Cities and Knight advanced tactics
This guide will be updated periodically.
First and foremost - thanks to all Catan poster. The https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/97451/almost-complete-citie..., for example is pretty exhaustive in term of describing all ins and outs. I am not going to repeat it but instead build on top of it and on top of other threads in this section.
This is not a complete and well organized guide. This is a collection of tactical tricks to help already good players advance a little more. I assume the reader is well knowledgeable in the subject already: played 100+ games, knows all rules, knows all progress cards, advantages of each build path, etc.
This guide is for online Catan Universe game C&K on Seafarer maps for 3-4 people. Board version is supposed to have same exactly rules but don't quote me on that.
STATISTICAL DATA (for reference)
Average number of turns to get one cards depending on resource yield (combined over all resource tiles you harvest from).
pips turns 1 36 2 18 3 12 4 9 5 7 6 6 7 5 8 5 9 4
How many safe turns you have until first pirate attack.
turns chance, % 7 99 8 96 9 91 10 83 11 73 12 61 13 50 14 40 15 30
You probably should expect at least 9 safe turns. Any plan that relies on protecting your city in 12+ turns is risky.
Tile yield = Number of dots.
City/settlement yield = Combined yield of all adjacent tiles. Times two for city.
Total yield = combined yield of all your cities/settlements.
Cluster = adjacent tiles of same type.
The strongest tactical advantage in the game. No joking. Unfortunately, Catan is very luck dependent game. Lucky players can absolutely safely disregard all other tactical hints in this manual. They will win nevertheless. That is kind of sad seeing lucky novice outplaying unlucky master but it is the game. I put it there for everyone awareness. Better play will let you win somewhat more often but not always.
EXPONENTIAL GROWTH AND IMPORTANCE OF EARLY SUCCESS
Catan is a standard economical development game with exponential growth. More yield -> faster growth -> even more yield, etc. The important consequence of this is that early success worth more than late one. Specifically, about 12/3 = 4 times more! Pay most attention to early stage of the game. Spend all of time in choosing initial position and immediate development plan. Everything else is relatively less relevant.
Example of usual choice. You place your city last and you see two good spots two steps apart (one road distance): A and B. A has slightly better and balanced yield but B is slightly better strategically. Like if you place it on B you'll cut one of the opponents and get relatively undisturbed expansion to A later. Placing on A will give you more resources and you probably can extend to B later but you will be competing with an opponent. With all other conditions being equal - place on A! The slight advantage at the beginning is the huge advantage. It won't matter whether you win or lose the race to B. With more resources you will always have other ways to develop.
Another example. You can chose either better initial yield without much thinking about expansion or poor initial yield with brilliant development strategy. Something like capturing a cluster on one side and corresponding port on the other. Chose better initial yield. Remember exponential growth? If you need two settlements to realize excellent strategy such strategy should QUADRUPLE your effective yield to even be considered. Most likely if such lucrative strategy exists it will be quite visible and other players would try to get a piece of it. With poorer initial cash flow you won't be able to execute it.
Neglect future strategical plans in favor of immediate yield advantage. The one with the biggest current yield wins.
YIELD vs BALANCE
Many manuals suggest to balance yield. That is to try equalize each resource yield for more versatile game. That is a misconception. Equalizing resource yield per se does not give you any noticeable benefits. Let me explain. First of all, due to the discrete nature of the game you cannot possible equalize them at start. Not even close. You have 5 resources and about 6 fields your initial placements touch. Besides, one of your placement is a city that roughly doubles each tile production. On top of that you have trade resources yield that is quite difficult to compare with regular resources. Furthermore, your planned strategy may consume resource in different proportions. You got the point.
Income will be heavily imbalanced anyway by the dice randomness. Even if you managed to achieve perfect yield equality among all resources this doesn't give you steady flow of each during the game. One round you may have surplus of one next round it's other, etc. You WILL be trading your surplus in unfavorable way to compose desired resource combination. If your resource yield is equal you'll trade different resources each time (the one you currently have surplus of). If your resource yield is slightly unequal you will still end up trading. However, you will trade some resource more frequently than others. No big deal.
More important thing is to have each resource in decent enough amount. The imbalance does not bite you as long as you have about 4 pips combined yield for each resource. This allows you to stay versatile and flexible and have a chance to build everything available in the game. You start experiencing more and more problems when some of your resource yields fall below 4. The problem is that resource shortage restricts your strategical flexibility and requires MORE THAN USUAL unfavorable trades. That impacts your development speed.
As a rule of thumb if I have one initial resource yield at 2-3 I reevaluate my future development plan and make sure this restriction doesn't impact it much. For example, if I have lumber or brick shortage I make sure I at least can build cities, knights, and improvements at high enough speed to compensate for lack of expansion. Or, if I lack ore I make sure I have plenty space to expand to use my lumber and brick.
Overall, it is better to have yield 33333 than 11555. In second case you have bigger total yield but you'll spend more in trades to cover your shortage. At the same time 44666 is better than 55555. In first case you have higher total yield and you don't have any particular weak area.
When choosing initial placement first assure you have no resource shortage below 4 pips. The lower the worse. Second, maximize your total yield. Do not try to equalize yield between resources. As long as you have 4 pips on each the inequality is irrelevant.
YIELD vs TRADE FLEXIBILITY (SPECIALIZED RESOURCE PORT)
To port or not to port - that's the question. Port gives you flexibility at the expense of production. You trade your surplus for only 2:1 ratio. Flexibility lets you be adaptive and react to the board situation more effectively. Flexibility value changes over course of the game, though.
At start everyone in quite inflexible due to limited income and dice randomness. At this point port gives your jump advantage in building first knight, reaching key points on a board or erecting aqueduct, etc. As player empires grow they become less susceptible to dice randomness due to larger range of numbers covered. Then port advantage diminishes slightly but still can be useful in building improvements. Even with port flexibility you still need high significant income to make port useful. Otherwise, what is the point of the port if you have nothing to trade there? In my past games I found players with higher income beating my port based empire almost always.
My rule of thumb is to go for port if your port based total yield is slightly better than non-port one. Otherwise, don't go for port initially. You can plan to capture it later if you like.
Grab port initially only if its total yield is higher than non-port alternative.
INITIAL RESOURCE MIX TO SECURE A KNIGHT
Secure first knight. The best way is to get guaranteed resources from city. If you don't get your wool-grain-ore from city but it is touching your settlement instead you should have at least 4 pips on them. Even then there is about 20% chance you don't get this resource in 12 turns and may lose your city. Trading with players is unreliable. Sometimes it works, sometimes don't. What I found experimentally is that it is much safer to rely on trading your excess resource with bank to get missing pieces. For example, if your wool-grain-ore is not guaranteed by city and your settlement harvests all three of them with 4-4-4 pips on each there is a hefty 50% (!!!) chance you don't get at least one of them in 12 turns. Very risky. From the other hand, if you place your city on two brick tiles with 4-4 pips that gives you 8 * 2 (city) = 16 combined yield. In 9 safe turns you'll get exactly 4 bricks and can exchange them with bank to get a missing piece of a puzzle. Mission complete.
- The more of wool-grain-ore you get from City the better.
- If not, get them from the settlement preferably with 3-5 pips on each. The higher the better.
- In addition to #2 or if you have a huge shortage of one of them secure high yield of any resource to trade it with bank for missing pieces.
NO-KNIGHT STRATEGY (expansion focused)
To complete previous section here is the case when non-knight strategy may work. I do not recommend it as it rather narrow tailored but if your opponents cut you from ore it may be better alternative to grabbing that worthless 1-pip ore field.
Forget ore. Do not build knights ever. Maximize everything else with emphasis on lumber and brick. Other option is to get a port to trade excess resources. You can also plan to grab port soon since you will be expanding quickly. Eye expansion territory. It shouldn't be highest quality but at least some average one. Your goal is to expand to 5 settlements quickly and build up your income. If you can get ore along the way - perfect. Otherwise, no worries. With bigger income you can afford to trade it 4:1 to rebuild your lost city later.
Your advantage is not wasting resources and time on knight. You also get more other resources on average due to lack of ore. You start expanding immediately and secure strategical locations. Unfortunately, that's all. Even with 5 settlements your income is just 5/3 of your opponents initial one. And if they were lucky to expand a little you are just on par with them. Your best bet is to cut them from large piece of territory so that even when you slow down to rebuild a city you still have expansion room later and your opponents are congested.
I have to admit that this strategy is not a cakewalk. Even with space advantage I struggle to regain economical power and rarely win. It is fun to try, though.
Initial placement is a key to success or failure. It defines your following strategy and game flow. You could win or lose by this even before game starts. It is the only time in the game that requires deep multi-step analysis. The rest of the game is kinda primitive.
This section should go first by importance. It is there only because it uses concepts from above section to plan further strategy.
Use your time to analyze board while other players place their pieces. Find key feature and and the best way to exploit them.
How much of each resource is on a board and how they are distributed?
distributed evenly or grouped in side area
Board featured configurations
- even: about same amount of each resource and they are evenly distributed across the board.
- scarce resource: all resource tiles have only 1-3 pips.
- abundant resource: 3+ resource tiles with 4+ pips each.
- abundant clustered resource: same as above but resource tiles are also clustered.
INITIAL PLACEMENT (generic advice)
Try to maximize your income. When everybody follow this rule then everybody would get about the same income after forward and backward placement cycle. Failure to do so lets your opponent to grab better spots on both forward and backward cycles and outrun you.
Among few good placement chose the one blocking your opponents as much as possible. This is another key to the placement that is often overlooked. Remember that experienced opponent will do the same to you.
INITIAL PLACEMENT (going first)
You place your city last and will get worst and unpredictable placement. Your best bet on first turn is to maximize your income since your second placement will have lower income. Remember that if you don't take best spot it will be taken by others. So going for 1-pip lower spot you give 2-pip advantage to your opponent.
Here are your best placements in order of preference.
- A best income spot with three resources.
- A best or second best spot cornering rare resource. Like 5-pips grain when all other grain tiles are 1-2 pips. Even better if this rare resource is on an edge of the board. This way you most likely won't share it with anyone.
- A best or second best spot with corresponding port nearby. Could be on a cluster of this resource.
With the choice between few good spots chose the one that gives your either more rare resources or more rarely CONNECTED IN ONE SPOT resources. This gives you better chance on balancing your income since more abundant resources or resource combinations are less likely to be blocked by opponents.
That is a super powerful technique. Let me try to express it in other words. When you place your first piece look over for spots where you can grab two missing resources from. Now understand opponents would likely take best of these spots away. Estimate what is left. Now compare you two first placement choices not by yield you get from it but by yield you get from the second placement.
Example. You see two good spots A and B with three resources each and 11+ combined yield each. Now look at how many spots are on a board with two missing resources connected. Say for A it is 0 and for B it is 5. Then the choice B is clearly better even if it is 2 pips total yield lower just because with A you will be missing one resource completely. Say now A has 2 spots for supplementary resources and B has 4. B is still much more preferable because there is a high chance 4 other placements after yours will take away or block these 2 useful spots. Whereas there is lower chance this is happening for 4 since other two players will go for diversity as well and most likely won't need more than 2 of them.
This is true for true diversity strategy. For port strategy you may live with shortage but the analysis approach is the same. Think about best spots for your second piece and select the first placement that keeps your second placement options wide. It is stupid to hope the single beautiful spot that completes your empire will be not taken.
Cornering rare resource does not help you directly but impacts your opponents especially at the beginning of the game. Trade of rare resource is not that beneficial as they usually need only limited number of it at the beginning. Later on they will develop their own ways to get it from land or bank. Besides, they are aware you cornered it and won't like to support your daylight robbery on exchange. That is why I do not recommend cornering resource strategy that is significantly impact your income in general. In other words, it is cool to have decent income AND corner a resource but cornered resource doesn't compensate for significant yield impact.
Having specialized port helps only if you have a lot of this resource to trade. So you either should place on cluster from the beginning or expand to more of this resource soon. You need this trading resource income to be at least twice as high comparing to your other resources. Otherwise, it doesn't help much and I don't recommend going for port unless it is one of the best spots on the board by itself.
If you have choice between 3 resource spot vs. 2 resource spot. Pick 2 resources spots only if its total yield is 2-pips higher than the best 3 resources spot and corresponding port does not have good resources on or near it. So that there is a high chance nobody would take or block your port. Remember that you limit your strategy by being port dependent. If they grabbed your port - you are dead.
INITIAL PLACEMENT (going last)
Somehow going last is perceived as a best position. One of the opponents in my past game said something like "I placed first but still won". Like it matters. Indeed I didn't notice turn order affecting winning. Each turn position has its advantages and we are going to exploit them 100%! Let's see what can we get by going last.
First obvious advantage is that it easier to visualize your entire empire placement at once. And this leads to securing your future strategy. You can assure you have enough resources for what you planning.
Second obvious advantage is that you place your city first and grab best goods producing spot.
Third (not obvious) advantage is that you can predict you opponents' second desired spot since they already made their first placement.
Here are some good placement strategies capitalizing on these advantages.
I am telling you. Improvements are undervalued. They are very powerful. They seem to be not that powerful only because in most of the games all players are more or less on par in improvement development. So the effect is nullified. Whereas quickly getting ahead in improvement development and start receiving cards before your opponents do is a major advantage. Improvement path doesn't matter as long as you can get ahead quickly. Only the sheer number of progress cards matters. Having progress cards when your opponents do not have them doubles the benefit. They suffer but cannot return nasty surprises to you. Progress cards are especially beneficial at the beginning when cards like Merchant, Resource monopoly, Bishop, Deserter, Road building, Medicine can compensate for the lack of certain resources.
Of course, science path is slightly better due to aqueduct. So you should prefer wood tiles for your city with all other conditions being equal.
Another good thing about early improvement development is that some resource cards (Saboteur, Deserter, Master merchant, Wedding) let you effectively combat leader(s). So even if you are behind in VPs you most likely never end up last.
Balance your income and place city on a spot with more improvement producing resources. If uncertain, place city to get most of wood-grain-ore as free resource securing first knight faster.
Since your placement is uninterrupted you can place settlement on a port and city on a cluster of corresponding resource. The type of resource do not matter as you either get double income or goods in high frequency which contributes to improvement strategy. The choosing rules is same as I described in YIELD vs TRADE FLEXIBILITY section. Choose port strategy only if your total income is better than diversified placement or if you plan to get more of this resource quickly.
This one I actually do not recommend for player placing last since two opponents can destroy your plans easily with their following placements.
INITIAL PLACEMENT (going second)
This is quite an interesting position. You already see first player placement and can predict their second placement. Try to think as third player and predict their whole empire placement. Then you can figure you your best options.
Few key pointers
Do not plan anything that is easy to disrupt. Do not place on port if there is only one spot for corresponding resource where you can harvest it in high quantities. For example, if there are only three connected hexes with this resource on a whole board. Then there is a high chance player after you would want it too and block you from this juicy central spot. From the other side, if there are plenty of this resource on a board and they are easily reachable from one point - do place on port.
Out of few comparable opportunities chose the one that disrupt best placement for next player. Do not sacrifice much of your income on it, though. You are squeezing only one opponent, not both.
As I highlighted in "INITIAL PLACEMENT (going last)" section, getting early advantage in improvement building is quite powerful. Whenever I see anyone rapidly advancing in multiple paths at once it always means trouble for me. Such player don't even need to expand faster then others at the beginning. At some point their progress card advantage becomes so powerful they start beat opponents in all aspects including expansion.
So place your city on most wood-sheep-ore pips as possible.
This one is quite different from improvement strategy even though it generally in line with it. The goal here is not to get more progress cards but to get aqueduct fast. With aqueduct you get guaranteed card on every roll except 7. This approximately adds 50% to your income at early stages plus you get to choose which resource you get. That is an IMMENSE (both bold and capitalized) advantage. To get this pretty fast you need to place your city at two adjacent forests with decent number of pips. This strategy has its downside, though. You won't get aqueduct until first pirate attack. So you need to preserve your city. For that you need to use your settlements to extract knight resources: sheep-grain-ore. If you lack one of them you can hope to accumulate enough lumber to exchange for missing knight resource.
When you place not last you may not have a luxury to leave the spot that you planned for city. You have to take it right away with your settlement to deny it to opponents. Now if this spot can produce a lot of goods you may want to convert your settlement to city quickly. For that secure a lot of grain and ore. You'll naturally build your second city soon since grain and ore is all you have. This strategy is also quite attractive since grain and ore are two components for the knight and you need to protect your cities to benefit from them. You may either claim some sheep hex or maximize your grain and ore input to exchange them for sheep. This strategy lets you get both knights and cities pretty quick and easy. What else you need to succeed in the game called "Cities and Knights"?
DESTROYING OPPONENTS' CITIES STRATEGY
It is always good to slow or even reverse opponents' development. There are only two ways to do destroy their real estate investments: have their cities being destroyed by barbarians and removing their road with Diplomat.
If you plan to do it destroy their first city, though. Destroying their second and other cities does not have such devastating effect.
One approach to that is to deny them knight resources. That what people usually do. However, this is not very reliable and affects only one opponents.
Much better and nasty trick is to throw everybody out of safety when they least expect it.
- Have knight superiority and let others to depend on it. Then flip some knights (by moving them, for example) to remove this support. This works only when you are at least +2 knight ahead. For example, 5 cities, you have 3 knights, opponents have 1 each. Then you downgrade your defense to 2 knights and opponents suffer the consequences.
- Build extra city at the last moment. For example, everyone has one city and on knight. Then you build city, everybody lose 1 city but you end up the one actually having the city standing and you are the one advancing in improvements and getting progress cards.
@Bear You worked really hard on this.
Prinz der Sterne
@Bear That's really grat, good to see so much work in a such excelente game. 🤗😊
Feel free to post it there, as well.
Great effort and really well thought out. Thank you for the post.
@Administrator I have been meaning to ask about discord.
@Rumpelstilzchen It´s totally up to you if you want to use it or not. We can´t help you with that decision. You won´t miss out on any vital information if you don´t want to use it.
Thank you for warm words, everyone! Indeed I worked on this quite hard. Both from game play and article composing point of views.
Feel free to ask me to highlight more details. However, I believe this is so exhaustive that there is nothing much to add to it.
The thing with Catan is that it is quite simple in rules and play but requires VERY deep analysis. It is quite difficult to describe a winning pattern. And most people doesn't need it much. They just play and enjoy.