quoted from the NET Bible, which is an amazing translation and Study Bible, available for free online.  The Study Bible is unique in that it’s done directly by the translators, and is mainly about how the original texts get translated into English.

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!

B4B: Tamales by Alice Guadalupe Tapp


Recently, Ashley finally convinced me to join, which provides free books in exchange for a blog review and a review on their site. Though actually, as a pastor, I’m not required to post the review on my blog! So if it makes it on here, the book is good, or at least I had something I thought was worth sharing about it. Anyways, if a post has B4B in the title, it’s a book review from bloggingforbooks.

B4B hopes that pastors will sign up to plug books from their growing “Faith” department. So naturally, my first order was a cook book. Back when I lived in Santa Fe, I attended a small Vineyard church in a converted house, which was half anglo, half latino. Every Christmas the youth group would sell the world’s best tamales as a fundraiser. Since leaving Santa Fe, Mexican food has been my hobby. I’ve mastered enchiladas (my favorite) and tacos, but I was intimidated by tamales.


Enter Tamales by Alice Guadalupe Tapp. Tamales is a strange cookbook, in that it has two seemingly contradictory missions. On the one hand, Tapp wants to simplify the tamale process to make them accessible to everyone. (Yay!) On the other, she wants to teach people how to use every part of the animal in cooking. This leads to an entire section of the book containing sentences like, “Bone marrow is such a treat and is amazing in tamales. The rich, fatty, beefy flavor is irresistible.” (Decidedly less yay.) I am NEVER using that section.

Even though I won’t ever use bone marrow in my tamales, I did branch out and cook with lard for the first time.

So did Tamales make the process easy? Well, yes and no. Tamales are usually wrapped in corn husks, which you can’t find in North Dakota stores. Next year, I’ll just hoard them at the end of the summer. The book offered no help, but of course Google gave me a simple solution: wrap the tamales in parchment paper and then in tin foil. Likewise, the book gave ways to cook every type of masa flour into tamales, but once I found some masa, I couldn’t figure out which of the book’s categories of masa my flour fit into. So I used the masa recipe on the package instead of one of the book’s.

The parchment paper plus tin foil method worked great!
The parchment paper plus tin foil method worked great!

On the other hand, Tapp does provide two great ideas to make tamales easier. First, she has inside-out tamales, which are basically the tamale equivalent of an open face sandwich. So you don’t have to worry about getting the filling perfectly surrounded by the masa. The second idea is the corunda, in which you mix the masa and the filling together. I wanted to avoid the filling process, so I went with the corundas, and they turned out great! They really did taste like many tamales I have had.

Why bother trying to get your filling perfectly wrapped when you could just mix it all together?  Seriously, my corundas tasted just like tamales.
Why bother trying to get your filling perfectly wrapped when you could just mix it all together? Seriously, my corundas tasted just like tamales.

Ultimately the question is, are tamales worth the extra prep over tacos and enchiladas?  Not really.  I like enchiladas and tacos more.  But the tamales are unique enough that they will find a spot on the rotation.  I’m looking forward to trying some of the other recipes including the dessert tamales.  But I think I’ll stay away from the bone marrow.
Next time on B4B, I’ll review Ask It by Andy Stanley.

Welcome! About the title…


It could have been Brandon Boulais’ Blog.  It could have been Bible, Books, Board Games.  Regardless, it was going to have a lot of B’s in it.

When I first started out as a volunteer in youth ministry, I was able to do a lot extra with my small group.  Mainly, I picked them up from the junior high and we went to the church right away and hung out until youth group.  We played silly games, ate food, and read the Bible together.  Then we played more games.  Games like Settlers and the Star Wars RPG.

At the end of the year, our youth pastor gave me a trophy which read: Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.  The trophy itself was of a horses’ rear end… because it’s youth ministry.

The trophy was in reference to my awesome small group and our geeky games, and itself referenced The Office, where Jim “steals Dwight’s identity.”  (Many of our leader meetings centered around talking about The Office.)

So there you have it.  This is a blog about books, board games, and the Bible (and Jesus).  The books will very somewhat.  A lot of Christian books and ministry books, but my  very first real post will be about a tamale cook book.  So there’s that…

My goal is one post a week, on Fridays.

In Christ,