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Subject: The Almost Complete Cities and Knights Strategy Guide rss

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Alex Pomeranz
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Welcome to the Almost Complete Cities and Knights Strategy Guide. Cities and Knights (CaK) is my gaming group's favorite board game, and as a result, I feel pretty confident about write a strategy guide based on my experiences. Given the level of depth that Cities and Knights adds to the basic Settlers game, I'm surprised this hasn't really been done.

I will assume you are generally familiar with the basic rules of basic Settlers and Cities and Knights.

PROBABILITY OF RESOURCE PRODUCTION

Most essential to the game is the basic understanding of probability. If you've played settlers enough times, two primary things become clear:

1) the probabilities for the numbers follows a simple distribution shaped like the ^ (caret) symbol. That is:

2 and 12 come up 1/36 times each
3 and 11 come up 2/36 times each
4 and 10 come up 3/36 times each
5 and 09 come up 4/36 times each
6 and 08 come up 5/36 times each
7 comes up 6/36 times

Each dot on the tile (in the Mayfair version) represents a 1/36 chance of that number being rolled on someone's turn.

2) Although the expected value of each of the numbers being rolled is listed in the above probability chart, in practice, the distributions rarely follow this exactly, particularily over the short term. It is not uncommon to see lots of 9s and 10s rolled, with no 6s or 8s for a while. If this happens to you in the early game, it's a huge boon.

DISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES ON THE BOARD

The other essential point to comprehend is the distribution of resources around the board. In other words, which resources will there be a lot of throughout the game, and which will be rare?

The best indicator of this is to count the number of dots for each resource -- however, in practice, players tend to cluster around the high production numbers and avoid the low production ones -- consequently, a good overall view of the potential supply of a resource can be obtained by noting which resources have marquee numbers on them (5, 6, 8, and 9).

It is particularily important to note which resources have 0 or 1 marquee numbers on them, as those resources will generally be in shorter supply than the others, making them imminently more valuable in the trading market.

Although some resources have more tiles than others (ore and brick are shorted by one tile), in reality, this isn't something you need to consider directly because it's already taken into account by where the marquee numbers end up.

Unlike basic settlers, Cities and Knights throws another twist into the mix: cities produce 2 bricks or 2 wheat like normal -- but only produce 1 wood, 1 sheep, or 1 ore. Let's consider the issue from the perspective of each resource. On the sheep side of things, the general uselessness of sheep compared to the other resources means a lower supply doesn't hurt things much. About the only real effect it has on the game is to make the sheep-hoarding-and-trading strategy less useful. On the wood side of things, less wood generally isn't a problem either for a few reasons. The primary reason for this is that players tend to hoard around the marquee wood spots in order to obtain green cards and the aquaduct. Consequently, there is usually ample wood supplies to go around, unless there is a general shortage of marquee wood spaces on the board. The biggest effect this has is on the ore market. Ore, which was already in pretty high demand due to it's use in building cities, is now in higher demand as cities have become more important, and ore is needed to build knights. Consequently, ore is often in short supply in Cities and Knights, and in my opinion, is generally the most important resource to make sure you have a good supply of.

VALUE OF RESOURCES

My thoughts on the relative importance of the resources:
"CaK necessity" is a measure of how important this resource is to have _some_ access to (meaning you get at least one or two of them per time the barbarian attacks).
"CaK overall" is how important I view that resource in the overall context of the game.

Resource -- Basic Settlers / CaK necessity / CaK overall

Wood -- moderate / low / high
Brick -- moderate / low / low
Wheat -- moderate / high / moderate
Sheep -- low / moderate / moderate
Ore -- moderate / high / high

Let me explain my reasoning for the above:

Wood is moderate necessity because it's only useful for roads and settlements, but cities only produce 1 instead of 2. However, it's high importance overall because the best progress cards (alchemist and inventor) are both green, and the importance of the aquaduct can't be overstated, ESPECIALLY if you are missing a 6 or an 8.

Brick is of low importance and necessity because there's often an ample supply of it. Furthermore, it's one of the two resources that still gets double production from cities, and city walls aren't as useful as the other improvements.

Wheat is of high necessity because it's imperitive to be able to activate your knights before the barbarians attack. However, since it's often in ample supply (due to cities producing 2), it's moderate overall importance. Note that if wheat looks to be in short supply (due to 0 or 1 marquee numbers), other players WILL try and restrict your access to it via trading. In this case, make sure you have an available non-player-trading source of wheat (if you can trade brick at 2 to 1 using a port, that's not a bad option).

Sheep is of moderate necessity because of it's usefulness in building knights. This is especially true in the beginning of the game when you need to get your first knight built. In the overall scheme of the game, sheep is still a fairly weak resource. However, the yellow progress track can be imminently useful to get more resources, and this makes good sheep spots worth more than they would be otherwise.

Ore is of high necessity because of it's usefulness in getting that first knight built and it's low overall supply (due to cities producing only one instead of two). Even though the blue progress track is the weakest of the three progress tracks, it still can be useful (especially the bishop and the spy cards).

Sheep, Brick, and Wood are the most likely candidates for good 2 to 1 port trading. Wheat is often useful for trading to other players, and ore is important to keep for yourself for upgrading to cities and building knights.

PROGRESS TRACKS

Unlike basic settlers, where development cards were largely an optional route, the progress cards in cities and knights are an integral part of the game, and you WILL lose if you don't consider them an essential part of your strategy.

The general thoughts on the tracks:

Yellow: The yellow track is primarily focused on production and trading of resources and commodities. The yellow track is most useful early in the game, when resources are rare and harder to obtain. As the game progresses, the yellow track becomes less useful, but certain cards are still very powerful (eg. the master merchant, which lets you trade anything at a 2 to 1 rate for one turn -- great when you have 18 cards in your hand!). The special ability of being able to trade any commodities at a 2-1 rate can be useful in making a push for a metropolis of another color.

Blue: The weakest of the tracks. The blue track is primarily focused on knights and "military" (which largely consists of moving the robber and stealing cards). The special ability of this track (building level 3 knights) is the least useful of the three special abilities.

Green: The strongest of the three tracks. The green track is primarily focused on science, and the two best cards in the game (alchemist and inventor) are in this track. The aquaduct is also the strongest special ability, especially if you are lacking a 6 or and 8.

One consideration that a lot of people miss is how important the progress tracks really are -- particularily at the start of the game. The progress cards can have a huge effect on how well you are doing, and the earlier you can start getting progress cards, the better off you'll be. It's worth your time to make a trade that will allow you to flip the first page of something, even if you have to trade 2 to 1 or worse -- you only need one commodity to flip that first page, and the benefits are immense. Consider:

By flipping the first page, you go from a 0% chance of generating a card to a 5.5% (2 in 36) chance of generating a card. Subsequent pages only increase your odds by about 2.75% per page, and since they cost more commodities, aren't nearly as good a value. If you can flip the first page of all three tracks early, you will have a 15% chance of getting a card PER ROLL! When playing with 6 players, this means you can expect to get 1 card between every turn of yours. This pays for itself very quickly. Generally, if I have 4 extra resource, I'll trade them with the bank for a commodity I don't have so I can flip that first page.

On the flip side, it's very important NOT to give initial commodities to players who haven't flipped those pages yet.

BUILD STRATEGY

The most important move you will make in the game is where you place your initial settlement and city. Do not rush this. For optimal placement, it is important to consider the following items (in order of importance, in my view):

1) Importance of resources -- some resources are more important than others. In particular, ore is of extremely high value. My first spot will almost always be on a marquee ore number (because there's usually only one), unless there are no marquee ore numbers or there is only one but it is surrounded by total garbage. A marquee ore spot surrounded by garbage still makes an excellent second spot, especially if that garbage is a sheep and a wheat (= activated starting knight). Second, don't forget about wheat -- you don't want to get stuck hoping for an 11 to activate your knight before the barbarians attack.

It's also very important to consider other resources that will be in short supply. If there's only one marquee brick number with only one good side, take it, even if another spot might give you a couple more dots. Finally, it's never a bad idea to take a marquee wood spot, as the green cards (and aquaduct) will serve you well.

2) General productivity -- it is important to pick a spot that will produce a lot of resources for you. Even if they aren't precisely what you need, maybe you will be able to trade for what you do need. It is often better to take a 6 or an 8 on a resource you don't need more of than a 2, 3, 11, or 12 on one you do.

3) Distribution of numbers -- It's generally better to have a wide distribution of numbers than have duplicates of the same numbers. First, it's less frustrating to be constantly getting small amounts of resources than occasionally get a huge boon. Especially given how streaky the dice can be over the short term -- having duplicates of more than one number can be painful when that number doesn't show up for a long time. Second, if you get all your resources at once, you're more likely to overflow your hand size and get hit by the robber. The aquaduct somewhat mitigates the problem of being only on a few numbers, but it takes a while to get there! As a side note, I once played a game where I put my settlement and city with the intent of going for the aquaduct as fast as possible, and then using it to draw resources I need -- it made for a slow start (before I got to the aquaduct), a fast middle of the game (when I could pick up the cards I needed), and a slow end of the game (when other players were drawing 2-3 cards per roll, and I was only getting 1). I didn't do badly, but I didn't do great either. Keep in mind that the more numbers you have duplicated, the more likely you are to either totally dominate, or totally lose.

4) Distribution of resources -- you want to make sure you have an adequate distribution of resources. In reality, this means that you have good production on at least 4 of the 5 resources. It's also important to make sure that either wheat is generally plentiful, or you have good access to it -- otherwise, you will be at risk for losing your city. Likewise, try to position your city so it's on at least two resources that generate commodities. Even if the commodity only comes up once, flipping that first page is HUGE.

5) Space for expansion / Spread yourself out -- make sure you aren't totally boxed in. In CaK, it's often better to take two good numbers on the coast than three mediocre ones in the middle -- in fact, with the aquaduct, it's often better NOT to have any 2s, 3s, 11s, or 12s. Do not put both of your starting settlements on the same hex -- it's too easy to box you in, and you'll also be susceptible to the robber.

6) Generating Bonus Points -- since you need to get to 13 points to win, it's almost impossible to do without a metropolis and/or the longest road card. Plan on getting at least one of them.

7) Blocking your opponents -- if you are considering two approximately equal spots, take the one that blocks your opponent. This is especially fun to do in conjunction with #5 -- take a spot on the coast with 2 good numbers that your opponent was planning to expand to.

8) Trading ports -- unlike basic settlers, where trading ports are imminently important, in CaK, they're not as important. There's more to do with your resources, and there are less resources (due to commodities), so don't sweat the port situation too much. But if you can use it to your advantage, definitely do! Especially if there is an abundance of brick or wood.

IMPORTANT POINTS WHEN PLAYING

Let me re-outline all of the most important points, some summarized from above:

1) Your first build priority is to get a knight, and you have to do this before the barbarian attacks or you will likely lose your initial city. Consequently, be cognizant of what resources you are likely to generate (those on marquee spaces), what resources you can gain from your starting hand, and what resources are likely to be so scarce that other plays will not trade to you.

2) The aquaduct is incredibly powerful, especially if you are missing a marquee number (or two!). The green progress track is also very useful in general. Don't underestimate the power of the yellow progress track, especially early in the game.

3) You need 13 points to win. That means you will likely need either the longest road, or a metropolis.

4) When the barbarians are close to attacking, consider the following: Can you get a victory point if you build one more knight? Can you prevent an opponent from getting a victory point by building one more knight? If so, definitely consider building another knight.

5) If you have at least 2 more knights than another player, consider deactivating 1 if it makes the difference between winning and losing to the barbarians. Sometimes you can make opponents lose their cities (if they were riding your coattails), or prevent a player from getting a victory point from defeating the barbarians.

6) Don't telegraph your moves too far in advance. For example, many players build a road to where they want to build a settlement before they have the resources to build the settlement. This is only a good idea if wood or brick are exceedingly rare and your opponents are likely to steal the resource out of your hand, or if there's no competition for the spot and you're exceeding your card limit. It's a better idea to build the road and settlement together if possible. If you can't do that, get your settlement up as soon as possible. Besides collecting more resources, unscrupulous opponents have been known to play two roads (or a road building card) and build a settlement on the spot you were wanting to build on!

7) Don't let players know you're close to winning if possible. If realistic, don't grab the longest road until you're ready to win (road building cards are great for this). It's better if players don't know you're in contention for it. If you build to the point where you have 12 points, players will embargo you and you will become public enemy #1. It's better to build to the 11th point, and then get 2 victory points on one turn (build a settlement and/or city, grab the longest road, flip up a merchant card, steal a metropolis, etc...). You can often catch players unaware this way.

8) Do anything to prevent the loss of your first city. It's almost impossible to win if this happens. Cut a horrible deal if it gives you the cards you need. Give your significant other the "you're sleeping on the couch tonight!" look. Do whatever it takes.

9) Don't forget you can use your knights to chase away the robber! Place your knights adjacent to wherever you think the robber is most likely to show up.

10) If absolutely necessary, you can move a knight to a spot where you want to build a settlement but don't have the resources for yet. However, you can only move the knight away on your turn. Also, don't forget that you can displace knights, although with my group, this is rarely done.

11) I'm still not sure why, but my observation is that when the desert is near the center of the board, it slows the game down. I'm not sure if there's any way to work that to your advantage, but whenever I've seen a player lose his initial city and come back and win, it's always been when the desert is in the middle of the board.

RULES AND HOUSE RULES

There are two primary rules that are often missed by new gaming groups. The first is an official errata rule change:

"When playing with the Cities & Knights expansion, the Robber cannot be moved at all until the barbarians reach Catan for the first time. When a 7 is rolled, players only check to make sure that nobody has too many cards in hand. The Robber stays put and no card is stolen. The Robber is also unaffected by any cards or Knights. This counts for the Pirate Ship as well, should it also be used in the game."

This is because it's too harsh to have your production stopped and cards stolen when you're trying to get that first knight up.

The second rule involves the robber and the aquaduct. The aquaduct allows you to draw a card if you get no production on any roll that isn't a 7. But what happens if your production is smooshed by the robber? The official Kosmos ruling is that if the robber smooshes your production, and you have the aquaduct, you can use the aquaduct to draw a card of your choice.

My group plays with three house rules (and the official errata rule mentioned above):

1) We changed the robber/aquaduct rule. The robber isn't a very useful tool if you can't stop a player's production, and the aquaduct is powerful enough even with the robber as a counterbalance. Consequently, we play that the robber steals your production, but it still counts as production, so you would not get to use the aquaduct if your only production is stolen by the robber.

2) We remove the intrigue card from the blue deck. It's so situational as to be useless (in over 40 games, I've seen it used once).

3) If you draw a victory point, you normally have to flip it up. Because the table is normally scattered with cards (and food/beverages), it's often hard for players sitting on one end of the table to see if someone draws a victory point. Accordingly, our house rule is that if you draw a victory point, you have to announce it, and make sure that you have everybody's attention when you do. That way, table clutter doesn't give some players unfair advantages over others.

You should feel free to make your own house rules for the game -- just make sure new players understand they are not official rules. And especially don't forget to tell veteran players about them -- that's a great way to make them mad.

DOWNSIDES

Cities and Knights comes with two primary downsides, one of them inherited from the basic Settlers game.

1) Settlers has a strong element of luck. Probably the worst game I ever saw was a game where probably 40% of the rolls were either 9 or 10. And one player was doubled up on both. She cleaned us out, despite having a pretty sub-par starting spot! So don't sweat the losses, because inevitably, there will be many. That said, it's not so strong as to be random, or effectively prevent you from executing a strategy. But if you like deterministic games, Cities and Knights isn't any better than basic Settlers in this regard.

2) Cities and Knights can bog down heavily in certain circumstances. This typically happens when three different players grab the metropolises, and another player grabs the longest road. You end up with a bunch of players sitting at somewhere between 8 and 11 points. What really kills the game at this point is the progress cards -- generally by the late game, players are collecting a lot of them, and it's not uncommon to see each player play between two and four of them. When multiplied by 6 players, this can really bog down the game significantly and extend the game out to the 3 hour point. I'd say we see this on about 20-25% of the time we play.

WHAT'S NEXT?

Go and play!

I should note that a lot of the above is my opinion, and there are certainly many good arguments against some of the things I state (eg. my assertion that ore is the most important resource, since you can make good arguments for wheat and maybe even wood). That said, I hope you've found it helpful, and feel free to contribute other tips or tell me why you think I am wrong about something.

Please keep in mind that these tips are meant to be general -- there are going to be cases where not everything applies: for example, if there are 4 marquee ore numbers, I'm not going to take one first. If there's only one marquee wheat number, I'm probably going to take it first. But in the typical game, things don't happen this way, and so my guide is written primarily for your typical game.
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Mike Daoust
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Great article Alex ,

Quote:
"As the game progresses, the yellow track becomes less useful, but certain cards are still very powerful (eg. the master merchant, which lets you trade anything at a 2 to 1 rate for one turn -- great when you have 18 cards in your hand!). The special ability of being able to trade any commodities at a 2-1 rate can be useful in making a push for a metropolis of another color."


I believe you meant merchant fleet here and not master merchant. However, the merchant fleet is not that good. There is a mistake in the mayfair rules. The Mayfair rulesguru has confirmed that only one ressource/commodity type may be traded in a 2:1 ratio as many times as you wish until end of turn. This is also how the original (german) kosmos version is written. Merchant fleet is just a cheap version of the Merchant.
 
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Togu Oppusunggu
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>>What really kills the game at this point is the progress cards -- generally by the late game, players are collecting a lot of them, and it's not uncommon to see each player play between two and four of them. When multiplied by 6 players, this can really bog down the game significantly and extend the game out to the 3 hour point.<<

Would it be a good rule to allow a player to only play two progress cards maximum on his or her turn?
 
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Tootsie Roll
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Just a couple of notes on the progress card power. I agree that the green cards are the most powerful, but they also tend to be more useful early in the game with the exception of the alchemist and the inventor. Since many of them are associated with building, they are less powerful when there are more cards available. Along with that, the aqueduct becomes less powerful since most people are on most of the numbers anyway.

Along with that, the blue cards become more powerful as the game progresses, especially in the really long games with everyone at about 10 points. The person who wins these games often does so by stealing cards and knights from other people, and that is the domain of the blue cards and the yellow cards. These allow you to slow down whoever is in the lead, and they are often useless for the person who is in the lead since some of them can only be used on players with more victory points.

Why is the intrigue card in there? I have also only seen it played once, and that was because of poor knight placement.

As for the desert possition, having it in the middle limits the number of good spaces that produce three resources on good numbers. A similar situation is seen in basic settlers, but it is enhanced in CaK.

A great article. Thanks for the great guide.
 
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Jon Ivar T.
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Quote:
3) If you draw a victory point, you normally have to flip it up. Because the table is normally scattered with cards (and food/beverages), it's often hard for players sitting on one end of the table to see if someone draws a victory point. Accordingly, our house rule is that if you draw a victory point, you have to announce it, and make sure that you have everybody's attention when you do. That way, table clutter doesn't give some players unfair advantages over others.


You really dare to have food and drinks on the table with all that cardboard???wow
 
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Steve Burt
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Excellent article.
We play one small variant which makes it less likely that one player gets his city looted without a chance to build a knight.
We don't roll the third dice until the first improvement is bought.
This slows down the barbarians a bit - usually enough that everyone can build that first knight.
I've also seen a variant where the barbarians only sack a city on the second visit, but our variant seems to achieve much the same effect.

I find C&K the best of the Settlers variants, myself.
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Brian
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Quote:
The Robber is also unaffected by any cards or Knights.

Does anyone else HATE this official rule change? It basically means that the locations of the knights are almost meaningless on the board. Taking away that power of knights changes one of the tactical decisions of the game (forcing another player to spend a wheat to defend themselves). Without this, wheat because less important, as well.

Oh, I know, you can use a knight to block someone from building a settlement, but other than that... Granted, CaK (and Setters in general) doesn't get much play anymore, but we leave that rule in when we play.

Am I reading it incorrectly?!?
 
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Robert Martin
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shadowTerp wrote:
Quote:
The Robber is also unaffected by any cards or Knights.

Does anyone else HATE this official rule change?
...
Am I reading it incorrectly?!?

Yes, you are. Here is the original context of the text you're referring to:

Quote:
When playing with the Cities & Knights expansion, the Robber cannot be moved at all until the barbarians reach Catan for the first time. When a 7 is rolled, players only check to make sure that nobody has too many cards in hand. The Robber stays put and no card is stolen. The Robber is also unaffected by any cards or Knights. This counts for the Pirate Ship as well, should it also be used in the game.

Simply put, the Robber and the Pirate never move for any reason until the Barbarians hit Catan for the first time. Once the Barbarians have hit, these new rules no longer apply and Knights and cards are once again able to chase the Robber away.
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Michael Marvosh
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People have already voiced most of the things I was going to say about this article.

It's very complete. I was looking for one of these a few months ago and was frustrated that I couldn't find one. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

However, I must take issue with a few points.

First, yellow cards are incredibly powerful in the endgame. "Oh look, this monopoly lets me steal six resources from you guys. Hey, now this one makes three of your commodity cards mine! There, I just took the merchant away from you, got it for myself, traded two-to-one to take a metropolis and the longest road and win the game on a five point swing." Big cards in that deck.

Second, good use of the blue upgrade's special power, mighty knights, is one of the most strategic parts of the late game stall you discussed. Park a mighty knight in the middle of someone's longest road, and there is just no way to move it short of being lucky enough to draw that intrigue card (which you removed from the game). Easy steal of two points, which is a game winner in most situations.

Also, I have gladly sacrificed my first city for awesome placement on several occasions. While everyone else is freaking out about building their knights, I'm building to a third great spot and plunking down a settlement before the horde even gets close. Now I'm producing more than them, and if I've got good ore (prob. two settlements on a number) and can avoid the robber (this is risky, I admit--but usually nobody steals from the guy who just lost a city to the horde) getting that city back is relatively quick. If I got a couple city upgrades before the horde came the first time, so much the better.
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Lawrence Celestino
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Strategic Considerations for Cities and Knights, 3-4 player game.

It should come as no surprise that I have some disagreements with "the almost-complete Strategy Guide" presented in this site by Alex Pomeranz. Everyone plays the game differently and therefore there are different dynamics to playing the game with almost each group.

Whereas his tips are meant to be "general" and thus without all that much weight, his overall assessment of the value of particular resources and such could be considered more specific and unchangeable, and those are what I'll discuss.


STRATEGIES

As in most strategy games, the rules of the game, as you play them, eventually give rise to a few strategic approaches that are most conducive to wins. Cities and Knights of Catan is no different.

In the basic Settlers game, two of the most powerful approaches are Brick/Wood and Ore/Wheat strategies, concentrating on two of the 5 resources with an aim for a specific approach. There's also the situational Resource/Port strategy and the generic "All Resources" strategy. I'll be attempting to outline some of my strategic approaches to the game.


Sheep/Cloth

This is one of the more unusual and successful strategies I've encountered in Cities and Knights. Essentially, the point of this strategy is to maximize early production of Cloth, with a continued emphasis in the mid and late game.

The crux of this strategy depends on two things: Trading House and Merchant:Sheep. Trading House allows you to basically transform any two Cloths into anything else, and Merchant:Sheep which you get from your yellow progress cards allows you to parlay your Sheep into whatever else you may need.

The virtually assured capability to transform and acquire anything you need for a slight premium (two for one) on your most common resource and commodity is what gives the strategy its solid backbone.

Of course, you can trade and use your Sheep for other things, also.

What gives the strategy real teeth is the yellow progress cards: Resource Monopoly, Trade Monopoly, and Commercial Harbor. Since winning consistently requires you to use these cards extensively, you will need to keep a close track of what everybody on the table is holding.

The strength of these cards is that they strengthen you while simultaneously weakening your rivals. It's like getting a green and a blue effect in one. The weakness in this strategy is that it depends on progress cards, a luck factor which may or may not go your way.


Variations: The Merchant:X Strategy is essentially what Sheep/Cloth is all about. With a little tweaking, you could easily adopt it into a Merchant:Brick focus or a Merchant:Wheat focus. If you have access, you could also feed your Sheep or Brick or Wheat into an available Port, which will free your Merchant for some other resource. The most powerful thing about the Merchant:X strategy is its capability to go after multiple lines for Metropolis early and with strength. Two Metropolises is not a difficult thing to acquire, even if you only have tiles for producing Cloth.


Defender of Catan

The main goal of this strategy is to get lots of ore and coin and then proceed to dominate the military strength of Catan for the Defender Points. Since the strategy depends on getting lots of Ore and Wheat, you could say that this is something of a variation on the Ore/Wheat strategy for the basic game, although you won't raise multiple cities quite so dramatically, since you only produce 1 ore per tile, even if you have a city on it.

Bear in mind that you'll need Sheep in plentiful amounts to upgrade your Knights to Mighty, preferably with Basic Knight support for that occasional Deserter card. You'll also need small amounts of wood and brick, for creating roads for your Knights to populate. If you can steal a Smith card from a rival player for upgrading your Knights, that would be best.

The main strength of this strategy is that there isn't a lot your rivals can do to stop you. Once you get the strength of your army up to a considerable number, it's practically assured that you get one point every time the Barbarian comes to visit - points that no one can take from you. A secondary strength is that you control the military of Catan. If someone irritates you, you can decide to let those fat merchant cities fend for themselves. Knocking three rival cities back into Settlements can be a winning blow.

Of course, the Political Metropolis also helps in getting to magic number 13.


Wood/Aqueduct

The Aqueduct is widely touted to be the most powerful Progress ability in the game. I happen to think that the Trading House is more powerful, but the Aqueduct can be used to powerful effect, if you know what you're doing.

The Wood/Aqueduct strategy focuses on Paper production and clustering your settlements around a few numbers for best effect. This way, you either get large numbers of wood or paper and whatever else, or you get your pick of resource.

You might also want to secure a steady supply of Bricks, since Walls will make your large windfalls less susceptible to Robbers, and Bricks will also give you something to do with any excess Wood.

The main effect that gives this strategy viability is early game growth. You could say that it's the "rush" strategy of Cities and Knights. With the capability to dictate whatever resource you require, you have the ability to grow very fast compared to players using other strategies. The Green cards also help this potential right along.

The weak point of this strategy is that you need the Aqueduct online before you can sustain streaks of non-productive rolls, so in that respect, it's a bit of gamble. If your numbers don't come up, your game could be over before it's even begun.

It's possible to combine an Aqueduct with an early placement that spreads your numbers, but if you do so, you're quite likely to have a mid-game number spread so wide that you hardly ever use your Aqueduct at all. Probability management is essential in optimally leveraging the Aqueduct to best effect.


OBSERVATIONS:

1. Points are bad. Unless you're about to win, things that give you points generally make your position weaker. Not only do people take note of you and may embargo you, lots of really powerful cards in the game can only be used against people who have more of something, usually points.

2. Commodities count. Commodities are rarer than resources, and in most cases, are much more powerful because they allow you to get progress cards and eventually gain points. Commodity spread is often more important than resource spread, or at least on par.

3. Walls count. Lots of newbies don't realize how powerful City Walls are in the game. To make my point dramatically, I'll ask you to do this: the next time you play, count the number of times in one game that you have to discard from a Robber. City Walls generates that much resources for you by saving them.

More importantly, City Walls allows you to hoard cards. With 3 City Walls, your maximum hand size increases to 11. This is hugely important later in the game, as you store three, four, or five commodities in your hand for upgrading your cities, even while trying to hold onto your "normal" complement of resources. People without Walls will quickly note in the mid-game how much of an advantage they suffer against someone who invests wisely in Walls.

4. Resource supply is important. You will want to secure a reliable sourcing for all 5 resources by mid-game, or you could be fatally susceptible to embargo. The most common way to accomplish this is with a good major in the trade arm of city development for the Merchant card and Trading House, or by accessing a port, preferably of the 2:1 kind if you have major production of one resource, or the 3:1 kind if you don't.

5. Space is situational. Unlike the basic game, you don't really need a lot of settlements or cities or even the Longest Road to win. I've won with just 2 cities and 2 settlements. Having less cities and settlements means you have less points, and thus appear less on the radar and aren't vulnerable to nasty things like Master Merchant; and you don't invest as much in roads. If you decide to spread out and suffer the point increase, make sure you have a good plan, since it exposes you to attack.

6. Non settlement points are big. As a corollary to the above, points that don't come from settlements on the board are usually pretty big. The most common ones are Defender of Catan, Printing Press, Constitution, Longest Road and the Metropolises. The main reason why they're huge is because they can be gained with alacrity, which means that they can be reservoirs of "virtual points" that you only exercise when you're assured of a steady and sure path to victory.

The most points I've ever seen gained in one turn is 8. One for Constitution, two for Longest Road, two for Blue Metropolis, two for Green Metropolis, plus one settlement. Yes, he instantly won from a position of 5 points - two Cities with City Walls, plus one settlement and four connected roads. This is unusual, however. Usually, people win from a position of between 6 and 11 points, with 7-9 points being the usual winners.

7. Trading Ports are important. Moreso than in the basic game, Wheat, Brick, Sheep, and Wood ports are positions of power. Ore is less important. One hardly ever gets to use such a port. The most important reason why ports are so important (especially starting position ports) is because you can use them to get commodities you're short of, meaning you can manage with a smaller hand size, and you get progress flips and progress cards faster. There are many notable situations where an initial City placement on a Port proved to be winning, in some cases even unstoppable.
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Merchantman wrote:
OBSERVATIONS:

1. Points are bad. Unless you're about to win, things that give you points generally make your position weaker. Not only do people take note of you and may embargo you, lots of really powerful cards in the game can only be used against people who have more of something, usually points.
I'd imagine it's better to take a Metropolis anyways rather than risk losing it to another player you suspect is gunning for it. Otherwise, you'll either need to make up 5 commodities or risk losing it forever if it's the 5th level.

Merchantman wrote:
More importantly, City Walls allows you to hoard cards. With 3 City Walls, your maximum hand size increases to 11.
3 city walls should increase your hand limit to 13, NOT 11

Merchantman wrote:
5. Space is situational. Unlike the basic game, you don't really need a lot of settlements or cities or even the Longest Road to win. I've won with just 2 cities and 2 settlements. Having less cities and settlements means you have less points, and thus appear less on the radar and aren't vulnerable to nasty things like Master Merchant; and you don't invest as much in roads. If you decide to spread out and suffer the point increase, make sure you have a good plan, since it exposes you to attack.

6. Non settlement points are big. As a corollary to the above, points that don't come from settlements on the board are usually pretty big. The most common ones are Defender of Catan, Printing Press, Constitution, Longest Road and the Metropolises. The main reason why they're huge is because they can be gained with alacrity, which means that they can be reservoirs of "virtual points" that you only exercise when you're assured of a steady and sure path to victory.

The most points I've ever seen gained in one turn is 8. One for Constitution, two for Longest Road, two for Blue Metropolis, two for Green Metropolis, plus one settlement. Yes, he instantly won from a position of 5 points - two Cities with City Walls, plus one settlement and four connected roads. This is unusual, however. Usually, people win from a position of between 6 and 11 points, with 7-9 points being the usual winners.
I would've mentioned that it seems too much of a stretch to not have enough building space to squeeze in extra setts/cities, but I'm reminded in Seafarers Of Catan - New Shores, that's also a 13pt game.

5VP cards to go around, 2pts for LR, 2pts for LA, and up to 1pt for settling on the outlying islands which would be x4 since all players each can get this bonus VP which totals to 13 additional points

C&K on the other hand...
2pts for Metropolis x3 = 6
1pt for Merchant control = 1
VP cards x2 = 2
LR = 2pts
Defender Of Catan x6 = 6
== 17 pts total
 
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andrew fawcett
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I really enjoyed your article. Having now played 60 games of the computer version of the game, I can testify that what you have written makes good sense.

But you call your review "the Almost Complete Guide". This is also true because you haven't really addressed the issue of the effect of turn order on your strategy.

If you go first, you have first whack as to where you put your settlement, which does of course enable you to choose an intersection with three different resources, and hopefully reasonable probable numbers, say avoiding 2,3, 11 and 12. But by the time you place your city, there will be six other settlements and cities on the board, whose owners have either read your article or worked out convenient places, and you may be faced with either a 3-resource intersection with dreadful numbers, or only a 2-resource intersection that adjoins the resources not covered by your settlement. And of course it is your city that gives you your first hand of tiles. Ideally this would be ore, wool and hay so that you can place and feed your knight without worrying about the first three or so dice rolls. I submit that if you go first, you have no chance of avoiding this worry. an additional problem is that good players may well have completely "boxed in" your settlement to prevent expansion.

If you go last, you will lose the opportunity for the three best locations, but at least you will have the whole of the rest of the board to place your settlement and city. And of course although you actually place your settlement first, you can plan your city's position first, to ensure you get the best initial hand of resources, and then putting your settlement in the second best position available.

By inference, going second or third leads to a situation between these two extremes.

Turn order can lead to the adoption of a number of different strategies.

I agree that the green track is the best, because the "Acqueduct" is a huge benefit. So getting your city on lumber is a great way to get this going. But you may not get a knight early on, and this can lead to you losing your city.

If you do lose your city, but can keep scoring lumber and wool, you can build up by a kind of exploration strategy. Every time you uncover a new resource you get one of that resource. You may also be on the way to getting the longest road/shipping route.

Another strategy is to concentrate on building knights, gaining Victory Points and many Progress cards which can offset lack of progress in building roads and settlements.

I did well in one game with an (unintended) strategy of getting loads of brick and trading it through the bank.

Better is to get loads of hay, and starve the other players of this, because knights need hay every 2 or 3 turns.

There are a number of ways to do well (if not necessarily to win), but your course of action may well depend upon what is available once you get to place that city.
 
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andrew fawcett
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perhaps i should have said that nearly all my games were "Oceania C & K", which I find to be much more fun.
 
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James Clover
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I have played thousands of games of CaK, and I am pretty confident in saying that there really is not one single dominant strategy in this game that you can decide on before the game begins and know that it will have a high probability of winning every time. So much depends on the layout of the board, what opening spots are available to you, your opponents' strategies, etc... So to claim that one resource or commodity is the most important without considering the board layout or the game situation is a very incomplete view of this game. You really have to adjust your strategy as the situation calls for it. This mostly means controlling the length of the game by knowing when to play offense and when to play defense.

Offense: When you get out to an early lead, you need to go for the kill and try to end the game as soon as possible. Sometimes this means trading away your commodities for resources to get 13 points the old-fashioned way. But that all depends on the board and what your opponents are trying to do. The longer the game goes, the more your opponents will be able to gang up on you and keep you from winning. This strategy only applies when you are the obvious favorite and there is nothing you can do to conceal it. Most of the time there will not be a clear favorite, in which case you should try to NOT have the most victory points showing as that puts you at a disadvantage with progress cards like Master Merchant and Wedding that can only be played against you. Instead, try to stay in the middle of the pack and pounce at the end with e.g. a Merchant, Metropolis, and Longest Road all in one turn (5 points). Having a lot of potential points without having a lot of actual victory points is key.

Defense: When you fall behind early, the key is to not get discouraged, be very aware of which of your opponents is most likely to win (which is usually not the player with the most victory points), and do everything you can to prevent that person from getting and keeping the cards that they need. The lead is likely to change many times if you play a game like this, so it is really important to pay attention to your opponents' potential and change your focus as soon as you feel that the lead has changed. Most people have a tendency to continue punishing a person long after they have lost the lead. Meanwhile, someone else is about to sneak up and win. In other words: Don't hold a grudge, and don't let your emotions control you.

When you are clearly losing, you need to focus less on your own game and more on what the leader is trying to do. Don't steal the cards that YOU need. Keep track of what the leader has, and steal the cards that THEY need. You can always trade those cards away to the other players, and they will be more than willing to trade with you if you are losing. If you have knights, use them to move the robber as much as you possibly can to steal cards from the leader. You might even have to block your own space if it hurts the leader more than it hurts you. If you commit to this strategy, you will be amazed at how long you can drag the game out. If you drag it out long enough, chances are the luck of the dice and progress cards will start going your way and get you back in contention. This is a very annoying way of playing, and your friends will hate you for it, but it's your best shot at winning.
 
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Nick Decktor
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I don't know if anyone else addressed this, but your place in the initial turn order has a huge effect on how devastating it is to lose your starting city. If you went first and therefore have the last placed city it is usually not as bad to lose your starting city. If you went last, it is crushing.
 
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Jörg Baumgartner
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One strategy I have been missing here is the destructive variant, causing all or at least players to lose a city to the barbarians. If you use the optional nasty variant where each player (starting with the active player) gets to choose how many of his knights he will deactivate can yield this situation even more often. (This variant also gives you greater control over the placement of the robber.)

Remember, the barbarians are your friends, as long as you can direct their harm to your rivals.

One variant is to withhold one of the knight resources that you have been hoarding through shrewd setup. This may be any of wool, ore or grain. Getting a virtual monopoly on grain production during setup is a good way to get into this situation.

Build a second city early on, but defend only one city. This may force another player to upgrade a knight or field an extra one, and might earn this player a few early Savior of Catan victory points, making him vulnerable to all manner of nasty cards. If you can corner the grain market (through robber placement, monopolies, and simply occupying as many grain production sites as possible), you will be able to cause this player to lose cities sooner or later, too.

If you are the grain baron, get the grain port (or use merchant fleet or merchant) to remove excess grain from your hand. The other players will try to get your grain using the robber, so don't tempt them by holding a paw full of grain at the end of your turn.


Keep an eye on other players' roadbuilding activities. Ever so often, a knight will be placed on a road network with no other place to go. Chase it away into oblivion if you can connect to that position, either using a stronger knight, or one of the often maligned intrigue cards. Well-aimed use of the deserter card will produce a similar, even more beneficial situation.


I also missed the "keep a merchant card for the end game" advice. Possession of the merchant is worth a victory point. Taking it away from a player you suspect of being close to victory won't hurt much, either, even though it makes you susceptible to the nasty cards (wedding, master merchant, saboteur).


This style of play isn't for the faint-hearted, since you need a robust friendship with the other players if you pull this kind of stunts (similar to the "trade away a resource or commodity, then play the monopoly" stunt). Avoid this playing with your significant other or your offspring unless they too are cut-throat gamers. Also expect to get visited by the robber more often than the other players. If you have the grain market at its throat, chasing off the robber won't be much of a problem.

My favourite C&K game vs the computer is Greater Catan C&K. In addition to all of the nastiness above, you also get to denude the home island of productive numbers, occasionally resulting in crushingly one-sided games that would surely put off human adversaries. OTOH, human adversaries probably might throttle your game.
 
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jorganos wrote:
My favourite C&K game vs the computer is Greater Catan C&K. In addition to all of the nastiness above, you also get to denude the home island of productive numbers, occasionally resulting in crushingly one-sided games that would surely put off human adversaries. OTOH, human adversaries probably might throttle your game.
Heh... I remember on Sea3d where someone would claim the game is mostly skill and boost his high win record. Others in the community called him out, going through records of his previous games saying he only played newbies, only on the Greater Catan map (Mayfair 3rd ed.), and some of the folks he played with had the same user name.
 
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scott krause
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Merchantman wrote:

Commodity spread is often more important than resource spread, or at least on par.


Out of curiosity, what does this mean?
 
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spkrause wrote:
Merchantman wrote:

Commodity spread is often more important than resource spread, or at least on par.


Out of curiosity, what does this mean?

Commodity spread is the difference between the number of commodities different players are producing. Resource spread is the same for resources.

For example: if player A is getting 3 commodity cards and Player B is getting 1, the commodity spread is 2.

The statement points out that it is more important to be getting more commodities than the other players rather than more resources. This is partly because commodities lead to progress cards which allow you to do other more powerful actions.
 
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