The Settlers of Catan is one of those games that even the most casual of gamers recognise. As one of the legendary titles that has earned the badge of Gateway Game, you can find it not just in Friendly Local Game Stores but also amongst the shelves at bookstores and the aisles of supermarkets (well, if you’re in the USA). The first time I saw a copy of it in Target? Blew me away. I even grabbed a copy and ran up to my wife to show her and make sure it was real, to prove that I wasn’t dreaming. Of course, she dismissed me with a derisory look because – as we all know – the streets of America are paved with copies of Trails to Rails and they’re used to that kind of thing.
Catan, along with Carcassonne, is a massive franchise. Originally released back in 1995, Klaus Teuber’s Settlers is currently on its Fourth Edition, not counting the ever-increasing spinoffs that keep the players interested and the money rolling in. There’s been dice games, console versions, artisan made tables, limited editions involving chocolate (and a beautiful Japanese set that I crave involving Megaman)… Catan sells. Thankfully, the games that contribute to this juggernaut are generally pretty good, including the recently released Struggle for Catan.
If you have any familiarity at all with the original game, you’ll be 90% of the way to understanding Struggle. A turn is very simple – trade resources, build something if you can, draw more resources… and that’s it. By collecting sets of resources and trading them in you collect roads, knights and settlements to get points. Settlements can be upgraded into cities (and enhanced yet further) to score even more and the first player to ten points wins. See? Exactly like Settlers, the difference being that there’s no board, no pieces, no tokens… nothing. Just the cards. So many cards!
The resources deck you’ll know already – the usual combination of Wheat, Brick, Ore, Sheep and Wood. A player’s turn starts with trading to get the resources you’re after, normally from the five cards that are available to all called the Market. You may also draw a card at random from another player, giving them back a card of your choice from your hand. The final option is to trade with the draw stack, throwing a card on the discard pile and replacing it with the top one. Where you can trade is actually down to you owning at least one Road card – if you don’t have any, you’re limited to only trading with the stack.
The double-sided Road cards and Knight cards – one side showing a point icon (marked ‘A’), the other showing a benefit (marked ‘B’) – are the cheapest buys in the game. When you pick these up, they’re to be laid in separate piles on top of each other in an ABAB fashion – having four Roads will give you two points and allow you to trade two cards, for example. Knights work in the same fashion except they allow the drawing of an extra resource card should the correct side be facing up. There is a limited supply of both these cards, but if it runs out, fear not – you can still buy them! You just take them from an opponent, as decreed by the Destiny Card. This simply sits in middle of the players showing whether you take from the player to your left or your right (of course, in a two-player game it’s not used as that would be pointless). Some purchases give instructions for the Destiny Card to be flipped so your Roads and Knights are never 100% safe. Cities and settlements, however, are yours the moment they hit the table in front of you.
When a Settlement is bought, it scores you another point. Upgrading it to a city (by paying the resources and flipping the card over) gives you an extra point and also has an immediate effect on the game. The cards are shuffled at the start of play to randomize them and when turned over reveal either a Market Day (where all five currently available resources are discarded and replaced with five new ones) or a Brigand Attack (meaning that anyone with more than seven resource cards must discard down to that number immediately). Cities can then also be extended, a further upgrade that can be expensive but definitely worth doing, granting not only extra points but also a permanent boon for you. Roads or Knights can be protected, resources can be used as wild cards, that kind of thing. Getting a City Extension quickly is often the key to a swift victory.
And swift it will be. Even with a maximum four players you can finish a game in around 30 minutes. The rules are so streamlined that even novice players will grasp them quickly, yet Struggle for Catan isn’t a game to dismiss lightly. Sure, it’s not the deepest game in the world but it never claims to be. Even the German subtitle, Das schnelle Kartenspiel, means Quick Card Game. It’s an enjoyable diversion that will appeal to many, just enough to scratch the Catan itch, particularly if you don’t have the time or the people to spare for a full game of Settlers. Some may accuse it of being yet another multiplayer solitaire game and admittedly it can be played that way but then you’re not really embracing the spirit of Struggle. It should be played in the manner of a group of people all fighting to climb to the top of a greasy pole, knocking down your opponents as much as you can in order to get ahead. Steal from your peers as often as possible, beat your foes into the ground and do whatever you can to win – struggling to victory in the nicest possible way.
The Struggle for Catan was first published in 2011 by Mayfair Games. Designed by the father of the Catan series, Klaus Teuber, you should be able to find a copy of it for between £12-15. Don’t let the fact that you can play it in 30-40 minutes distract you from the fact that this is actually a rather strategic little game. If you’re looking to get your Catan fix, you’d be well advised to try this one out. Don’t forget to check out the official Catan site for more details on the game. Oh, and if anyone has a spare copy of that Rockman /Megaman edition floating about that needs a new home, do get in touch…