A card-only game with the familiar Settlers of Catan theme, Struggle for Catan maintains the same resources and costs, while boiling down the rest of the game to the barest essentials.
Components: Over 100 cards: 67 colorful resource cards (ore, sheep, wood, brick, wheat), 9 roads, 5 knights, 14 settlements, 9 city expansions, 4 building cost reference cards, and a destiny card.
The resource deck is shuffled, five resource cards are layed out face up to form the market, and each player receives two resources, a settlement, and an A-road. On your turn, you first may "trade" one resource card per face-up road you have, by either swapping it with a card in the market, swapping it for a random card from another player's hand, or discarding it to draw the top card of the deck.
After your trade phase is done, you may build anything you can afford, and finally draw two cards to end your turn. Settlements are worth a victory point. Upgrading a settlement to a city is worth an additional point, and may trigger a brigand attack.
Expanding a city to the maximum level is worth an additional point, and gives you a bonus ability. Building a knight lets you draw an extra card at the end of your turn.
Additional roads or knights you build beyond the first alternate between being A-side (additional infrastructure) and B-side (no abilities, but worth one victory point). If you try to build a road or knight and none remain, you steal one from the player in the direction specified by the destiny card.
The first player to 10 victory points wins.
NOTE: This is only a brief summary, with many details omitted.
The Good And Bad
Stays very true to the Settlers of Catan universe. Struggle for Catan maintains the familiar resources and costs from Settlers of Catan. Settlements still cost a brick, sheep, wood, and wheat, while upgrading to a city still costs two wheat and three ore.
This game is VERY steamlined from Settlers of Catan, which has two significant benefits. Most obviously, the game plays a lot faster, and players can expect to finish in less than half of the time it would take to play a full game of Settlers. A lot of time-heavy elements have been removed, ranging from arranging and choosing the starting hexes, to the possibility for endless trade negotiations.
Equally important, Struggle for Catan is a very accessible game. By removing complex probability calculations and network-building, Struggle is a game that might well appeal to gamers who like the idea of Settlers of Catan but find the gameplay too daunting. Anyone can easily learn the game in minutes, as you draw resources and the handy building cost reference card makes it obvious exactly what resources you need.
It also helps that Struggle for Catan removes the ability for one player to get too far behind. There's no way to completely block someone from advancing further. And rather than rolling dice for resources, you are always guaranteed to draw a minimum of two cards per turn, so even the greenest player will be making some progress.
Although the box says Struggle is for two to four players, the two-player game can become a war of attrition in which the two players spend most of their time stealing knights and roads from each other rather than making any real progress, adding game length and frustration. The game is much better with three or four players.
Fans of the original Settlers of Catan may feel that this streamlined card game removed most of what made the first game popular. There are no dice to roll, no regions to produce, and not many long-term decisions remaining in the game.
Struggle for Catan is a perfect way to scratch that Catan itch for players who don't have the time (or inclination towards complexity) to play a game of Settlers. Don't let the Catan name fool you into thinking this is a similarly deep strategic game; Struggle for Catan is a light game, easily learned, and plays well with three or four players of any skill level.