Settlers of Catan have always been one of the most recognized board games available and is seen as one of the best entry points into the board gaming hobby.
There has been a myriad of variations of the game published. So when I was looking for a two player game to play with my wife, (who I must mention isn’t a big board gamer) it was suggested that I give Rivals for Catan a go. This variation on the Catan theme is a two player only card based game. At first I wasn’t sure how well the Catan board game theme would translate to a card game. I was however pleasantly surprised with this small sized card game.
What is it about?
Rivals of Catan puts you in command of a province on the island of Catan. Instead of having each player competing for space and points on a shared map, each player is allocated a group of cities and settlements that they need to expand and manage. These settlements and cities are expanded through the use of various resources (ie. wool, gold, lumber). The player to reach a set number of victory points wins the game.
What is in the box?
The game comes with loads of cards. These are of an adequate quality. I would have liked if the card stock that is used was a bit thicker. The game comes with three expansions included in the box, the era of gold, the era of turmoil and the era of progress. Each has its own theme and each expansion plays very differently than the other (Era of gold focuses on trade, Era of turmoil on strength and Era of progress on building). This also allows players to change the focus of each game they play accordingly.
The wooden dice look great although they do feel a bit light. I really like the look and feel of the clear plastic markers.
The artwork on the cards are excellent, each card is easy to understand and looks great. I love the way in which the recourse cards are handled. Each card has an image of that resource on one of the four sides of each card, starting with zero, one, two and three. Each time a resource accumulates the card is turned with the amount of resources facing the player. This is a really clever way to add resource management to a card game.
How does it play?
Each player receives nine cards of their faction. These cards make up your initial province and consist of two settlements, a road to connect them and six resource cards (each set to different amounts). The basic game has the players setting up four draw stacks from the basic card set, a stack of city, settlement, road and resource cards as well as a stack of event cards.
A player turn consists of:
Rolling the dice – A player rolls the production die and the event dies on their turn. The result of the production die indicates which resource the player can increase with one. The event die has five different symbols, each corresponding to an effect. The brigand attack icon indicates that the player with more than seven resources loses all their gold and wool supplies (this is really bad and you don’t want to roll this). The trade icon allows the player with the trade advantage to increase a resource of their choice. The celebration icon enables the player with the most skill points to increase a resource of their choice with one. Should there be a tie, both players are allowed to do this. The plentiful harvest icon lets each player receive one resource of their choice. Lastly, the event card icon indicates that a player must draw an event card. The event indicated on the card is then resolved.
Action phase – A player may play cards from their hand, like action cards or settlement expansions (which can be heroes, buildings or trade ships). Each of these cards have abilities that the player can use once they are placed. Players can also spend their resources to buy roads, settlements or cities. In this phase, players are able to exchange three of their resources for one of their choices.
Replenish hand – Player now discards cards from their hand if they have more than three or draw cards until they have three in their hand.
Exchanging – Players may exchange one card from their hand with a randomly drawn card from one of the draw stacks, or may pay two resources to pick any card out of one of the draw stacks.
The game ends when one player has seven or more victory points.
What did I think of it?
Both my wife and I were really impressed with the way that Rivals for Catan captured the feel of Settles of Catan. I was glad to see that the game still felt like a Catan game even without the trading aspect. I was also surprised at how well the game brings across the feeling of building cities and settlements, all while juggling your resources.
I found the game to be deep enough to keep you engaged for the duration of game play. On that note the game plays for about 45min, this felt the perfect length for the game. I never felt that it dragged on too long.
I was also pleasantly surprised that the game included the expansion modules. We enjoyed playing the different expansions as each felt fresh and diverse. We also found the game to be well balanced. Almost all the games we played the scores ended quite close as the winner never won with a landslide.
The game does have its fair share of luck. Rolling the resource die and not being able to get the resources you require can be a bit frustrating. That said I found that this kept us on our toes, as we had to make due with what resources we had. The game can take a few turns to get going, as both players need to accumulate resources before they can construct buildings, cities and settlements.
Overall my wife and I enjoyed playing Rivals for Catan. The way in which resources are handled by turning the cards to increase and decrease them is a great idea. The game is compact enough to travel with (although it does take its fair share of space when set up). Some people may be put off by the idea of rolling a die for resources, but I actually enjoyed this luck based mechanic.
Rivals for Catan isn’t a perfect game, but it is a lot of fun. Finding a game that my wife likes is hard enough, finding one that is fun is even harder; Rivals for Catan ticked both of these boxes. If you want a two player city building and resources management game then Rivals for Catan is for you.
Gameplay: 8/10 The game was really easy to teach and understand. My wife and I started playing within minutes of reading the rules. The game never drags on too long and felt just long enough. The inclusion of the different modules increases replayability drastically.
Components: 3/5 The artwork is good. The card stock is a bit on the thin side and the wooden dice feel a bit light.
Complexity vs. Depth: 4/5 The game isn’t very complex and is easy to understand and grasp. I did find that the game had more depth than I initially anticipated. Most of the strategy comes from making due with what you have and using it optimally.
Theme: 3.5/5 For a card game the game has quite a bit of theme. The way in which cards are placed when building and how your city expands, adds quite a lot to the theme.
Overall: 3.5/5 Rivals for Catan is a great 2 player game that feels like it belongs in the Catan universe. It is easy to understand and learn but has enough depth to keep you coming back for more. The expansion modules are a great bonus.
Board game supplied by Boardgames SA (www.boardgames.co.za)