Beat all your friends at Catan!

March 23, 2023

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Catan: if you’re a board game lover like me, you’ve probably heard of it. If not, then I really recommend taking a look at it. The game has a combination of luck and strategic thinking, and it is different each time you play it, as you can create a different playing board each time. This raises the question: is there a winning tactic, to beat your friends each time you play the game?

The game

First, a short introduction to the game. The game is based on a series of randomly placed hexagonal tiles. The tiles can denote five different resources (sheep, wheat, wood, brick, and ore). Moreover, there is one desert tile, where the robber is placed at the beginning of the game. Then, players try to build settlements and cities in order to get resources to build more settlements and cities. Moreover, a player can also buy development cards, which can give the player a special move or a victory point. For each settlement and city that is built, the player gets victory points. Then, the player that is the first to get 10 victory points wins. Here, you have to balance your timing of buying properties and trading cards with other players, which makes it a highly strategic game.

Rolling the dices

The first thing that we see when we look at the board, are the numbers placed on top of the tiles. If the number that is on the tile is thrown, the owners of the properties adjacent to the tile get resources. Hence, it is very convenient to have your settlements close to better numbers, as you will get resources more often. As two dice are thrown, you have the highest chance of throwing a 7. However, this is where the robber comes into play, which you can move if you have thrown a 7. Then, the second highest probability is for throwing a 6 or an 8. So, it seems that you can best place your settlement near a 6 or an 8. Here, all probabilities are shown:

The right intersection

However, in Catan, you place your settlements at an intersection. Thus, you need to take into account that you place your settlement next to three numbers that give you a good chance of getting resources. So, what is the best intersection to place your settlement? In some versions of Catan, all numbers have some dots below them, which are as follows:

\bullet:2, 12, \bullet \bullet:3, 11, \bullet \bullet \bullet:4, 10, \bullet \bullet \bullet \bullet:5, 9 and \bullet \bullet \bullet \bullet \bullet:6, 8. With this, the best intersection is quite easy to find: just add up all the dots. The intersection with the highest score is the best one! 

The reason for this is that the dots represent the probability of rolling the number. If for example, your settlement is on a 5/11/4 intersection (with respectively 4, 2, and 3 dots), then the chance that your settlement pays off is \frac{4}{36} + \frac{2}{36} + \frac{3}{36} = \frac{9}{36}

So, what are the best intersections? According to the official rules, you cannot have two adjacent hexes with the same number, you cannot have two adjacent tiles with 5 dots or with 1 dot, and you cannot have three adjacent tiles with the same number of dots. So, depending on how the board is set up, the most valuable intersections are as follows: 5-4-4 (with prob \frac{13}{36}) and 5-4-3 (with prob \frac{12}{36}). Hence, if you have no settlements near a 6 or an 8, don’t worry, you can still get some very good places for your properties!

General tips and tricks

Play by the numbers: place your first settlement at an intersection with a high score. Then, you can start by collecting resources and expanding your site. 
Know what resources you want: brick and wood are very important at the beginning, as you need them to build both roads and settlements. So, make sure to have a settlement near both of them. Then, try to expand to make sure that you can also get wheat, sheep, and ore in order to build cities and buy development cards.
Don’t forget the development cards: these cards have some very good advantages. Not only can they help you get further in the game, but they can also contain victory points! These are very convenient at the end of the game.
Be kind to your opponents: try to be nice to your opponents. Not only will it make them more likely to trade resources with you, but you can also make sure that they won’t get back at you by placing the robber near your settlements!

Now, let’s win!

So, next time you play Catan with your friends, make sure to follow these guidelines and you have a very great chance of winning game night! Do you want to read more about Catan? Make sure to check this article!

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