In the preliminary stage of the game, going first/last affects (and limits) your ability to pick the location for your two initial settlements. Either scenario seems to have advantages/disadvantages. If you go first, you get to put your first settlement on the best position (there may not always be a clear best position, but let's assume there is). However, for your second settlement, most good positions may have been already taken. If you go last, you don't necessarily get the best positions, but you get to choose your two positions back to back, which allows you to develop a more coherent strategy.

Obviously there are many parameters that come into play when determining who wins the game, but I've always wondered how significant the order of this initial turn might be. Has anyone looked into this?

  • 1
    Related, but not an answer. boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/2877/…
    – Jontia
    May 10, 2022 at 10:26
  • In addition to the question at hand, I think it'd be interesting to compare the two possibilities with neither going first nor last. The question seems to suggest that either of these possibilities will be optimal, but it would be nice to see a reason for that, if it is the case at all. May 10, 2022 at 10:56
  • Yes, I may not have expressed it clearly enough in my question, but I'm also considering that scenario as a potential optimal initial situation. I also didn't mention whether I was referring to a 3 or 4 person game, in which case the dynamic might be different. For example, going last in a 4 person game is pretty rough, and the back to back placement doesn't even really make up for it because all the best spots have usually been taken. May 10, 2022 at 11:56
  • You also need to factor in the group you play with as going first with one group could be important while going last with another group is better.
    – Joe W
    May 10, 2022 at 13:25
  • If by "group" you mean the players, I agree. Here I'm assuming all players are good and will pick close-to-optimal positions on their turn. Another important variable is the board itself too. But overall, I'm curious to hear folks' thoughts on the effects of starting turn and if there are any underlying truths we can come up with. May 10, 2022 at 13:31

2 Answers 2


The authors of the game have derived the system to make it as levelled as possible, and in that sense, the odds should be the same irrespectively of the order one starts with.

Having played the game a few hundred times, I have never really experienced any difference in the outcome based on starting order, so if an effect exists, it is probably small.
But then again, it might be impossible to estimate such an effect, because there are too many confounding factors that you cannot realistically control for.

I believe it is really hard to isolate an effect because even if you were able to conduct a proper experiment, where each player would play the game many times with 3 or 5 other players, and then evaluate how many times they won given the starting order, I suspect that such results would only be valid for that set of players. Depending on the set of players that you might be playing with, say players with an aggressive versus a defensive strategy, or players that are fond of progress cards vs players that are fond of ports, or whatever, you would end up with a different result.

Worse, even for a given set of players, over time folks will adjust play based on tactics other players tend to use, and so any advantage a given strategy could have in the beginning might change over time, and then the effect of starting order would change over time too.

Without really knowing of a proper study that looks into it, I’m willing to bet that this will not have been looked at in an experimental setup, simply because it would be really hard to so in practice. It seems like this would be possible to evaluate this via a simulation where each player has clearly defined constant strategies, but whether that would be of any use in a real-life scenario is a different question. Maybe it would be a fun project for an MSc in Operational Research or some such!

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    I will add that the developers intending and trying to make it balanced neither means that they necessarily succeeded, nor that it's possible to do so. It isn't uncommon for systems to appear sound at first glance (to developers and players alike), but turn out to be broken at closer inspection. Perhaps this game has seen enough play to conclude that there's only insignificant differences - but I still have to remark the logical fallacy. May 13, 2022 at 10:49
  • "too many confounding factors" - This is the key point. There are absolutely map set ups where there is a single clear fantastic starting spot and absent awful dice rolls the first player will ride this to victory. Equally there are maps with lots of decent spots that being able to pick two together is so advantageous that the last player romps home. And there's so much in between that relies on good/odd picks by players 2 and 3. And then there's Dice. You can make all the right choices, and then never see a 6 rolled all game.
    – Jontia
    May 25, 2022 at 11:36

I like first or last the most.

As a first you can get the best triple of ressources, but need to have less decision on the second triple.

As the last player you have less choice but you can instantly set two settlements.

But as others said, the system of the starting in Catan is perfectly balanced.

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    "the system of the starting in Catan is perfectly balanced." Do you have evidence for this statement - e.g. the distribution of wins vs starting position in high-level play? Jan 23, 2023 at 11:20
  • I never had any problems starting with other positions. The only important part is to take the correct ressources. Even had once that last player only had shit but he could rule the world with sheep monopoly. If you really want to dig statistics, you can look at this excel, but I didn't studied it docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/…
    – pemko
    Jan 23, 2023 at 13:02
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    "I never had any problems" is not the same as "the system is perfectly balanced"; or in other words, the plural of "ancedote" is not "data". Jan 23, 2023 at 13:12

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