Review: The Rivals For Catan

By Dave Neumann 09 Jul 2013 0
Be it ever so humble... Be it ever so humble...

In the evolving world of digital board games, there seems to be two camps. The first camp are looking for something more akin to a video game; something like Warhammer Quest that uses the power of the hardware to open up the gaming space. The other group wants apps that resemble digital cardboard. Make the game look exactly like the one on my table. What both groups agree on is that the app's gameplay must remain consistent with its real world cousin.

Rivals for Catan definitely falls in the second group. Here is a digital recreation that retains all of Rival's great strategic decisions and feeling of building something from scratch while copying the physical version almost bit for virtual bit.

Rivals for Catan puts each player in charge of their own principality consisting of cards that represent Settlements, Cities and Roads as well as their surrounding Regions. These regions contain resources (Sheep, Wood, etc.) which allow you to build more Roads, Settlements, Cities and, more interestingly, fill your Settlements and Cities with buildings, ships and heroes that give you special abilities throughout the game. The way the cards are laid on the playing surface is an ingenious bit of design, creating a little civilization that is intuitive to expand. Each turn, dice are rolled and resources are gained.

I would love to know what resources I currently had before I selected... Ok, now was 2 my brick, or my sheep? What was 4 again? Let me just look...oh, f*@!%.

What makes the game more interesting are the decks of cards that will fill your hand during the game. These consist of buildings, heroes and trade ships which all grant you different abilities throughout the game. These cards tend to give Rivals of Catan a bit of a CCG feel, where you’re looking for good combos to match previously played cards as well as new resource regions you’ve uncovered.

The game includes a basic game with limited cards, but also includes the ability to add up to 3 different theme decks which change the game drastically. They add so much replayability and strategy that, once you’ve got the basic game figured out, I can’t imagine not playing with the theme decks. I’ve been playing the “Duel of Princes” variant, which allows play with every card in the game at once.

Everything in the game itself works great, and if you like the Rivals of Catan card game, you will love this interpretation. If you’ve never played Rivals of Catan, you might need some hand-holding. The tutorial is sub-par. In fact, I would say that it’s rotten. I needed to find the rules online and read them as I played before I got the hang of what was going on. The game isn’t that difficult, however, so wrapping your head around everything isn’t as hard as it first appears.

As mentioned, the game stays close to its cardboard roots but where it deviates, things start to go sour. For example, the cards all look like the cards from the physical game. They are square and contain the same artwork. What they don’t show is what resources are necessary to build them unless you click on them, which adds a layer of opaqueness that wasn’t necessary. In the card game, regions have different numbers of resources on each side and the card is rotated to show how many of each you have. This doesn’t exist in this game, the icons are replaced by a number, but the cards now needlessly rotate when you collect or spend resources. It’s a silly bit of UI puffery that does nothing in the digital version other than waste time.

By the ship's kobold, where's my Undo button? By the ship's kobold, where's my Undo button?

Other UI choices are bad as well. There are cards that allow you to choose resources, but the dialog box covers up your principality so you cannot see what resources you currently have. When your opponent gains resources on your turn, a large dialog stating that it’s your opponent’s turn covers the screen which can be really confusing for new players. In all, there are a lot of dialog boxes that open and need you to tap them to close. This makes turns take much longer than they need to. The lack of an Undo feature can be crippling, and forces you to be incredibly careful before you make any moves. This is doubly problematic when you can't see your resources due to a dialog window.

Multiplayer is the other failure of the game. Only real time multiplayer is available which hurts those of us who only have time for a turn here and there during the day. The game turns can be longer in Rivals of Catan, as you can play as much as you can afford each turn, so an asynchronous game seems to make sense.

So what we have is a brilliant game marred by some ill-considered design choices. None of those choices ruin the game, but they do distract from what could have been another top-notch board game port. In the end, I liked this app so much I ended up buying the physical game so I could play it with my kids. That's something I can't say about other highly rated apps on my iPad.

The game was played on the iPad 2 and iPhone 5 for this review.

Review: The Rivals For Catan

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