Catan Development Cards – Introduction and Distribution
Is there a game as iconic to the new gaming renaissance as Catan? Considered one of the quintessential games of all time, Catan was designed by Klaus Teuber back in 1995. Since then it has become well loved and well played by millions of gamers. Now celebrating its 25th year, and having sold over 22 million copies, The Settlers of Catan (now known as simply Catan) is a modern classic that is beloved by board gamers all over the world.
Catan, as a game, comprises of several elements and there are several ways to spend resources throughout the game. This means there are numerous ways of getting points throughout the game and a whole host of different strategies to be employed. In Catan players can build roads, settlements and cities. They can also get development cards, and in Catan development cards are really interesting.
There are 25 development cards in a game of Catan, assuming there are no expansions. It is possible to get direct victory points through the development cards; however, it is also possible to gain the Largest Army through them as well.
In this article today we are going to look at the Catan development cards in some detail – exploring when they can be played, what they mean, and what they do. This is a basic intro to the cards so we can explore them in more detail in later articles.
Catan Development Cards Explored
Okay, let’s dive right in with looking at what they are. Firstly, what are development cards?
What are development cards?
Development cards are a resource in Catan that can be paid for during a player’s turn. On their turn a development card can be bought from the supply for one wool (sheep), one grain, and one ore. This makes them relatively cheap to buy, and can be a very cheap way of getting points.
When can development cards be played?
Development cards are bought on one turn and they are played the turn after. You cannot play a development card on the turn that you bought it.
There is one exception to this which are the victory points cards. You can only reveal victory points when you are sure they will take you up to (or beyond) 10 victory points – thus securing the victory of the game. Any number can be revealed at once, and they can be played on the turn they are purchased.
What are the Catan development cards?
There are 25 development cards in Catan, and those are split in three different categories. There are 14 knight cards, 6 progress cards, and 5 victory point cards. These are divided as such –
- Knights (x14) – Move the robber. Steal one resource from the owner of a settlement or city adjacent to the robber’s new hex.
- Road Building (x2) – Place 2 new roads as if you had just built them.
- Year of Plenty (x2) – Take any two resources from the bank. Add them to your hand. They can be two of the same resource or two different resources.
- Monopoly (x2) – When you play this card, announce one type of resource. All other players must give you all of their resources of that type.
- University (x1) – One victory point. Reveal this card on your turn if, with it, you reach the number of points required for victory.
- Market (x1) – One victory point. Reveal this card on your turn if, with it, you reach the number of points required for victory.
- Great Hall (x1) – One victory point. Reveal this card on your turn if, with it, you reach the number of points required for victory.
- Chapel (x1) – One victory point. Reveal this card on your turn if, with it, you reach the number of points required for victory.
- Library (x1) – One victory point. Reveal this card on your turn if, with it, you reach the number of points required for victory.
This actually leads to a pretty interesting distribution model for the development cards, and something that can easily be divided up in a pie chart.
What this means is that, whenever you pick up a development card, the basic odds are in favour of you picking up a knight. They are not only the most likely card, but they are the most likely subset of card. This is followed by progress cards, and then finally victory points.
Victory Points from Catan Development Cards
Within a game of Catan, you start the game with two victory points already on the table. Those two points are in the settlements that you place at the beginning of the game, and worth keeping in mind for this next bit.
Within the Catan development card deck there are 25 cards, and 1/5 of those (20%) are straight up victory points – those are the University, Market, Great Hall, Chapel and Library. There are then 14 Knight cards in the deck. This is where it gets interesting.
There is an achievement in Catan that we all know and love called “Largest Army”. To get Largest Army to begin with you need to have three Knight cards. Those three Knight cards cost a grand total of nine resource – three sheep, three grain and three ore if you manage to pull all three out of the deck straight away.
Those three knights are worth two additional victory points, until someone takes it off you. Then they get the three.
On average, to stop that from happening, you need to have 4 or 5 Knights total to comfortably secure the victory points.
That being said, and this is a large caveat, that means there are 7 total victory points in the development card deck. Thus, even if you manage to start off on a very likely ore, wool, and grain, you cannot win Catan purely on a development card strategy. It would still leave you 1 VP short.
Credit where it is due though – if you do manage to pull all five victory points and secure Largest Army that is pretty impressive, and gaining one small victory point from there may not be too hard. To get to that position you would potentially need to buy almost development card to achieve it…so well done.
Additional Benefits of the Development Cards
Of course, not all development cards are about victory points. Knights technically aren’t directly about victory points as much as they are about being mean to your opponents and gaining resources.
There are however three other cards – the progress cards – that all add specific benefits to the game. Road Building and Year of Plenty are fairly basic cards. Road Building is technically worth four resources in regards to how it allows players to build two roads straight off the bat. Year of Plenty is essentially a gift card for two resources. It’s more flexible, but technically worth less.
Then there is Monopoly. Monopoly forces other players to give you all of a specific type of resource, of your choice. You can hold onto it and play it whenever you want. What we tend to find is that there are two potential situations in which Monopoly is really beneficial. The first is when the inevitable resource shortage happens, and you can’t get your hands on a specific type of resource for neither life nor money. When you need that resource, waiting for it to come out and then calling Monopoly works really well, gathering you a load of resources.
Secondly, when you generate a strategy it can work for acting as a substitute resource. If you need to build a lot of roads and all you have is brick, then you can use Monopoly to get all the lumber you need.
Monopoly is also a great way of restricting other players by, when a rare resource comes out, limiting other players accessibility to the resource by taking it.
No matter how you want to play development cards within a game of Catan there is no doubt that they are a huge help. Throughout the game, whether you are looking for a specific card of whether you are just happy with anything, they are sure to deliver.
What is more, development cards are flexible within Catan. They can fulfil all kinds of roles, and that makes them incredibly useful. Not only that, but they give you something to spend a sheep/grain/ore on if you have it spare.
So, there we go. Have you played Catan? What do you think of the game? What are your favourite strategies? Let me know in the comments below.
I love to play a Monopoly card when I just traded away a rare resource to get it back.
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Great write up, Luke! I think development cards might be the most important part of Catan. It helps players who can’t build roads or settlements right away and helps move the robber if you’re being targeted.
I find in my games that the person who buys the most development cards wins the game!
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I agree with that – they are such a useful resource, and great point about moving the robber away with the knights as well!
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