The Rivals for Catan

Zachary Lyons

The Rivals for Catan puts you in charge of one of the two factions developing newly-settled Catan. Use your unique card mix to create your own principality. Explore and settle new lands. Acquire resources through card play and the luck of the dice. Use gold, resource combinations, and trade to develop your domain. Expand your settlements and cities, recruit heroes, and defend your lands through politics, invention, and intrigue. Your cunning and a dash of luck decides who will be Prince (or Princess) of Catan!

As a kind of spin-off from the mega-popular Settlers of Catan, I went into The Rivals for Catan expecting a simplified version of the main game that was made for just two players. Soon into the first game it was apparent that Rivals was much, much deeper and involved than that, able to stand proud as its own game separate from Settlers.

Part of what makes Rivals so great right off the bat is that it essentially comes packaged with the base game and three mini-expansions. Reading the booklet of rules (seriously, the rulebook is a couple dozen pages in total – it’s a lot to take in at once) tells you that the true game of Rivals for Catan incorporates all the cards included, but the base game is fun enough all on its own.

The base set introduces you to all of the game’s mechanics and how it differs from vanilla Catan. You’ve still got your basic resources of lumber, brick, grain, wool, ore, and gold, and you still obtain them by a roll of the dice, but how you save and use them is a bit different.

Instead of having a potentially endless handful of cards, you start the game limited to a maximum of three of each resource. The tiles in front of you show how many you currently hold, and when you gain or spend resources you rotate the tile accordingly to show the new amount.

Only by expanding your principality (by building roads and settlements straight to the left and right) will you gain new resource regions (drawn at random) that allow you to gain extra resources and hold more of a given type.

There are also still trade ports that you can own to trade resources at a 2:1 rate, like Settlers, but instead of building upon a port you must have a port card in your hand and build it into your principality. The cards in your hand include buildings you may construct, people who can live there (and give you strength advantages), and actions you can take immediately. Each card has a resource requirement, and generally the more helpful cards will cost more to play.

It’s difficult to succinctly outline all the differences in gameplay between Settlers and Rivals, so I’ll just stop there. Suffice to say that while certain elements and themes are similar between the two games, Rivals is very much its own beast to be enjoyed separately. Even if you’re a Settlers of Catan expert, Rivals will make you start from scratch and take a whole new look at things.

Once you understand the base game (which should only take one play through) it’s simple to incorporate one of the mini-expansions. Then after playing through one or two of those, which each bring to the game a new series of cards and wholly differing strategies, you can combine all four sets together to play Rivals as it was meant to be played. That said, it is a testament to the game’s quality that it is still so much fun regardless of how many or few expansion sets you play with.

If there’s one suggestion I have for anyone looking to play this game, it is to make sure you’ve got enough space. You don’t need a huge amount of space at the beginning, but soon you’ll find that your principality expansions are falling off the edge of the table and spilling into your opponent’s territory if your playing space isn’t big enough, similar to Carcassonne.

In essence, The Rivals for Catan is an excellent way for a pair of people who don’t always have a group to play Settlers with to still have a quality Catan experience. It’s wildly different in fun and interesting ways, while still maintaining the classic aesthetic feeling of the original. Plus, who can scoff at four games in one?