There has always been just one downside to the tremendously popular board game The Settlers of Catan and that is that it just doesn’t play well with two players.
In 1996, Mayfair Games, publishers of Settlers, tried to correct this by releasing the Settlers Card Game, which tried to emulate the board game with a card-driven variant strictly for two players. The game was very successful and spawned several expansions.
The main problem with that game was the length of playing time, which grew when the expansions were added. There were also some rules that seemed a bit disjointed.
Now every single problem has been solved with the introduction earlier this year of The Rivals for Catan. It is a reworking of the Catan Card Game at its heart. But it is more than that as well. The rules have been streamlined and the play is easier to grasp and to play.
For those unfamiliar with Catan in general, it is a game of managing resources to build up areas of the island world. There are victory points given for accomplishing certain things in the game and the winner is the one that reaches the victory point total first. One of the key elements in the board game is the trading of resources between players. That mechanic works poorly with two players.
In rivals that mechanic is removed and that’s what makes the two-player aspect shine. There are two dice used in the game and the rest of the play is powered by cards. Cards are used to keep track of resources as well as roads, settlements and cities.
The more resources a player has, the more things he can add to his principality. As he adds roads, then he can add more settlements. More settlements can provide the opportunity to get more resources as well as allow for settlements to become cities and those cities to grow. Players have choices to make about adding skills for residents to use or military might to win battles and protect the realm or commerce to become the best in trading.
Each of these things will provide more victory points toward the seven needed to win the game.
There are five different ways to play Rivals. The first is by using the base cards that come with the game and this is the best way for players to learn the game. There are action cards, event cards and development cards.
Included in the game are three additional sets of cards. The Era of Gold introduces new card types and has an emphasis on commerce. The Era of Turmoil is more confrontational and allows players to harass their foes. The Era of Progress is expansion driven without the fighting.
It is possible to mix each individual set with the base set to create an entirely new feel of Rivals. To win any of those games, you need 12 victory points instead of seven. Once a good feel for those cards has been established, then there is a Duel of the Princes version that combines all of the cards in the game and plays until one gamer has 13 victory points.
While each of these games is a bit longer than the base game alone, the nice thing is that the rules stay the same. Only the setup is different.
Mayfair has shown its commitment to the game by releasing one expansion for Rivals, Age of Darkness. In this expansion you get.
• The Era of Intrigue – You will witness the confrontation of followers of new and old beliefs and take part to determine Catan's spiritual balance. "Religious Dispute" causes both players to lose cards; Churches and Temples minimize losses; Temple cards strengthen your access to your own draw stacks. Church cards lure opposing heroes and earn gold. With a Church and a Temple, you may build the Great Thing and end the conflict.
• The Era of Merchant Princes – Using the "Commercial Harbor" and the "Merchant's Residences", decisive buildings in the struggle for trade advantage, players try to control Catan's commerce. "Maritime Trade Monopolies" and the "Master Merchants" enhance trade ships. "The Shipbuilder" reduces the building costs of ships. Dominate trade using clever card combinations!
• The Era of Barbarians – Use Castles, Border Fortresses, the Strategist, the Caravel, and new heroes to fend off both the barbarian attacks and your rival's efforts to dominate your holdings.
The Rivals for Catan is one of the best and most engaging two-player card games ever published. There is another set of cards planned for the game in 2012, The Golden Age. This would be a great time to experience Catan as a two-player encounter.
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