Catan asks players to do three things: trade, build, and settle. If you master these elements, victory is within reach. 

From one Catan-lover to another, here are some confidence-boosting strategies that will guide you through your first game and (hopefully!) aid your decision-making as the game progresses.

The Basics

You can access the rulebook here. If you have your own Catan board, you already have a paper copy of it. If you don’t, you can either play online or pick up the physical game. Hopefully you’ve read through the rules, but if you haven’t, here’s the gist... in both video and written form:

The Rules

  • In terms of physical game play, it’s close to your typical board game: players take turns rolling the dice, and act based on what number appears. If they have any non-dice-related actions to take, they may do it at any point during their turn
  • The board is made up of 5 resources: wheat, ore, lumber, sheep, and brick. Each is represented by the hexagonal tiles that, together, make up the board. The whole thing looks like a honeycomb cross-section surrounded by blue, creating an “uncharted island.” The resources also appear as commodities on cards that players use to trade and buy things.
  • Your job is to build roads, settlements, and cities on these hexagons, called “terrain hexes.” As you build, you earn victory points (or just points to everyone but Catan players). The objective is to be the first player to earn 10, thereby becoming “ruler over Catan.”
  • The number tokens on the board correspond to the dice.
    • Game Scenario: You have a settlement that touches a brick hex, and on that brick hex is the number 5. Every time a 5 is rolled by anyone in the game, you get 1 brick card. If you’re a Monopoly pro, think of 5 as your Park Place; the only difference is every time a player “lands” on it, it’s the bank that pays you.
  • If you don’t have the resources you need to build what you want, you can trade with other players.
    • Game Scenario: You need 1 brick and 1 lumber to build a road. You already have brick, but instead of lumber, you have ore. So you ask the group if anyone wants to trade 1 ore for 1 lumber. You can trade as many times as you want during your turn, as long as the other players agree to continue trading with you.
  • Development cards are another way to earn victory points. They contain different benefits and can be bought with resource cards just like roads, settlements, and cities. You can’t choose exactly which card you’ll get, though.
    • Game Scenario: For info on how to optimize each development card, skip to the Development Cards section.
  • Beware the robber. This is that weird gray piece that looks like it should be part of a different game, but don’t underestimate him! The robber covers certain numbers on the board, preventing you from collecting resources when that number is rolled. Whoever rolls a 7 gets to decide where the robber strikes next.

The Set-Up Phase

In this phase, you place your first 2 roads and settlements, which become the foundation for the rest of your territory. Anything else that you build must be connected to this initial hub. This is a preliminary step that takes place before regular gameplay begins, but the choices you make here will affect the rest of the game. Here are some factors to consider when placing your settlements and roads.

Resources

  • You need brick and lumber–they're key for your foundation. They are essential for building roads, and, by extension, a winning network of settlements and cities. Although roads themselves don’t earn you victory points, you can’t build settlements without roads to connect them.
  • Diversity. Aim to build on a range of resources–you will eventually need some of all of them.
    • Pro Tip: If this isn't possible, build toward harbors. Harbors are located around the perimeter of the board–they look like ships with the symbol of a resource and a ratio, like 2:1.
      • If you build on a brick harbor, you can trade 2 brick cards for 1 of any other resource. So, if you can’t build on the resources you want, double down on 1 resource and direct your roads toward a corresponding harbor.

Numbers

Look at the number tokens. You’ll notice that each token has a number in the middle and dots underneath. These dots indicate how likely it is for the dice to land on that number. The red numbers (6 and 8) are most likely, and the numbers with only 1 dot (12 and 2) are least likely.

  • Build in spots that touch lots of different numbers, including at least 1 red number. That way, no matter what number gets rolled, you’re likely to gain a resource.
  • Keep your options open when it comes to numbers. Catan is a game of chance, so the dice aren’t always on your side. If you bet too heavily on one number and the dice don’t cooperate, you’ll be left without resources.

   


Rolling a Seven

When a 7 is rolled, the robber is activated (remember that gray guy?). This means that whoever rolled gets to move the robber to cover up any number token on the board. That player also gets to steal a card at random from the player whose number is covered. Additionally, when a 7 is rolled, any player with over 7 cards has to give up half to the bank.

Which token should you rob?

  • Your opponent's most useful token.
    • Examine the board, notice any spots with a high concentration of settlements and cities. Look for spots where two or three players are all earning resources from one number, especially if it’s a high-probability number like 6 or 8—this is an ideal spot for the robber.

  • Target the person closest to victory and cover up their most productive number.
  • Be cautious. Don’t cover up one of your own numbers, and if you make a particularly aggressive move, expect other players to seek revenge.
  • Pro tip: Keep track of your resources! Remember, you don't want to give up half of your cards, so it might be wise to trade some of them away with another player or with the bank.

Cities

Cities earn you victory points and extra resources, so they’re the real cash cows in Catan. You can only build them on top of existing settlements, and once they’re in place, every number token bordering your city earns you 2 resource cards instead of 1.

Where should you build your city?

  • Consider your current and future resources. Look at the board and try to anticipate which resources you’re going to need more of. Later in the game, the answer will probably be wheat and ore, which you can use to build more cities. If you have a harbor, build your city on the corresponding resource and trade for what you need with the bank.
  • Remember: high-probability numbers and cities attract the robber. So if you put your city in a place with a lot of high-probability numbers, the next 7 might prevent you from reaping the benefits.

 


The Longest Road

The first player to build 5 consecutive roads earns the Longest Road, and it’s worth 2 victory points–20% of the way to victory. However, those 2 points can be stolen by whoever builds a road at least 1 segment longer. For some players, the ever-elusive Longest Road is the key to victory; for others, it’s their biggest downfall.

To get involved or not to get involved?

  • The Longest Road battle can continue indefinitely, with each player trying to outdo the other.
  • Roads themselves don’t earn you victory points, but they do cost valuable resources.
  • Real talk: treat it like a fun bonus, not something to strive for.

Development Cards

Development cards contain different benefits and can be bought with resource cards just like roads, settlements, and cities. You can’t choose exactly which card you’ll get, though. They include Knights, Monopoly, Road Builder, Year of Plenty, and One Free Victory Point.

Buying development cards requires sheep, wheat, and ore. If you have lots of these resources on hand but you're missing the brick and lumber you need to buy roads or settlements, spend them on development cards! In Catan, it's usually better to do something rather than nothing. Keep your cards hidden from the other players. They are most effective when your opponents don’t see them coming.

Knights

  • The Basics: These are the most common of the development cards. Knights have the same power as rolling a 7, but with a knight card, you get to decide when to activate it.
  • The Strategy:
    • In almost every Catan scenario, when your turn comes, it’s best to roll the dice before doing anything else; you never know what resources you’ll acquire. But if you have a knight card and the robber covers one of your numbers, you might want to switch things up. Play your knight before rolling so that, if the dice do land on that previously covered number, you’ll be free to take advantage.
    • The Largest Army Designation: The first person to play 3 knight cards earns the Largest Army designation, worth 2 victory points. But, as with Longest Road, the Largest Army is fickle. Anyone who plays at least 1 more knight can steal those 2 points.

Monopoly

  • The Basics: You announce a resource and every player has to hand over every card of that resource to you.
  • The Strategy: Use this one wisely—as in, when you are confident that the other players are holding the resource you want.

Road Builder

  • The Basics: This card gives you 2 free roads to build wherever you want.
  • The Strategy: It might be a great opportunity to try for Longest Road without spending any of your own resources.

Year of Plenty

  • The Basics: Choose any 2 resources from the bank.
  • The Strategy: Save this one up for when you’re stuck and can’t build anything new.

One Free Victory Point

  • Pretty self explanatory. The most valuable of the development cards, for obvious reasons.

Tips & Tricks

Catan is designed to be played with three or four people. If you have more friends than that, team up and play with three teams of two!

In most games, there is an abundance of sheep. If you fall victim to this plight, try building on a sheep harbor and trading in your sheep for something more desirable. Even without a harbor, you can trade 4 of 1 resource for 1 of any resource with the bank whenever you want. It’s a steep interest rate, but it’s reliable.

Keep track of others’ resources when deciding who to trade with. As the game progresses and players get closer to winning, notice who’s in the lead and proceed with caution. You don’t want to be the person who trades away the one resource someone needed to declare victory over you.

Catan can get cutthroat. If you catch yourself wanting to actually cut a throat, don’t. Remember it’s a board game and friends are more important than that tenth victory point.

Play Catan online. You can immerse yourself in digital Catan by playing through your browser or downloading Steam, a gaming app. Play against AI bots or other Catan lovers. There is a limited, free version of the game available, though purchasing the digital game is still less expensive than the physical version.


The Catan Community

Lovers of Catan exist far and wide and they love to talk about how much they love Catan.

  • Catan Universe is a one-stop shop for sharing strategies and stories with other fans of Catan. You plus 20 million people are all on a quest to master this addictive game.
  • Watch commentary on Catan world championships and learn new tips from a regional champion himself.
  • Meet the man behind the magic.
  • Catan, like all good things in life, has its own meme page.

Further Resources

Strategy:

  • Catan Strategy Guide—A thorough guide to all the different strategy options at different junctures throughout the game. This is for the more advanced player who wants to take things up a notch.
  • Catan Strategy: A Complete Guide to Winning the Popular Board Game—Written by Mark Oxer, the 2005 winner of the Catan Canadian Championship, this is a book filled with expert advice that will change the way you understand the game.

Films:

  • Going Cardboard: A Board Game Documentary —A 2012 movie about the introduction of German-style board games to America, featuring Catan creator Klaus Teuber.
  • The Lord of Catan—A short film about a husband and wife whose friendly game of Catan quickly escalates into a heated struggle for dominance.

Books:

  • The Settlers of Catan—A historical fiction novel set in the year 850 and based on the Catan universe.

Dictionary

Cities Cities are built on existing settlements and they earn double as many resources as settlements. Each city is worth 2 victory points.

Development cards Cards you can purchase with resources that offer different benefits to players.

Harbors Opportunities for maritime trade along the coast. Each one has a different ratio and corresponding resource. Harbors can be used by anyone who builds a settlement on one of their access points.

Knight A development card that activates the robber.

Largest Army 2 victory points awarded to the first player who plays 3 knight cards.

Longest Road 2 victory points awarded to the first player who builds 5 consecutive roads.

Resources Wheat, ore, lumber, sheep, and brick. These serve as money in Catan and they allow you to build your territory and trade with other players.

Roads The pieces that connect your territory. There must be at least 2 roads between any 2 of your settlements and cities.

Robber The piece used to cover number tokens, preventing that hex from producing resources. The robber is activated when a 7 is rolled and when a knight is played.

Settlements The pieces that allow you to earn resources. Build them on intersections of terrain hexes. Each settlement is worth 1 victory point.

Terrain Hexes Term for the hexagons that make up the board. Each hex represents a different type of terrain that produces 1 of the above resources.

Victory points The point system of Catan. The first player to earn 10 victory points wins.