Amazon is still running several $1.99 album download deals, including Roots’ How I Got Over, The Walkmen’s Lisbon, and Spoon’s Transference. I bought the first two but have only listened to each part way so far. Reviews to come at some point in the indefinite future.
Settlers of Catan may be my #1-ranked boardgame, both for the game itself and its importance in board game history, but it has one glaring flaw: It requires 3 players. Since my primary gaming partner is my wife and my daughter is too young for Settlers (and in bed by game time anyway), we use the 2-player games we own much more often. Klaus Teuber, the designer of Settlers, sought to remedy that several years ago with a two-player card game simply called Catan, but it got mixed reviews for longer game play and some frustrating rules that made it harder to develop any sort of strategy.
Mayfair Games just released the update to that two-player game, now called Rivals for Catan, that streamlines the play, making games shorter and reducing the possibility of massively negative in-game events. The artwork is noticeably improved and the cards are (mostly) easier to follow. What has not improved, however, is the luck/strategy ratio, which means that it remains hard to play this game with any sort of plan or design in mind unless you tweak the rules yourself or re-use the “tournament” rules from the original card game.
The basic structure of the game is the same as it was in the original edition. Each player starts with a set of cards representing his principality: Two settlements connected by a road, with six regions, each representing a specific resource (the five from Settlers, plus gold) and bearing a unique number from one to six. On each turn, the player rolls a single die to determine which resource(s) each player receives. Players can expand their principalities by using resources to build roads or more settlements, or to upgrade a settlement to a city. There is a small deck of event cards that are used when either player rolls the event die and gets a question mark (on just one of the six sides, rather than two as before), and forty-odd expansion cards that include buildings to add to your principality, military units that give you strength or skill points, and action cards for single use that allow you to do things like fix the die roll or choose which regions you’ll get when you buy a new settlement. The expansion cards are in several face-down decks, and each player holds three to five cards in his hand, drawing at random from the stacks (unless he pays two resources to look through a stack for a specific card).
There’s a new “basic” game that uses just those cards and features described above and has a victory condition of seven points. It’s a complete waste of time unless you need to play once to learn the game’s mechanics. It’s over extremely quickly and is almost entirely based on luck, since players can’t pay to sift through a stack when choosing a card. The game comes with three “theme” decks that add several simple rules as well as a few new event cards and twenty-four expansion cards (buildings, units, action cards) to allow for a little more strategy, but you’re still dependent on the cards you draw unless you want to pay two resources every turn to exchange one of your hand cards for one of your choice from any deck.
One thing I’ve learned from playing and researching board games and discussing them with all of you is that each player has his or her own ideal luck/strategy balance, and there are games all along the luck/strategy spectrum to suit you no matter your tastes. The current rules structure of Rivals for Catan has too much luck for me, but with one of the theme decks there is certainly some strategy (garnering resources, pursuing certain points bonuses) and I think that underneath this game somewhere is a better strategy/luck balance.
The rules indicate that an expansion pack is coming in 2011, restoring the “Tournament rules” (where you build your own deck, choosing cards from the original set and one theme set) from the expansion pack to the original Catan card game, which gives the game more of a Dominion-like feel and shifts control back to the players. Those rules are still available on the Catan site and are easily adapted to work with this game, but without them, you’re relying too much on dice rolls and card draws for this to approach the degree of strategy involved in the core Settlers game, let alone that in little-or-no-luck games like Puerto Rico.