The Renaissance of the Card Game
The new Catanian card game “The Rivals for Catan” reaches completion with “Age of Enlightenment,” its second expansion – at least as far as the current planning status is concerned. A total of three game boxes offer the players many exciting and entertaining hours at the game table and also invite them on a trip through Catanian history.
Catanian History in the Game
The board games already provide insight into the history of the fictitious Catanian island world. Thematically, the emphasis in the Board Game expansions and scenarios lies primarily on Catan’s early days: time and again, the challenge consists in settling a mostly uninhabited island or group of islands, in the process of which the players can use different resources while facing different dangers.
In the board games, the actual world history takes place according to Catanian rules but is thematically unrelated to Catan; this is the case in the “Historische Szenarien” (“Historical Scenarios” – German-language only) and separate games such as “Settlers of the Stone Age” and “Struggle for Rome.”
The world of Catanian card games developed differently. The old “Catan Card Game” contained clear references to specific historical inventions and developments on Catan itself.
When we speak of the “old Card Game” here, we always refer to the “Catan Card Game,” first published in German language in 1996 (English: 1998) and no longer distributed as of 2009. “The Rivals for Catan,” which became available in 2010, differs from this game; it is also a card game, even though the term “card game” is not included in its title. Some of the following sections deal with the differences between these two games.
When, in the old Card Game, a principality took a historical step forward – for example, by building a University – new development options opened up for the respective player.
A chronological order hardly existed in this context, and all bygone eras seemed to exist simultaneously in the old Card Game – similar to what one experiences nowadays at historical city festivals or knights festivals. This effect wasn’t all coincidental, of course: it resulted from the fact that the later expansions of the old Card Game were designed with the “Tournament Game” variant in mind.
From the “Card Game” to the “Rivals”
The Tournament variant of the old Card Game was, and still is, regarded as the pinnacle of Catan games by a relatively small but dedicated group of players. Considering the intensity with which a player has to deal with the synergies between the functions of individual cards, and in view of the fact that each individual game must be carefully prepared by putting together one’s own selection of cards, this opinion is indeed justified.
From the viewpoint of a committed “hardcore player” the resulting challenge may be the strong point of the Tournament Game, but in the eyes of the many casual players this challenge is also its weakness. Playing with the entire pool of cards available after the publication of various game expansions made it almost impossible to enjoy a casual game for the purpose of relaxation. Of course, casual games were still possible when playing with the cards of the Base Game alone – but there was still the risk that a large part of the old Card Game’s entire card pool was of interest to only a small part of the players.
Due to the decision to try a completely fresh start after the production of the old Card Game had ceased – by introducing the concept of a game that allows players to quickly become familiar with the game and to finish a game within a reasonable timeframe – the Card Game changed a lot. For one thing, the new “Rivals for Catan” appeals more to players of the Catan board games, who have come to appreciate an easily understandable rules system that leaves a lot of room for their own decisions and personal strategies.
For another, the new “Rivals for Catan” offers the opportunity to actually tell a history of Catan. In this history, each game – depending on the Theme Set chosen by the players – focuses on a different era and its aspects.
Renaissance in the Card Game
The word “Renaissance” means “rebirth.” During this period, situated in the 15th and 16th century, when the Middle Ages transitioned into the modern age, artists and scientists rediscovered many forgotten or long disregarded findings of antiquity. Based on this rediscovery, a new, critical thinking developed whose open-minded modern-age curiosity confronted the medieval doctrines dominated by dogmatic belief.
In his blog posts published during the past months, Klaus Teuber introduced the individual sets of the new expansion in detail. If you look at the Theme Sets of all three new game boxes together, you will notice that many of them are set in the Renaissance.
The discovery and settlement of a mostly unsettled island world, as we know it from the Board Game, play a role mainly in the Introductory Game titled “The First Catanians” and in the three Theme Sets, “The Era of Gold,” “The Era of Turmoil,” and “The Era of Intrigue.”
In the other sets, it is assumed that the Island and its resources are already completely known, and that the principalities undergo qualitative rather than quantitative growth. Also, as a consequence of worldwide seafaring beginning in the Renaissance, new, external conflicts arise – conflicts the Catanians, who in the Middle Ages largely lived isolated from the rest of the world, did not have to face yet.
Thematically, the emphasis regarding these conflicts lies primarily on two aspects, which are addressed in various sets:
- In “The Era of Barbarians,” the expanding European kingdoms greedily reach out for Catan, whose central position in the Atlantic Ocean would make it an ideal base for conquering America. In “The Era of Explorers,” the Catanians themselves venture out to sea in their new caravels and compete with the Europeans and other Catanian principalities to gain influence in faraway lands. In this context, we can give the Catanians credit for relying mostly on diplomacy and gifts and for firing only a few broadsides during their entire history of discovery.
The other aspect typical for the Renaissance is that a closer look is taken at how states work and why they work. In the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli laid the foundations for this with his main work “Discourses on Livy” and also with his popular, though to this day often misunderstood essay “The Prince.” The Catanian princes – who would love to rule in an absolutist fashion but often become victims of events and sentiments in their principality – are the main topic in “The Era of Prosperity,” and in “The Era of Sages,” some of the unloved but nevertheless indispensable powers that always co-govern in the background are examined. At least the latter two Theme Sets could also be useful as an introductory workshop for prospective congresspeople or members of parliament … For example, many a “pirate” who wins a seat in a parliament might find that his Catanian party colleague doesn’t just demand unlimited free benefits for himself but also provides some benefits in return.
Therefore, with the three game boxes of “The Rivals for Catan,” we are now looking at a Renaissance, a rebirth, of the Catanian Card Game in a double sense: the old Card Game is reborn in the shape of the new “Rivals for Catan” – and we are also transported to the Renaissance period on Catan itself.
Peter Gustav Bartschat