Catan Blues: The Production Trap

Yesterday, I mentioned what I call the “build to win” strategy, which i consider the most common strategy among Settlers of Catan players, no matter how long their attachment to the game. Many probably don’t even consider this method of playing Catan as a strategy, but instead just consider it as the way that you play the game: you build roads to build resource-producing settlements, and upgrade settlements to make cities that produce twice as many resources.

“Build to win” players rarely buy development cards, as an investment into development cards, to the intuitive or “build to win” player, is seen as a non-productive buy. Development cards only rarely produce resources (4 out of 25 cards), unlike the more solid investment potential of settlements and cities, that do produce resources when the correct dice are rolled. Often, when four people are playing in Catan in this classic way, development cards are only bought in order to short one’s hand so as to avoid being a target for the robber, or at a late stage in the game after a deadlock caused by extensive road building and the cumulative reduction of available building spots through strategic, defensive, settlement placing and the “rule of one.” I have seen entire games played with only one or two development card purchases, as “build to win” players can’t get past their intuitive risk-assessment of buying development cards. The trap in this thinking goes like this: “I have an ore, a wheat, and a wool which I could use to buy a development card, but would it not be better to attempt trading the ore or the wool towards producing either a new settlement or a city upgrade that will increase the amount of resources coming to me?”

This “build to win” strategy is logical during the turn in question, but not when thinking of subsequent dice rolls by other players that might trigger the robber, which makes working towards an excess of production too early in the game counter-productive.  Production excess attracts the robber’s halving blade, and if this investment into excess production trips the robber two or three times during a game, the twelve to twenty (or more) resources that were lost in these encounters with the robber are empty production. Would it not have been better to invest this empty production in procuring development cards, in order to get the largest army card, victory points, and manipulation of the robber to inhibit others’ production?

In fifteen to eighteen point scenarios, a certain amount of “build to win” strategy is required, but in a ten point basic scenario such as that in original Settlers of Catan or Star Trek Catan, in which you only have to move from two points to ten, victory is so easily graspable by an aggressive player that the “build to win” strategy is a strategy that will often lead you away from victory, or rather, towards it at a more glacial pace than the player that is following what I call the wheat/ore/wool strategy, which I have described in brief in the post “Grokking Games: Understanding the Strategic Ambiguity of 7 Wonders.”

If you can’t part with the “build to win” strategy, there are some Catan expansions that make it easier for you to win due to the high victory points required for a win.  The best Catan variation for “build to win” players is Cities and Knights, a 13 point game without the option of buying development cards, and it also allows players to invest in city walls, which protect you against the robber.  While it’s the best single expansion, even better would be some 18-20 point megalithic Catan composed of one or more of these expansions.


If You Like to “Build to Win” This is the Catan for You

“Build to Win” Players Will Also Like This Catan Expansion

Or This One:

Or, you can play them all together.


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2 thoughts on “Catan Blues: The Production Trap

  1. Pingback: The Big Game Night: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition, Settlers of Catan, and 7 Wonders – Board of Life

  2. Pingback: Game Night: Betrayal at House on the Hill, Munchkin Panic, and Catan: Explorers & Pirates – Board of Life

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