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Before you read this articleyou will need to know the following terms and definitions: 

Game(-s): Noun. Singular or Plural. A standalone version of Settlers of Catan, which can be played right out of the box without making additional purchases. There is only one standalone (base) game of Catan.
Expansion(-s): Noun. Singular or Plural.  An Catan game that cannot be played by itself. It must be used in conjunction with a standalone (base) game. The 5 & 6-player expansions are a good example of this.
Scenario(-s): Noun. Singular or Plural. A small set of playing pieces and instructions that can be added to normal Catan gameplay. It cannot be played by itself--it must be used in conjunction with a standalone (base) game. The "Oil Springs" scenario is a good example of this.
Variant(-s): Noun. Singular or Plural. A set of instructions for using the pieces from a Catan game or expansion in a new way. Most variants are fan-generated and require printing and cutting out new pieces.


Place Initial Settlements, Towns, and Trade Routes

  1. During player set-up, players roll the two dice to determine who claims spaces on the board first.
  2. Starting with the highest-rolling player and proceeding clockwise, each player takes a turn placing one of their Mills* on a Starting Settlement Token (removing the Starting Settlement Token as they does so). This must be a Mill*, because the Starting Settlement Token is designed to ensure that each player builds at least one coastal settlement at the beginning of the game, to jump-start their exploration and prevent them from falling too far behind other players.

*If you have not purchased Mills for your game, you can use a Sea Port instead.  The Sea Port is a town, not a settlement.

  1. Immediately after placing their Mill on a Starting Settlement Token intersection, each player places one of their ships on a vacant path adjacent to the Mill they just placed. The player also places one of their Settlers in the vacant hold of the ship.  After all players have done this, all players now have a Mill on a coastal intersection, with a Settler Ship adjacent.
  2. Once all players have placed their first Mill and adjacent Settler Ship, the players take turns placing their first town (village, convent, or Sea Port) on the board. The last player to place his Mill places his town first, followed by the rest of the players in counter-clockwise  In other words, the player who went first previously is now last.
  3. As players decide where to place their town, they must keep the following in mind:
    1. Their town does not have to connect with the Mill they previously placed.
    2. They must place their town on one of the two largest main islands. They may not place their town on a smaller surrounding island.  This prevents players from having an unfair starting advantage, and protects other players from being unfairly handicapped.
    3. They may choose to place their town on a different main island than the one their Mill is on.
    4. They may choose to place their town adjacent to a Desert hex or other unproductive hex.
    5. They must place their town on an unoccupied intersection on the board (obeying placement rules unique to each type of building).
    6. Important: Settlements and cities may only be placed at the corners of the terrain hexes—never along the edges (see Illustration C).
    7. They must obey the Distance Rule (no buildings on adjacent intersections).
    8. The Distance Rule: You may only construct a building on an unoccupied intersection, and only if none of the 3 adjacent intersections contains an existing building.
    9. Example: See Illustration F. Coleman, the blue player, wants to build a settlement.  The settlements marked “A” are already in play. Coleman cannot build on the intersections marked “B.” He can only build at intersection “C”.
    10. Immediately after placing their town on an eligible intersection, each player must place their wagon next to it—as if their wagon was on the same intersection that their town is on.
    11. Also immediately after placing their town and wagon on an eligible intersection, each player must place one of their trade routes (road or boat) on a path adjacent to their town, attached to that building (pointing in any of the 3 directions). As players decide where to place their trade route, they must keep the following in mind:
      1. Roads must be placed on an overland path or a coastal path, while boats must be placed on a sea path or a coastal path.
      2. Players may not place a Bridge instead of their Road or Boat when placing their initial buildings.
      3. Trade routes (roads and boats) may only be placed at the edges of the terrain hexes—1 trade route per edge (see Illustration D). The Distance Rule means many intersections along roads will remain unoccupied.

Tactics: Since Catan is large and somewhat complex, there are many different considerations to keep in mind.  There are, nevertheless, some common points you should consider:

  • Depending on the type of settlement and town you choose to place at the beginning of the game, different resources are more or less valuable to you:
    • Certainly, Lumber is the most important resources at the beginning of the game. This is because is necessary to build both roads and communities. Forest hexes also yield valuable Paper Commodities. You should try to place at least 1 of your buildings on a Forest hex with a good Production Number token.
    • Wool is also a critical resource if you plan to do much sailing and exploring. Since pasture hexes also yield Cloth Commodities, you should also try to place at least 1 of your buildings on a Pasture hex with a good Production Number Token.
  • Do not underestimate the value of harbors. For instance, a player with settlements, towns, or cities on productive Field hexes should try to construct a building on the 2:1 “Grain” harbor.
  • Leave enough room to expand when placing your first 2 buildings. Look at your opponents’ sites and trade routes before making a placement.  Beware of getting surrounded!  If you plan to build toward a harbor, the middle of the island may be a tricky place for a starting settlement or town, since it can easily be cut off from the coast.

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