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Every time I think I've mastered Settlers, I discover yet another novel tactic or strategy. This time it's Robber placement.

I've usually selected robber placement based on a combination of factors, including who is winning, which hex reduces the most dots worth of production (x2 for cities) that isn't mine, several variations on which resources are scare, whether a 2:1 port for an abundant resource is occupied, and trying to take a card I need from a player I think likely to have it. Which of these factors to emphasize for any given robber placement is a fairly complicated decision that depends on what stage of the game you're in, how much the leader is winning by, and what you're needing next.

All this is standard stuff for those who have played more than a few games. But I just ran across an idea I hadn't heard before:

When not trying to stop someone close to winning, nearly always place the robber on the most valuable hex of the person on your right only. The reason for this is that this person won't be able to retaliate for at least 3 rolls of the dice (in a 4 player game), while the other players may be more favorably disposed to you for not getting them. And if this player (to your right) retaliates, it is immediately your turn next giving you a chance to possibly roll a 7 or play the robber (if you have it). So assuming robber retaliation is somewhat predictable, this seems to be a sound strategy.

I don't have a strong opinion yet on how well the person-to-the-right robber placement strategy works - as I don't know how predictable retaliation is in general or with the specific groups I play with. But I do now wonder:

For advanced Settlers players, what is optimal robber placement? Is it this player-to-the-right placement method (because retaliation is mostly predictable)? Is it the standard tactics I listed above? Or are there different and perhaps more subtle tactics for Robber placement I haven't even thought of?

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Am I the only one to think that if you are going so deep in strategical and tactical aspects of a game like Settlers, then maybe you should play another game? I mean: Settlers is a family game, usually played for fun, where luck is a strong aspect of the game. There are a lot of games where thinking deeply on strategy and tactic will be worth the effort, but not Settlers. –  Djaian May 3 '13 at 10:33
@Djaian I don't think you're the only one who thinks that way. However, despite the seemingly big luck factors in games like Settlers, Dominion, Stone Age, etc. it is interesting that the very best players win most of the time and consistently do well in tournament settings. Perhaps my favorite of all games is the card game of Bridge which is obviously a fairly deep game. That doesn't mean I can't explore Settlers to its strategic limits, which apparently I haven't yet found. –  Joe Golton May 4 '13 at 4:05
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I can't figure out if you are asking one overly broad question, or many smaller-scoped questions... in any case:

The "player to the right" strategy ignores a few possibilities, including:
- one or both of the two players after you roll a seven,
- one or both of the two players after you play a soldier,
- your victim is known to (not) have in a particular resource in hand.

Retaliation is predictable in the sense that good players will make decisions based on cost/benefit/probability analysis (including "dots" on the chits, scarcity of resources, etc.), while poor players will be swayed by subjective reasoning (retaliation, etc.).

We play with promises of immunity, bribes - you name it. This makes it harder to pin-down a specific strategy, but I will say that it's mostly the analytical approach that you mention.

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My answer is very subjective:

I play for fun and not very competitively so when placing the robber, I take into account the "human factor". This is my thinking, "where you place the robber isn't as important as who you hurt by placing the robber". Maybe I just play with really vindictive players, but I find the robber really pees some people off. They stop trading with you and the talk trash about you, turning other players against you and now you have no chance of non-bank trading. (Also in the Cities and Knights expansion, people can really hurt you if they want to.)

The best Catan player I know places the robber on a 2 then 3,4,5,6,8,9,10,11,12 just so people know he's not trying to hurt anyone. It seemed to work for him.

I try to play on the 6 or 8 that two other players have built around. That way at least your spreading the pain around rather than targeting an individual.

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+1 for stressing the importance of the human factor. If you always play the robber to maximise the amount of pain, you aren't going to be a popular guy at the table. Personally I usually try to target the person who is (or is perceived to be) in the lead; or if I'm in the lead, the other player who is giving me the most grief about that! Playing the political game seems more important than the marginal utility of occasionally depriving a player of resources, unless maybe that player will win the next time a 6 is rolled or whatever... –  thesunneversets Apr 13 '12 at 9:14
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As you say, the decision of where to place the robber depends on a lot of factors, and their weight depends on the particular situation. I think it is worth considering turn order and likely robber residence-times, but these are just additional factors to consider. And whether each player has unplayed development cards that could be soldiers should be considered along with seat placement. If everyone has (potential) soldiers, then, all else being equal, I think the player-to-the-right would be the optimal choice.

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For the reasons you mentioned, you should place the robber on the player to your right, ALL OTHER THINGS BEING EQUAL.

Usually they aren't. But your "rule" is a good "tiebreaker." Meanaing that it is one of SEVERAL considerations (you've named most of the others).

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