Sunday, July 15, 2007

: The Card Game

Settlers of Catan.
Puerto Rico.
Tigris and Euphrates.

Four giants of the euro explosion. Tied together by all being twisted into a card game form, which is exciting, since four games is almost a genre.1

What is most interesting to me is how each game justifies it's existence. Why was it developed? Simply to make great wads of cash for the manufacturer? Perhaps. But there must be some reason for existence that will spur consumers to part from their carefully horded monies.

When I think of 'card games' versus 'board games' I usually come up with Portability and Speed. That is - a card game is smaller physically than a board game, and it takes less time2 to play. Secondly, card games have a slight tendency to be simpler and easier to explain3.

So i'll mimic Shannon for a day, and do my own meager analysis of these card games.

Catan: the Card Game
Two Players.
That explains almost everything about Catan: The Card Game. Since Settlers just doesn't work with fewer than three people, there was definitely a need to develop a game that provided the Settlers experience for two people. The game does a good job of migrating the core features of Settlers into two players. The game stands on its own, and even earned expansions that don't connect to the original game at all4.
Overall, I think Catan: The Card Game succeeds. It's a fine two player game that evokes all the core building and development of Settlers. But it completely fails all of my initial impressions of Card vs. Board. It's not shorter than Settlers, it's not simpler, and while it does pack into a smaller box, it takes up just as much space on the table as Settlers.
Ultimately, Catan: the Card Game is a new game in the Catan series.

San Juan
I'm not quite sure what the thought process was behind the development of San Juan. The need for a two player game for Puerto Rico fans is the obvious choice, but I rarely see San Juan played as a two player game5. Perhaps Alea wanted to bring the success of Puerto Rico to a wider audience and wanted a simpler game.
Like Catan:CG, San Juan takes the core concepts from the parent game and develops into a new game. It certainly feels different yet similar (probably due to the input of several different designers throughout the process). San Juan does fill most of my initial expectations for a card game - it's a bit simpler than Puerto Rico, it plays faster, and takes up less space on the table and gamebag.

Tigris and Euphrates: The Card Game
The most poorly regarded of the lot, T&E:CG seems to me to be hampered by being almost exactly like the board game. It succeeds at being more portable than the original, but it almost all other factors it plays so closely to the original that I think it's garnered alot of scorn because it seems to lack a reason for existence. Why was this game made if not just to cash in on a brand? It doesn't play much faster, it doesn't play much simpler, and it doesn't twist the core concepts of T&E in a new way. I actually find the game fine - I certainly don't dislike it - but it really doesn't succeed in proving it's need to exist.

Caylus: Magna Carta

Finally we come to the newest one on the list, that on first appearance seems to suffer from the same faults as T&E. But following my first play, I found that the subtle changes that were made to the game have resulted in a game that is different from the original in many subtle ways. While San Juan and Catan:CG require players to learn a new game, Caylus:MG is more about learning the new strategies that a bunch of small changes have created.
I'm not sure if it's actually easier to teach the card game than the board game. I've only taught it to one person who hasn't played Caylus, and he tends to catch on to new games quickly. It's definitely more portable, though it still takes a bit of table space. Game time has been reduced, but not to the extent of San Juan. Caylus:MG is still a mid-to-heavy game, but overall a shorter one than the original

I think there are a couple more board-to-card conversions out there. I'm told Great Wall of China is Samurai the Card game, but I haven't played it myself, so I didn't comment on it.

Overall, I think that a card game edition has to fundamentally change something from the board game6 to really succeed. I'm surprised by Caylus:Magna Carta, because it manages to change the game via strategic choices without messing with the core mechanics of the game. San Juan and Catan both change by putting new mechanics around old concepts.

I'll close by saying that back in the day, Avalon Hill suckered me in and I bought Titan: The Arena thinking that it was the card game version of Titan. Completely not true, and a name alone cannot cause a game to be related to another... but I never regretted buying Titan: the Arena, so I guess I'm glad they named it such.

1Three more games and Zooleretto will have a genre. Card games developed into board games!

2This is obviously a false assumption. I've played 'games' of Tichu that lasted longer than 3 hours. But since each hand is relatively quick, the impression of speed and ease of completion is still present. After all, we can always stop after any hand. But not this one. The next. or the next?

3Again, an unfounded belief. Perhaps this should be a blog on the myths of card games...

4 Wizards of Catan!

5But it works with two, so that goal was met...

6Other than getting rid of the board.


Anonymous said...

Elfenland was turned into King of the Elves. I think it is more in the San Juan mold, as it is a different game with the same theme and some of the same mechanics.

Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo have all had card game versions released also.

In terms of the other genre (card game to board game), Bohnanza was turned into Bean Trader (Bohn Hansa).

Mikko said...

Great Wall of China is similar to Samurai, but definitely not a Samurai: The Card Game.

Monopoly Card Game is very bad; avoid at all cost. Cluedo Card Game is decent easy deduction game for the whole family.

I've grown rather fond with San Juan and actually probably prefer it to Puerto Rico these days. The cards make each game a fresh experience. It's also a brilliant two-player game.

Tanz der Hornochsen is 6 Nimmt: The Board Game.

Myers said...

I'm so happy I discovered this blog! I'm a big fan of Catan and I will try the card game. San Juan sounds great as well.