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For instance, is accumulating cards less visible/threatening than accumulating resources, settlements or roads?

Conversely, is building "basic strength" (e.g. settlements and cities) less provocative than going after a single resource? Yet could this be more effective (because it allows you to pursue multiple resources) than obviously trying to "corner" one?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Hoarding developments cards is a great way. Here's a few specifics on that, along with a few ways that don't involve development cards (note that you usually don't want to exploit your hidden strength until you think it will propel you to victory):

  • Hold off using a Monopoly card even if you get it very early in the game. Wait for exactly that right moment when there are many of one resource that you can monopolize and efficiently convert into several settlements/cities/dev cards.
  • Hold off using a Road Building card until it results in you getting longest road and a new settlement all on the same turn.
  • Hold off using a Year of Plenty card until you happen to have a card combo in your hand where employing it results in a 3 victory point turn.
  • Have a couple roads that go off to horribly unproductive locations - but are nonetheless potential settlement sites. Many people automatically assume you'll never build there - but you will on the turn it vaults you to victory.
  • People often have no clue that you'll have longest road with just 2-3 more road links closing 1 or 2 loops. Do this on purpose.
  • If playing with the Seafarers expansion, have extra ships available that you will eventually use to build a surprise settlement, or better yet a surprise settlement on a new island that gets you a victory point bonus, or best of all combine with leaping to longest road. But of course try not to make it obvious you're planning this.

Of course, if you have a hand of 7 unplayed development cards, you will be greatly feared so all the hidden strength tactics involving development cards work best when you have 2-3 unplayed cards.

Perhaps the most important hidden strength:

Gear your initial settlement placement and early building towards the end game. In other words - go for ore and grain, with a little sheep thrown in. You will fall behind in the beginning but so long as you get at least 1 additional settlement, you'll have no problems towards the end of the game while others stall out. Taken to extremes, it's possible to win with only 2 settlements, as I did here (nobody realized how strong I was until the game was just about over - those 15 development cards were all mine, though I didn't have enough turns to play them all!):

White wins without ever building a road

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That's the only thing that (sort of) worries me about this answer - a big stack of development cards is all very well, but holding them all up until the "optimum" time may not leave you enough time to play them all! In general though I endorse this answer, development cards are a strong way to conceal the true strength of your position. You have to watch out though that you aren't playing with the sort of opponents who think "hmm, he has three development cards I don't know what they are - better count him as being 2VPs better off than he seems to be" and attack you :D –  thesunneversets Oct 10 '12 at 9:12
    
@thesunneversets I agree with you that sharp players will be wary of a good player holding 3 unplayed dev cards. That's why you need a big bag of tricks. Note that 3 of the items above don't involve dev cards (4 if you count the seafarers tip). –  Joe Golton Oct 10 '12 at 23:19
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Hold a Monopoly card. Most opponents will assume it is a VP card, but played at the right time you can use it to create a huge turn.

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