Saturday, January 31, 2009

Puerto Rico 2-player Variant

Puerto Rico: 2-player Variant
Official Alea/Ravensburger Rules
This version is translated by Frank Hamrick from the website
Copyright: (c) 2001 Ravensburger Spieleverlag

The author and publishing house had two compelling conditions when we developed the following variant for 2 players: 1) we wanted to make no new material (e.g. new violet buildings), and 2) we wanted to retain the original rules so far as possible so that the transposition of the multi-player game to the 2-player game would not be too novel. We would love to hear your feedback on this variant. Which buildings are especially strong, which weak? What would you change- why? What would you do differently? Send your questions to
Variations from the multi-player game follow.

Game Preparation

* Per Player: 1 player board, 3 Doubloons, 1 Indigo (for governor); 1 corn (for 2nd player)

* Remaining Plantations: Remove 3 of each type of plantation from the game. Uncover 3 plantations(one more than the number of players)

* Quarries: Remove 3 Quarries from the game (use 5 quarry tiles).

* Buildings: Use 2 of each Production building, and 1 of each Violet building.

* Victory Points: 65 total Victory Points

* Colonists: 40 (in supply) + 2 on the colonist ship (minimum = number of players)

* Goods: Remove 2 of each type of good from the game

* Cargo Ships: Use the 4 and 6 capacity cargo ships

* Trading House: No change

* Role Cards: Remove 1 prospector from the game

Game Sequence
The Governor begins and selects a role. Subsequently the players alternate selecting roles until both players have selected 3 roles. Place one Doubloon on the remaining role card. The Governor then changes to the second player and the above sequences is repeated. All further rules are the same as in the Multiplayer game.

Puerto Rico Strategy Guide

As many who have read a chess book know, the best strategy in Chess is "control the center". Many games have a fundamental superior strategy that should be followed, often with lesser strategies as well. These strategies dictate your actions when there is not an important TACTICAL move that you must make.

In essence, strategy is about the long term, tactics is about short
term gain (or preventing the same for your opponents). "Tactics is
what you do when there is something to do....strategy is what you do
when there is nothing to do". Like chess, Puerto Rico is a highly
tactical game. Good tactical play and average strategic play will
beat ok tactical play and good strategic play most of the time.
However, if everyone plays well tactically, you will need to have a
superior strategic understanding of the game in order to secure the
win. You need to know what terms will benefit you most in the long
term, not just in the short term. And the long term plays are
sometimes much harder to see.

Before I get to the dominant Puerto Rico strategic, I'll talk a little
about tactics. Most of the tactics of Puerto Rico comes from your
role choices. If you look at the effects of the different roles you
could pick, generally with a lookahead of about 1-2 turns, and find
the one which works best for you/hurts your opponents, you will do
well. To do this, you will have to determine likely moves by your
opponents, and find the role which helps you given what they will
probably do. Also, look for choices which dont leave you wide open to
a big blow if someone chooses certain roles, since strong players will
often do this to destroy your position.

Here is an example of an important tactical play:

In a 3 player game, the game starts like this:

Turn 1:
Player 1 Settler/Quarry, player 2 takes corn, player 3 takes Sugar.
Player 2 takes builder/small market. Player 3 builds small sugar,
player 1 builds small market.
Player 3 takes mayor filling small sugar/sugar plant. PLayer 1 fills
quarry, player 2 fills corn.

Turn 2:
Player 2 takes (settler or builder or mayor).
Player 3 takes craftsman, producing 2 sugar.

You are player 1. You have the following role choices:

Settler/Mayor/Builder (minus whatever player 2 chose)
Trader w/1 dubloon
Captain w/1 dubloon.

You have no goods, and an occupied quarry. Player 2 has a corn,
player 3 has 2 sugar.

What is the correct play?

"Oh captain my captain".

Not choosing the Captain role is almost a guaranteed loss if player 3
is at least as skilled as you are, and will probably give them a good
chance of winning even if you are better than them.

But I dont even have a good to ship, you say!
It doesnt matter. Taking the captain isnt great for you, giving 1
dubloon. Thats not as great as the benefit you would have gained from
the builder for example, with your quarry.

However, not choosing captain allows player 3 to begin the next turn
by trading sugar, with 2 dubloons on the trader, for a gain of 2+1+2 =
5 dubloons! This will give them enough money to buy a coffee or
tobacco plant, a couple turns ahead of either of the other players.
This is an enormous advantage, as they will likely trade that good for
an even greater money advantage, and be the first to build buildings
such as the harbor or factory.

This is an example of a tactical choice where the wrong move will have
more effect than all of your strategic decisions throughout the game.

Now, on to the best Puerto Rico strategy.

Many players tend to think of the game as being about shipping versus
building. That is, that there are two main strategies, shipping or
building, as well as a 'mixed' strategy, hedging your bets between the

However, this veiw misses something important. Those 'strategies' are
ways to score points. They give you somethng to do which is
beneficial to you. Having some role which benefits you more than
others is key in Puerto Rico. If you are in a position where you gain
points by building, but you lose points (relative to others) when
producing and shipping occurs, then thats ok, but not great. You
could win if things work out well, and building comes out to dominate
the game.

However, you can do better. How? Its simple.....follow the dominant
strategy of the game of Puerto Rico. This strategy doesnt involve
shipping or building, it involves income. In this game, income is
king. If you are making money, you will be able to buy large
buildings, and score lots of building points. If you are making
money, you will be able to buy production buildings to make goods, and
shipping buildings like warehouse, harbor and wharf to ship your goods
effectively for many points. If you are making money, then you will
be able to put yourself in a position where both shipping AND building
will gain you points over the other players.

In most cases, you cant be the best at both shipping and building.
Unless all the other players are complete newbies, this just isnt
possible. Your goal is to reach a point where in shipping, you gain
over some of the opponents, but dont lose much to anyone, and in
building its the same. Thus, through a cycle of building and
shipping, you gain points over each opponent, some you gain over in
the captain phase, some in the builder, but overall you have gained on
everyone. This WILL happen if you have the best income potential in
the group, AND you have solid tactical play, so you arent missing out
on points and opporunities that way.

Often your position will become lopsided towards one or the other of
the point scoring methods. For example, in the course of playing
tactically, you just never had any good chances to choose the settler
and take any quarries, yet you managed to get several corn
plantations. Or vice-versa. In these cases, if you have good income,
what will happen is that you will dominate one of the point scoring
methods (your strength), while maintaining an average score in the
other. For example: The shipper who manages to afford a large
building, and dominates shipping. Or the builder with a guild hall
and another large building, who also had a harbor and managed to ship
for an average 25.

Usually in these cases as well, you will prevail.

So how does income have this wonderful effect on your game?

Several ways. Primarily, it allows you to purchase means of scoring
points. That is, money lets you buy production buildings, warehouses,
harbors and wharfs, as well as large buildings, with which to score
points. Generally, if you buy the appropriate building early enough,
it will pay MORE POINTS than you spent in dubloons to buy it.

At the beginning of the game, buying a coffee roaster is going to do a
tremendous amount of good. You are going to use it to produce a
number of coffee throughout the game. Hopefully, you will sell
several of those coffee, and ship the others. If you do this, you
will probably rake in 4*2.5 dubloons (2-3 trades, say 10 dubloons
average), and several shipping points. Using that 10 dubloons to buy
a large building later in the game will yield about 10 points. The
coffee roaster is 3 points, and you shipped 3 coffee. In total, that
coffee roaster gave you 16 points worth of benefit, for a cost of only
6 dubloons. The early you bought the roaster, the better it will have

The key in buying building is to determine the point at which the
benefit is no longer worth the cost. In the early game, that coffee
roaster may well produce 16 points of benefit. In the midgame, you
might only have 1-2 chances to trade the coffee, and only ship 1-2
goods. Maybe it provides 10 points of benefit. In the late midgame,
maybe you'll trade once and ship once, and get only 6 (and converting
that money from the trade into a large building, and occupying that
large building by the end was a hastle as well! And at the end, it
will probably be completely worthless.

Money is thus the best at the beginning of the game, where it gives
you the greatest return. 5 dubloons invested into a tobacco plant
near the start may well pay off 15 points worth by the end of the
game. Money is weakest at the end of the game, and completely
worthless once the game ends, except for tiebreaker. 5 dubloons on
the final turn will likely get you just 2-3 points off a building. 10
dubloons near the end could get you 10 or so points from a large
building, but you'll probably have to put effort into making this
conversion happen.
In the middle of the game, money and points are fairly balanced, and
you'll probably be able to get a 1 for 1 conversion of money to points
without effort. For example, you build a harbor and use it for a half
dozen bonuses throughout the rest of the game. Or you spend 10
dubloons on a large building, whenever building happens, and fill it
when the mayor happens. 10 coins -> 10 points with no effort. Later
on, this same conversion will likely take up 1-2 of your lategame role

So we can define the phases of the game like this:

Opening: Dubloons > Points.
Midgame: Dubloons = Points.
Endgame: Dubloons < Points.

I said that income was the dominant strategy of puerto rico. Well,
thats not entirely true. Its the dominant strategy for the first half
of the game. It dominant until the point where points start to become
better than dubloons.

So let me rephrase the best strategy like this:

"The dominant strategy of Puerto Rico is to focus on income in the
opening and early-midgame, to focus on converting money into a means
of scoring points in the midgame, and to focus on maximizing the use
of your point scoring method(s) in the endgame". Thus, in each phase
you focus on either money or points, whichever is better in that
phase. In the opening, you go for money, since its better than
points. In the midgame, you focus on means of converting money to
points. And in the endgame, you focus on points.

Generally Puerto Rico lasts about 15 turns or so. Sometimes a bit
less (if someone fills there building space up fast, to deny the
shippers their late game point scoring bonanza). That means that up
until about turn 5-6 or so (keep track!), income should be basically
your sole concern. (Of course, giving up 3 points to get one more
doubloon probably isn't great, but giving up 3 for 3 certainly is).
turns 6-8 should be the finale of your income searching, and the last
time you would consider buying that factory or large market. (And
possibly the last time you consider buying that coffee roaster as
well, if you don't have quarries). Turn 6-10 or so should see you
converting money to point scoring buildings like harbor and warehouse.
If you have several corn, and foresee trouble getting a corn boat,
wharf is a good choice, but often, warehouse will do almost as well
for much less. The endgame should see you playing tactically to
maximize the effect of your point scoring methods and minimize those
of your opponent. Money should only be important to you in blocks of
10, to build large buildings. (If you have a couple quarries, smaller
amounts could matter, so you can keep building smaller buildings for 2
points each)

You should practice foreseeing the end of the game, and preparing for
it. When you think that two mayor phases will likely deplete the rest
of the colonists, two build phases end the game through 12 buildings,
or 2 captain phases end the game that way, then you know you are in
the very late game. (Note: 40% of the shipping VP left often means
only 2 captain phases remaining, if people have a decent amount of
shipping ability). They can go really fast at the end!
Foreseeing the game end will help you avoid making endgame mistakes
(which are VERY common in beginner games, and are made moderately
often by all but the most experienced players)

For the following, "Builder" refers to a player whose position is such
that building is their means of gaining points over their opponents,
and "shipper" is a player for whom shipping is their means of gaining
points over their opponent.

All of the following are big mistakes in the late-endgame:

1) Choosing settler at any time UNLESS:
1a) taking it gets you to 10 doubloons AND you foresee that there is
time to buy and occupy a large building.
1b) you have hacienda and residence and 10 or less plantations, and
there was nothing better
1c) (maybe) there was nothing else great and an opponent needed the
doubloons on it to reach 10, and you want to deny them a large building

2) Taking the mayor when an opponent has an unoccupied large building
and you don't, unless it ends the game and you desperately need to end
the game now (before opponents buy more large buildings or the next
shipping round happens)

3) Taking the mayor when the colonists are running low and you are a
shipper, unless it gives you a BIG benefit compared to others. (i.e.
it occupies a wharf and you have 5 corn that would get dumped)

4) Taking the builder role when you are a shipper, unless it is giving
you a large building, and not giving a large building to your

5) Taking the craftsman when you are not a shipper.

6) Taking the trader unless it puts you over 10 doubloons and there
wasn't another way to get over 10. Even then, this can be a mistake if
it also puts others over 10 and they get to build large buildings
first and take the ones you want.

7) Taking captain as a builder in a turn where the captain would not
otherwise have gotten taken. (i.e. you are last to go), UNLESS doing
so allows you to score points and deny points to the shippers.

8) Taking captain as a builder such that doing so causes both captain
and craftsman to occur this turn, when otherwise only captain would
have been taken. For example: you are 2nd last in the turn, and
captain and craftsman are left. A shipper is after you, and you are a
builder. Taking captain lets you deny points to others. You take it.
Now the shipper chooses craftsman, and next turn captain happens
again, and you get crushed. Had you not taken captain, then the
player after you would have had to, and then next turn people don't
have goods yet. This one is quite tricky. It depends on exactly when
the game will end, the boats, the many factors.

Back to strategy...

The choice of which building to buy is often the most important
strategic decisions you will make during the game.
Different buildings become inefficient to buy at different times.

In general, income producers are best early, and are very poor at the
end of the game. Buying a coffee roaster on turn 4 of the game will
generally prove extremely useful, and provide money and points all
game. Buying it on turn 9 (a bit past the midpoint), and it will be a
struggle to gain more than what you put into it. Similarly, a factory
or large market should be bough fairly early if you are going to
benefit from it. If all you do from the factory is make back the
money you put into it, it was a bad choice. That money is worth less
later on, and so you aren't getting much out of it. Perhaps a harbor
would've been a better choice, as it would've paid back in points. Or
perhaps a large building, or just a small warehouse.

Points producers like warehouse, harbor and wharf are best bought in
the mid game. This is because you still have enough time to get a good
number of points from them, but there wasn't something better.
(Earlier, the income building was better, since its money was more
important, but now it isn't, so the point producer is the right buy).

Later in the game, large buildings are the best choice, as they give
all their points up front. The harbor needs time to pay off, and
there isn't enough time left to make it worth more than the large
building. Occasionally, a certain large building will be worth
getting in the late mid game....usually Guild Hall. In a position
where the Guild Hall can potentially score you many points, getting it
before an opponent does can be huge. This generally occurs when you
have 2-3 quarries and are producing one of 3-4 different goods, and
using building to score your points. (Harbor is good here too, but
which one to buy depends on how late it is, and how the shipping is
going. And of course,e in the best world you would end up getting
both, since you followed the dominant strategy well and secured a
solid income in the opening).

One of the most common strategic mistakes is when players buy
buildings at a time where it is too late to get enough use out of
them. Often you will see a player buy a harbor or wharf on turn 11 or
12 (or later!), with only a couple of shipping phases left, when they
had enough to buy a useful large building. Seeing an opponent in a
strong position make this blunder always makes me cheer. Buying
production buildings too late is a mistake as well. Consider a case
of a player with corn, indigo, tobacco and coffee plantations, and an
indigo and tobacco plant. The boats are decent for them, and they
will likely be able to ship two of their three types of goods each
captain phase. This player has 8 doubloons during a building phase on
turn 8-9. They buy a coffee roaster. This is a mistake! The coffee
roaster will likely produce 3 or so coffee during the rest of the
game. Lets say they manage to trade one and ship 2, for a benefit of
6+ 3 from the roaster is 9, but with the hassle of trying to trade
that coffee, find a boat for the coffee, and convert the money from
the trade into a large building to make use of it. What if instead
they had bought a harbor? In the three to four remaining captain
phases (probably), scoring 2 extra points each time, they get 6-8vp +
3vps for the harbor is 9-11 vps. That's as much or more as the
roaster, and with less hassle! (By hassle I mean possible used role
choices to trade the coffee and build and fill the building).

Had it been turn 6-7 however, that coffee roaster probably would've
been the right choice, especially if it looked like the coffee was
likely tradable, and the tobacco might have trouble people traded.

Along with building buildings based on what phase of the game we are
in, its important to correctly value doubloons on the different roles.
In the start of the game, these paying roles are HIGHLY important, as
the money is at that point worth a LOT, and the tactical benefit of
choosing a different role is probably smaller. (except in the case of
denying someone a big early trade for lots of money).
Also, in the early game, you can count on the money on certain roles
making them attractive to others as well, so you can fairly accurately
guess what people will choose,

In the mid game, the money becomes less important, and there more
balance between it and the tactical decisions. And finally in the
endgame, the money becomes almost worthless, and role choices should
be made based on their benefit to scoring you points, and tactical

So what happens when one ignores the strategy of focusing on income
early, point scoring capacity in the midgame, and then using that
capacity to score points in the endgame? They get into a position
where they have trouble finding roles which benefit them more than
others, and they get stuck always having their choices aid someone
else. They cant get ahead, and they find that their best course of
action is to end the game as soon as possible, since they lose more
and more the longer it continues.
Often, these players will have gained a lead early on, through a focus
on shipping corn, for example, while ignoring income. Perhaps they
wasted time getting some immediate gain of a couple more points, or
denying a couple points to an opponent, when doing so caused them to
miss out on several dubloons, and prevented them from establishing an
income source early. In the midgame, they find their advantage is
wearing out, and in the endgame they are gasping for air as everything
they do helps someone else more than themself.

If it is possible to get a lead in victory points while at the SAME
TIME securing an income source, then this should of course be taken,
since it will set you up with a lead and the ability to maintain it.
However, you should never sacrifice setting up an income in order to
score a few points short term, as it will kill you in the end.

Some examples of early game strategic mistakes:

Buying a large indigo plant or large sugar plant in the first few
turns, without 2 quarries. Here, you are spending two extra dubloons
on something which will not improve your income at all, but only
increases your capacity to score points by a bit. Buying a small
indigo or sugar plant would have provided the same possibility of
trade income. Early on, that extra capacity will be of small use to
you, as its hard to get the plantaions and people to use it. Spending
the two extra dubloons damages your ability to set up a good income
source early on. If you are getting multiple plantations of one of
those types, and want to produce the goods, the best course of action
is to buy the small plant early, then set up an income source
(coffee/tobacco), then buy the large indigo or sugar mill in the
midgame, when you are actually getting enough colonists to produce all
those goods. You will then be able to use this as a source of points.

This follows the rule: Income first and foremost, then use that money
to secure a point source, then use that point source as much as
possible to win the game.

Remember that income will be used later on to buy large buildings, for
big points. This means that when you are setting up income early on,
you are in effect getting money AND A POINT SOURCE. You spend the
income you get from it in the early midgame to buy MORE POINT SOURCES
(such as shipping buildings), and then you use the money you get from
it in the mid-late game to buy large buildings.

Thus, it looks like this:

Opening: use money to secure income (ex: coffee, tobacco, large
market, factory) (source of money + points)
Midgame: use money to secure source of points (you now have two
sources of points, your income and your point producer like harbor
warehouse or wharf)
Endgame: use money to buy points straight up (large buildings), use
point scoring buildings like harbor to score points.

As you can see, buildings like tobacco storage and coffee roaster,
bought early on, are amazingly strong because they help you in THREE
ways. They give you income from trading. This gives you point
producers in the midgame, which gives more points later on. It gives
money for large buildings in the endgame, for more points, and third,
it produces shippable goods, and thus is helping you to score points
in three different ways!

Look at this example. On turn 3-4, you buy coffee roaster, and get it
occupied. It produces 6 or so coffee throughout the game. On turn 5,
you get to trade the first coffee your produce for 4 dubloons. On
turn 7, you trade another coffee, and this pays for a harbor. This
harbor gives you two points per captain phase for the remaining four
captain phases of the game. (benfit 8+3 is 11 points for the harbor).
Of the remaining 4 coffee produced, you ship 3 and trade 1. The trade
helps pay for half of a large building that ends of scoring you 10
points (we'll call that 5 for that coffee). The shipped coffee are
each worth a point.

In total, that coffee roaster was worth 3 points for itself, plus 11
for the harbor is bought, plus 5 for half the large building, plus 3
shipped coffee is 22. And all for a cost of just 6 early dubloons.

Do you wonder why you got beaten by 15 points by that player who
bought a coffee roaster and held a coffee monopoly for the majority of
the game? THIS IS WHY! You went and blew your early money on a
hospice, got a few extra colonists which let you produce a few extra
goods, and save a couple bucks by getting your quarries occupied
immediately. You gained 2 for the hospice + 2 bucks + 2-4 goods you
wouldnt have produced is 7 or so, and he got 22 of the coffee roaster.
You sat there trading your indigo and struggling to trade your sugar
for 1-2 per time, when he was raking in the cash and buying buildings
that scored even more points with the proceeds.

You played fine the rest of the game, and so did he, and the fact that
his early coffee roaster was WAY better than your early hospice meant
that you were 10-15 points behind, just due to one strategic decision
in the opening...

THATS how important early income is, and why focusing on income early,
point scoring capacities in the midgame, and points in the endgame is
the dominant strategy in Puerto Rico. Whether or not you end up
shipping or building will be dictated by how things go, by tactical
decisions, by timing issues, by your seat, and how the plantations
fall. But as long as you followed the plan and secured your source of
income, then you will be in a position to win the game when it comes
to the end. The details will differ, and knowing how to make the most
of each position, and where to take the game from here, will come from
experience. But knowing the underlying plan and strategy underneath
everything you do in the game will always help your steer yourself
into a position of strength, from which you will be able to find role
choices that help you more than your opponents. And that is the key
to winning at Puerto Rico.

Settlers of Catan Strategy and Tactics Guide

Settlers of Catan Strategy and Tactics Guide (June 6, 2004 Version)

Compiled by Scott MacPherson

Refer to the end for notes on the attribution method used in this guide, contact info, and reprinting conditions.

As a general note, this guide attempts to stay away from sweeping generalizations of what strategy or tactic is "best". There is seldom a best strategy or tactic (such as "always build a city if x happens, or a settlement if y happens"). Instead, I try to represent each concept as a series of choices to be made, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Settlers has too many factors (many beyond your control) to come up with some sort of formula to win in every situation. Instead, you need to be flexible and adapt as the game progresses. Don't be afraid to try out new strategies, as you may need them someday.

This guide assumes you have only the Kosmos (German version) or Mayfair (US version) Basic set. Many discussions also refer to elements of the 5-6 Player Expansion set, and the Kosmos Seefahrers / Mayfair Seafarers expansion set (referred to as "Seefahrers" in this guide). These two expansions, while adding some new game elements and rules, do not substantially change the overall game mechanics. Later editions will address the Stadt and Ritter Expansion in a separate section, as it in essence creates a new game.


Your choice of strategies will influence your initial setup and overall game play. The separation of strategies below is a bit artificial, but useful to understand the concepts behind them. In practice, players will use a combination of these strategies.

*The Ore-Grain Strategy

*This seems to be the most popular strategy, at least in the basic game. This strategy attempts to get a lot of ore and grain early in the game, in order to produce cities as quickly as possible. You should focus more on ore than grain, as you will need three ores to build a city, versus two grains (and in the basic game, there is usually less ore available then grain, as there are only three ore hexes compared to four grain hexes).

This strategy is often so powerful because the first cities you produce will probably be on your initial settlements, which should have high production values. Other people going for settlements right off will probably be left with lower production-value intersections. (Chuck Messenger )

This strategy lends itself to getting the largest army, as after you build your cities you will have lots of ore and grain left over to buy cards, of which the majority will be knights. For a game that needs ten victory points (like the basic game), four cities and the largest army means a win.

In general, the more congested the board, the harder this strategy becomes. Other players (especially wood-brick players, as described below) will have a greater expansion potential as they can pump out roads and settlements faster, thereby blocking off your expansion. All too often a player at the endgame will find themselves with the maximum of four cities and zero settlements for eight victory points, and not being able to get another two settlements (and corresponding victory points) because they are boxed in. In the basic game this is not as much as a dilemma as you can get another two points with the largest army or by victory point cards; in games where you need more victory points this can be more problematic. When playing with (or against) this strategy, you must keep in mind its greatest weakness is this lack of expansion potential.

The Ore-Grain Strategy can be good for Seefahrers, as it is harder to get boxed in (simply build to an island). Getting an ore or grain port is great for this strategy, as after you build four cities you won't have as much a need for these resources, and it can make the endgame a lot easier.

Remember that by building cities, you are concentrating production in fewer locations. As you are putting more of your eggs in fewer baskets, make sure you don't leave any vulnerable. As pointed out by someone else later in this guide, make sure that you don't place your cities at an intersection with one good number and two bad numbers, or the robber can make your very expensive city worthless. This will be much less of a problem to players who are concentrating on (many) settlements rather than on (fewer) cities. For this same reason, those variants that use multiple robbers/pirates can hurt people who concentrate on cities more.

Near the end of the game you will be the constant target of the robber, as ore and grain become valuable to the other players. You need to have been saving knights so that you can get the robber off your production units. Also, since you have cities, your production spaces will naturally look like better places for the others to put the robber. (Trevor Hyde <>)

*The Wood-Brick Strategy

*This is a strategy to get a lot of wood and brick early in the game, in order to build settlements and roads fast.

A wood/brick port is very useful in this strategy, as finding a way to get ore/grain will be important to build cities for the middle to end game.

Lots of people think this strategy is less effective on a small or congested board, as you need room to grow. Actually, it can be more effective, as your increased road building capability gives you the advantage in reaching those limited number of expansion spots first. An ore-grain player's worst nightmare is playing on a congested board with one or two wood-brick players.

This strategy naturally lends itself to getting the longest road.

For this strategy, it is very important that you build new settlements around open grain and ore hexes, or you will have a very difficult time trying to build cities later on in the game (which can be crucial for a win).

Optionally, with your increased settlement production, you can build on a number of ports to get ore and wheat. (Mike Schneider )

With your increased road building capability, you should build your roads to cut off other player's expansion. This can help in denying Ore/Grain players from acquiring enough building sites they need to win the game. (Greg Aleknevicus ) This leads into the next variant, which takes this to more of an extreme:

The "Road Boy" variant works to build roads fast in order to block off other players' expansion. This strategy concentrates on building roads first, rather than on production. Only when you are done blocking people off do you work on getting enough victory points to win the game. This requires a lot of wood and brick, so your first cities should be on these, rather than ore. Trade aggressively for wood and brick, before it's obvious you might be a threat. (Mike Schneider ) This is an interesting variant in that it violates my general philosophy of building up production first. It could work better on smaller boards with less people, so you don't miss blocking anyone. In addition, it might not work well in many Seefahrers scenarios, as people could just build to islands.

*The Card Builder Strategy

*This strategy is similar to the Ore/Grain Strategy, as it involves getting Ore/Grain hexes and building two cities fast. Then, cranking out development cards. This player will get an inordinate number of Knight cards, allowing them to keep the robber off their hexes and get other resources by stealing from other players. Often, victory point cards will come up. At some point in the game, try for a third settlement or city. The largest army is practically guaranteed. (Chuck Messenger ). Note that this strategy may not work very well in higher victory point games, or those Seefahrers scenarios where extra victory points are awarded for getting to islands.

*The Balance Strategy

*This strategy strives for a balance in all five resources. Settlements can be built relatively quickly, and the player is less likely to be boxed in. Also, this strategy leads people to become more self-sufficient, and less likely to require trading. (Chuck Messenger ) A 3:1 port could be very useful here.

This strategy is what a lot of players strive for in the initial setup. This is a powerful way to begin the game if you can do it, as it is easy to be flexible and change to another strategy later on.

*The Rare Resource Strategy

*A friend let me know I was missing this one in a previous version of this guide, and AllenDoum mentioned it as well in the first edition of the guide but I put it in setup section rather than the overall strategy section, which was a mistake:

Examine the board to see which commodity will be the hardest to get, and consider putting one of your settlements on the best tile for that commodity. A supply of a rare commodity may be more important than an extra 2/36 chance of a sheep. (AllenDoum )

Basically, this strategy is about identifying the rarest resources, and making sure you have access to them. There are two types of rare: rare in overall production (due to bad numbers being on them), and rare in position availability (fewer number of hexes have the resource, like ore and brick in the basic game, which only has three hexes each instead of four hexes like wool, grain, and wood). In many cases both will happen, such as when ore and brick have bad numbers on them in the basic game.

This strategy is not a monopoly: you don't necessarily want to be the only person on these hexes (as seen in the Monopoly strategy below, this may not be such a good idea). You just want to make sure you have them. This could be taken to the extreme, for example a player who goes for ore and brick, because they are the two rarest, but is more commonly used along with another strategy. This strategy can work well with a Cartel strategy, described below.

The crux of this strategy is realizing that you will pay dearly for rare resources later on in the game, and so you should plan ahead by getting them early. A reduced overall production value early in the game to get those rare resources is usually more than offset by not making 3:1 or 4:1 trades later in the game to get them.

*The Common Resource Strategy

*Every game usually has a very common resource, that no one in particular wants. This is usually wool, as it is often the odd man out. The Wood-Brick players and Ore-Grain players (the two most popular strategies) will only be trying for wool if it is convenient. A friend of mine () sometimes likes to go after wool hexes, and calls it the "Sheep-O-Matic" strategy. Since both Ore-Grain and Wood-Brick strategies need wool, he can often trade somewhat easily. He goes for a wool port (the Sheep-O-Matic) to get cards he can't trade for. He does best by combining this strategy with the Card Builder strategy. This would probably work well in Seefahrers, where everyone needs wool for sails. This strategy doesn't necessarily require wool, just any common resource that no one seems to want. You really need the port though, or you can kiss the game goodbye. This is similar to the Cartel strategy, described below.

*The Monopoly and Cartel Strategies

*These are strategies to gain either exclusive control (monopoly) or shared control (cartel) of a particular resource, usually ore or brick as they have the fewest number of hexes in the basic game (three, versus four of all the others).

First, the Monopoly variant, to gain more or less exclusive control. It is usually attempted by trying to control all of the good hexes (usually just one) of a resource by yourself. It seldom works. The major problem with this strategy is that the robber almost always sits on the monopolized hex. As you are the only person on that particular hex, the robber will stay there until YOU get it off (or a seven is rolled), unlike shared hexes. Also unlike shared hexes, every player EXCEPT YOU considers that hex to be fair robber placement territory, especially since they want a chance to grab that monopolized resource from your hand.

A potentially better way to try the monopoly strategy is to let other players surround the best hex of that resource, and to go for the two less marginal ones (in the case of ore and brick). Then try to place the robber on the good hex throughout the game. This has the advantage of being able to place your initial settlements away from the rest of the crowd. You will need a lot of lot of knights, to get the robber off of you, and onto the best hex. (Mike Schneider ). This would be good combined with the Card Builder strategy (to get the knights), especially if you are trying to monopolize ore or wheat.

If someone in your group has the nerve to try a monopoly, it will become apparent very soon, probably in the initial setup. You can use this to your advantage by remembering that ports have just become more valuable real estate, and by using the monopoly player as a lighting rod for other players aggression instead of you (and drawing people's attention off of your own designs.)

The Cartel variant. Basically, this is a strategy to share control of a particular resource in order to reduce the problem of the robber in a monopoly, but to make sure that you are the dominant player in that cartel. In this variant it is only necessary to control most of the resource. For example, if you control two out of the three settlement locations on a good hex of a rare resource. The other player will work just as hard to keep the robber away, but will only collect half as much. This is most common on a good ore hex. Another way this can be done is by having majority access to several hexes for a commodity for which you have a port. The other players can't keep the robber on all of them, and will probably just keep it on your prime hex. Sheep and wheat are most typical of this kind of cartel, because they are not the commodities that people usually target during initial placement. (Mike Schneider ) Note that this is very similar to the Common Resource Strategy.

Similar to the Monopoly variant, you will need a lot of knights to keep the robber away, and preferably on your opponents most productive hexes, or on a resource your opponent has a port for (so they can't trade easily for your resource). In this way, if you find yourself in total control you can make really good trades. Depending on your group, you can make 3:1 trades if people are desperate, and even turn these down if you are ahead, and force them to make 4:1 bank trades. (Mike Schneider )

*The Straight Numerical Advantage Strategy

*This strategy really tries to maximize production, without concentrating on any particular resource. Just get as much of anything. You may need to trade a lot, because you could end up with a strange mix. This works better in games with more people (more people to trade with). A 3:1 port is probably essential, if you have a varied mix of resources.

I put this in because some people use it, but this is not really a strategy. A good strategy is a plan to let you get the particular combination of resources you need to get certain victory points, which this does not do. This could be good in the initial setup as a short-term plan, before you figure out what other strategy you will need to win.


The initial setup should take into account a number of factors. Note that a lot of the information below is also applicable whenever a new settlement is built.

1) Production Value. Before you place settlements, figure out how much the intersection will produce. First, a refresher on the number distribution of two six-sided dice, for those of you unfamiliar with the bell curve. Below is the number of times (out of 36) that a particular number shows up:

Number on die / chance number comes up out of 36:


So if you have a settlement on a 3/5/10 intersection, the chance that it will produce something that turn will be 2/36 (the chance a three will be rolled) + 4/36 (the chance for the five) + 3/36 (the chance for the ten), or 9 out of 36 in total. The ranking for this intersection, then, is 9. Any intersection can be ranked on just production value from zero (the edge of a desert on the water) to 15 (the intersection of three hexes having an 8 or a 6). Note that an intersection ranked 14 or 15 is not supposed to happen in the basic game (as an 8 or 6 hex should not occur next to each other), so the effective range is zero to 13. The intersection with the highest rank should get you more resources.

On some newer Mayfair versions of the game, the number tiles have from one to five little circles on them, giving you the odds out of 36 that number will be rolled. Just add them up to get the rank.

Don't have the new Mayfair edition, but want an easy way to remember how to rank an intersection? For each number tile surrounding the intersection, figure out the difference between that number and seven. Add them up, and subtract the total from 18.

The rank of the intersections on which you place your first settlements is (in my opinion) the most important factor to consider in the initial setup. The other factors below should be considered only after figuring out how much they will decrease your overall production value, and if it is worth it.

2) Strategy you will use. Of course, a straight production value is less useful (maybe a LOT less useful) if you are not getting the combination of resources you need.

3) Six and eight hexes. Don't just automatically place on a six or an eight hex because it has the highest production value, or because those chits are marked in red. Just because that particular hex has a good production value does not mean the overall intersection does too. Look at the rankings for all the good intersections. If two intersections both have the same ranking (for example a 6/10/4 intersection and a 5/9/4 intersection, both ranked at 11), consider the one without the six or eight.

Why? Sixes and eight's can be big liabilities. First, the robber is particularly drawn to sixes and eight's, no surprise here. Second, as sixes and eight's attract more people, it will be more crowded and harder to expand around them. Third, if a hex around one of your intersections without the six or eight draws the robber, it will do less damage, as it will have to be put on a hex with lesser production capability. In general, sixes and eight's are best for people who plan to draw a lot of cards, so you can have some knights ready to move the robber off.

A settlement with an intersection with one good number and two bad numbers will be practically useless when the robber is placed on the good number. (Isaac Kuo )

4) Placement of settlements around a hex (or how to attract the robber). A big decision is where to place a second settlement on a hex. If there is only one settlement already on a hex, you usually have a choice: build at the opposite corner (blocking the hex off from any future settlement), or build two away from the first settlement, leaving a third location open on that hex. What you decide is a major factor on whether the robber visits you or not.

Blocking off a hex could be an advantage if you can restrict that resource to other players (this can be a substantial advantage on a rare resource, or a resource that everyone needs for their particular strategy). A disadvantage is that you decrease your own expansion potential. Potentially a bigger disadvantage is that you will appear to create a monopoly, and draw the robber (see problems with this in the Overall Strategies section above). Because of the problem of the robber showing up more on a hex in your sole control, if you block off a hex you should seriously consider doing it only on hexes where another player has the first settlement.

Try not to place both settlements around a single good producing spot. Besides probably reducing expansion capability, this makes that spot a prime target for the robber. (Isaac Kuo )

The alternative is to place a second settlement two vertices away from the first, thus leaving a third location for a settlement open on that hex. You should figure out which one is applicable to your strategy. For example, if you are going for an Ore/Grain strategy, you probably won't be the one to get that third position on the hex, if your neighbor is a Wood/Clay player and can pump out a settlement faster, and so maybe you should just block it off. However, if there won't even be a race to the third spot, you might want to save it for yourself. You may not want to get three of your own settlements around a single hex, otherwise it may become the robber's home.

If there are two different players already on a hex, and a third position is open, seriously consider building there. It is very hard for the robber to stay on a hex with three players who all want him off. And fewer players will place a robber there in the first place.

5) Other players. If you place first and put your first settlement on that great eight Ore hex, don't depend on that six Wheat hex being available when you place your second settlement. When going first, your strategy might have to be more flexible as everyone will be placing all the rest of their settlements before you. In this case, you may not be able to figure out your strategy until you actually place your second settlement. (Isaac Kuo corrected me on this one)

Just like in the stock market, there are big advantages in being a contrarian. For example, I love being in a game where everyone but me is playing an ore-grain or card builder strategy: I get my pick of wood and brick hexes at the beginning for my wood/brick strategy, I can outrun them to good production spots by building roads faster, and I have an easy job of getting the longest road. They are all competing for second.

Other players also determine your expansion capability. Make sure you are not cut off from future ports or other resources you might need, or from being able to expand. (Isaac Kuo ) This is especially important on crowded boards. Watch out placing next to other players or groups of players, especially Wood-Brick players, who could expand and block you off. Note if you are a Wood-Brick player yourself, it might not be such a bad idea to place next to the Ore-Grain players.

Don't sacrifice higher value spots just because someone else is already there. As stated above, it can be very useful to be on the same hex (especially higher-value hexes) as someone else (or even two other people), as it will be much harder for the robber to stay on those hexes.

Don't place your initial settlements just to screw other players. I read one guide where the author said the first settlement is for optimizing production, and the second to hurt other players (grabbing a port s/he needs, etc.). Remember, your goal is not to have a particular player lose, it is to have you win. You are not going to win by sacrificing your production to hurt someone else. Maybe the other person(s) you target will lose too, but you will fall on the sword to get it done, and probably wind up letting a third person win (who presumably focused on a placement for optimal production in the beginning and was ahead of you both). If you can place a settlement and screw someone at the same time, then great, go for it. A much better strategy is to convince someone else to screw the first player. This is not to say you shouldn't work against other players, but don't start the race with a broken leg (note to self: enough with the metaphors already).

6) Distribution of numbers. Two hexes each with a five will produce the same number of resources on the average as two hexes with a four and a six. However, the distribution will be different. Settlements on a smaller selection of numbers mean that you will get a lot of resources clumped together, while settlements on a larger selection of numbers means that you will get resources spread out more. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The same number on two resources that are commonly used together (for example, wood and clay) can be very useful, as they can immediately be used and less port trading will be required (Isaac Kuo) ).

However, having a lot of production centers on the same numbers means that some turns you will get a lot of resources, and it is more likely you will be stuck with over seven cards when a seven is rolled (or over ten cards in a 5-6 player game, if you use that rule).

Also, consider placing your settlements/cities on numbers so production matches your ports. For example, if you use a 2:1 port, having two settlements or two cities on a hex for that resource will allow you to trade more easily. This also means that if you have a 2:1 port for a resource, you don't necessarily need a settlement and a city on the same hex as you will produce three of that resource (unless you need one of that resource itself). (David Grabiner )

7) Road Placement. Decide to where you want to build. New people playing the game usually place their roads towards high value hexes, and then kick themselves because they are taken before they get there, and as it is usually so crowded around high value hexes they have no where else to go and they wind up building in the opposite direction. If you want to be more sure, build towards the sea, and ports. Not too many people start there, you will need a port, and you may be able to pick up a settlement or two on the way.

If you want to risk building inland, then you need to do the homework: figure out how many settlements are left to be placed and if you were the other people, where would you put them. Take your time in the initial setup, there are no time limits. If you don't want to go through this trouble (and other people saying "come on and place already"), build out. This may not be possible if you are placing first.

Remember, Wood-Brick people will build faster. Take into account your road-building capability, and of others near you. If you are Wood-Brick and an in a good position to build inwards (you have supply of wood and brick, and your turn placement is optimal), utilize your strength.

8) Connecting Settlements. If you are going for the longest road, you will need to connect your initial settlements eventually. If you are not going for the longest road, don't worry about it. It is usually more advantageous to wait to connect your settlements, if you possibly can. In either case, it is optimal to point your first roads at two different future settlement locations, so you can beat other people there. Note if you play it safe and point both towards your third settlement location, thinking you only need one more road to connect them, you will be one road behind for your fourth settlement. If you connect your two settlements, you will be two roads behind for your fourth settlement.

It is much harder to get blocked in when your settlements are in two vastly different locations. This is especially important for Ore-Grain people, who may have to wait a bit until they can build roads.


1) Grow! How fast you grow is exponential, not linear. In a linear growth mode, you would receive (on the average) the same amount of resources each turn. In Settler's, "investing" production to build more production centers (settlements and cities) leads to an exponential growth rate. It's how compound interest works, and why if you invest a little early on in the game you can get a huge advantage later. Even a small numerical advantage in production in the beginning of the game can result in an inordinately large production compared to other players later in the game. (Note that the rate of exponential growth decreases as the game progresses, as the "best" intersections are settled or converted to cities, leaving only the lower-value intersections remaining for new production centers. Even though the rate of exponential growth decreases, this growth is still exponential and should be taken into account.) You have probably noticed where in a lot of games the leader(s) move out farther and farther ahead, and those behind can't seem to catch up. This is why.

I would argue this is the MOST important concept of the game. It is a major factor (arguably the most important factor) in the initial setup, and also determines what your first few turns look like. Simply put, BUILD PRODUCTION CENTERS in the first few turns, and build them in areas that are relatively high in production value. You do not want to be caught behind another player in the exponential growth race.

In the early game, don't bother with constructing the longest road, building the largest army, exploring unknown hexes in Seefahrers scenarios, etc. Your main goal at the beginning should be to increase production. (Note that if building production centers cannot be done in your turn, it may be advantageous to buy cards, build roads for future use, start exploring, etc., just to keep the robber away from an ever-increasing hand. However, this should be treated as a fallback plan.)

For example, consider the player who wants to go to a single-hex island early in the game, to get the extra victory points. In one Seefahrers scenario it costs three ships to get to a single-hex island, and then you need to build a settlement that only borders on that one hex. That is a total card cost of ten (six for the three ships, and four for the settlement). Let's see, say the hex produces on a ten, that is once every 12 turns. That means you will get back your investment in 120 turns. Not a good idea early in the game. The moral is keep your eye on production the first few turns.

2) Contrary to popular belief, the numbers thrown on the dice do not "even out" over the course of the game (well maybe literally, but not in their effect). Numbers coming up early in the game are much more important than later in the game, due to the exponential growth rate. That resource you get early on, if invested into more production, will result in even more resources. This means the robber is also more important early in the game. If the robber lands on someone early in the game, its effect can be far worse than later; it takes not only that particular resource, but robs that player of all the future resources it would have led to if invested.

3) "Clumping" of numbers. Numbers on the dice always seem to clump together at times, and never seem to be rolled at other times . A famous example of clumping in real life (and how we perceive it) can be demonstrated by convincing two of your friends to perform a little experiment. Have one toss a coin 100 times and write down the results. Have the other write up a "random" assortment of 100 heads and tails that they came up with in their head. Don't let them tell you which person used which method, instead tell them you will figure it out. Ninety-five percent of the time, the person flipping the coin will generate a series of seven or more heads or tails in a row. You almost never see this in the list the other person makes up, as they invariable think that seven or more in a row will never happen. (This works even better in large groups of people, like beginning statistics classes :)

In terms of what to expect in the game, similar clumping of production numbers will occur. Just like the person making up the heads/tails, this will seem extremely unlikely (or really bad/good luck), but it isn't; what seems to be really strange clumping is in fact quite common. You usually only remember clumping if it is really bad for you (or someone whines a lot about it), but watch your next few games carefully. It will happen in practically every one. If this clumping works against you in the early game, you can really be screwed, because you can fall way behind in the exponential growth race.

You have to assume weird clumping will happen, and plan for it. Consider spreading out your production centers in the early game onto different numbers so this has less of a chance of happening to you. Personally, I don't pay too much attention to this myself as I think other factors are usually more important, but others swear by it. I think it would be more important if you are playing a strategy that emphasizes cities (i.e. the ore-grain strategy), as you will have less production centers (and by extension, be located next to fewer production numbers) to begin with, and therefore are at a greater risk from clumping.


1) Get into the habit of counting other players' victory points every turn, and figuring out how they will probably act to get what they need to win. This may seem obvious, but most people do not do it.

2) Don't be a target. Hide points to near the end if possible (do you really want the longest road with five segments, and being ahead in points that early on?). Or wait to put out that last knight if you can.


1) You will probably need a port to win the game, or a lotta luck. Some strategies are better served with a 3:1 port, while others by a specific resource port. Make sure you know how you will get them. Don't stress too much over ports early on, they are usually more important in the mid- and endgame (unless a resource is particularly rare). But don't get blocked from reaching one, either.

2) Note that many players think that 3:1 ports are inferior to 2:1 ports. This isn't true. Different ports are good for different situations. Think about which kind you need. People who advocate one kind over another often just play with one particular strategy. For example, 2:1 ore and grain ports seem to be particularly popular, as players using the ore-grain or card-builder strategies really need them later on in the game.

You may not want a 2:1 port if you just have one source for that resource, even if it is a good source. It will draw the robber. Conversely, watch for other people in which this happens when considering where to place the robber.

3) A popular strategy is to go for a port on the first turn, which means you are on an intersection with only two hexes that produce, at most. It had better be worth it, because it is going to have to offset the increased production of someone who placed two inland settlements, with a higher total production value. Sometimes ports are just screaming to have a settlement placed on them at the initial setup (for example, an intersection with an ore port on an eight ore hex). Expect the robber to show up at hexes like these.

4) If a particular resource looks like it's going to be extremely rare, it may be worthwhile to start off with a port, especially if you're the last player and can coordinate a good combination of spots. (Isaac Kuo )

Even if you don't start off with a port, you may want to place one of your initial settlements near a port to get it later. If you know what kind of port your strategy or initial setup needs (like a particular 2:1 port, or a 3:1 port because you expect to have a lot of varied resources), then try to place near that particular port. However, be prepared to change your strategy. Also, examine what kind of ports other people are near, this may give you additional clues about their strategies.

5) Remember, as ports are on water hexes, it is a lot easier to block them off or reserve them - just build a road to the port area, and sometimes all you need is one more road on the other side to block that particular port off.


1) You need either the largest army, longest road, or a lotta luck to win. While you should probably not start building them right away, you should figure out early in the game which one you are eventually going to shoot for, and how you will do it.

The size of the board and number of players could influence your decision. For example, it could take a different strategy to get the longest road on a crowded board, compared to a wide-open board. On a wide-open board, the player who can pump out the most roads can probably will get it, meaning it probably easier playing with a wood-brick strategy.

On a crowded board, the number of hex sides is the determining factor, and the player who can get to those faster will probably get it. The nod could still go to the wood-brick player here, as they can usually get to areas faster, but other factors might be more important in this situation, such as the starting location. However, this doesn't mean that the longest road is "harder" to get on a crowded board; after all, only one person can get it on any board. It just takes a different approach.

2) Note that the longest road and largest army are worth more if the other players aren't trying for them. The more roads/knights that you have to buy, the worse the investment. (AllenDoum ) This could be more of a factor in determining which one to go for than the type of board and number of players. This means it might actually be preferable to go for the one that you normally would not, if there is going to be a lot of competition (for example, longest road when you are playing an Ore/Grain strategy).

3) If going for the longest road, don't make too many "side trips" with your roads. You only have 15 in the basic game. Remember, if you are the first person to get a road 15 in length, it cannot be taken away from you (unless someone splits it, as shown below).

This is much less important in Seefahrers, when the longest road could theoretically be 30 long (it includes ships). This also means that getting the longest road in a Seefahrers scenario can be much more costly if a race develops, a factor to consider when deciding between getting the Longest Road or Largest Army.

4) Remember if an opponent builds a settlement in the middle of your road network, your routes are split in two for purposes of determining longest trade route. (Matt Gardner ) Also remember that no one can split your ship lines.

5) If you know you are not going for longest road, then building settlements off triangle forks saves you having to build two roads for each settlement, and instead allows to you build three roads (instead of four) to get to two settlements. (The Maus <*>)


1) Victory points are great when you get them, but are not to be counted on at the endgame. There are seven victory point cards in a 36-card deck in the original (first and second edition) Mayfair version, which means you are drawing an average of five (at a cost of 15 production cards!) to get a point, and ten (30 cards!) to get two. It is much easier to get two points with far less than 30 production cards the old-fashioned way: build something. It gets worse with the Kosmos or later Mayfair versions (five victory point cards), diluting the mix even further.

2) Don't use knights too early. Save them if you can to keep the robber off of your hexes (play BEFORE you roll the dice in this case). However, don't get caught with too many development cards, as you can only play one per turn. This is especially important if going for the largest army -- get those knights out before the endgame.

3) Watch out buying too many development cards early. If you draw a victory point card (or two) at the beginning, it can really hurt your future development chances, as they don't produce. However, the rest of the cards CAN produce for you (at least indirectly). (Aaron D. Fuegi ).

4) Save that Road Building card to the end if you can, if you are going for the longest road. It can be a great surprise when you play it on the last turn. It is also great to use at the beginning, to save the four resource cards and pump up that exponential growth rate a bit.

5) If you can't build anything, consider buying a card if you can. You will lower your card count and keep the robber away. Also, it is a great way to "store" resources for use later.

How much is a development card worth on the average, just in resource cards? If you assume that a knight card is worth one (from getting one resource from a player), road building is worth four, monopolies are worth three (this just evens the card out, of course you could get a few more or a few less), and discovery is worth two, then each development card is worth 1.3 cards in the (first and second edition) Mayfair deck. That is for a cost of three. Of course, that doesn't count victory cards, getting the largest army, etc. If you play a resource card at an optimal time, it can be worth a LOT more to you.

6) It is hard to get the robber off of you without Knights. Remember, a seven comes up only once every six turns on the average.

7) Your chance of drawing a particular type of card is as follows, in 36-card combined Basic/5-6 Player Expansion set (this is also the same as the first or second edition Mayfair Basic deck):

Knight: 56% Victory point: 19% Discovery: 8% Monopoly: 8% Road Building: 8%

Meaning, your chance of drawing any specific card, other than a knight, is pretty low.


People seem pretty split on trading. It seems that some will only trade kicking and screaming, as they see big problems with helping other players. Others don't seem to mind, as long as they make sure to look out for number one. I have always tried to trade as much as I can in the early game, primarily out of one big fear -- if I don't trade with Player X, Player X is going to trade with Player Y. In this case, Player X and Player Y will have a better distribution of resource cards (and hence will build more) than me. This is especially bad if X or Y is an adjacent and direct competitor with me for future resources. If you don't trade with X, someone else will. This leads me to take the position that trading is necessary, and instead to focus on the question of how to make the trade as advantageous to you (and as disadvantageous to others) as possible, as long as it is going to happen anyway.

The benefits from trading are not always equally distributed. I would take the position that they seldom are. So how does one make sure they are distributed more in your favor then the other person?

1) Try to trade as close to your turn as possible, and preferably on your turn. Why? If you trade on your turn, you will have a much greater chance of using that card you just got.

For example, you need one more grain to make your city, so you trade a wool to someone for a grain. Trading on your turn means you KNOW where that grain is going -- to your city. However, the other person does not know they are actually going to use that wool on their turn. They might be trying for a settlement, and when their turn comes around do not have a clay. Or maybe the robber stole a card. Or a monopoly card was played. Or they wound up producing a wool themselves on that 12 they didn't think they would roll. In any case, when their turn comes around, they may or may not be using that wool for something. If they don't use that wool, that trade was a bust for them, and you were the one who got the greater benefit from that trade.

The farther from your turn you make a trade, the greater the chance that something will happen that will make that card you got worthless, or of losing the card entirely. And that means the other person probably got more benefit out of that trade than you.

If the person the who plays the turn ahead of you is trying to make a trade with you, try to wait until your turn instead, if you can. They will have to wait another turn to produce what they wanted. Of course, if they really want to they will trade 4 to 1 or through a port, and then you are stuck...

To stop a trade, you can always promise the player who turn it ISN'T that you will trade with them when their turn comes around, by arguing how they will benefit from this and how the player whose turn it is will be hurt, by the reasoning above.

2) Conversely, try to trade with others who are farther away from their turn, all other things being equal. Of course, you don't have much of a choice if it is not your turn, as you have to trade with the person whose turn it is.

Comments 1 and 2 are probably a lot less useful for those of you who play with the Kosmos or (later edition) Mayfair 5-6 player build rules, where anyone can build on any turn.

3) Trade with people who are losing, or are no threat to you. This is a no-brainer.

4) Trade early on as much as possible. You don't want to fall behind on that exponential growth race.

I once played a game in which another player made a four-to-one trade with the bank early in the game, rather than trade one-to-one with me. I thought she was nuts, but then I was a little biased. However, in order for me not to have the benefit, she fell on the sword herself. I made a two-to-one port trade to get that resource instead, and was therefore two cards ahead of her. The real winners were the other two players. Losing this many production cards this early on did not help her growth rate at all, and I wound up winning in a very close battle that she might have very well won instead.

5) Remember, you can always trade for stuff besides cards, though it isn't binding. How much is it worth to someone for you to build a road and block off a potential port of their immediate competitor? This is useful when you REALLY need a card or cards and have no cards to trade that the other person wants. And you can always trade wood and brick in unequal trades to the person whose turn it is, to stop someone from getting the longest road (or whatever) when you can't build there yourself.

6) Think of other players as 1:1 ports.

7) It isn't necessarily bad to trade two cards to someone for one you really need (2:1 trade), it just sounds that way. You are saving cards as your only other options was presumably 3:1 at a port or 4:1 with the bank. If it was a 3:1 port, you are one ahead. As the other player gained one card too, they are also one ahead. You are both ahead in my book, and the real losers are the players who were not in on the deal.

You are probably trying to figure out the catch here. You are correct, there is one. The above only assumes the number of cards are important, not the type. The problem comes in if the other player was also planning to do a port or bank trade to get that resource you just gave them. That means they are not just one ahead, they might be two or three ahead. In a worst-case scenario they were going to need to do a bank trade at 4:1 for both of those resources you just gave them, meaning they are now SEVEN ahead (it cost them one card instead of eight).

It is up to you to figure out how many cards they are really saving. If you can appeal to their greed and give them two cards they don't really need, or that they could have traded 1:1 for themselves, then go for it. In general, try to do 2:1 trades with people who are behind, those will use those extra cards to screw someone else, those who were going to do a 1:1 trade with someone else to get those resources, those who were not going to need to do port or bank trades to get those resources, those whose turn it just was and therefore have to wait the longest (see 2 above) and have a good chance to get those resources you gave them anyway, those who already have a lot of cards and may attract the robber because of your trade, and of course those who are not just going to use those cards to hurt you. If you do it right, it is a very powerful tactic. If you mess it up, it could come back to bite you.

In most cases, a generally good 2:1 trade with someone is if you give them two resources for which they have a 2:1 port. It's a great trade for them, and they often jump at it. They will trade them in to get one card. So now they wound up trading a card to you, for two cards, which they converted back into one in their port. It's the same as making a 1:1 trade with you for the resource they really wanted, which they might have made with someone else anyway. Or think of it as you "borrowing" their port for a turn. And you are still one ahead. Just make sure they actually will trade them in at their port, or you might have the same problem as above.

8) It's amazing how many people don't have any particular idea of what to build their next turn. For those people who just react to what cards are in their hand in deciding what to build (instead of going out and getting what they need), you can force their strategy a bit. Want them to build a settlement instead of that road that is going to cut off your port? Make sure they get a grain and wool to go along with that brick and wood. Or make sure they draw cards instead of building those ships to that island you want.

9) Don't blindly follow trade embargoes on the person that is ahead. Chances are, they were set up by a single person for a reason that will benefit them the most, or were set up too early. This is your opportunity to make some very good trades with people that no one else is trading with. I assume you will make sure they won't win because of that trade, although.


1) As stated in many places above, try not to build around a hex in such a way that it will attract the robber.

2) Watch out where you put the robber. You might need that resource, or suddenly create a shortage. Consider putting it on a resource you already have a supply for, and don't have to trade for. And of course, on someone who is ahead, or someone who has a resource you need. If you put it on a hex with fewer number of people, or a person who does not have any extra development cards (no knights) it will stay there longer.

Consider putting it on a hex so that you are left as the sole or major producer of a commodity. (Greg Aleknevicus) ) See notes on the Monopoly / Cartel strategies above for more info on this.

3) This pirate's most important function is to restrict ship building around its hex. You can completely block off an island in this way. Your main goal should be to stop others from getting victory points on the islands, not to get the most number of cards that you can. The cards are gravy.


This guide is a compilation of many people's ideas. People's comments are included as separate paragraphs, with attribution (hopefully all of them). If the paragraph is un-attributed, I wrote it. That is not to say I came up with the idea; obviously I didn't invent the ore-grain strategy and other common ideas. If I have thoughts on other people's comments I add to the paragraph after the attribution. Using this method, you can email whoever came up with the appropriate idea to discuss it further. I don't know if any programs can find email addresses inside posts, so I played it safe. Remove the "DE" and "LETE" in each email address.

Please email me with your comments, other tips, or criticisms to If you don't want your name and email included in later versions, let me know. Later versions will also be posted on and on

For the next version, I really need info on the Stadt and Ritter, Cheops, and Alexander expansions.

Yeah, I know no one is going to remember all of this. But maybe certain bits will be useful.

This is for all experience levels. For those of you that think you don't need help on the basic stuff, you can probably skip a lot of this guide. But remember, Richard Feynman used to teach freshman physics because he said it was essential to go back to the basics every once in a while.

You are free to copy, publish, edit, change, or reprint this guide in any form, as long as you reference the original source (currently at

November, 1997 This version derived from a post and replies made on

January 13, 1999 Added new strategies, more emphasis on the robber, more tips on trading, and various odds and ends.

January 18, 1999 Major editing. Added info on the Wood-Brick strategy, info on six and eight hexes, formula for ranking intersections.

July 29, 1999 Minor edits and changes in overall strategy. Other odds and ends added. Updated some email addresses.

June 6, 2004 Wow it's been five years already. No real changes, just my new email address and a change in the reprinting conditions. I was a lot more anal back then.

A guide to Carcassonne strategy: The basics

A guide to Carcassonne strategy: The basics

This article is meant to lay the groundwork for how to master the board game Carcassonne (Wikipedia). I do not intend to explain the rules of the game and I assume that the reader is familiar with the basic mechanics of the rules. If need be, I will of course refer to a specific rule to prove a point. Over the years, we have tried various rule sets and different expansions, and we have finally settled on playing with first edition rules and only one expansion, Inns & Cathedrals. Even though some specific parts of this article will pertain only to games using that particular setup, most strategies are valid for other combinations as well (even for games in general).

I am making two assumptions for the majority of this guide, which both are crucial. Firstly, I assume that there are five players, and secondly I assume that the goal of the game is to get a good a rank as possible (as opposed to getting as many points as possible). I will explain why I have made these assumptions later, but just take my word for that they are very important for the strategy of the game. Most of what I say is relevant for all games anyway, but I have provided a special part discussing number of players and why the goal of the game has to be determined in advance and what consequences the choice entails.

That being said, who am I to lecture about how to play Carcassonne? No one, really. I have never participated in a competition, but I have played the game several times a week for a couple of years together with friends who are as analytic and interested in games as I am. Even if I am confident that we are pretty close to mastering the game, I write this mostly because I want to focus and clear my own mind. If someone happens to find it interesting or rewarding in any way, that is a significant bonus, but it is not what makes me write in the first place.

Please note that even if I have originated many of the ideas in this article, I am indebted to my friends. Without them, I would never have played the game as much as I have and I would never have reached the conclusions presented here. So credit where credit is due.

Repeated luck is called skill
When playing Carcassonne for the first time, it feels much like throwing dice; sometimes one gets the desired tiles, but most often not, and the winner is determined by chance. As is the case in all games involving any kind of luck, the quintessential idea is to maximise the probability of a positive result and minimise that of a negative one. Very few tiles played in Carcassonne are trivial or without meaning (seldom more than one or two during an entire game). Positive things include helping oneself and disrupting one’s opponents. Negative things include disruption of one’s own play and helping opponents. Therefore, strive to play each piece so that it achieves both positive aspects at once, or, if that is not possible, at least one of them, prioritising helping oneself over causing damage to an opponent. The best play is a piece which helps oneself and, at the same time, is bad for someone else (preferably more than one opponent).
A rule of thumb in this spirit is that you should always have several different projects to develop that require different kinds of tiles (thus maximising the chance that the next tile is useful). Try to have at least one road and one city being built all times and avoid having two projects which require the same kind of tile to be completed. There number of ways to master luck in Carcassonne is paramount to my desire to describe them, but let me just leave it at saying that most of them will come gradually with experience.
Conclusively, the most desired skill in Carcassonne (and most other games) is to be able to maximise each play so that it leads to the goal of winning the game. Even if rotating the piece in a certain direction will only give you very slight advantage, doing so will in the long run build up your chances of winning tremendously. Recognising how to do this for every piece takes a lot of experience and analysis, but I consider it the most important skill needed to win.

Shared joy is double joy
In any game of more that two players, there is an effect which has to be employed in order to win. If you do not, you will lose to players who do. Fortunately, it is rather simple. Assuming five players, let us consider the following two theoretical examples.
• The five players build one city each, using three tiles with no shield. Each gains six points in absolute terms, but zero points relatively (since all the players earn the same amount of points, the game is left unchanged by the cities, bar the possibility to gain more points on the field adjacent to them).
• Three of these players cooperate, building one large city instead, and they will then earn eighteen points each (using the same tiles). The two players left out still only get six points for their completed individual cities.
Compare the result between these two. As mentioned, the effect on the game in the first case is non-existent, save for the effect on the fields. In the second case, however, three players remain unchanged relative to each other (same as for the first case), but have gained twelve points over the other two. Again barring the effect on the fields, this leads to the conclusion that shared joy is indeed doubled joy. Whenever possible, strive to cooperate with other players to maximise your own (and their) points.
In practice, this means that you have to devise ways by which to gain access to cities and roads being built. It requires experience to recognise some of the more creative ways of doing this, but simply placing a tile and a follower so that you need only one more to have joined the city is most often enough. Note that you shall not use the large follower for this purpose, since you will then be building the project on your own. The idea is to cooperate so that your tiles and another player’s tiles both add to both of your scores.
Consider a city being built jointly by two players and the third player has the option to sneak in as described in the previous paragraph. Assuming that it is early in the game, the two players building the city will not wait for a means to exclude the third player (since they have adopted the principle of shared joy, they realise that even if the third player gains more than they do, they still win out compared to the two left, which leaves a net positive effect for them). Perhaps they will not themselves play the tile than joins their city with the third player’s, since it might be bad to waste a tile that the third player will play anyway later on. Now to the point: If the third player would have put his big follower instead of a small one in order to share, the two other players would have done everything in their power to prevent him from joining them. This is extremely important, since playing the big follower is often a terrible mistake which will lose you points and possibly the game. The big follower has its use, but it is not to steal moderately large cities at the outset of the game.
Thus, in Carcassonne it is vitally important to cooperate as much as possible. If you are the only one doing this, you will win every single time you play (I am talking out of personal experience here). Finally, when everyone has realised that this is the case, a new skill is needed to know when the stakes are high enough that one ought not to cooperate, but more on that later.

Importance of relative points
I would like to make a statement that, when stated, might seem obvious, but which very few players follow. The absolute number of points amassed in a game is irrelevant; it is the relative number of points that matters. In other words, the important thing is how many points you have compared to you opponents. Carcassonne (and many other games) is won by having more points than your opponents, regardless of how many points one actually has! The most valuable application of this insight is that points do not have a fixed value. Scoring two points against opponent A might be much better than scoring a hundred points against opponent B (albeit a somewhat extreme example).
In the early stages of the game, it is never clear who will come out ahead, so this idea of relevant points is not crucial. Instead, strive to maximise your own points regardless of the opponents. As the game progresses, identify which players threaten your position or which players you have the chance to beat and focus on gaining points towards them. Sometimes it is necessary to realise that it is highly unlikely to beat a certain player and put him or he out of your mind entirely.
Example: Towards the end of a three-player game, Angus is in the lead with 140 points, having left Morn and Nick far behind with 40 and 60 points respectively. There is one 14-piece road with an inn, currently shared between Morn and Nick. Morn has the option to finish it on her turn, giving herself and Nick 30 points. Assuming that the rest of the board is fairly neutral, she should always play somewhere else, even if it brings only a single point. The reason for this is that she can never catch up with Angus anyway (being 100 points behind), which means that points against him is worth nothing. Since she shares the road with Nick, finishing it would give her a total of zero points relative to him. Therefore, any other play is preferable, even if brings only a single point towards Nick.

When to play a follower
As I have already mentioned, followers should be played in such a way as to maximise the possibility that tiles are useful. However, even if you do this, you will repeatedly run into the problem of whether to play follower or not, especially when you have only a few. It is difficult to say anything in general about this, except:
• Never deploy your last follower if you do not get one back the same turn
Even if you have played wisely and can use many kinds of tiles to build on you various projects, there is still the possibility that it will take several turns for you to regain a follower (if you have not played wisely, it might be disastrous to play the last follower). Some of the tiles you will be playing in the meantime will generate no points at all. Compare this to a trickle of points (two or three each turn from small roads or towns), and you will see that deploying your last follower will have to earn you a lot of points to be worth it (cloisters are never worth it, but huge cities or fields towards the end of the game might be).
Of course, I have deliberately over-emphasised the importance of not deploying the last follower. There are situations when you should play the last follower, but the situation is still very awkward.

When to use the big follower
There are exceptions to the rule of single joy is doubled joy when you actually want to play the big follower (or two small on two separate tiles) in order to establish single ascendancy in an area. There are three things to take into consideration.
• In some games, there are pivotal projects which will determine the outcome of the game (a huge city or a field with, say, ten adjacent towns). If you have the option to grab all those points for yourself, you will win the game if you do and then sharing is not an option. Use the big follower and hope that no one else will be able to.
• If all the players are conscious about the principle of shared joy, situations can arise when all players share a certain project except for yourself (in certain cases, it is only necessary with three others already into the project). In these cases, joining in and sharing will only give you relative points in that they will not leap ahead of you when the finish the project, so playing a small follower will probably result in you being excluded or the project never being finished. Sometimes, this might be sufficient for your needs if you need the big follower elsewhere, but if you can, try to grab all the points for yourself.
• Bear in mind that you have to use the big follower sometime during the game. It might be wise not to deploy it too early (due to the risk of it being trapped), but not using it at all or using it at the end when a single follower would have sufficed, means that you have made a mistake somewhere along the way. When there is opportunity to play the big follower, ask yourself this question: is there a reasonable chance that there will be a better opportunity later? If yes, keep the big follower. If no, go ahead and use it.

Number of players
As promised in the introduction, we have now gained enough knowledge of the game to understand why the number of players is so crucial. I will make the claim that playing with five players is very different from playing with four, so it goes without saying that a two player game is entirely different from a six player one. Fortunately, the variations follow a single rule which I will try to explain.
As we have seen, there is a delicate balance between grabbing and sharing in Carcassonne, and this is shifted by the number of players. Let us take the extreme opposite of what I have been describing hitherto, namely playing a two-player game. In such a game, there is no sharing at all, since gaining a point for yourself is exactly equal to removing a point from your opponent. A game like this is not very interesting to play, but I do believe it is extremely useful as a tool to understand the concept of relative points.
As the number of players grows, the importance of sharing increases and the amount of grabbing decreases. I have played several hundreds of games with four or five players and they are very different, which is perhaps most notable when it comes to deploying the big follower. In a five-player game, it is alright to share a project between three players most of the time. In a four-player game, this is not true, which leads to a dramatical increase in big-follower deployments and much more grabbing in general. Playing six players will almost remove the importance of the big follower all together, except for the endgame.

Playing for positions
Another assumption I made in the introduction was that of playing for position rather than points. This simply means that the only important thing is where you place in the game, regardless of how many points you have. After careful consideration, I am certain that this way of playing is much more interesting than playing for points. Why?
Because when playing for position, what the other players do becomes much more important. If playing for points, your sole consideration is always to calculate how to maximise your own points regardless of the position of your opponents, but when playing for position, the importance of relative points has to be taken into account. This requires more skill and makes the game more complex and varying. Also, this is the way most tournaments are run.
If you do not think this question matters, have a look at the example in Relative points, which would be very different indeed should they play for points rather than position.

Playing when losing
The strategy employed when winning is very different from that used when losing. When you have many points, focus on increasing your lead steadily and avoid risking points or grabbing for too much. This ought to be fairly obvious.
When losing, the opposite is true. If you know that you are going to lose, you can stop playing cautiously and instead invest in high-risk projects. Another important point, which is true for all games, is that sometimes you have to assume that a certain tile will be played. Let me use an example to explain:
Example: Morn has almost zero points, except for a huge amount of points locked up in a city that requires a single tile (of which there is only one left) to finish. She should then play as if that tile is granted. Why? Because if the tile is never played, how she plays will not matter; she will lose anyway. If it is played, however, her decisions will matter greatly, because she is then in touch with the others again.
So, in certain cases, you have to assume that certain things will happen. If you lose if they do not, assume that they do, and play accordingly.

Playing the fields
Knowing how and when to go for a field is perhaps the most demanding part of Carcassonne, something that is extremely hard to calculate and heavily based on experience. It is also tremendously important. Even if there is no straightforward strategy, there are some things to keep in mind:
• Keep your eyes peeled for fields which are about to be completely closed (by this I mean that no further followers can be played on them) and if they contain two or more towns, consider trying to get them before it is too late.
• If a field seems to develop into a pivotal project (that will determine the outcome of the game), decide if you stand a chance or not, and act accordingly. It is sometimes profitable to focus on something else entirely, although you have almost given up the possibility to place first; just make sure that only one opponent dominates the field.
• As chips in poker, a follower deployed on a field is irretrievable and should not be taken into account when considering to play another. In other words, do not make the mistake of thinking that you have to play another one, because otherwise the ones you played earlier are worthless.
Towards the end of the game, at least one important (or pivotal) field has usually emerged, and these can be used to your advantage even if you have no chance of attaining them. The absolutely worst case possible is when all your opponents share a pivotal field (say ten towns), which will lose you the game unless you have earned forty points towards each opponent earlier, which is not very likely. However, the other players know that it is next to pointless sharing forty points with all players but one (see the section about when to use the big follower) and will do their best to get another follower onto the field to ascertain dominance. By helping this player to accomplish this, you gain forty points against three opponents without even deploying a single follower! If s/he has a follower which can be connected to the pivotal field, play a tile to help the player in and thus help yourself back into the game.

The end of a Carcassonne game is somewhat different from the rest, because it requires a shift from a long-term perspective to a short-term one. Also, since the possible ramifications of each play are diminished as play progresses, the possibility to calculate probabilities increases. Again, there are some things to keep in mind; I will give you three rules of thumb:
• Keep count of how many tiles there are left so that you do not have unused followers at the end of the game
• When you know how many tiles there are and how many followers you have left to play, calculate when they give you the maximum number of points
• For the last few tiles, mentally move the tile around the board and see where it gives you the most points, because often there are possibilities you have missed
I will also provide some hands-on tips:
• Finish two-point towns at the edge of the board and place your follower on the field, which will give you four points
• Finish other people’s towns to earn four points from the field thus created, provided that you are sure of either being beaten by or beating them regardless of the points they gain from the completed town
• Play on outlying fields, even if the towns are already dominated by someone else, because your play might tip the balance to your advantage
• Having no way of giving yourself points, destroy other people’s points by playing an inn or a cathedral on other people’s projects, or placing a tile in such a way that an unclaimed city becomes unattainable
• Look at the scoring board and identify your main opponent (s/he who will place closest to you when the game is over) and concentrate on gaining points towards this player; ignore everybody else

This concludes my guide to the basics of Carcassonne strategy. Note that I use the word “basic”, because there is much I have not covered here. Furthermore, you will need a lot of hand-on experience to master the game, since theoretically describing in detail how to play is impossible. By following these general guidelines I have described, I think that most intelligent players can go further and figure out new ways of applying them. As is the case with all basic strategy, there are times when you have to deviate from them in order to win, but before you do that, make sure that you understand why.

Written by Olle Linge