Mayfair Games has completed their flurry of Catan releases with The Struggle For Catan, a 2-4 player multiplayer card game which follows the revised editions of the 2-player-only The Rivals for Catan card game and the Catan Dice Game. All of these new games seek to emulate the Catan experience with a smaller, faster, and less expensive substitute, so how does The Struggle for Catan perform against its peers? Read on for the full review:
Just the Facts:
Playing Time: 45-60 minutes
Age: 10 to adult
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Release: June 2, 2011
As is standard for Catan games, The Struggle for Catan is played until one player reaches ten points. They'll go about reaching that goal by collecting sets of resource cards, then trading them in to acquire roads, settlements, cities, knights, and a new type of building, the city expansion. The twist in this card game is that roads and knights, along with the victory point they grant, can change hands at any time.
Each turn begins with a trading phase, which works quite differently than in traditional Catan. Players can perform trades in any combination of the following three ways:
- Swap a card from their hand with an available card in the resource market (a row of five cards kept face-up next to the deck).
- Discard a card from their hand and draw a random resource card from the deck.
- Trade with an opponent by taking a random card from their hand and replacing it with any card from your hand (including the one you just took).
Simply put, when it comes to trading with other players, there is no wood for sheep in this game. Instead, it's wood for whatever I damn well feel like giving you.
In the second phase of a turn, players can cash in their resources to build as many different types of buildings as they can afford. Each building comes with a special ability as well, which is where all of the complexity in this game lies (it is a card game after all!). For example:
- Roads: Trades are limited by the number of roads you own. The first road built allows you to perform one trade in the first turn phase. Each additional road will alternate between either granting a victory point or an additional trade. To picture this a bit better, imagine that your roads are numbered according to the order in which you built them. For each odd numbered road, you can perform one trade, while even numbered roads are each worth one victory point (but grant no trade ability).
- Knights: These work the same as roads, but the odd numbered ones allow you to draw an additional resource card at the end of your turn. Both roads and knights exist in limited quantities, though. Once there are none left, a player will get to steal from a player next to them when they pay to build. A "destiny card" on the table instructs players who should be stolen from: roads from the player to your right, and knights to the player to your left, or vice versa.
- Settlements: These grant one victory point, and give the player the option to change the destiny card's direction to reverse the order of stealing.
- Cities: For an additional cost, settlements can be flipped over and turned into cities, which are worth two victory points. There is also a special effect printed on each city, which can cause the market to be reshuffled or force players to discard down to seven cards.
- City Expansions: These are a group of seven unique cards, ranging in value from three to four victory points. Only one city expansion can be built for each city a player holds. The effects printed on city expansions are extremely powerful, and choosing the right one can make or break a player's chances. Some of them can protect a player's roads or knights from being stolen, while others can grant additional resources or lower building costs.
The final phase of each turn is drawing. The active player draws two resource cards from the top of the deck, plus extra cards for any bonuses their knights may trigger.
- 67 Resource Cards
- 42 Building Cards consisting of:
- • 9 Road Cards
• 14 Settlement/City Cards
• 5 Knight Cards.
• 9 City Improvement Cards
- 4 Building Cost Cards
- 1 Destiny Card
- Full-color rules
As a pure card game, there are no components here outside of a 110-card deck. There are no issues here with card quality, and the rules are another good example of a short and succinct game explanation. Mayfair also deserves heaping praise for their online teaching videos, which they do a good job of prominently displaying the URL for in the rules book. These videos are an incredible help for visual learners. On the artistic side, the illustrations here are done by Settlers of Catan artist Michael Menzel, who he does an excellent job within the Catan style.
The only small gripe here is the box, and this is a complaint that goes for both The Struggle for Catan and The Rivals For Catan. Each comes in the same size box with the same strange plastic insert. While I'm sure this sharing of production helped keep all the games within the budget price range of $15-20, the boxes take up more space than necessary as the insert's hybrid design attempt to fit the different-sized cards from both games. In the end, it winds up doing a good job of fitting neither.
The version of this picture showing what happens after you put the cards in, close the lid, and shake the box around a bit was too graphic in nature to include in this review.
Looking at pictures of the foreign versions, the box there is just large enough to fit the 110 cards and rules sheet. It could probably fit in your pocket. On the plus side, if you don't mind trashing the insert and re-bagging your components, you can store all three of the new Catan games in any one of these boxes, giving you your own cornucopia of Catan.
The Struggle for Catan turns the Catan formula on its head. Resources are not nearly as precious, since you are guaranteed to collect at least two random ones on your turn. Instead, the scarcity is in the building cards, and players will continuously fight for possession of the precious few road and knight cards. This is what makes the game so great, and the tight supply is maintained for different numbers of players as certain cards will be removed with less people at the table.
The game succeeds in offering a shorter version of Catan, as it completes in roughly half the time that players would expect to set aside for a full game of The Settlers of Catan. Because the game moves faster and there is such a focus on the high-point city expansions, points will snowball and games can rapidly come to a close. If players are not aware of this, they may be met with an anti-climactic ending, but The Struggle for Catan is very much worth playing again until everyone had adjusted adjusted to the basic strategy.
The game is all about building a strong economic engine early on, while using the ability to steal from opponents in the late game to prevent their victory. It is also important to time the conversion of settlements to cities, as this will often trigger a discard down to seven cards. This is unlikely to affect the active player, as they just spent a large number of cards to pay for the city, but others at the table who have been saving up cards will be set back.
But now to answer the big question: which of the three small-box Catan games is the best purchase for a gamer who must choose only one? As is always the case in tabletop gaming, each has a time and a place when it would be best played. However, The Struggle for Catan fits a hard-to-fill niche: quality three-player games.
Too often, games fall flat on their face when played with three players. In these situations, one person winds up becoming a king-maker and you might as well determine the winner via coin flip. The Struggle for Catan does a great job of incorporating player interaction, yet limiting it to avoid the 3-player stalemate. Here, the best of three players should win, making it a rare solid choice for a group of that size, and the preferred game among all of the new Catan titles.
Disclaimer: MTV received a complimentary review sample of this game