Struggle For Catan vs Rivals For Catan

Which Catan Card Game Is Right For You?

If you find a game you enjoy, it’s easy at the start of your love affair with the gaming hobby to try to get everything associated with that game.

Something like Catan has a variety of themed base boxes, maps, expansions and modules, but it also has card and dice versions.

Two of the most popular spin-offs are Rivals For Catan and Struggle For Catan and it can be easy to confuse the two, so let’s find out which one is best for your collection.

Rivals For Catan:

  • Is better for two players
  • Is the deeper game
  • Feels like a unique design
  • Takes up a lot of space
  • Can be set up to feel different from game to game

Struggle For Catan:

  • Is better for more players
  • Is light and quick
  • Feels like watered down Catan
  • Lacks the trading of the original game
  • Can be played in small spaces

Rivals And Struggle Are Both Card Games

Both Rivals For Catan and Struggle For Catan take the essence of the Catan board game and turn it into a card game, but these two games play quite differently from each other.

Rivals For Catan is a Catan card game which is designed only for two players, so it is a head-to-head struggle for the island.

Struggle For Catan is much more like the original board game but turned into something that works with only a single deck of cards.

In fact, if you think of Struggle as “Catan: The Card Game” you are on the right track even though the early version of Rivals was actually called “Catan Card Game”.

Confused? You won’t be if you keep reading!

Rivals For Catan Is A Meaty Two-Player Only Game

If you have tried playing Catan as a two-player game you’ll know that it loses most of its magic, mainly because the trading is almost entirely lost.

There are variants out there that turn Catan into something that works well with two, but if you just want to dive into something that is from the Catan universe and designed for two players from the ground up then Rivals For Catan may just be for you.

Like Struggle For Catan, Rivals is a card game but rather unusually it uses square cards that can be rotated to show how many goods they contain.

Rotating cards sounds like a really clever idea but in real life it can be a real pain, so I always used marker tokens instead.

Your settlements and roads sit in the middle row of your tableau while resource tiles and other additions sit above and below.

Normally you’ll have a tableau that has three rows, but if you build cities then you can open out to five rows, and you can also build outwards from side to side, so your community may eventually look something like this:

          Building Slot  
Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex
  Settlement Road Settlement Road City  
Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex Building Slot Resource Hex
          Building Slot  
Rivals For Catan

It’s hinted at in the diagram and the picture, but Rivals For Catan needs a big table even though it starts off small.

You need to leave spaces for extra rows above and below your initial placements, and things can also stretch out massively from side to side.

This also means that when the game is really motoring along it can be difficult to keep track of what you and your opponent have, so Rivals can slow down significantly later on.

However, it genuinely does have the feel of a fully-fledged board game in card form.

If you enjoy it, the base box comes with various theme decks that can be used to tweak the style of game to your preference, or simply to change things up from play to play, and there are two themed expansion boxes as well.

Taken on its own Rivals is actually a really involving and interesting two-player game that rewards repeated play, and while it has some of the flavour of Catan it feels like a new take on the whole idea.

At least this means that it can stand on its own, which is where Struggle…struggles.

Here’s the official instruction video for Rivals For Catan by White Glove Demos which gives you a great idea of the game:

YouTube video

Struggle For Catan Is A Light Multiplayer Game

Struggle For Catan is an entirely different take on the Catan world, a light and quick-playing card game for up to four players.

It includes all the elements of the original game – settlement, roads, cities, knights – but there is no map, so players instead build up sets of cards which have abilities and points on them.

It all feels like Catan but stripped right back to its barest bones, but it is easy to learn and play and a game takes around half an hour or so.

Unfortunately, the trading which is such a huge part of the original game is a real damp squib in Struggle, as rather than striking deals with your fellow players you instead take random cards from them.

There is a row of market cards as well which provides an extra choice for your trading, and you can also grab cards from the draw pile, but the cut and thrust of haggling and debate is not here.

While that’s good news if you don’t like the hustle and bustle of offer and counteroffer, for many it’s one of the main attractions of the original Catan.

On the other hand, many of the buildings come with special abilities which do add an extra dimension to the game, and you get to steal cards from other players if the pile of road or knight cards runs out.

Struggle for Catan - mid game

It’s worth mentioning that playing with three players means that some of the cards are removed from the deck before playing while a head to head game takes even more out of the supply.

Struggle is therefore best with four players, decent with three and passable with two, but there is the option to add a second copy and play with five or even six players, but at that point the game really starts to bog down.

Struggle For Catan is easy to learn, and this video by White Glove Demos will take you through the rules in a few minutes:

YouTube video

Rivals Is Better With Two But Less Like Catan

In terms of the head to head comparison between Rivals and Struggle there are some easy distinctions to make.

Rivals is definitely the better two player game, but it feels like a board game in its own right rather than a reimplementation of Catan.

It also takes longer to play and is more complicated, so if you think of it as a medium weight board game for two you’ll know what you will be getting.

Struggle instead is Catan taken down to its bare bones, best with four but still with a decent enough flavour of the original game.

Both Of These Games Have Flaws

There’s no doubt that Rivals For Catan is the better game overall but there are some negatives that need to be mentioned for both designs.

I have enjoyed playing Rivals For Catan, but eventually sold it once I had worked out a decent two-player variant for the original game.

I found that there was no occasion when I wanted to play Rivals For Catan over my bespoke two-player version of Catan, and if I wanted a meaty two-player board game then I had many options on my shelf that would always get to the table before it so in the end there was no point in keeping it.

As for Struggle, I can’t think of a single time when I have wished that I had it in the collection as when I have four players together and want to play Catan we simply play Catan, and if we want to play a quick card game then I have other choices that I am always going to turn to first.

You can safely dive deeply into this hobby and never need either of these games on your shelf, but if I had to pick one of them to own it would definitely be Rivals.

Rivals For Catan – The Pros And Cons


  • Big game in a small box
  • Artwork is detailed and evocative
  • The theme packs genuinely change the experience
  • It has the flavour of Catan but is definitely its own game
  • Designed specifically for two players


  • You really need to know the decks to play well
  • It can be tricky to keep track of everything
  • Games can drag towards the end
  • The similarities to Catan are more thematic than mechanical
  • You will need a massive table – seriously

Struggle For Catan – The Pros And Cons


  • It is Catan in a card game
  • Plays two, three or four
  • Captures most of the feel of Catan in a single deck of cards
  • Easy to learn if you already know Catan
  • Fast and frantic


  • Trading is drab compared to Catan
  • It’s a decent card game but there are better card games
  • It’s a decent Catan game but there are better Catan games
  • Artwork is okay but uninspired
  • With two players Rivals is much better and with three or four Catan is much more satisfying

Image credit, license, No changes made.
Image credit, license, No changes made.

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About the author

James Declan discovered board gaming via a one hour sesh trying to escape Forbidden Island with his daughter and has never looked back.