When looking for the best path to the ten Victory Points needed to win a game of Settlers of Catan, it’s hard to ignore the temptation of getting two Victory Points at once. There are two special cards that do just this, Longest Road and Largest Army. Having the Longest Road means that you have the most road pieces in one continuous uninterrupted path. You can first claim the Longest Road title when you reach a road length of five, and you keep that title (and the Victory Points that come with it) until someone exceeds the length of your road. Note: this means that if there is a tie for Longest Road, the player who got there first keeps the points.
For Largest Army, you need to draw Development Cards that end up being Knights. Once you have played three Knights, you can claim Largest Army. And just like Longest Road, you hold onto this title until someone surpasses you. So, which title is easier to get (and hold)? And are there other advantages or disadvantages to vying for either title? Let’s stack up the evidence and see if we can pick a winner.
To build a road, you require one Lumber and one Brick Resource Cards. So, to first claim the Longest Road title, you would need six Resource Cards. This is assuming you build your three roads in connection with the two roads you build automatically at the start of the game. To be the first player to build THE Longest Road (15 in a row), which holds the title for the rest of the game, you would need 30 Resource Cards total.
To draw a Development Card, you must use one Resource Card each of Wool, Grain, and Ore. Assuming each of your draws does get you a Knight (at 14 of the total 25, they are the most common Development Card), then you would require nine Resource Cards to initially claim Largest Army. However, every time you play one of your Knights, you get to move the Robber piece, which allows you to steal a Resource Card from another player. Doing this will allow you to earn back three Resource Cards, which effectively makes the required total six (nine used, less three stolen). The total number of Knight Cards is 14, so to get a majority you would only need seven. This would require only 21 resources up front (and earn you seven back), which is much lower than what you need to guarantee Longest Road.
Since the two strategies are fairly even when it comes to resources used, the resources accessible to you should be a stronger factor in determining a path. If you have easy access to Brick and Lumber, start building roads. If the other three resources are more plentiful for you, start drawing Development Cards. But, the required resources shouldn’t be the only thing dictating your decision. Let’s look at what you should consider.
Victory Point Potential
Even if you have the Longest Road or the Largest Army, that is only two Victory Points. Either way, you will require at least six more to get to the ten required to win the game (since your two initial settlements are worth one each). What other points can you get if you play towards each of these strategies? Let’s break them down separately:
The main reason to build roads in Settlers of Catan is to build more settlements. Since you can’t build a settlement directly adjacent to one you’ve already built, you are required to have a two-road-gap before settling again. Additionally, your settlements must be connected. Only your initial two can be separated. This means that while you are building your Longest Road, you should be building settlements along the way. A bonus of doing this can be blocking players who want to cut off your road, with a settlement of their own (since they also can’t build a settlement adjacent to yours).
The resources required to build a settlement also line up well with road building. If you are already collecting lumber and brick, you only need to find a grain and a wool card to build another settlement.
If your game strategy is focused on drawing Development Cards, you get the benefit of occasionally drawing a Victory Point Card. There are five of these in the 25 Development Cards, so you have a 20% chance of drawing one, which makes an excellent bonus to your total. You can also draw cards like Year of Plenty and Monopoly, which can help you gather resources to further your goals. Finally, there are Road Building Cards, which won’t help you get the Largest Army but could help you build another settlement, even if you are light on brick and lumber.
The resources required to draw Development Cards also line up well with upgrading your settlements to cities. If you can gather three ore cards and two grain cards, then you can grow your existing settlements into cities, earning you double resources anytime an adjacent resource number is rolled. Each of these cities is worth an additional Victory Point as well.
Now that we know what other Victory Points line up well with each strategy, let’s look at the scenarios that could lead you to win the game with ten.
Path to Victory
Assuming things go well and you earn (and hold) the Longest Road title, your Victory Point total would be four. You have another three settlement pieces you could build, which would only bring your total to seven. To get up to the ten required, you would need to either upgrade three of your settlements to cities or draw Development Cards hoping for Victory Point Cards (or Knights to get Largest Army as well). Building cities on your settlements is the more reliable option and has the added benefit of allowing you to build another settlement once the piece is replaced. By taking advantage of trade (with other players or with ships) you should be able to get enough resources to upgrade even if you aren’t positioned well for ore or grain.
Even if you have the best luck at the table and draw all five Victory Point Cards, those plus your Largest Army and initial settlements will still only give you nine Victory Points. You will need to upgrade at least one settlement to a city or build a road long enough to allow for another settlement. Additionally, you should be building more settlements and cities so that you earn resources faster and more often. Finally, one other thing to consider for this strategy is time. You are only allowed to play one Development Card per turn (other than Victory Point Cards)! Holding Knight Cards can result in someone else beating you to Largest Army (or to the win). I do try to hold my Knight Cards until the Robber has been placed over one of my resources, though, that way I can move it and earn resources again. Any and all Victory Point Cards must be held and played in the turn when you declare victory.
One important thing to take into account that we haven’t covered yet is what your opponents are doing. If you are in a fierce battle with another player for Longest Road or Largest Army, it is essentially a race to get the maximum number (so you can hold the title for the remainder of the game). This can make earning either title much harder. A better strategy would be to play for whatever the other players aren’t working towards. That way, you could earn either title with a lower amount of resources.
When taking everything into account, there’s no definitive answer as to which Special Card is better to go for. It’s much more effective if you tailor your strategy to the current game you are playing. Taking into account what resources you have easily accessible and what other players appear to be working towards should lead you to an ideal strategy for each game. Also, there’s no reason why you can’t go for both. Earning the Longest Road AND the Largest Army gives you four Victory Points, which would put you in a nearly unbeatable position. Finally, don’t be afraid to switch your strategy on the fly. If you start going for one thing and it doesn’t work out, regroup and try out another.
Happy settling everyone!
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