Catan Longest Road Strategy and Exploration
Catan has become one of the quintessential games of the modern gaming era. Published in 1995 by German game designer Klaus Teuber, Catan (also known as Settlers of Catan) has swiftly become an essential game to have on the shelves. It has helped refine this modern gaming renaissance and driven it forward as a flagship game.
One of the ways it has done this is by mixing up the different ways there are to gain victory points and ultimately win the game. It is possible to get points through four different sources – building settlements or cities, collecting Development Cards, achieving the Largest Army criteria, and then the famous Catan Longest Road. It is often the case that a mixture of all these strategies are needed to win the game.
The mix of different strategies is one of the things that gives Catan life. The Development Cards, Largest Army and Longest Road all exist to take a game that could be a race for resources and turns it into something that transcends a simple building game. They add favour in regards to theme, as your settlements slowly become more complex, and make it more immersive as a player. Today we are going to look at a specific part of the game in a bit more detail as we look at what it is that the Longest Road brings to the table. What kinds of strategies does it allow for and what does it mean to go after the Longest Road? Finally, how do you really mess with someone who is obviously going for the Catan Longest Road strategy and how do you swipe it from under their nose?
Let’s talk bricks and wood.
Going For The Catan Longest Road
So, what does the Longest Road mean? Well, for starters it is one of the great balancing mechanics of the game. Longest Road can be both a catch up opportunity, as well as be a great concept to keep in mind as a strategy to begin with. This versatility means it can be both a primary or secondary strategy, depending on how the game is going.
So, how do you go for longest road? Well, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, you need to decide if you are going for it competitively. If you are then you will need to be prepared to build at least 10 roads, and potentially more if the other players are also looking at achieving it as well. You start with 15 roads in your pool, of which two are placed during placement. This means that since, once you have achieved longest road other players need more than the number of roads you have, the only way to guarantee the win is by being prepared to build all 15 of your roads.
Secondly, longest road is only two of the ten points needed to win the game. You will need to build settlements/cities or get Development Cards as well.
That is a fair amount of building, so how do you achieve the Catan Longest Road if you need to build so many roads? The answer comes with the initial placement.
Placement, in Catan, is crucial to the strategies that are presented to you at the start of the game. I have actually written a few articles on this in the past, including the different ways to place at the start depending on the kind of strategy you want to play, as well as a more general article about the principles around where to start. Those are linked there if you want to do any extra reading around the subject; however, in this article we are going to look at two different ways to start in particular in order to aid with the longest road. Those are, what we will call, the Connected Catan and the Resource Monopoly.
Before we look at diagrams, you will need all five types of resource in order to win the game (wheat, ore, bricks/clay, sheep, and wood or lumber) however, you only need wood/lumber and bricks/clay to build roads. From here on in, we’ll just be referring to these as wood and bricks.
What this means is positioning on the best wood and best brick positions available on the board.
Now, those positions may well be random in your game; however, for the sake of exploring the board in this article, we are going to set it up like how it suggests setting up for the first game in the Catan rules. This positions the robber and desert slap bang in the middle of the board. It also places a 8 and a 6, the two most likely numbers, on a brick and wood…so lucky us.
You’ll need to take the principles we’re about to go through and adapt them to your own board.
So, what do you do? You have wood and brick on the board, relatively close together. My personal favourite strategy is to link the two together, where possible. This leads us to the first type of placement – Connected Catan.
Connected Catan – Longest Road Strategy
The idea behind the connected Longest Road strategy is simple. By connecting your two starting roads you get slightly ahead of your opponents for the initial taking of the Longest Road title. You will only need to build three additional roads to take the title (Longest Road requires five roads), and having two together makes that slightly easier. Since the closest you can build settlements is two roads apart, this also makes the most out of the space available.
In the above, imagine you are the red player. As you can see, with the positioning of the wood and brick, it is possible to link the two and have them connected. This means that whenever the two most likely (friendly – ie. not a seven) numbers come out you will gain components for the longest road as well as have the upper hand.
There is a variation on this strategy, which can be just as good, which is spacing the roads slightly further apart. Doing so isn’t so space efficient, but it can support the building of the Longest Road.
What this does is, as you can see, creates a gap between the 11 Wood and 9 Grain. This strategy allows for you to dominate more of the board, reducing the risk of being blocked in, whilst also keeping you competitive for being able to grab the Longest Road first. The further apart you place your starting settlements the more you lose this advantage. By the time they are five spaces apart there is no advantage at all. You will need to build five roads, and cannot use the pre-existing roads, to connect them.
Remember, whether using the strategy or blocking it – it is usually easier to take Longest Road to begin with, and keep it, than it is to take it off another player.
Resource Monopoly – Longest Road Strategy
The second idea behind placement is to not so much about trying to make it easier to connect two settlements, but rather making it easier to build roads to begin with. This uses a basic Catan strategy around settlement distribution. The base idea is to cover as many different numbers as you can so you cover as much ground as possible. This strategy should get you resources most turns. With the initial placement it is possible to use a slight variation on this strategy to focus on wood and bricks.
I had to move the second blue settlement to show this, but the above is also a perfectly valid Longest Road placement strategy that keeps the settlements (relatively) close together whilst also sitting on two wood and two bricks. Also, purely coincidentally, it also covers ore and wheat, so that would be a really strong primary placement.
The kind of placement like with the above means there is two spaces between the two red settlements that will need to be filled in; however, by covering more spaces this could speed up the production of roads…assuming the dice roll in your favour.
Those options, adapted to your own board, could be incredibly strong starts if you want to go for Longest Road.
One thing to note if you do decide to use this method – it may be worth looking at acquiring the wood and brick ports. If your game is set up so the other resources aren’t so readily available then being able to monopolise on brick and wood, and then trade it with the port, may make it easier to get the other resources needed to win the game.
What does this mean though? What are the pitfalls of the Longest Road strategy?
The primary pitfall of the Catan Longest Road strategy is that you cannot win by Longest Road alone. It is only two points, and so where it is possible to win with building on its own, getting the Longest Road will only get you 2/10 of the way there.
So, what does this mean? Well it means you will also need to build settlements, cities, or gather development cards on route. This means getting a range of resources so you can build other things aside form your wonderful roads.
How To Stop Someone From Achieving Longest Road
So, you’re playing Catan and it becomes obvious that someone around your table is looking like they are going for the Longest Road. How do you stop them?
There are three basic way of scuppering someone’s plans to achieve Longest Road. The first of these is the simplest to explore – and that is simply that you race them to it. This concept was explored a little earlier in this article that there are only 15 roads per player. Once 15 roads have been built, there is nothing that the other players can do in order to take longest road from you.
Racing a player for longest road is one way to ensure they don’t get it, and if you can use your roads to hem them in then the better it is. If you can block their expansion route, or make it really undesirable, then they may just stop going for longest road and focus on something else.
This leads us onto the second way – hemming someone in. If you can push someone to the sidelines or get in their way then this can stop expansion.
The third way is to simply cut across the path of the road. If you build in the way then you are forcing players to work their way around you or give up entirely.
This is shown in the picture above. Blue has both cut off and hemmed in red, whilst (somewhat coincidentally) white is making it harder for blue to expand. Blue has though, managed to take Longest Road by doing this.
Of course, there are a few other things you can do. If you are really competitive, you can also hold back on offering wood and bricks up to trade. You can make sure that you get the wood and brick ports, place the robber on bricks or wood, and generally be a nuisance; however, since there are so many ways to win in Catan, the effort may be futile.
Conclusion: Owning the Road
So there we have it – a bit of a breakdown of the Catan longest road strategy. No matter what you decide to do, remember that Longest Road takes a lot of work for a couple of points. It can be a fantastic strategy to go for; however, sometimes it is best to just focus elsewhere.
What are your thoughts? Do you find yourself going for longest road, or do you just hope for it to organically? Is it a strategy you use often? Let me know in the comments below.