Where’s The Best Place To Start In Catan?

Settlers of Catan is a modern classic. Launched in 1995, and designed by Klaus Teuber, Catan (better known by its former name: “Settlers of Catan”) now graces the shelves of board game lovers all over the world. It is widely regarded as the resource trading game, and has won more awards than Kanye West has diamonds in his teeth.

The problem is, it can be so difficult to figure out where to start in order to have the best opportunity to score points early in Settlers of Catan. We’ve all been there, with one player taking three days to pick a position that they believe will be the most optimal place to start. In the meantime we all slowly die of boredom and stare longingly at empty Pringles packets, wishing they were full again.

Obviously, the tiles are random each game, so it’s impossible to give definite rulings as to where to place; however, we can use a little bit of mathematics and psychology to come up with a few guidelines as to where is best to place your starting settlements and roads.

So Where Is The Best Place To Start In Catan?

Okay, so the easiest way to explore this is probably through bullet points, so let the bullet points commence!

  • Go For Wheat/Grain. Wheat/Grain (whatever you want to call it) is the most valuable resource in Settlers of Catan. Believe it or not, Catan is not a balanced game when it comes down the resources. Instead, grain has the best resource to point ratio. Let me explain.In order to guarantee two points with roads, you have to build 15 roads to ensure you get the longest road. This is a 15/1 ratio (well, 30/2, but we’re simplifying) of resource to points since you need both a wood and a brick to build said road. You start off with two roads, which brings this down to 13/1, but this is still not a great investment.
    Catan starting placement
    Somewhere like this for the first placement in Catan won’t hurt.

    For Development cards, there is 15/1 ratio – namely, there are 5 victory point cards in the deck of 25 cards. So, you have a 1/5 chance to pick a victory point card. This means you need 5 cards on average to get a victory point. At three resources a piece (sheep, grain, and ore) this means you will need 15 resources to get a potential one victory point. Yes, you could get largest army in this as well, which would be 15/3 points which is better, but the odds are against you. It’s possible but unlikely.

    It’s not 100% as simple as that with development cards, but it is close enough to make no odds when talking about the initial placement.

    For settlements and cities, you need 4/1 and 5/1 resources to points. Cities are the only way of getting points in the game with more than one resource of a specific type.

    Resource Distribution in Catan
    Resource Distribution in Catan

    The way this works out is like the table above. As you can see, although ore and grain are both needed about the same, grain (or wheat, whatever you want to call it) is useful for the most.

    What this means is that if there is a 6 or 8 on a grain, you should definitely go for that grain. Place a settlement there and you shouldn’t regret it.

  • Don’t Get Too Bogged Down By The Law Of Averages. So, according to one Quora post, the average game of Settlers of Catan (or just “Catan”, whatever you want to call it) lasts for 20 turns per player. This results in, in a four-player game, the dice being rolled 80 times.Although the law of averages is a mathematical law that helps govern the universe, it assumes large amounts of data to draw an average from. Rolling the dice 80 times will not give accurate results so far as averages are concerned, and what this means is that 8 and 6 (as all seasoned Catan players know) are not guaranteed to come out most often. Instead, it isn’t always a bad move to start on 5/9 or even (if you feel like dancing with the devil) 4/10. Although theoretically, they will not come up as often, they may come up a lot.

    To prove this point, I have just rolled two D6s (a red and a green) 80 times to simulate a game. These are the results:

    Simulated Catan Game Dice Rolls
    A Simulated Catan Game Dice Rolls

    If the law of averages was completely fair at low numbers, we would expect is for 7 to come up most often, when in reality 6 did. We would also expect 2 to only be rolled twice, but in reality it came out a whopping 7 times. I mean, talk about snake-eyes!

    So, where I am not saying disregard the law of averages, I am saying that it shouldn’t be taken as a hard and fast rule. The dice will not be rolled enough times for the averages to really be taken into account.

  • Build On Three Way Intersections Where You Can. It can be tempting at the start of the game to go for a port or, in some cases, next to the desert if what is around the desert is particularly attractive. These are misnomers or red herrings. Instead, unless it is possible to heavily monopolise on one resource, it is not worth going for a dock right away. Find out what else you need to build, and where you need to build it, before going for a dock. This will mean you can adapt your strategy as you go along rather than set out with one strategy in mind.That being said, being two roads away from a dock leaves a lot of options open for later expansion, whilst putting other players off going there because you are so close.

    Leaving your options open is the gaming equivalent of the idiom to “not count your chickens before they hatch”.

  • Try To Cover As Many Types Of Resource As Possible. In many ways, it is advantageous not to try and monopolise on one specific type of resource in Catan. This is because monopolising on a specific resource, especially early on in the game, can cause the other players to see you as a threat. This is where the meta-game comes in. As soon as they get access to the resource you are monopolising, either through placing a well-placed settlement or by owning a dock, they will never trade with you again. If you are monopolising on a resource then early game you will struggle to get what you need to build, and that can also be dangerous.Instead, it is good practice to try and cover as many types of resource as possible. Even if the odds are low, it beats not having any exposure to a resource at all. Try and get all five resources (grain/wheat, ore, brick, sheep, and wood) within your placement.

    Good Start
    A potentially good start, although not perfect due to lack of ore – if you can get your starting positions like this then you have room to build a settlement between, whilst also covering most resources. All you need to worry about is getting ore.
  • Consider Placing Your Initial Settlements Close Together. This is a fairly strong tactic for going for Longest Road. Having your settlements around four roads apart can be advantageous as it keeps them close enough to easily be able to join the gap.On that note, don’t place them three apart. You need to be able to place close together if needs be, since the board can get crowded. You can’t build a settlement on your road if there are only three road segments between two pre-existing settlements.
  • Don’t All Place On Sets Of Tiles That Are Second From The Centre. Okay, so this is more a warning, but if you all place your first settlements, and some of your second settlements, on the second from centre set of tiles, just trust me when I say, it completely destroys the room for expansion. It slows the game down so much that it becomes a crawl. Even if you want to play a game where you get in the way, it slows the game down SOOOO MUCH. It’s no fun. Trust me.

    Not a good place to start...
    Not good places to start. This cripples the game if there are four players. Three can expand outwards, but with four you’re going to have a bad time.

So…Where Is The Best Place To Start In Catan???

To be blunt, it entirely depends on the board. Yes, there are six concepts above that make it easier to know where the best place to start in Catan is; however, there is no hard and fast rule. Instead, it comes down to intuition…and a little bit of maths. Don’t start on a 12 if you can avoid it and if there is nothing good around it. Don’t box yourself in by the desert. Don’t get trapped in a corner. Otherwise, you should have a good game if the dice allow. It’s that simple really.

What do you think? What advice would you give someone as to where to place their first settlements in Catan? Post it in the comments below!

13 thoughts on “Where’s The Best Place To Start In Catan?

Add yours

  1. You can try my wife’s strategy of using magical powers that I can barely fathom to make dice rolls that she likes. I think I’ve only ever beaten her once. I think it’s because i put too much importance on the 6 and 8 tiles while underestimating the other numbers that are not 2 and 12

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes, magic, the other way to win in Catan 😛 yeah, logic can let us down sometimes – we once had a game where a player was consistently rolling 11. Always, turn after turn, 11. It wasn’t anyone else either, just him, and he was the one who benefitted from it. To this day I still have no idea how it happened.

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  2. We’ve had odd dice results during games, where 6s and 7s were barely rolled. So it’s a really good idea to know the dice you are using. I tend to always win with Longest Road, and it usually isn’t my grand goal. We’ve seen a number of people win by adopting the ‘Sheep Herder’ strategy. Sometimes as a ‘Wheat Farmer’. But if you can get some good sheep tiles and the sheep port, it can be game over.

    I’ve also seen the most wins by placing your starting settlements at opposite ends. It would seem like a losing strategy, but it’s been pretty effective in our games. Especially if you can nab a key port, which will let you cash in the resources if you’re raking them in.

    A lot of people will go for Wood and Brick spots at the start, as they are important beginning resources for branching out. I think you’re better off looking for resources with common numbers. Especially if you can make trades early on.

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