While Settlers of Catan is a 3-4 player Board game (without expansion packs), the card-based Rivals for Catan (RfC) brings the number needed to play down to two. This keeps the game moving quicker and this game is all about winning victory points through land and resource management and card placement.
While I enjoy board games like Catan and Ticket to Ride and have enjoyed their mobile versions, I leapt into RfC and started up the tutorial. The tutorial explains what happens during your turn. Given my time with Settlers of Catan I had a good idea on what that game is and hoped it would transfer to the card-based Rivals. Rivals is different enough that I felt out of my depth before the tutorial, and afterwards I felt like I only had enough info to stumble through a game. At best it felt like the game had shown me what to do but not what I needed to know to do it by myself.
The problem with this is that it is quickly alienating to those who aren't experienced in this game and the user interface only makes it harder. In your turn there are the cards you pick up or already hold, and managing your resources to help place the cards that help generate the victory points needed to win the game. While it sounds simple enough the UI makes cancelling the cards you select in one of the stages of the turn difficult - more than once I accidentally wound up picking cards and discarding them when I only wanted a closer look or to compare with my existing cards. It was frustrating and took a while to break the habit.
Information that is important is often difficult to see or is hidden until you check the card. In my case I played on an iPhone and the resource costs weren't clear to make out on the smaller screen. My problem with the small icons is that it is unnecessary, the card already needs to be tapped the see any details about it and there is plenty of space to have larger icons. More details about what using the cards do would also help. The benefit of having a game like this as a video game is that you can display any information you want, and here they don't do it! Because I've played through the lengthy and vague tutorial doesn't mean I don't need any help. This game could really benefit from a setting that continues to help beginners until they feel comfortable enough to turn it off.
Once you get past the tutorials and check out the different modes, the game offers enough different theme decks to keep you busy for a while. You'll want to spend plenty of time with the basic deck first as the theme decks only add more to get used to. The biggest shame is that there is a very playable game under all this and plenty of decks to play, but only the biggest Catan fans are likely to stick through with it.
For those who want to play a match of Rivals with friends there is a multiplayer mode to play against a friend on Game Centre, or Hot Seat mode so you just share your iOS device with a friend. If you know someone else with the game it will likely be more enjoyable than playing against the AI.
Rivals for Catan is far from a bad game, like Settlers of Catan it can be fun and challenging. But the user interface really drags this game down which is unfortunate given that the game underneath it all seems fun. If you are already experienced with Rivals for Catan you'll likely have a much better time once you get around the mess interface.