The Settlers of Catan has been the flagship for German Style Designer Games for many reasons, some of the main ones being its elegant simplicity and its thoroughness of strategy. Your choice of strategies will influence your initial setup and overall game play. The separation of strategies that are outlined in this series is a bit artificial, but it is useful to understand the concepts behind them. In practice, players will use a combination of these strategies during gameplay. This article, the fourth in this series, will discuss the Monopoly and Cartel Strategies.
The Monopoly and Cartel Strategies 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 knights, to get the robber off of you, and onto the best hex. 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 lightning 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 proportion 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 principal 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 scarce resource. The other player will work just as hard to keep the robber away, but will only collect half as much. This is most shared 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 chief 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. observe that this is very similar to the shared 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 already turn these down if you are ahead, and force them to make 4:1 bank trades.
For more information about the game, please visit the author’s Settlers of Catan fansite. This series is based upon the Settlers of Catan Strategy and Tactics Guide, which is located at http://settlersofcatan.blogspot.com