The First Island
This is the original map from the board game, which features 18 game spaces plus the desert, with the whole map surrounded by water. The map uses the standard Catan rules, and not the Seafarers rules. Both major strategies apply here, with very few wrinkles in the game.
Ore for Wool
This map is the same as the original map and the basic Settlers of Catan rules are in play. The twist to this map is that stone, which is also called ore, is placed on three of the poorest numbers on the board, to make it extra scarce. Additionally, wool is generally placed on some very good numbers. This setup makes a strong ore strategy fairly impossible, so it is best to go for a port strategy. If you are able to grab the wool port on good numbers, this is probably the best opening placement. Otherwise, just try and find any 2:1 port and pair it with at least two strong numbers on that resource.
This map is the same as the standard board game and uses the standard Settlers of Catan rules, except a victory occurs at 11 points, instead of 10. The twist here is that each harbor you control is worth one “harbor point" and the first player to get three harbor points will get two extra victory points. The AI kind of makes this one simple, as the computer will go out of its way to grab ports, leaving the middle of the map wide open for conquest. Grab a good stone number and plan on expanding in to the island, instead of on the edges. Ignore the extra harbor points and cruise your way to an easy victory.
The Treasure Islands
The center of this map is the same as the standard game, but surrounding the island are 50 additional sea spaces that you can explore. The map uses the rules for the Seafarers of Catan, which allow you to build ships to explore the ocean. The sea spaces will contain treasure, which will give you minor bonuses, and islands, which will give you a resource when you find them. You will also gain an extra two victory points for each island you build a settlement on.
For this map, a shift to a wood/sheep strategy might be your best bet, as you can quickly build a long train of ships to explore the open water, reap the rewards, and have two of the necessary resources for building settlements on the islands. Of course, if the computer players get too enamored with exploration, you can conquer the center of the large island to create a resource generating machine. Basically, if you go first, aim for a wood/sheep build. If you don’t, position yourself where the computer player isn’t placing settlements.
The Four Islands 1
The game map features four small islands and the Seafarer rules are in effect. The first time a player builds a settlement on an island that they didn’t start on, they will get two additional victory points. Play this board much like you would a standard Catan board, with a stone focus or a port focus, depending on what the game gives you. There are a few ports that are just two or three ships away from being able to build on another island, so grab these with your second placement as long as the numbers on the port are good. Aim to build up to cities and then out to an additional settlement or two, and only concern yourself with the extra victory points if the opportunity presents itself.
The board is split into two large islands with a stretch of hidden sea spaces running between them. The board uses the Seafarers rules. Choose one island over the other and place both your settlements, giving you a possibility of eventually making an easy longest road. Only ignore this if you can find two really high numbered spots like (8-9-5) on the different islands. If you build on the inner edge of your island, ensure that you have a presence on wood and sheep so that you can quickly send out ships to capture the free resources from discovering the islands in the middle of the map. Otherwise, it’s just a normal game.
Greater Catan 1
This is the most unique map that the game has to offer. It uses the Seafarers rules and takes 18 victory points to win. Additionally, players can build up to 8 cities. Gameplay starts on the main island, which is just a bit smaller than the normal main island. The island is surrounded by five smaller islands. As players discover the hexes on the smaller islands, the hex will be given a number from the unused supply. After the fourth hex on the small islands is discovered, the supply is exhausted and the player must choose a number from the main island instead. This number will move to the small island, leaving the resource on the main island barren (it no longer produces anything).
There are a few rules to this number movement. The numbers six and eight cannot be placed adjacent to each other, the player must have a settlement or city adjacent to that number and each settlement on the main island needs to have access to at least one resource with a number on it.
This twist makes for an interesting game as the main island becomes depleted and the cities/settlements on that island become worthless (or close to it). The best strategy is to stick with wood and sheep, which will allow you to expand to the outer islands quickly. Build settlement and cities on the best available resources there, as these will not deplete over time. Build only reluctantly on the main island, and only upgrade to cities on spots where you are fairly sure someone won’t move a number (like a six or eight).
A counter strategy is to ignore the islands, allowing the main island to remain more powerful as it will take longer for the computer players to find the islands without your help. Make a race to build cities as fast as you can, and then hope you don’t lose too much when the numbers start moving to the outer islands. I’ve found success with both strategies, but I believe it may have been because the computer wasn’t playing as smart as it should have been.