The Rivals for Catan
is a Catan-themed card game for two players, by Klaus Teuber.
Playing Time: 45-90 minutes
Summary of the Components
The main component of The Rivals for Catan is a set of 180 square cards. There are also a few wooden tokens and dice.
Quality: The cards are all glossy and medium weight. They're well produced and should hold up to play. The wood bits are likewise nice. 4 out of 5.
Beauty: As is always the case in Catan games, the design and artwork in the game are both very attractive, and the art is well-featured on the cards. This is all thanks to artist Michael Menzel and graphic designer Michaela Kienle. 5 out of 5.
Usability: Usually the Catan games lead the industry in usability, and that's partially true here. Resources are very cleverly noted with cards by rotating the cards from a value of 0 to 3. It's similarly easy to match the icons on those resource cards up to the things that can be made with them. Finally, a lot of attention has been paid to using icons to represent victory points and other elements and even to using colors to differentiate some elements in the game.
Unfortunately, you just have to remember a lot of these icons and colors because there's no quick reference. In particular, you have to remember the 5 icons on the dice plus the 4 special icons that show up on some cards: strength, trade, skill, and progress. Finally, you have to remember that city-only buildings are colored red. None of this is exactly hard; you'll have it within a game. However, it's surprising that The Rivals for Catan didn't make it easier. 4+ out of 5.
Theming: The roads, cities, and settlements of Catan have always been somewhat abstract, but here we also get characters, events, and individual buildings which add nice color to the world of Catan. 4 out of 5.
Overall, The Rivals of Catan is a well-produced and entirely beautiful game. It ekes in a "5" out of "5" for Style.
Summary of the Gameplay
The object of The Rivals for Catan is to earn Victory Points through the building of settlements and cities and the acquisition of trade and strength. In advanced games, special buildings can also be constructed for additional Victory Points.
Setup: The game uses cards for a wide variety of purposes, most of which you'll see at the start of the game when you lay out your "principality" from a set of 9 cards.
You start out by laying out a middle row or cards with a settlement, then a road, then a settlement. You can continue extending this row during the game by adding roads, then settlements in sequence, or you can alternatively turn settlements into cities.
Each settlement lies between four "regions" which produce resources. These regions form rows above and below your settlement-road-settlement row. You'll get six regions at start, one for each standard Catan resource (wood, brick, sheep, ore, wheat) and one for gold. Each region features a die number, from 1-6, which shows when it produces. Each also shows four values of the resource, from 0-3, on its four sides. At the start of the game, each of these except gold will be set to "1", other.
There are also some empty spaces in your principality--one to either side of each settlement--which can be used as building sites to place special buildings within that settlement.
After each player has laid out their principality--and has arranged a bunch of other cards and taken an initial playing hand of 3--play is now ready to begin.
Order of Play: A turn includes four parts: producing resources; taking actions; checking your hand size; and exchanging cards.
Producing Resources: You start a turn by rolling the resource die and the event die. The resource die says which regions produce resources. The event die causes a random event. Often, one or more players get to take a resource as a result of the event, sometimes based on the total value of a certain character attribute (skill points, trade points). On rolls of a "?", an event card is instead drawn, which can cause more far-flung results.
Taking Actions: This is the heart of the game. Herein, you can play various cards from your hand and build various things.
Playing Action Cards. Some of the cards you can draw are action cards, which can be played on your turn with no cost. They're colorful, themed cards that can let you trade resources, choose die results, and more.
Building Center Cards. You can always build a couple of cards available in the middle of the road: roads, settlements, and cities. Each has a cost that will be fairly familiar to Catan players, e.g., a city costs 2 grain and 3 ore. The new cards must fit the standard grid, which is to say you need roads to build settlements and cities replace settlements. Through the purchase of settlements, you also get new regions, which increases your resource production.
Building Heroes & Buildings. You can also build building, hero, and ship cards that you've drawn into your hand. These have special costs shown on each card and also have special powers. They all go in "building sites", of which you get two per settlement (and another two when it becomes a city).
The buildings and ships give you special powers, some of which you'll know from old Catan games (e.g., ships improve your trading ratio) and some of which are original (e.g. grain mills double the production of nearby grain fields). Some cards, especially the heroes, also have icons: trade and strength can give you a +1 VP token and also help out when certain events are rolled; skill similarly gives you an advantage on certain events; and progress can increase your hand size.
Trading. As part of your action phase you can always trade 3 of one resource for something else. With the appropriate trade ship, you can trade 2:1.
Checking Your Hand Size: Afterward, you discard or draw until you reach 3 cards.
Exchanging Cards: Finally, you can discard a card and draw a replacement if you want, which is very helpful to keep your hand from clogging up with stuff you don't want.
Game End: The game ends when someone earns 7 VPs from settlements (1 VP), cities (2 VP), and the strength and trade tokens (1 VP).
Advanced Games: The Rivals for Catan also includes several themed advanced games. In "The Era of Gold", "The Era of Turmoil", and "The Era of Progress", new cards and new events are introduced into the game. This includes "city expansions", which are worth extra VPs, but can only be placed in cities. You now play up to 12 VPs.
A fourth variant called "The Duel of Princes" combines some cards from each of the three eras and plays up to 13 VPs.
Relationships to Other Games
The Rivals for Catan is (of course) a card game based on The Settlers of Catan. Rivals does a good job of simultaneously revisiting a lot of the standard Catan mechanics and ideas, while still being its own game.
It's also a revision of The Settlers of Catan Card Game, released over a decade ago. A lot of Rivals still lies pretty close to the original game, but the new release plays faster and feels more evocative. It's a great revision of a game that I thought was just so-so previously.
The Rivals for Catan should not be confused with The Struggle for Catan, a fast and light multiplayer card game also released this year.
The Game Design
Overall, The Rivals for Catan is a well-designed and enjoyable card game that allows for deep play. This is because there's a lot going on in a game. You can always decide to build toward a lot of different goals (mainly cities, settlements, or cards in your hand). These tactics can lead you to a lot of different strategy, including contesting in the four types of icons, building up production machines, or just trying to win on raw victory points.
Though building your own Catan is somewhat solitaire, you have to think about your opponent when contending for strength, trade, or skill, and you also have to consider what to do with cards that you've gotten which you know that your opponent wants.
Beyond that, The Rivals of Catan allows for surprisingly rich play thanks to creativity implicit in creating a personal principality with your cards and the fact that different cards allow a lot of different advantages with their icons and powers.
The basic game plays very quickly at 45 minutes or so, but is nonetheless a sufficiently deep game. The advanced games go longer at 75-90 minutes, but there's enough depth to support them. It's nice to have the choice of playing in these different ways.
Overall, The Rivals for Catan is both an enjoyable 2-player game and a good step up from the previous Settlers of Catan Card Game. I've given it a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.
The Rivals for Catan allows for deep and thoughtful two-player play using many of the mechanisms of The Settlers of Catan. Nonetheless, the card game is its own beast which does a great job of turning cards into a rich setting.