J. Alex Kevern
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Mahopac
New York
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After seeing how awful the starting placements were in Wil Wheaton's TableTop episode of the Settlers of Catan, I decided to do an analysis of the board to uncover the best starting placements. You can view the episode here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3WJTlDa7oo&feature=g-u-u&con...


Ideally, we should consider the following things when placing our starting settlements:

1. If possible, we need to get on all 5 resources.

2. We want to be on the best probability numbers of these 5 resources as possible.

3. We must be on a good source of wheat, and ideally a good source of ore as well.

4. We don't need any more wood than we have brick, or vice versa (ie we want to be on similar probabilities of these resources)

5. With these in mind, here are what seem to be the 5 best possible starting spots for player 1:



(This is the first good look we got at the board in the video, so I've erased the starting settlements already placed at the time they showed it)

Okay, let's start with spot A. We will get wheat, sheep, and brick, which means we're going to need to get on wood and ore with our 2nd settlement. Wood and ore touch in a couple spots, but it's probably unlikely those spots will be left when we place again. Spot B is enticing because it gets us on the best wheat on the board. It leaves us needing ore and brick, which again, are unlikely to be left together by the time we place again. Spot C suffers from the same problem, but with worse numbers. However, a 3 ore may be slightly preferable to spot B's 10 sheep. Spot D gets us on plenty of ore, but will require wood and sheep with the 2nd spot. The downside is that an 11 may not be quite enough wheat. Spot E is statistically the best spot on the board, but it's unlikely we will be able to get on much wood with the 2nd settlement, not nearly enough to make it worth being on an 8 brick.

So, there doesn't appear to be a perfect spot (sometimes there will be-- imagine a 6 ore, 5 wheat, 9 Sheep spot). We know we are going to need wheat and ore, so the question becomes what we may be left out of once all other players place if we forgo placing on wheat or ore now. If we count out the number of good spots, we will assume 4 of the 5 we've outlined will be taken the first time through (since B and C can't both be chosen), which leaves 3 more spots to be taken before we place again. Those spots will probably be those shown in red circles here:



This will likely leave us with the the following options for our 2nd settlement in blue:



It looks like we will have an easy time getting on sheep with our 2nd settlement, so let's rule out all the spots that give us sheep (A, B, and E). This leaves us with C and D. No blue spot will give us sheep and brick, which is what we would need if taking C, so D seems to be the best choice. We get on the best Ore spot, and we will likely be able to get on wood and sheep (and hopefully more wheat) with our 2nd settlement. We should build our road outward, because the likelihood of there being any interior spots to build to is slim to none.

I won't go through the rest of the placements, but they'd simply be done using the same logical process. The 4th player should pay attention to what the other 3 players need when placing his roads, because this can tip you off to where they will place, and thus where there will be open spots.

More than anything, We want to look for spots that combo together well. We don't need an 8 brick if we're only going to be able to get on an 11 wood (or no wood at all). We need to try to balance the probabilities of our complementary resources (wood and brick, ore and wheat), place a high priority on getting on wheat and ore (with a very slight preference for the former), and try to get on all 5 resources if at all possible. If it's not possible, we need to place our roads such that we can get on that 5th resource with our 1st expansion, or get on a port that will allow us to trade economically for it.

I hope this helps you fans of the game understand some of the thought process that occurs amongst competitive players when choosing starting placements. Happy settling!

And one last note: Don't try to take the longest road too soon, as they did in the TableTop episode. Focus on building up your production, and if you know you will need the Road to win, align your settlements so you can easily extend your road once your at 8 points and can take the Longest Road for the win (or, before that to prevent someone else from winning).
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William McDuff
Canada
Prince Rupert
British Columbia
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"'A grey man,' she said. 'Neither white nor black, but partaking of both. Is that what you are, Ser Davos?' 'What if I am? It seems to me most men are grey.'" -- Lady Melisandre of Asshai and Ser Davos Seaworth from A Clash of Kings by G.R.R. Martin
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Hmm. The one thing you don't bring up is the flood & trade possibilities. This isn't the best board for it, mind; the best oppourtunity for flooding is the 9S-10S-11W combined with the 9W-12S-SP placement, which is isn't enough. Especially as first player, though, if I can get 11 or 12 spots on a resource combined with a two-port, it gives a ton of flexibility and trade leverage.
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John Clark
Australia
Canberra
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I have written a LOT about starting positions (see my Australian championships threads), and this is an interesting board.

The biggest issue is securing wheat. Notice that the two best wheat hexes are 'corner' spots. This means that for those two hexes there is only one player who will get a good wheat placement AND also a spot with three resources - that's huge. If the first player does not take one of those four spots then he will likely play the game without much wheat production. That is, if the first player ignores wheat, and assuming that spots A and B or C are taken, then where will he get wheat?

However, one of the Ore spots is also a corner hex, which has the same problem. But you there are at least three good Ore spots but only two good wheat spots.

Now, consider what options you are likely to have for your second placement - this is much trickier. Chances are that there will be zero decent placements left with a 6 or 8, but there is likely to be placements left with a 5 or 9.

For example, assume that the first four placements are A, B, D, E. The next two placements (by players 4 then 3) are likely to be the good spot on the 6 wood and the spot directly opposite spot D. There goes ALL of the decent spots with 6 or 8 (and all access to Ore).

In addition, if the first player takes a spot with a 5 and 9, then it is very likely that his second spot will also have a 5 or 9, thereby doubling up on that number, which is bad.

That makes it very difficult. I would be choosing between A and C, leaning towards C and hoping to pick up a ok combo on the second placement.

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Everett Scheer
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Love the discussion, showing that this game isn't solved.

There's some value for starting on the 6-9-3 spot, going towards the wood port. Not a likely first player first pick, but is IMO better than B. There are a number of spots that get you comparable brick, and in a worse case flood of wood, you can use the port. Likely being the only one on the 6 wood, you are likely to have the surplus wood to trade to the others as well. Because of the wood port and psudo-monopoly, this could even free up your need for a grain spot.

The board is also very different if you are playing 3 or 4 player.
 
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