My bookshelf is being invaded. Paperbacks, hardcovers and graphic novels once sat together in harmony. Now, none are safe. A bin has been recruited to store the casualties of this turf war, and the books are dropping like flies. Slowly yet surely a tribe of usurpers is taking hold. Their colorful garb, ornate intricacies and cooperative nature make for an imposing opponent. I must confess: my library will never be the same. Tabletop games are taking over.
Rivals of Catan was the first box whose innards were torn open upon the altar of our newly christened gaming room. Having only ever collected comics prior to this interactive endeavor, digging into a new game is pretty damn cathartic. It is a liberating experience – comics are consumed carefully, read gingerly and then preserved neurotically for reasons I can’t entirely explain (despite performing this ritual on countless occasions). These packages, however, are printed for conflict. They scoff at the white-glove treatment.
Before the duel, Jessie and I ate a delicious Indian dinner, watched an episode of our latest Netflix binge, and hugged one last time before embracing our fate as Rivals. We familiarized ourselves with the rules earlier that weekend, having played through the individual theme decks. Our practice battles spanned each of the game’s Eras: The Era of Gold imparted the value of economic superiority; The Era of Turmoil showed us how to leverage brute force; The Era of Progress emphasized the importance of sustainable development.
It was time we combined all three sets of cards and let the dice fall as they may. My opening gambit was to secure the trade advantage. I intended to buy my way to victory using the Gold Ship combined with the one-two punch of a Toll Bridge and Gold Cache. Jessie’s Pirate Ship decided otherwise. Overinvested in precious metals, my economy stagnated under the weight of its hoarded gold. I tried rallying an army, led by the courageous Candamir, yet my Archers were useless against the luck of her Lookout Tower.
I did the best I could to delay the demise of my botched nation. Nothing could slow Jessie as she accumulated victory points. Before I knew it she had a fleet of trade ships, a board full of resources and eleven little red flags that signaled my impending doom. The coup de grace was delivered with the ever-expensive Large Festival Hall – her people were partying while mine were left with the bitter taste of defeat. I was not the governor I hoped to be.
We had fun diving into Rivals of Catan. There are certainly some barriers to entry, mainly thanks to the occasional fuzzy wording from the rulebook. Fortunately we had plenty of online guides to turn to for clarification. It seems like a lot of this could be because of the source material’s conversion from its original German. While some of what was lost in translation is admittedly humorous, I can’t help from thinking edits are still in order.
Linguistic barriers aside, there is a lot to learn when playing this interpretation of Catan. The introductory rule set, where you play without any cards from the thematic Eras, was uninspired yet necessary. Its draw stacks are loaded with a variety of buildings and units that have rather straightforward utility; they tend to be inexpensive and universally beneficial. Including the randomized element of Event cards ensures sessions remain somewhat unpredictable, though I’m a bit disappointed that both factions’ starting resources are assigned static numbers.
It wasn’t until we moved on to the niche decks that the game’s mechanics began to shine. City expansions encourage strategic growth in place of haphazard spending, rewarding players with both immediate bonuses as well as crucial victory points. Each Era is aptly named. I loved to hate the Turmoil cards as much as I loathed to respect the necessities of Progress. (Does my population really need a Bath House? It only took three Plagues to teach me that the answer is a resounding YES!) Gold betrayed me during my first bout against Jessie, but I’m sure I’ll find myself investing next time around all the same.
As our first two-person card game, we felt right at home playing Rivals of Catan. The original version was our gateway into tabletop fanaticism, after all. It starts slow, intentionally so it seems. Your first few games gradually reveal the variations and nuances that will keep you coming back for more. Each contest provides ample room for tactical consideration and false confidence. My decision making unfortunately erred toward the latter this session. I am surely as eager to avenge my fallen settlements as Jessie is to defend her status as champion. Until next time!