Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Game Expansion Review - The Rivals for Catan: Age of Darkness & Age of Enlightenment

  • Designer: Klaus Teuber
  • Publisher: Mayfair Games, Kosmos
  • Players: 2
  • Ages: 11+
  • Time: 25-90 minutes
  • Times Played: 23x (Rivals for Catan), 10x (Age of Darkness), 3x (Age of Enlightenment)
  • MSRP: $20 U.S.
Reviewer: Mark Jackson (review copy of Age of Enlightenment was provided by the publisher)

Nearly two years ago, I reviewed the reboot of the Settlers of Catan Card Game for the Opinionated Gamers blog – and I gave The Rivals for Catan a glowing review. I praised the quicker game play, the cleaner card interactions, the new structure of the game (particularly separating out the city cards into the theme decks), and then yammered on a bit about how much fun I was having getting a better version of a well-loved Euro classic to the table.

Well, two years have passed… and in that time span, Herr Teuber & the good folks at Mayfair have managed to put out two expansion boxes: the Age of Darkness (which was released in the fall of 2011) and the Age of Enlightenment (which just hit your local game store in the last week or so). I’m going to take this opportunity to review both of the expansions, giving an overview of the changes incorporated into the game as well as a brief stroll through Catanian history.


The underlying game system is not changed by either of the expansion sets – in fact, what each box offers is 90+ cards divided up into three Theme decks. If you have the entire set, you have 9 different Theme decks to choose from… and when you use the Duel of the Princes ruleset (included in the base game), you have another 84 different possible decks to play!

With the release of Age of Darkness, the revised rules for the Tournament version of The Rivals for Catan were published online. This requires each player to have their own set of cards & “build” their deck. As this particular style of play has never interested me, I can’t comment on how well the revision has worked.

The real changes in the game are because of new types of cards introduced in the various Theme decks:

  • Region Expansions – which are placed adjacent to resource-generating regions
  • Extraordinary Sites – which are expansions that are neither units or buildings
  • Road Complements – which lay on top of a previously built much as a city is placed on top of a settlement
  • Metropolis – which further develop a city
  • Marker cards – which track various points & resources but are not physically a part of the geography of Catan
  • Foreign cards – which are placed in your opponents’ kingdom to undermine his development
  • Sea cards – which are used in the Era of Explorers deck
This variety allows for a great deal of freedom in building kingdoms – players are not constrained to follow one particular development path in order to accomplish their goals.

The Age of Enlightenment Theme decks add a variety of new symbols as well:

  • General – “any resource of your choice” (Era of Explorers)
  • Cannons – required to fight pirates (Era of Explorers)
  • Sails – required to move & explore with ships (Era of Explorers)
  • Wisdom – the currency of the “sages” (Era of the Sages)
  • Contentment – public mood (Era of Prosperity)

The History of Catan

One of the interesting thematic ideas for the base game & the expansions is that each Theme deck reflects a period in the history of the isle of Catan. Each deck also has it’s own “character” – some are more concerned with speedy development while others encourage a player to hobble the other player by the judicious use of action cards and building powers.

The next bit of this review is a quick overview of each of the nine decks – three each in the base game, Age of Darkness & Age of Enlightenment – in “historical” order.

Era of Gold (base game) – a fast-playing deck where accumulating gold and creating a trade fleet are keys to victory. You can employ pirate ships to sabotage your opponents’ progress, but the deck is balanced toward growing & building rather than attacking the other player.

Era of Turmoil (base game) – the nastiest of the base game decks, the focus here is on developing heroes and buildings to support them to mitigate the effect of the action cards.

Era of Intrigue (Age of Darkness) – a religious clash looms on Catan between the worship of Odin & the followers of Christianity. Probably the deck with the least flexibility in strategy – you need to get at least one if not both of the Church and Odin’s Temple built in order to succeed.

Era of Merchant Princes (Age of Darkness) – once again, commerce points and trade ships play a major role. The Parish Hall (from the base deck) is important as well, as it allows you to search for key cards in the Theme deck.

Era of Progress (base game) – playing with this particular deck feels the most like the original Settlers of Catan Card Game… the need to create Bath Houses & Aqueducts in order to fight off the Plague leads you in one of two directions – quickly building cities & health advancements or choosing to expand your kingdom with a multitude of settlements.

Era of the Sages (Age of Enlightenment) – this deck will remind some of the old Dragons & Wizards expansion to the Catan Card Game… but it has been substantially reimagined & balanced. Sages are region expansions whose wisdom (owl points) feed a variety of effects on the Grove cards. We’ve discovered that you need to use these new powers, but that the “care & feeding” of them can waste precious time and resources and distract you from winning the game.

Era of Explorers (Age of Enlightenment) – exploration is the key here… in fact, one side of your kingdom now leads to a 3×3 grid of sea cards with islands, shipwrecks & pirates. This reminded my son of Klaus Teuber’s Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel – which we both think is a very good thing. Warning: exploration speeds up development and so you should work to stay “on par” with the other player.

Era of Barbarians (Age of Darkness) – a slightly longer game ensues as the victory point total is extended to 13 and the recurring Barbarian event means that both players are fighting an uphill battle against the system as well as each other. Building up heroes with strength points is very important.

Era of Prosperity (Age of Enlightenment) – rather than barbarian hordes (who you defeated earlier), you are now attempting to bring prosperity to your kingdom… and keep the people content. The Insurrection event has a similar effect on game play to the Barbarians… it slows down development until about the mid-point in the game, then the increased production & building powers send the game rocketing toward the finish.

So, which deck(s) do I like best? I’m particularly fond of Merchant Princes and Sages… both are tricky to play well and offer lots of interesting trade-offs in strategy. My son loves Explorers (for the exploring part) and Barbarians (because he usually makes it a point to get the strength advantage anyway).

A Few Final Questions

Q: If you could only choose one expansion, which one would you buy?
A: I like both of them. The Age of Enlightenment has slightly more difficult decks to set up & learn, so I’d probably buy that one second… but I’m very glad I own the entire set.

Q: This sounds like yet another glowing review… do you have any complaints?
A: The only complaint I have is that the counters used for ships in the Era of Explorers deck (Age of Enlightenment) are not very attractive. I’m working to replace them with small Settlers of Catan ships.

Q: Seriously, that’s it?
A: Well, I’m still frustrated a scoreboard for the various points (victory, strength, commerce, skill, progress) wasn’t included in the original game, but that’s a rather small nit to pick.

Q: Will the expansions make me like Rivals if I don’t already like it?
A: No. But if you do enjoy Rivals, they will increase your enjoyment exponentially.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

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