In part one of my article on strategy in Cities and Knights of Catan I focused on the differences between strategy in this expansion and the original and gave an evaluation of knights in the game. In this second part of the article I will focus on the different research paths available to players, along with advice on using progress cards.
4) Research in Catan - The arrival of progress cards and new special abilities granted by the three branches of research in Cities and Knights warrants some discussion. To win, you will probably need to get a metropolis in one of these branches. While playing, however, you will often end up with commodities needed for the other branches. When this happens I suggest spending them to get the first level or two of research, instead of giving into the temptation of trading them. Progress cards are extremely powerful in this game, and it is worth not trading that commodity to have a chance to get some. You should make it a high priority to build whatever metropolis you are working on, even sacrificing expansion in the middle game to make sure this happens. Whoever is the first to build a metropolis usually keeps it since it is so hard for someone to take it away from you. If you do happen to notice an opponent trying to take a metropolis from you then first remind them that this is probably a waste of their resources and they will not succeed unless they get really lucky or have amazing access to the required commodity. If they persist, simply upgrade your research in that branch to the highest level. This is annoying to do since it takes so much effort, but it's better than losing that metropolis. In your quest for commodities, remember you can use your 2:1 and 3:1 ports to get them. If you're doing research in military or science these ports come in especially handy, since there are few rock and wood tiles. However, ports are not as useful to anyone researching trade, since many of the progress cards in the trade deck provide the same benefits as ports.
Of the three branches of research, I consider science (green) to be the most powerful. The special ability it provides is amazing, and worth heavy early investment to get. Also, the science progress card deck is probably the most powerful. With many cards that boost your ability to build, you will be given a leg up to early expansion. This deck is also home to The Inventor, probably the most powerful progress card in the game, especially if you get it early. Using The Inventor you can switch the numbers on any two tiles on the board (except 6's,8's,12's, and 2's). Nothing feels better than taking that 9 off of someone else and switching it with your 3 on a key resource.
The trade (yellow) branch of research is the second most powerful in my opinion. It contains many ways to use those extra commodity cards you'll have in the end game, and gives you control of the merchant, which can dramatically aid a player. The special ability it provides is mediocre and only really useful in the endgame in my opinion, since you should be spending your commodities as fast as possible before then.
The military (blue) branch of research is the least powerful out of the three. However, it is the most annoying to your opponents. You can use the progress cards from this branch to harass your opponents, especially whoever is in the lead. You can steal resources, knights, and even progress cards from them using this deck. Also, if you are trying to get Defender of Catan consistently, it is worth getting the special ability this branch offers. The biggest downside to this deck is the lack of any game-ending progress cards. The cards are great at frustrating your opponents and keeping anyone from getting too far of a lead, but there are none that help the person playing the card in any huge way.
5) General Cities and Knights sneakiness - The progress cards and other rules allow for some new underhanded things you can do to your opponents, the most prominent of which is setting them up to lose a city from the barbarians. To aid you in that quest, consider playing a Desertion progress card (from the military deck) on an opponent with few knights or an opponent who is competing for Defender of Catan with you when the barbarians are close to attacking. You should also remember to defend against this attack by making sure you have an extra level one knight on the board. Another nasty thing you can do to opponents revolves around the Spy progress card (also from the military deck). If you play this on an opponent and they have a Spy progress card then take that one from them and then play it immediately on them again. Keep doing this until you have taken all of their Spy cards. Then play the final Spy on them again if they have a good progress card you noticed or use it on someone else. It's always great fun to play two or three spy cards in a row since you get to see your opponents hands and are also stopping them from using this card every time. To stop this from happening to you, you should play Spy cards soon after you get them. Often, though, the person you just played Spy on will not have a Spy card. In this case take some time to evaluate all the other cards they have. When selecting which one to steal remember to not only look at how much those cards would help you if you had them, but also to see how important they are to your opponent. Many times it is better to take a card that is valuable to them instead of one which would be useful to yourself, especially if they are in the lead.
6) Game-ending progress cards - In Cities and Knights of Catan there are three progress cards which can be used to propel you from 10 to 12 victory points to 13. Victory point cards themselves are not useful for this in Cities and Knights because you have to play them immediately after you get them, so everyone knows you have them and they aren't a surprise like they were in Settlers of Catan. The cards I will discuss are silent killers which you spring on your opponents to win the game. If you get one of these in the early game you should probably play it soon instead of saving it because the Spy might come your way. However, if you are near victory and have one of these you should treasure it and then play it on your opponents when you know it will give you 13 victory points at the end of your turn.
The first progress card with great potential to immediately end the game is the Merchant. This card not only gives you an extra victory point, but it also allows you to trade at a 2:1 rate on a specific resource. In the end game of Cities and Knights you will have a lot of resources and often be struggling to figure out what to do with all the extra ones. This card gives you a great way to convert some into the resources you needed to build that last city or settlement. It can easily bring you from 11 to 13 victory points in one turn. One other good thing about this card is there are a lot of them, so you have better chances of getting one in the end game when you would use it for this purpose.
There is another card from the trade (yellow) progress card deck which can single-handedly end the game. Merchant Fleet allows the player who uses it to trade all resources at a 2:1 rate. While it doesn't give a free victory point like the merchant, it gives you even greater flexibility for how to use all those extra resources. Also, if you have this card in your possession, take a look at what you will need to win if you played it. Then, try trading to get what you need before playing the card. Once you have what you need, play the card and do your trading and building while your opponents sit horrified, seeing the cards they just traded used for your victory.
The last great game-ending progress card comes from the science (green) deck. The Alchemist allows you to decide which tiles will produce on your turn by picking which numbers will be rolled on each die. This is especially useful if you have a lot of cities and settlements on the same number and this number gives you a great combo of resources (such as wood and brick or wheat and ore). I'm sure you've played games of Settlers where it was your turn and you knew that if you just rolled a six, or maybe that three, you would win the game on that turn. Well, this card makes sure you are never disappointed when that situation comes up.
That's it for the major pieces of strategy advice I have to offer on Cities and Knights of Catan. I bet you were expecting yet another discussion of where to place your starting settlements somewhere in there. Well, things aren't so different in this expansion that the principles for placement are radically different. Just remember that brick isn't worth as much now, and try to put your city on a location which has decent access to whatever commodity you will be using for a metropolis. As always, I'd love to hear any feedback you have on this advice. Please post on the forums if you have any.