Cities and Knights of Catan is much more complicated than Settlers of Catan and, as such, requires more in-depth strategy in order to win. I this two part article I will discuss some strategies I have discovered to handle the addition of research, progress cards, and knights in Catan. Before reading this it might be helpful to read my discussion of the basic strategy for Settlers of Catan, as much of it still applies to playing Cities and Knights. As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to post on the forums, which I check regularly.
1) You must unlearn what you have learned - While playing Cities and Knights some of the strategies for Settlers of Catan need to be ignored. There are three pieces of advice which I discussed in my basic and advanced strategy pages which should no longer be followed. First, while in Settlers of Catan brick is the most valuable resource, in Cities and Knights the opposite is true. Wood, stone, and sheep now have commodities associated with them. Wheat is necessary to build cities and use knights, which, judging by the title alone, makes it important. Meanwhile, the only bonus brick got was the ability to build city walls. While these are useful, no one should be desperate for their construction. So, brick faces a massive demotion in this expansion and players should now turn their eyes to lumber and ore. Second, seven is no longer the key number to remember in the game. Since players now need 13 victory points to win, you should place an embargo on other players who have hit 10 victory points (unless you yourself have 10 points or more) when playing Cities and Knights. Sometimes it's worth it to be paranoid and even start the embargo at 9 points. Also, with the arrival of city walls, you can forget seven as the max number of cards you should ever have in your hand. The final piece of advice to forget is the analysis of development cards as they no longer exist. Progress cards, which have replaced them, are far more powerful and definitely worth acquiring.
2) Always use protection - From the barbarians, that is. The barbarians will attack 4-5 times in an average game. As such, that is 4-5 times you have the possibility of a city turning into a settlement. You should make sure this never, ever happens. Even if the strategy you are using for victory does not involve knights at all, you should try to make sure you have enough knights to stop all the other players from ganging up on you and letting the barbarians win while you have the least amount of active knights. To determine the number of knights you should have at all times to prevent this divide the # cities on the board divided by the # of players (round up). Let's start easy and say there are 8 cities on the board and 4 players. This means that as long as 8 knights are activated, the robbers will be beaten and no one will lose a city. If you build 2 active knights (8 / 4 = 2), there is no way you can lose a city. This is because no other player can have less knights than you (otherwise they lose the city), so they all must have at least two. If they all have two, though, then that is a total of 8 and you've beaten the barbarians. Now, let's try a harder example with the formula. Say there are 5 cities in the game and four players. To be safe, you still need two knights (5 / 4 = 2 remember to round up at all times using the formula), because at worst cast every player could build just one knight and then everyone will lose a city, including you. This is pretty unlikely to occur, however, because most opponents are not willing to sacrifice a city of their own in order to take one away from you. Still, this is a good general formula to use occasionally in the game if you are not focusing on building knights, especially if you are in the lead, since everyone else will be trying to figure out how to stop you. You should also notice that by this formula you should try to build a knight immediately when starting the game. The first time the barbarians attack they often win and destroy someone's city. You should always make it a high priority, if not the highest, to build and activate a knight in your first 1-3 turns.
3) Big picture strategies for victory - Cities and Knights of Catan radically alters the original three paths to victory which I outlined in my article on basic strategy for Settlers of Catan. There are still three main paths which are based on the same basic resources, though, and each one works well with a specific line of research. I will discuss the brick-wood strategy in Cities and Knights first, as it is the least affected of the three strategies from Settlers. The biggest change to this strategy is that you will need to get a metropolis along with longest road since you now need 13 victory points to win. The metropolis should ideally be in the science (green) research tree because you will already have access to a lot of wood and it shouldn't be as hard to get paper. This change affects your priorities in the brick-wood strategy in many ways. First, wood tiles are now much more valuable to you, since you now need them for all three parts of you strategy (longest road, settlements, science metropolis). Also, your main priority at the start of the game should no longer be to quickly build some settlements. Instead, you need to focus on getting some access to paper, whether it be a city on a 6,8,5, or 9 of wood, or a 2:1 port for a resource you have a lot of. This might not be a big deal if you did well with your initial placement, but you should try to get access to paper before focusing on expanding. Building a metropolis takes a long time and a lot of commodities and the only way you'll have a chance is if you start early. Once you have access to paper you then should focus on expanding quickly, and steadily work on building that metropolis in the background. The only exception to this priority switch is, if after placing your initial settlement and city, you are in direct competition with another player to build a settlement on a good expansion spot. If this is the case, consider building a road to that spot and then building a knight on it, so you can hold the spot and also make sure you have a knight to stop the first attack of the barbarians.
The second big picture strategy is at its core the same old wheat-ore strategy because it requires a lot of those two resources to be successful. However, there are a lot of updates to this it, mainly due to the replacement of developments cards with knights and progress cards. To win with this strategy you will need to consistently have the most knights on the board, you will need to get a metropolis, and you will need to have a lot of cities. It will probably be easiest for you to get a military metropolis since you should have plenty of cities on ore tiles and since you will get the ability to build mighty knights. However, a trade metropolis is also a decent idea if you are getting more sheep than ore. If you use this strategy, ore is even more important than in the original game, especially if you try to get a military metropolis. You should try to build two knights before the barbarians attack the first time, more if someone is competing with you for the Defender of Catan. However, don't get so focused on knights that you let other players expand in such a way that you get blocked in. About 2/3 of the time you won't even get Defender of Catan from this first attack (either another player will get it, you will tie with another player, or the barbarians will win), so don't stress over it as much as the attacks after it. Each barbarian attack after the first should result in either you getting Defender of Catan or someone else losing a city. After making sure you have some starting knights you should focus on either expanding to a good source of ore/wheat/sheep, or upgrade your settlement to a city. Whatever the case, you need to make sure you get decent access to the coin commodity before the second barbarian attack, and you need to make sure you have the most amount of active knights on the board. Having a steady supply of coin is the more important of the two, but this should be easy or already taken care of if you placed your starting city well. If it is too hard, you should consider switching to the third big picture strategy, listed below. For the rest of the game you should keep up on the amount of knights you have and use your coins to advance your military research. Don't forget that you can use your knights to bump other knights and get the robber off your back. Just make sure you never get boxed in and that you are consistently getting Defender of Catan and you should be set to win.
The last big picture strategy for victory is very similar to the middle-road strategy in the original Settlers of Catan. However, this one has many more complexities, so many more that I can't even begin to scratch the surface. You are extremely flexible with this strategy in Cities and Knights, but you are also more vulnerable because it will probably be tougher for you to get a metropolis, which is almost necessary to win. The most common metropolis to get with this strategy is trade. However, you will sometimes have an initial setup which will put you in the running for the military or science metropolises. After you place your starting settlement and city, you should see how many dots you have on ore, lumber, and sheep. Whichever one has the most dots is the one you should consider getting the related metropolis for. Be flexible though, and be sure to also take into consideration your potential competition, since failing to get the metropolis you've been trying for means you will probably lose. Once you've decided which metropolis to go for, make sure to build a knight to protect from the first attack of the barbarians, and then focus on building cities and settlements. If the player with the most amount of knights is only slightly maintaining that lead from you, consider diverting some resources to try to get the occasional Defender of Catan. Keep building cities and settlements, but make sure to build that metropolis you've been working on before anyone else. Once it is built, either focus on getting another metropolis that no one else has, or just keep building more settlements and cities until you win. Also, remember to keep an eye on that longest road, you may be in position to steal it at some point. This strategy is probably the toughest for a new Cities and Knights player to use, since it requires shrewd evaluations of the positions of your opponents, and needs to have a decent grasp on both of the above strategies. There are also many intricacies to this strategy, all based on different common situations you will come up against. You will have to know your opponents and use a little experimentation to figure out how to best act in these cases.
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