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Initial settlement placement in Catan can really affect the outcome of the game. What strategy do you follow in Settlers of Catan for initial settlement placement. Does this strategy change if you have first, or last placement? Also, when playing Seafarers, do you alter your placement strategy?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 27 down vote accepted

If I'm the first player, I always go for the most powerful settlement, since I have no idea what I'll get when it comes back around to me.

If I'm last, I grab spots that based on the numbers and the available ports will get me an advantage. I also like to try to place the second settlement on a brick/wood combo so I can start with a road.

The other positions are variations in between the others.

In general, I try very hard for number diversity. I love it when I can get both a 6 and an 8 placement. Next in line is at least 3 of the following: 5, 6, 8, 9.

The final thing you have to look out for is that you have somewhere to go.

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+1 for number diversity. –  Commodore Jaeger Oct 20 '10 at 1:09
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+1 for numbers. It's more important to be getting ANY resource quickly than to get a specific resource with a lousy number. –  lilserf Oct 20 '10 at 7:09
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I also find that having a 4 and a 10 is helpful in providing diversity, too. –  ristonj Aug 17 '11 at 17:53
    
Resource diversity is still important though, especially for the player who places settlements LAST. Easy to see what resources are going to be rare amongst other players, which sets you up for steady trade. –  heathenJesus Oct 10 '13 at 21:38
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Don't forget that if you put down the number tokens in a random way, then you shouldn't put 6 and 8 tiles next to each other ever. (the rules state that: "In such case, the tokens with the red numbers must not be next to each other."). When we forgot to enforce this role then the first player usually steals a place with multiple red tokens which usually breaks the balance of the game –  SztupY Oct 11 '13 at 12:17

There are a ton of variables to deal with, such as where everyone else has already placed, the numbers on the resources, and nearby ports.

I always like to try and get my brick/wood combo on my first placement, because that's absolutely necessary for roads and settlements. For my second placement, I'll go for whatever I'm lacking. If you have to skip out on a resource, I generally skip out on ore, because you don't need it until late game.

There are always exceptions -- I'm a sucker for a high-number resource with a matching port nearby. I'm also a sucker for placing two settlements so I can get both numbers -- yesterday I managed to get lumber and brick on 6's -- instant roads for every six.

I haven't played Seafarers, can't help you there.

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Tip: do not try seafarers. Knights and City's is the only true expansion! –  Powertieke Oct 20 '10 at 6:54
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@Powertieke I like Seafarers but I'm a big fan of the map diversity. –  ICodeForCoffee Oct 20 '10 at 16:46

Complementary to some of the advice above, I generally follow a two-step process, especially when I don't have first pick:

(a) see which resource is going to be rarest in the game, by the numbers; (b) pick the most advantageous point on the best number hex for that resource.

If I'm going last-first-round, first-second-round, this is especially powerful; if there's a single resource that has something like a 2-11-5 mix of numbers, I can completely monopolize the 5 with my dual placement.

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I consider these in the following order, mostly because those listed first are more obvious and easier to assess:

  • resources production rates
  • spacing / room to expand
  • resource conversion potential at ports (trading with the bank)
  • dependence of strategies on trading
  • sizing up opponent

Adding up the dots on the dice roll chips to get an idea of the production rates of a given vertex is like a non-committal first pass to see what spaces are immediately viable. You need to have a very pointed strategy in mind to deviate from going for these high probability spots for your initial placement simply because you're not likely to get much to pick from by the time you place your second settlement. Naturally, playing a 2-player game allows more flexibility than if you're in a 4-player game and first to place. The point is simply that the further away your turn is for your next placement the more heavily you should weight simply looking at production rates.

Beyond that, eyeing certain ports because they give an exchange rate with the same resource that they border can offer a place to settle that others might disregard or overlook. Again, however, placing your initial settlement here is probably not worth it in my opinion if it risks giving up a high production rate vertex. Being any player other than the last to place the initial settlement puts you at least two placements away from your next opportunity on a pretty small board.

Consider what resources you can imagine you'll end up securing based on your first move. As first of four players, this can be difficult and you likely should simply play the highest production rate vertex. As third of four, you might get a good idea 50%+ of the time what you may end up securing, so can consider what strategy you might use and how much it depends on trading with other players. Do you expect to have a resource that is particularly low in production probability (and thus less worry over not having particular resources on your own settlements)?

Size up the personality of your opponents. Are they straight forward by the numbers, or wild vengeful spouses who delight in attacking their partner, or meek and easily convinced. How do they perceive you? If you are the resident veteran, you might take some of the heat off of the likelihood of your opponents ganging up on you by completely forgoing the obvious best placement in favor of having solid arguments why another player is always 'in the lead'. You might take a strategy that is more transparent if players are always suspecting you and avoid placements that lean toward development cards.

Considering your opponents' tendencies is the most underutilized (and the most fun when you get it right).

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I try to maximize the number of numbers I have. This works especially well when playing with the lake tile from Traders and Barbarians.

In the last game I played, I was eventually able to get something (unless being robbed or a seven is rolled) with each roll and won because of it.

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I try to get a rock wheat intersection. I find I win more often if I can get cities up fast. Then I collect double on the good middle numbers as opposed to expanding to less desirable numbers. A harbor with a couple of good sources is good too. One good source is not enough as the other players can keep the robber on it if you are ahead and they work agaisnt you. A good brick wood intersection is more important on a more crowded board, 4 players, to grab up space at the beginning.

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Depends on the starting order, but generally speaking, going for maximum number of dice opportunities is not ideal according to my experience. Getting lots of varied income will force you to either make shitty 4-1 trades or risk losing cards when someone rolls 7.

The best strategy according to me is to aim for one specific port and lots of income in the corresponding resource. This will let you complement whatever other resources you DO get to actually match the requirements for what you're going to build. This will let you buy whatever you want often enough while never losing resources to the robber.

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One more tip, I always size up what the most scarce resource is, and unfairly favor it. For example, if the only sheep spaces are a 5 on the coast, a 3 and 11, I'd be pretty hard pressed to not take the 5 if I know I'll be the only or 1 of two with access to it.

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