Part of what makes Settlers of Catan both balanced and exciting are two sets of slow-the-leader rules: The robber and trade embargoes. While this means you have a chance to win even after a slow start or a seemingly poor starting position, it conversely means it can be difficult to close out the game for victory after having a great starting position, making many great tactical decisions, and having the lead for most of the game. The most extreme example I've seen is the leading player with 8 victory points lose to a player who had 4 victory points, 10 to 9, as everyone successfully and almost completely stalled out the leader for many turns. Much more common are games where someone reaches 8 or 9 points first goes on to lose to someone with 2 fewer victory points.

Is there one (or a small set of) end play technique(s) that significantly increase(s) one's chances of winning when faced with opponents who competently employ slow-the-leader techniques?

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    Arguably, the slow-the-leader techniques you have to defend against are the less competent ones - the ones where people expend too much trying to defeat the leader, at the cost of their own success. (The extreme example you gave could have been like that.)
    – Cascabel
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 23:23
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    @Jefromi My high-school best friend had an absolute gift, in any game, for getting everyone else stuck on "slow the leader" even after their original target obviously wasn't the leader anymore, while he just durdled his way to victory quietly in the background. :)
    – Alex P
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 16:41

4 Answers 4


Plan your last few VPs with resources you can gather yourself. For example, if you have decent wheat and ore resources, build your extra villages before your towns. That way when you have only the cities left to build and are a VP or two away, you can finish off on your own power without trading. Obviously ports can increase your versatility in this manner.

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    I agree. I would also add that it's good to be able to win without needing to expand into contested territory - for example, plan to complete the longest road by an internal connection that others can't build in to. Or plan to build a settlement at the end of a road that isn't (or better - can't be) contested. Or convert villages to cities, or play soldier cards. This prevents other players from making poor trades purely to be able to prevent you from expanding. Of course, if you CAN expand into contested territory, you should :) Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 23:24

In my (amateur, non-tournament) experience, hoarding a couple of dev cards is the strongest protection against disruption by other players in the late game.

In addition to the hidden Victory Point cards, you can use Monopoly, Year of Plenty, Road Building, and sometimes even Soldier cards to unexpectedly snatch up the final point or two that you need to seal up the game. Good players, of course, won't just ignore your dev cards, but they still don't know exactly what you're going to do to win (e.g. build up, build out, claim Longest Road, build a single extra settlement and then plop down two VPs in cards).

Also, unlike resource cards, dev cards are safe in hand. The only game mechanic that discourages stockpiling development cards is the one-card-per-turn limit.

One downside of this late-game plan is that some opponents may overvalue your dev cards, leading them to punish you with "slow-the-leader" tactics even when you're already rather behind. Another is that the cards you draw are random, so it's quite possible you'll "whiff" and get something you can't use.

  • Doesn't the limit on playing dev cards apply to all types (with Victory cards being revealed, rather than played)? Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 23:26
  • @TheChaz Just checked the rules. You are correct. Modified accordingly!
    – Alex P
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 1:15
  • Things have changed a lot in the 11 years since I first played. It used to be the rule that trading and buying were separate phases in one's turn, and once you had started to buy, you couldn't return to trade (even 3:1, 4:1 etc) Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 1:19
  • @TheChaz — If I remember correctly, that was a mistranslation by Mayfair Games (but oh, the arguments I've seen at tournaments).
    – Quentin
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 21:07
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    IMO, This was the most complete of the top 3 answers but the other 2 answers are also well worth reading.
    – Joe Golton
    Commented Apr 19, 2012 at 14:31

Hoarding development cards and developing self-sufficiency, as mentioned by other answers, are two good common strategies I've seen employed often in Settlers. They do work, but a highly cooperative defense can stop even a fairly self-sufficient leader with 1-2 random development cards. Sometimes these will be the only options available to the leader.

However, I've found that "sneak attacks" work even better, when they are available as an option. What all sneak attacks have in common is that you purposely do NOT take the lead, but rather stay just a point or two behind the leader or perhaps convince other people that even though you're tied for the lead that the other person is more likely to win. Then, when the right circumstances hit, you leap to victory on a turn where you start with only 6 or 7 victory points.

There are a number of ways to do this. Here are some more common ones:

  • 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.
  • Sometimes people have a hard time seeing how your disjoint road network can turn into a longest road by closing certain loops. This one is actually the most common type of successful sneak attack for me - people often have no clue that I can take the longest road with just 2-3 more road links closing 1 or 2 loops.

If you have to spend many turns defending against endless robber attacks and overly cooperative trading, you may or may not win no matter how good you are. On the other hand, if you time a sneak attack right, you just win.

  • This is what I was going for when I wrote my answer (hoarding the dev cards that will be useful to you).
    – Alex P
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 15:43
  • @alexP Your answer is good and mine does overlap somewhat but I shifted the emphasis from unplayed dev cards to sneakiness, which doesn't always require dev cards (see my 4th and 5th points above related to useless settlement sites and connecting disparate roads).
    – Joe Golton
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 16:02
  • I actually like your answer better than mine, since I think it does a better job of addressing why you might want dev cards and what you're actually going to do with them. :)
    – Alex P
    Commented Apr 1, 2012 at 20:43

Yes, an optimal strategy does exist. What that optimal strategy would be though, would depend upon when your opponents start to slow the leader. Let's assume that in your group that your opponents begin attempting to slow the leader at 8 VP. Your best approach then would to make sure that you are self sufficient by 7 VP, and have some defense against the robber.

  • Self sufficiency can be obtained by controlling a 3:1 port, or by controlling a 2:1 specific resource port, although the latter is more susceptible to Robber disruption.

  • Robber defense is best accomplished by trading Ore, Grain, and Sheep for development cards. The rules, if I remember them correctly allow you to use a development card before you roll, so you should have at least one uninterrupted resource roll. If all your opponents are always moving the robber over your developments, make sure to block their Ore, Grain, and Sheep production to reduce the number of Knight development cards moving the robber. The nice thing about all your opponents buying Development cards, is that it makes it easier to ensure the 7- cards necessary for the Knight 2VP bonus.

  • I don't understand that last sentence. In my version of the game (2007?), the only requirement for Largest Army is having 3+ Knights and more Knights than anyone else.
    – Alex P
    Commented Mar 28, 2012 at 13:11
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    If you count the Knight cards, you will find that there are 14. If you have 7, you ensure you get largest army. If you have 3+ players buying Knight cards, you need fewer than 7 to ensure largest army.
    – user1873
    Commented Mar 29, 2012 at 5:56

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