The Struggle for Catan

[The Settlers of Catan was first reviewed in Gamers Alliance Report a decade and a half ago, in the Fall 1996 Gamers Alliance Report. Since then, it has blossomed into a sort of cottage industry unto itself. Here, we take a look at the latest addition to the line in review #695 for me. – – Herb Levy]

(Mayfair Games, 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, about 30 minutes; $15)


Reviewed by Herb Levy

The Settlers of Catan (Fall 1996 Gamers Alliance Report) is one of those rare games that manage to remain at or near the top of both the popularity and sales charts of games year after year. So, it’s no surprise that designer Klaus Teuber has devoted so much time and effort into coming up with variations on this highly successful theme. The latest entry in the Catan line of games is a card game version of the game that started it all: The Struggle for Catan.

The Struggle for Catan is a multi-player card game where up to four players struggle against each other to settle the island. No dice, no tiles, just cards. The cards divide into two decks: resource cards (the standard Catan fare of wood, brick, grain, sheep and ore) and building cards (9 roads, 15 settlement/city cards, 5 knights and 9 city expansions). Four four building costs cards (useful play aids that are given to each player) and 1 Destiny card (a potentially pivotal addition to play) complete the game.

The building cards are separated into their respective types: roads, settlement/city, knight and city expansion. A market of five resource cards is created and placed above the building card stacks with the rest of the resource cards forming a draw pile. All players draw three resource cards from the draw pile to begin. They also start with a settlement, a road and a building costs card.

As with the original game, constructing a building card means turning in the necessary resource cards. And the first thing a player may do on his turn is trade resources. On turn, each player (in this specific order) may trade resources card. As long as you have at least one road, you can trade resources by exchanging one of your cards with one of the cards in the market, force a trade with another player by exchanging a card face down or simply discard and draw the top card of the draw deck. There is no hand limit. Once you have traded, you can build.

Most building cards come with a Victory Point value. All settlements are worth 1 VP. By turning in the right resources, they can be upgraded to cities. An upgrade is shown by flipping the settlement card to its city side where it is now worth 2 VPs. The twist here is that, when flipped, the city card reveals an event that happens immediately. Generally, the event is “Brigands attack” and, just like the Robber in the original game, players are compelled to reduce their hand size to 7 or fewer cards. But there are several Market Day events which could be beneficial as you immediately replace all 5 resource cards in the Market (a good thing if all the resources there are ones you do not need). And, of course, you may build roads and knights.

As there are fewer Roads and Knights in the game, the competition for them can be intense. Both Roads and Knights have an “A” and “B” side and they are handled in a similar way.

strugglec1The first Road and Knight a player gets is placed on its A side. Without a road in his array, a player may only trade by discarded and drawing the top card from the draw pile. A road grants more choices. It allows a player to trade one card with the Market (by placing a card from his hand into the Market and replacing it with one already there), or force a trade with an opponent (each exchanging a face down card) or simply discarding and drawing a card from the top of the draw deck. The second road built is placed so that it is overlapping the previous card but on its B side. The B side is worth 1 VP. Should another road be built, it would then be placed, overlapping, onto its A side. (This allows that player to now trade TWO cards). This A/B alternate placement continues as more roads are added. The Knight operates in similar fashion. Knights begin on their A side and they, too, alternate as you accumulate them. The A side allows you to draw an extra resource card at the end of your turn; the B side is worth 1 VP. More A sides showing allow for larger draws. Roads and knights, by allowing you to both draw and trade extra resource cards, can be a very powerful engine in driving you forward to victory by allowing resources (especially the ones you want and need) to be more easily attainable. But there is a serious obstacle to constructing such a potent engine. That obstacle arises when roads or knights are built and no more of them are available in the building card stacks and that’s when that Destiny card comes in.

The Destiny card is placed next to the discard pile and is only used with three or four players. The Destiny card indicates “direction”. When a player builds a new road or knight and NONE are available in its building stack, the player TAKES the road or knight from another player. Which player? The one in the direction of the Destiny Card arrows! But you can’t get too comfortable. The Destiny card may be flipped and arrow directions can change when additional settlements or cities are built

Once a city is built, it may be “expanded”. By paying the required resources, a player may choose a city expansion to place over a built city. These expansions are worth 3 VPs instead of a city’s regular 2. They also grant the player a special power such as protection from losing a road or knight, drawing a card from a player who has at least as many VPs than you and more. My favorite is the ability to use any resource in place of another once per turn. (There is an expansion worth 4 VPs but to play it, you need to pay an additional 2 ore and the expansion grants no special power.)

The first player to amass 10 Victory Points is the winner.

strugglec2There is a lot to like about The Struggle for Catan. The artwork by Michael Menzel, for example, is not only attractive but is easily identifiable. (I recall early editions of The Settlers of Catan where it was difficult to differentiate between the different resources. Here, it’s a piece of cake!) One of the pitfalls of Settlers is the reliance on trading. Sometimes, players would try to force a trade even after it became apparent that a trade was not going to happen. This tended to lengthen the game and slow the pace. Not here. Most of the trading you do is done with the 5 card market or the draw deck. Any trading you do with another player is a forced trade taking no time at all. Competition for building settlements, then cities, then city expansions gives a sense of urgency to play as these are limited. Interaction is further enhanced with the Destiny card as it is surprisingly effective in allowing players with fewer VPs to at least have a real chance to target the perceived leader by taking away roads and/or knights. As a streamlined version of The Settlers of Catan, the game does not present all of the decision-making of the original and, because this is a card game, luck of the draw can play a significant role – particularly so when those 10 Victory Points can be so close you can taste it but snatched away with the loss of a road or knight at a critical time. And, speaking of time, the playing time of 30 minutes may be true for 2 player sessions but in the four player games we’ve played, a 60 minute session is closer to the mark. Fortunately, the game remains engaging throughout.

The Struggle for Catan delivers what it promises: a fast paced multi-player card game that captures the feel and spirit of The Settlers of Catan, all at a very reasonable price. Long time devotees of the Catan saga should feel right at home here while those looking to discover that world (which, after all, is the target audience) will find this a great introduction.


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