Settlers of Catan is one of the most popular board games around. Its simple rules and inherently competitive nature make it one of the best options for settling down with friends and family.
The base game of Catan, as we usually simplify it to, involves building roads, settlements, and cities on resource “hexes”, which are gathered at the roll of two dice. The more resources you collect, the more infrastructure you can lay down, and so on.
There are five different resources spread over the map, as I’ve listed below. In bold, you’ll see the official title for each one, and in brackets, you’ll find what many casual players refer to them as. Through this page, I’ll stick to the official names.
- Lumber (“Wood”)
- Brick (“Clay”)
- Wool (“Sheep”)
- Grain (“Wheat”)
- Ore (“Stone”)
There’s also a blank desert hex where the robber starts the game. In itself, it’s useless, although you can sometimes use it to maneuver your way across the board, avoiding other players.
On this page, I’ll run through some of the Catan building costs explained and talk about some strategies for building as quickly as possible. For conciseness, I’ll only talk about the base game. Expansions, such as Seafarers or Cities and Knights, are exceptionally detailed (especially the latter), with a whole host of additional rules, building costs, and strategies.
For this article, it’s important to be familiar with the game’s basic rules. As such, I’ll start by trying to run through them quickly and clearly. (If you know how to play, feel free to skip the first section!)
Why not check out Settlers of Catan: Resources Explained for more information on the game resources?
How to Play – Bottom Line Up Front
Settlers of Catan might look confusing at first, but it’s actually relatively simple – particularly the base game.
Start out by joining all the sea frame border pieces together. They’ll form a sizeable hexagonal space. Next, place the resource hexes inside. There are a few ways to do this, such as following a preset layout (found in the guide), randomly selecting pieces, or inviting each player to place them one at a time. After this, you’ll put a number on each hex in a similar fashion, leaving the desert piece blank and placing the robber on it.
The first player then chooses where to build their initial settlement and places a corresponding road next to it. Settlements are built on the hex corners, so they’ll always touch three different resources if you position them away from the edge. Roads are constructed on the edges, running parallel along with two hexes.
The second player then places their settlement and road, then the third and the fourth. It’s then the fourth player’s turn to establish their second settlement and road, returning to the first via the third and second. Once there are eight settlements and roads on the board, it’s time to start.
The first player rolls the two dice. The number it shows indicates which resources can be gathered on that turn. For example, if they roll an 8 and the board has an 8 on the Brick hex, every player with a settlement touching that piece can collect one Brick resource card. So the game continues.
When someone rolls a 7, the robber is in play. If you have 8 or more resource cards in your hand, you must discard half of them. Whoever rolls the 7 then places the robber on a resource hex. This puts that particular resource temporarily out of play. The player can steal a resource card from the hand of anyone with a settlement or city touching it.
As you gain more resources, it’s important to spend them, as this advances your game and means you won’t be caught out by the robber. Use your cards to build more roads, settlements, and cities, or buy development cards. Settlements are worth 1 victory point; cities are worth 2. Development cards can be anything, from a Knight (move the robber for free) to 1 victory point (which you can keep hidden).
Settlements and cities must be at least 2 intersections away from any other, including those placed by other players, and must be connected by your roads.
A couple of extra bonus cards exist. Whoever reaches 5 consecutive uninterrupted roads first receives “Longest Road”, worth 2 victory points. If anyone then constructs a longer route, they’ll take the award. It can switch hands constantly throughout the game. Equally, whoever plays 3 Knights first will get “Largest Army” and 2 victory points.
Most people play to 10 victory points. For example, this could be 4 cities and 2 settlements. It could also be 5 settlements, Longest Road, Largest Army, and a victory point from a development card.
So, with that explained, what are the Catan building costs? And how can you set your game up to make the most of them?
Base Game Building Costs Explained
In the base game, you can spend resources on four things:
- Development cards
You could also choose to trade your cards with other players or engage in the maritime trade. Here, you can surrender 4 resources of the same type in exchange for 1 of your choosing. If you build a settlement on a harbor, you could take advantage of either the broad 3 for 1 or resource-specific 2 for 1 trades.
To place a road, you’ll need 1 Lumber and 1 Brick.
Roads are, of course, vital. Without them, you have no hope of expanding outwards, and therefore you won’t be able to place any other settlements or cities.
Before you start, a good, basic strategy would be to ensure that you have access to a decent supply of Lumber and Brick. This is usually through placing your settlements on intersections combining the two. Don’t waste your time if the only options have low probability numbers on them (2, 3, 11, or 12). Instead, choose to max out on other resources, trade, or head for victory points rather than play the high-risk game.
Settlements cost 1 Lumber, 1 Brick, 1 Wool, and 1 Grain.
Settlements are the building blocks of your expansions, allowing you to venture into different pieces and reap the benefits (or double down on those you’ve already claimed). You will claim 1 resource for every settlement touching the relevant hex.
It can be challenging to start a game with easy access to all four of these resources, so make the most of trading with other players if you can. Place new settlements on resources you’ll need, depending on your strategy.
Cities will cost you 2 Grain and 3 Ore.
Before you can build one, you’ll need a settlement. This is then removed and replaced by the city.
Cities enable you to receive 2 resources from every hex it touches. They’re also a vital part of any strategy, even those that don’t focus on building so much. Place cities on the resources you’ll need most and preferably on the hexes with higher probabilities – 5, 6, 8, and 9. For example, if you’re planning to convert all your settlements to cities, set your first couple on Grain and/or Ore hexes. This will allow you to place the next ones quicker.
You don’t usually need Ore at the start in the base game unless you’re after development cards. Instead, I’d usually recommend working your way into a position where you have easy access to it, rather than going all out in the initial placing phase. That depends on your overall plan, of course.
To buy a development card, you’ll need 1 Wool, 1 Grain, and 1 Ore.
Development cards can win a game, combined with a few settlements and buildings. It’s often the most subtle way to win, as other casual players seldom notice you gathering them up. After buying one, you’ll have to wait until at least your next turn before using it, although you can hold onto it for as long as you want.
In the base game, there are 25 development cards:
- 14 Knight cards – move the robber and steal from a corresponding player.
- 5 Victory Point cards – extra victory points that get added to your total at the end – keep them hidden until then.
- 2 Road Building cards – instantly place two roads for free.
- 2 Monopoly cards – say a resource – all other players must hand you all of their cards of that type.
- 2 Year of Plenty cards – take any two resource cards from the bank.
A development card strategy is often best as a fall-back plan. For example, if at the beginning you find that you’re unable to get any reasonable access to Lumber or Brick, it could be worth investing more heavily in Wool, Grain, or Ore.
Base Game Standard Building Strategy – Explanation
The quicker you build an impenetrable resource empire on the Catan board, the more likely you will win, especially in the base game. A player with a more varied set of resources on likely probabilities will have the most robust defense against other players trying to disrupt them. The more resource hexes you place settlements on, the greater your trade empire’s chances of surviving those dreaded 7s and subsequent robbers.
However, the problem with building too quickly – especially if you’re concentrated on particular numbers, resources, or areas – is that your opponents will, sensibly, gang up on you. If you’re blazing ahead and nearing 10 victory points when they’re all still on 3 or 4, you’ll find the robber being placed on all your 6s and 8s, your “Longest Road” being interrupted with settlements, and resource cards pummelling your wealth into the ground.
So, there’s a balance here. In general, it’s about building quickly but diversifying. Sure, you might win a couple of games without doing this, but this is the key to winning consistently.
Question: Can I build a settlement between two roads?
Answer: You can absolutely build a settlement between two roads. Of course, that’s provided at least one of those roads is yours, and there aren’t any other settlements or cities just one intersection point away. Those rules still apply, as always.
If you’ve constructed a long road, you can go back and place a settlement anywhere along it. You aren’t limited to building solely at the ends of your roads.
Question: Does building a settlement block the longest road?
Answer: This depends on who the settlement belongs to and who the road belongs to.
If you have the longest road, your settlements and cities don’t block it. Whether you’ve built anything or not, Longest Road is awarded to the person with the longest consecutive set of road pieces (greater than 5).
However, if someone else builds a settlement between two of your roads, it breaks it into two at that point.
The latter is a great strategy. If played correctly, you can effectively steal 3 victory points (placing a settlement – 1 – and nabbing the Longest Road card – 2) while removing 2 from your opponent.
You can prevent this from happening to you by building settlements along your road, all spaced 2 intersections apart. It’s then wholly guarded against anyone sabotaging it. Then, the only way to have Longest Road stolen from you is for another player to place a longer road.
Question: Can you build on someone else’s road in Catan?
Answer: You can build on someone else’s road as long as your road also connects to that intersection. The usual rules also still apply – there can’t be any other settlements or cities less than two intersections away.
Building on someone else’s road can severely impact their attempt to hold Longest Road.
Catan is a diverse game. By selectively choosing the resources you’ll need according to your strategy, you can work around the building costs as efficiently as possible.
Before starting any game, use the cards to remember precisely how much each piece of infrastructure costs to place.
Place your initial settlements on resources that will help you get started on your chosen strategy. Don’t be afraid to adapt it, but you should always follow through with it if at all possible. Only switch strategy if you realize you’ve made a monumental error.
I hope you found this beginner article explaining the Catan building costs useful for all your upcoming board game evenings.