I make no secret of the fact that I consider The Settlers of Catan® (Mayfair Games) to be the best board game ever designed (see my original review here.) To win requires an elusive combination of skill and luck, and the game has an uncanny ability to turn even the mildest group of geeks into trash-talking would-be robber barons. The one complaint that I do hear from people is that sometimes, due to that intrusive thing called “real life,” they have trouble gathering enough people — even the minimum of three — for an session of Catan gaming.
Catan Card Game™ was designed by Klaus Teuber — the genius behind the Catan games — to remedy just this situation. It cleverly shifts the mechanics of the original game so that two players — and it is designed for only two — have just as absorbing an experience, with just as many agonizing decisions and twists of strategy and luck.
Each player starts with nine cards representing his or her principality: two villages, one road segment (that doubles as an event-die cheat sheet,) and six resource tiles. Just as in the original Settlers, each resource tile is marked with a number corresponding to one face of the die; the difference is that the numbers are not randomly allocated but rather are fixed. Each player thus starts with one each of six resource tiles, each of which is marked with a number from one to six. Unlike original Settlers, which uses two D6 dice and thus has a predictable hierarchy of probable dice combinations, this permanent allocation recognizes that in using only one numerical die, no one number is more likely to come up than any other. As additional settlements are built, more resource tiles are added (usually chosen at random) so that a player’s chances of gathering resources on any given roll increase as he builds his principality.
Players struggle to reach 12 points, first by building settlements and cities, and then by expanding those through trade fleets, city expansions, and judicious use of knights and other protective units. Players can visit disaster upon each other — and frequently upon themselves, too — by means of the Event Cards, which are triggered by rolling a question mark upon the Event Die (the other three possibilities on this die are Tournament, which awards a free resource to the player who controls the Knight; Trade Advantage, which allows the player controlling the Windmill to steal a resource from his opponent; and Year of Plenty, which awards a bonus resource to each player.)
Play time is 1-2 hours. Total space needed for play is about the area of a standard card table, so it’s not a great choice for whiling away hours of air travel, but would be fine in a hotel room. Recommended for ages 10+. The learning curve is not steep (although as always it’s far easier to learn if the other player is experienced) but it will withstand many playings, as there are lots of nuances and strategies to try.