Design by Permar Rodaser
Published by dvGiochi
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
I have enjoyed several games from Italian publisher dvGiochi, most recently their clever release 3 Secrets. So, I was intrigued by one of their most recent offerings, Catalyst, from designer Permar Rodaser.
Catalyst is set in a futuristic world where special individuals—a type of superhero known as a Catalyst”—uses a new type of energy to achieve remarkable results. These Catalysts can cooperate and act together in order to build more powerful and acclaimed cities, all for the good of humanity…and their own power, of course!
The idea of the game is to recruit characters into your ensemble, then combine these with buildings so that you can perform multiple actions per turn. Assembling a collection of characters and buildings that allows you to perform numerous actions per turn is the key to surpassing your opponents and claiming victory. There really is one viable path here.
Catalyst cards are at the heart of the game. In addition to some very appealing artwork, each card depicts its cost, as well as one or more icons that indicate the power that it grants the player when activated. From the deck of 60 cards, ten are set aside for the final round, while five of the main deck are revealed on the central board. This linear board serves as a “drafting” row, and can increase or decrease the cost of acquiring a card, depending upon its position on it.
There are four different types (colors) of building cards, and each are arranged in order by cost (least-to-most). During the course of the game a player may acquire at most one of each type by activating the appropriate characters. Buildings are important in that they not only earn victory points, but also have special powers that can be used throughout the game.
Finally, one Goal card is revealed. This goal card provides incentives to the players to achieve its indicated requirements in order to earn victory points. This goal card is shared by all players. Players begin the game with a few coins.
Each turn a player has three options:
Collect Contributions: The player takes a number of coins equal to the highest cost (value) of the five cards visible on the board. This can be lucrative, as the card values go as high as five. When one of those rarities appears on the board, it is a perfect time to collect money. Money is needed to purchase new Catalysts and Buildings, so it is wise to keep a hearty war chest.
Recruit a Catalyst. The player may acquire one Catalyst from the board by paying its listed cost, plus or minus any modifier based on its position on the board. If possible, acquired Catalysts are immediately placed above an unoccupied building owned by the player. Otherwise the card is set to the side, but is still available to be used.
Each catalyst card depicts one or more of five symbols which trigger when the card is activated. These symbols will allow the player to take a coin, recruit a Catalyst, take a “chain activation” or “military activation” token, or acquire a building. All of these are useful, but the “chain activation” ability is key, as it allows a player to later use these tokens to perform multiple actions on her turn. The more actions a player can perform, the better she is likely to do in the game.
Activate a Catalyst. Choose one Catalyst card in your display to activate, using the powers of the icons listed on that card. If the Catalyst is located in a building, the player can also use the power of the building (more on this in a bit). Further, the player may use any of his Chain Activation tokens to activate other Catalysts, continuing his turn as long as he desires and has Chain Activation tokens.
When a Catalyst card is activated and its abilities used, it is moved to the player’s discard pile. It will score points at game’s end equal to its purchase value.
When using a special ability of a Catalyst, it is important to note that costs must still be paid to recruit a new Catalyst or acquire a building. Buildings begin inexpensively, but increase in cost with each one acquired. Further, the player must pay one additional coin for each building he already possesses, so it becomes quite expensive to acquire that third and fourth building.
Buildings are very important, as they will earn victory points based on the revealed Goal card and have special powers of their own. These powers are similar to those of a Catalyst: earn coins or tokens, or recruit a Catalyst. It is important to acquire buildings, as they are triggered when a Catalyst assigned to that building is activated.
Military tokens are not useful during the course of the game, but do potentially earn points at game’s end. Every two Military tokens earned by a player earn a victory point, and the player with the most tokens earns a whopping six point. Second and third place player earn three and one points respectively.
The game concludes when the Catalyst card deck expires, after which one more round is played using the ten cards that were set aside at the beginning of the game. After the final round is completed, players score points for the Catalyst cards in their discard pile. Catalysts still remaining in a player’s active area do not score, so one must try to time this properly so that all Catalyst cards are activated and moved to one’s discard pile before the game ends. Further points are earned for Military tokens (as described above), buildings (based on the Goal card) and coins (1 point for every 3 coins). The player with the most points is victorious and rules the realm’s most prestigious city.
On the surface, Catalyst sounds intriguing and exciting. Collecting cards and utilizing them in the proper fashion to maximize points and options is the stuff of great games. In reality, however, the game is rather unexciting, as there truly aren’t many viable paths to pursue. Being able to activate and use multiple Catalysts and buildings each turn is so worthwhile and powerful that it makes acquiring Catalysts that grant Chain Reaction tokens of paramount importance. Buildings are also important, so securing them early is also critical. Thus, players will seek to acquire Catalyst cards that grant these acquisitions when activated. All other considerations are secondary.
There can be periods when money is tight, but in most cases it is not really a major issue. Since high valued cards are expensive to acquire, they tend to remain on the main board for a few turns, allowing multiple players to simply take coins, thereby replenishing their personal treasuries. So, worrying about one’s finances isn’t as problematic or persistent as one might think. This does tend to make desired acquisitions a bit too easy.
Acquiring military tokens can pay off at game’s end, but in reality the six points gained pales in comparison to the points earned by the Catalysts and buildings. So, partaking in an arms race in the hopes of capturing the majority and earning six points is not a productive use of one’s time, efforts or resources. Get a few if you can, but don’t make it a priority.
To be fair, there is some satisfaction to assembling a handful of Catalysts and buildings that can chain together for several lucrative actions. The sad part, however, is that once a Catalyst is used, it is relegated to the discard pile, so the player must start afresh in assembling another powerful combination. So, the satisfaction experienced is very temporary.
Catalyst has been a disappointment in that I think it has (had?) so much more potential. I like the concept and the theoretical interaction between the Catalyst and building powers. Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be many viable and interesting paths to pursue, leaving players with a very one-dimensional path. The old saying “less is more” is sometimes true, but not so here. A bit more interaction, a bit more variety, and bit more options would all prove beneficial. Sadly, Catalyst simply doesn’t offer enough to maintain interest.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
1 (Not for me): Greg S.