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At one level, "longest road," is an "obvious" way to win the game.

At another level, could it be too obvious? That is, a player clearly pursuing this strategy might stir too much fear in opponents, who will then try to break up the road, or hamper him in other ways?

Also it requires an abundance of certain materials, namely wood and brick. Could a single-minded focus these materials hurt a player's game in other ways?

Is there a "better" way to build the longest road, i.e. build settlements with "short" roads some optimal distances apart, then connect them "naturally" toward the end, when opponents' attentions are focused elsewhere?

Do people in your games use a "longest road" strategy too much, or conversely, "too little?"

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This might be a little too open-ended... –  Gregor Oct 8 '12 at 0:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Like many great games, Settlers of Catan rewards those players who are willing to be adaptable.

Doggedly centering your strategy, from the beginning, on obtaining wood and clay (to the exclusion of other goods) and building road after road with it, is likely to secure you a certain number of victory points. That number is nowhere near enough to win you the game - you're going to have to do other things with your time and resources at some point to clinch first place.

Does the Longest Road bonus incentivise road building? Of course it does, to some extent, just as the Largest Army bonus incentivises buying cards. What it mostly does, though, is ensure that there is competition in various areas of the game. If only one player cares about roads, the Longest Road bonus will fall to them without any effort on their part. Likewise for Largest Army if only one player is bothering to buy cards. However, gamer psychology is such that, given an obvious bonus to be obtained, players will not be able to bear letting it go easily, and at least some of them are likely to compete vigorously for it.

As such, I see the Longest Road bonus less as "a strategy" and more as a nice little, well, bonus... if you're brave enough to enter into a competition with other players over it. Competition is necessary for a game to work, but it can, as you rightly point out, paint a general target on your forehead, or make enemies of specific other players. If that's not the type of thing you like to get involved in, you might indeed want to adopt a more surreptitious strategy.

Certainly I would tend to prefer not aiming for the Longest Road early: let other people set themselves up as "the one to beat" by gaining an early lead. Keeping an eye on the road situation, and perhaps setting yourself up to win with a late road-building spurt, is great though. As I say though, adaptability is key: if everyone in your group fancies themselves as road-builders, it's a very risky strategy. If no one else is doing it... you'd be a fool not to pile in there as quickly as possible, really!

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It seems like the best strategy then, is "hit them where they ain't." –  Tom Au 2 days ago

I think Longest Road gives a player who happens to have an abundance of wood and brick late-game a way to convert those resources into VPs, and deny those same VPs to others. It also rewards players who have built several settlements and built their opening settlements near each other, and slightly discourages shooting straight for cities--not that shooting straight for cities isn't still a great strategy if the appropriate resources are available.

Going for Longest Road before the player has at least 6 VPs from cities and settlements is probably a waste of resources in most cases. The opponents can make more valuable resource investments in the short term and fight for Longest Road later.

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Longest Road, while usually important to victory, is not worth pursuing to the exclusion of other elements. It's only 2 of the 8 additional victory points needed (remembering that it's a race to 10, and you start with 2 already).

It is, at best, 1/4 of your victory. Largest Army and new cities are likewise equally important.

For my own play, I've found that it's best to simply concetrate on getting the resource base you need, and then use longest road as a means to snap up the last 2 VP, rather than worth direct strategizing about... quite unlike one's establishment of settlements and cities.

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