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Subject: Catan Card Game -- A battle against your opponent... and the game! rss

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K. David Ladage
United States
Cedar Rapids
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Catan Card Game
By: Klaus Teuber
Published: Mayfair Games


A Brief History
There are three games in the Catan Family that I play on a regular basis: Settlers of Catan, the Catan Dice Game (called Dicecatan in my circles), and the Catan Card Game (Cardcatan). I have written reviews of the first two; time for the Card Game to get a few minutes of review time.

A good friend of mine, Rich (he owns and operates Tempest Games in Cedar Rapids, IA) told me about this one. I was looking over the games on his shelves looking for more two-player games for my wife and I to play together. He indicated that this was a favorite of his and his wife. So I gave it a shot.

My wife and I liked the game almost immediately. It was not long before we purchased the expansion pack (containing the first six expansions for the game). Later would get the seventh expansion. It is safe to say, we liked the idea and the ability to decide what theme we wanted to explore each time we played.

At one point -- I cannot recall if it was before or after we started gathering up the expansions -- I contacted Mayfair Games and asked how much it would be to get an extra set of dice so that my wife and I were not passing them back and forth all the time. This was especially relevant in this game given the amount of table space it demands -- keep reading. Mayfair quoted me a price (do not recall how much it was) and so I ordered the extra pieces. When the dice came, I was a bit confused.

The original dice I had were a standard six-sider, and a special event-die that had a knight (indicating a tournament, won by the player with the strongest tournament knights), a sun (indicating bonus production for both players), a windmill (indicating that the player with the strongest commercial base may steal a resource from his opponent), a club (indicating that a raid from brigands has taken place), a question mark (indicating that a random event card needs to be drawn to see what happens), and a blank side that we assumed meant that nothing happened.

These new dice I received were a standard six-sider, and an event-die that was identical to the one I started with except that it had two sides with question marks, and no blank side. I contacted Mayfair Games again to ask which die was correct. It was the one with two question marks and no blank side. They sent me a replacement for the defective die (more on that later).

I have to say I was very impressed with Mayfair's customer service. Any issues I have ever had with a product of theirs is handled quickly, efficiently, and politely. You really cannot ask for more. After all, mistakes will happen. How a company deals with those mistakes is very important to me. These guys are top notch.

Basic Game -- Set-up
Each player starts with nine cards (these are square so that they can be rotated in game play; keep reading). Each player starts with two settlements, one road, and six terrain regions. The cards are arranged so that the road is in the middle, the settlements on either side of it. Each of the six terrain regions are placed at the corners of the settlements (the middle two regions will be above and below the road segment, and will each be at a corner of both settlements). Where these terrain regions are placed in relation to each other is entirely up to the player.

Each terrain region has a type of terrain (field, forest, hill, prairie, mountain, and river); each type of terrain has a resource it can produce (grain, lumber, brick, wool, ore, and gold, respectively); each terrain region has a number from 1 to 6 to indicate what die roll will cause it to produce (these are different for each player; each player has one of each number). Each terrain region can store up to 3 of its resource -- indicated on the cards by rotating them. On each side of the card is zero, one, two, and three of the resource. Whichever side is facing the player is the number of that resource they have stored there. At the start of the game, all terrain regions have one resource.

In the middle, between the two players, there are several stacks of cards that are always available to the players. These are roads (7 copies), settlements (5 copies), and cities (7 copies). Each item costs...

Road: 2x Brick + 1x Lumber
Settlement: 1x Brick + 1x Grain + 1x Lumber + 1x Wool
City: 2x Grain + 3x Ore

Note: For players familiar with other Catan games, the cost of roads will seem odd. This is because in most Catan games, settlements cannot be placed within one road segment of each other; they have to be 2+ road segments away. In the card game, two road segments in impractical, so the game places settlements one road segment away from each other. Due to this change, roads were made slightly more expensive.

Note: As with most Catan Games (the exception being the Catan Dice Game), in order to build a city, you must upgrade an existing settlement. Thus, the overall cost of a city is 2x Grain + 3x Ore + 1x Settlement.

Also between the players is a stack of terrain regions. These are shuffled together and placed face down. When a player builds a settlement (after they have build a road to allow a new settlement to be placed in their play area), they will draw the top two terrain regions from the stack and place those on the outer corners of the new settlement to indicate the new terrains they are now generating resources from.

Additionally there is a stack of random event cards (10 cards). These are revealed one at a time at the start of any player's turn where the question mark is rolled on the event-die. As a method of ensuring that a player cannot always figure the odds of a given event taking place, there is an event 'End of Year' that will cause the used events to be reshuffled back into the event deck.

Lastly, the remaining cards -- which represent buildings, knights, other people, and so on -- are divided into several roughly equal stacks. Players will get to search through one of the stacks to get their starting hand of three cards.

Determine who goes first, and you are ready to start.

Basic Game -- Play
On your turn, you will roll the two dice. First, deal with the event-die, then the standard (production) die. Then perform actions. At the end of any turn, if a player has 12+ points, they have won the game.

Event Die: There are five possible results on the event die. These are:

* Knight -- this indicates a tournament has taken place. Each player looks at their play area and counts up the number of tournament points they have (tournament points are red numbers on a knight card). Whoever has the most tournament points, gets one free resource of their choice. If the players are tied, nobody gets a free resource.

* Sun -- this indicates that both players have had a relatively good productive period. Both players get one free resource of their choice.

* Windmill -- this indicates that some wheeling and dealing has taken place behind the scenes. Each player looks at their play area and counts up the number of Commerce points they have (Commerce points are indicated by a number of windmill icons on various cards). Whoever has at least one city, and also has the most Commerce points gets to steal a resource of their choice from their opponent. If the players are tied, or if the player with the most Commerce points does not have a city, nobody gets anything.

* Club -- this indicates that brigands have attacked. Each player looks at their play area. If they have 8+ resources stored, then they are about to lose a portion of them.

Production Die: The production die is a standard six-sider. The number that comes up on this die indicates which regions will produce this turn. Both players compare the number rolled to the number shown on each of their terrain regions. Each one that is a match, increases the number of resources on that region by one (to a maximum of three).

Actions: Once all events and production are handled, it is time to perform actions. Actions include:

* Internal Trading -- you can trade three of any resource you have for one of any resource you need.

* External Trading -- you can trade any number of resources you have with your opponent for any resources they are willing to give you. In practice, I have yet to meet anyone that will actually trade with you in this game. Still, it is an option.

* Purchase Roads / Settlements / Cities -- if you have the resources required to build any of these, and there are cards of that type remaining, you may purchase a road (must be connected to the outer side of a settlement or city), settlement (must be connected to the outer side of a road), or city (must replace an existing settlement). Settlements each provide 1 point; Cities each provide 2 points.

* Purchase Buildings -- if you have the resources required to build any building that you have in your hand, then you can build it. Buildings are placed in the spaces above and below settlements and cities. Each settlement can have one card purchased and placed above it, and one below it. Each city can have two cards purchased and placed above it, and two below it. If you are out of room, you can still purchase a building; you just have to dismantle an existing building, or disband an existing unit in order to fit it in. Buildings create opportunities. Some will allow you to have more than three cards in your hands (Abbey, Library), some will protect resources (Garrison), others will increase a terrain region's output (grain mill, lumber mill, etc.). Some buildings cannot be purchased and placed into a settlement; they require that you place them in a city. In the end, each building is unique in what it provides -- including the potential for more Victory Points, and Commerce points.

If you control at least one city, and you have the most Commerce points, you get a Commerce token This token is worth a bonus +1 point in scoring, and allows you to steal a resource when the event-die comes up with the Windmill icon.

* Purchase Units -- if you have the resources required to build any unit that you have in your hand, then you can build it. Units are places the same way that buildings are placed and have the same overall placement restrictions (although, no unit they I am aware of requires a city at this point). The most common unit are knights. Knights have a Strength value (shown in black) and a Tournament value (shown in red). The player that controls the most strength value in knights is handed a 'Most Powerful Army' token that grants them an additional point in the game (ties indicate nobody has the token). The player that controls the most tournament value in knights is granted an additional resource anytime the Knight (Tournament) icon comes up on the event die (ties indicate nobody gets the bonus).

The other type of common unit is Fleets. Fleets allow you to trade a specific resource at 2:1 instead of 3:1. For example, a Grain Fleet will let you convert two grain resources into one of any other resource you need.

* Play Events -- some cards are events. These are not like the events on the event-die; nor are they like the events in the random event deck. These are generally attacks -- a spy, an arsonist, etc. Each attack type has a card that can be kept that will allow you to mitigate or reverse the effects of the attack. Attacks can only be played after the players have a combined score that meets a minimum value.

There are some non-attacking event cards. These are quite handy; for example, the Scout lets you search the terrain region stack and pick the terrain you want after you place a new settlement. This is especially helpful if you have a production multiplier like a grain mill. If those cards are between two of the same terrain, they will apply their magic to both terrain regions.

End of Turn: Once you have played all the actions you want to play, you go to the end of turn phase. In this phase, you draw cards from the stacks to replace the ones you used. Always draw up to your hand limit. If you did not play any cards that turn, you can return one to the bottom of a stack to draw the top one off of that stack. Also, if you want to spend any two resources, you can search the stack and take the card you would prefer instead of leaving it to chance.

It is also at this time that you check to see if you have enough points to win the game.

Seven Expansions
Thus far, I have seven expansions for the Catan Card game. I believe that, as I write this, that is all that there is. Each one has its own feel and brings something new to the game. All are worth having and can make each game of Cardcatan feel new and fresh.

Note that you will play with only one expansion. You do not just throw all of them together; this would be a mess! Also, in the rules for each expansion, it will tell you if there are any special set-up rules (for example, some expansions add certain buildings to the 'always available' status, rather than having you wait until you can draw one).

Also included in the expansion box are rules for tournament play. This variation allows players to pick and choose a number of cards from all of the expansions that they can add into their side of the game. This way, cards from one expansion can go up against cards from other expansions. This looks very interesting, but as of yet, my wife and I have not yet attempted this variation.

The Game vs. The Players
As I said in 'A Brief History', my initial copy of the game has a defective die. I had only one question mark on it, and a blank side. There wasn't even in impression showing that it might have had one at one point. We played this way, and the game was fine. After all, we did not know any better. When we found out that we had the defect, Mayfair corrected it. And we started playing the game correctly. What a freakin' difference this made! Unfortunately, not for the good.

When we started playing the game, the random events were relatively rare (one turn in six). The events could be a bit swingy, but they were manageable. Sometimes, however, it felt as though your opponent was not beating you -- the game was. Once we switched to a 'proper' die, this impression was put on steroids, crack, and love-potion #9. Holy crap! The game was kicking both our butts. Events were coming up one turn in three. Plans were being regularly decimated as events caused you to lose this, change that, and so on.

We reached a point where we did not like the game any more. It was a game that we would play and both of us would walk away angry. So... we put the game down for a while. Then, just recently, we pulled it back out. We looked at the three copies of the event die we had -- one defective, two 'proper'. Without much discussion, we grabbed one of the 'proper' dice and gently scrapped a question mark off of one side. We then gently sanded it with an emery board, and put some white paint over the impression to hide it. We started using the 'defective' die as our defacto setup. What a freakin' difference this made! All for the good. The game was fun again. We the occasional event was interesting and surprising instead of being oh no, not again all the time. We were able to enjoy a favorite game again because the game was not kicking our butts; our opponent was.

The base Catan Card game is very good (provided you tone the event frequency down). The expansions allow you to alter the feel of the game, without changing rules -- the game will always feel fresh. From my reading of the tournament rules, if you are a CCG'er, then this variation will be what you are looking for in a non-collectible card game.

The production values are good. The artwork evokes the right feel -- especially the Wizards expansion! The cards are of good quality; if you are an anal-retentive card-sleever, you are going to be upset because square cards cannot be sleeved (well) as far as I am aware. Besides, the card size would not lend itself to sleeving and still being stackable/shuffleable/workable.

The game is fun, but can be frustrating if the random events making life extremely difficult for you. My wife and I have found that by cutting the frequency of random events in half, this is brought down to a level that shifts random events from 'frustrating' to 'exciting'.
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Ken Mortis
United States
New York
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Sometimes, however, it felt as though your opponent was not beating you -- the game was.

And that, right there, is what I HATE about Catan games. They're too random for my taste. You can sit there for ROUNDS doing nothing because your territories aren't producing. (Ok, that's the original version, but there's analogs in Cardcatan as well) I don't mind getting beat by a coop game, but a competitive one?, I'll play Power Grid instead thankyouverymuch.
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Kevin B. Smith
United States
Mercer Island
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Thanks for writing a very clear description of how the game actually works.

Very interesting about the event die. If we end up with a copy of the game, I'll keep that in mind.
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