Settlers of Catan Strategy - Part 1 - The Ore-Grain Strategy

Published: 25th March 2006
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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 depth 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 first in this series, will discuss the Ore-Grain Strategy.

The Ore-Grain Strategy seems to be the most popular strategy, at least in the basic game. This strategy attempts to get a lot of ore and grain early in the game, in order to produce cities as quickly as possible. You should focus more on ore than grain, as you will need three ores to build a city, versus two grains (and in the basic game, there is usually less ore available then grain, as there are only three ore hexes compared to four grain hexes).

This strategy is often so powerful because the first cities you produce will probably be on your initial settlements, which should have high production values. Other people going for settlements right off will probably be left with lower production-value intersections.

This strategy lends itself to getting the largest army, as after you build your cities you will have lots of ore and grain left over to buy cards, of which the majority will be knights. For a game that needs ten victory points (like the basic game), four cities and the largest army means a win.

In general, the more congested the board, the harder this strategy becomes. Other players (especially wood-brick players, as described below) will have a greater expansion potential as they can pump out roads and settlements faster, thereby blocking off your expansion. All too often a player at the endgame will find themselves with the maximum of four cities and zero settlements for eight victory points, and not being able to get another two settlements (and corresponding victory points) because they are boxed in. In the basic game this is not as much as a dilemma as you can get another two points with the largest army or by victory point cards; in games where you need more victory points this can be more problematic. When playing with (or against) this strategy, you must keep in mind its greatest weakness is this lack of expansion potential.

The Ore-Grain Strategy can be good for Seafarers, as it is harder to get boxed in (simply build to an island). Getting an ore or grain port is great for this strategy, as after you build four cities you won't have as much a need for these resources, and it can make the endgame a lot easier.

Remember that by building cities, you are concentrating production in fewer locations. As you are putting more of your eggs in fewer baskets, make sure you don't leave any vulnerable. Make sure that you don't place your cities at an intersection with one good number and two bad numbers, or the robber can make your very expensive city worthless. This will be much less of a problem to players who are concentrating on (many) settlements rather than on (fewer) cities. For this same reason, those variants that use multiple robbers/pirates can hurt people who concentrate on cities more.

Near the end of the game you will be the constant target of the robber, as ore and grain become valuable to the other players. You need to have been saving knights so that you can get the robber off your production units. Also, since you have cities, your production spaces will naturally look like better places for the others to put the robber.

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

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