Review – The Rivals for Catan

Rivals for Catan. Mayfair Games, 2010. Designer, Klaus Teuber. Artist, Michael Menzel.
(Note: This review is for the Mayfair edition, though it would mostly apply to the Catan Studios edition as well.)

Autumn is upon us. The leaves are falling from their trees, the weather is getting cooler, and the time has come to harvest our wheat from the wheat fields, the lumber from our forests, and the stone from our stonebushes. And as you already know, that means it’s time to play The Rivals for Catan.

What even is that?

Imagine the game The Settlers of Catan (now just called Catan for some reason). You have the coast tiles in place, you shuffle the hexagonal lands and put them out, you put the number tokens to correspond to your dice rolls, and you place your starting settlements and a couple of roads. Can you picture that?

OK, now throw all of that out the window. You won’t need it.

Instead, each player has a tableau of cards representing their staring settlements and a road connecting them, as well as six production cards. You roll dice, produce a resource on the card with that number, and build stuff with the resources. Stuff gives you points, and the first player to end their turn with 12 points worth of stuff wins.

Pictured: 12 points worth of Stuff.

Here’s the tricky part: the stuff you build are buildings that go in your settlements. Instead of your little villages just being, well, little villages, you’ll have the little village with the grain mill and the village where Candamir lives. There’s some light town management as you decide the best place for each building in relation to your production cards. And just when you can’t add more to your settlements, BOOM! You throw some wheat and some stone at them and they become cities. Just like in real life.

Wait a minute…another word for stone is “rock,” and wheat is used to make “rolls”! It’s like Starship song! “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”!

There is also an event die that is rolled every round, which causes events to happen, such as a Plentiful Harvest (everyone gets a resource!) and a Brigand Attack (Everyone loses resources!), as well as triggering an event deck, featuring events such as Year of plenty (Get resources, probably!) and Feud (Someone loses a building! Fun!).

Em’s piece of Catan island. That’s a lot of stuff.

What’s so good about it?

I love the zoomed-in view of these settlements and cities; It allows for a lot of strategy. In my last game with Em, I took “Strength Advantage” early by having Candamir, the strongest base game settler, in one of my villages, which allowed me to take advantage of certain events. Em had no protection when the Feud event was drawn, and lost buildings. However, she got the trade advantage for having more ships than I had, but I was later able to take that from her. While I was focusing on these advantages, Em was knee deep in the hoopla, building her cities on stone and wheat. In the end, she was victorious, and my villagers were exiled to find love among the cannibals, or something. I don’t know what the thematic consequences are, and I’ve run our of Starship references to keep the running joke going.

Ah, Candamir. Storms are brewing in your eyes.

Another great thing about Rivals is that it comes with three expansions: the Era of Gold, the Era of Progress, and the Era of Turmoil. This is not to be confused with the expansions The Age of Darkness and the Age of Enlightenment, which each have three more expansion decks! But forget about those. The game comes with three expansions, as well as a way to combine them, so there’s a lot of replayability in this (formerly*) small box.

So what’s wrong with it?

Remember what I said about replayability? Well, it is true, BUT…the expansions mainly add stuff to the mid-to-late-game. This means that early on, it’s easy to get stuck in a strategy. If you ever play against me, know that I’m going to try to get Candamir on the table and put down an Abbey. Then, I’ll try to expand out and get more Forests and Fields, a Grain Mill, and probably a Lumber Camp. Every. Game. The beginning of each game is going to look the same unless my opponent stops me from doing that.

Also, and this isn’t really a problem for Em and me but your mileage may vary, it is a two-player-only game. If you have more people over, they are just going to have to watch. Or, you know, you’ll have to play something else because you’re not rude and you’re not going to force your friends to be spectators.

The last “problem,” and again, this isn’t really a problem, but some players might have an issue with it, is that the Event deck adds a “take that!” element to the game. Some players hate direct conflict, and there is some, though it doesn’t actually come up very often unless you are extremely unlucky or have done something to piss off the Gods of Catan.

So what do I think?

The Rivals for Catan feels enough like Settlers of Catan to scratch that itch, while being its own thing. It’s certainly a more complex game than vanilla Catan, so I wouldn’t classify it as a gateway game, but its not overly complex. For me, it replaces Settlers, especially as a two-player game.

I give it 9/10 victory points!

*Catan Studios has released a deluxe edition with nine more cards, a nice tray for all the components, and a bigger box.

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