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dv Giochi Edritice are best known for BANG! and the myriad expansions and extensions etc. They have published several different styles of games other than BANG!, such as the DARK TALES series. Other games available from them are often reprints of popular games from other companies and are made for the Italian Market only. Their products are always of the highest quality, and so when they publish a card based 'board' game that comes with both Italian and English rules players tend to sit up and take notice.

Catalyst is an abstract game where all players are buying and collecting cards to be able to use the special effects on them as they aim to meet the most options of the selected GOAL card, eventually hoping to have accumulated the most VPs when the game ends.

There are three sets of cards making a total of 80 cards in all. Sixty of these are the Catalyst (you can read this as 'Character') cards, 16 are Building (aka 'Terrain') cards and the other 4 are the Goal cards of which only one is used per game, chosen specifically or by random draw

The 'Board' (which puts it under the Board Game category) is a 3 piece strip created by jigsaw-joining the two mouter sections to the central one. This basically makes a six section board on which the main deck of Catalysts can be stacked and a display of five cards streamed off face up to be seen and bought by the players.

Reading the rules took us a little while because of the small text (and most of us are getting a little older and house lighting on glossy paper reflects off of our spectacles). Understanding the Rules though was pretty easy in the main, we found we could pick up what we had to do just by listening to someone reading them through once - I know this is how it's supposed to be, but in general we have someone read the rules and then we have a discussion over them, then read them again until we have it right (at least in our minds).

I say 'in the main' because there were a couple of things we weren't 100% sure of. One of these is on page 6 in the box labelled 'A Scoring Example'. The score sheet shows 2 VPs gained for the Red Building. It took us quite a while to get our heads around the way those 2 VPs are gained, but eventually our collective brain cells translated the translation we had misread (we like to think of it as a confusing translation). There we read its pictogram to mean you score 1VP for each Military Symbol there are on the cards in your Scoring Pile of which there are 4, thus with every 2 scoring 1VP the score in the box '2' is correct. On the Red Building (Barracks) there is one Military symbol, the Barracks Building is seen on the GOAL card: Building 1x Military symbol and the score in the box is '2'.

There is nothing in the Goal Cards chapter or scoring chapter that says that Building cards are worth any VPs, only that they may give VPs depending on what cards (Catalysts) you have in your Scoring Pile. The description of the pictogram on the GOAL card says that 'Building 1x Military symbol' scores 1 VP for every card in your Scoring Pile with one or more of that Symbol. It is the difference of wording between the NUMBER of Military symbols (divided in half) and the number of CARDS with Military symbols. One's gaming brain expects everything to balance logically, thus if it is the symbols giving the VPs you expect each of them to have a constant value. But by misreading or misunderstanding the rules - we expected to score for the 'symbols' not the cards - we got ourselves into a real old pickle for a while. Hopefully reading this will ensure you read what the rules actually say and not what you expect them to say.

Players begin with a number of coins determined by the order of the turn they begin in, the player going first getting one less than the 2nd and 3rd players (who get the same amount) and the fourth player who gets 2 more than the first player. Over several games we have found that the spread of scores between us is usually no more than 8 between winner and last placed; games are always tight, and we have found that once you fully understand the rules and the mechanics and strategies then going first is usually a disadvantage.

Although it took us a while to get our heads around the rules, the game play itself is quite simple. There are three possible actions for a player to choose from on their Turn but they may only perform one of them unless they have Special card actions or Chain Activation Tokens which allow them play through part of a second action. It therefore can move along quite quickly and should happily play within 30 minutes even with the full compliment of four players at the table.

The Buildings are in four colours and stacked separately in 4 piles, one per colour, with the cards valued the lowest (top right corner) on the top and the values descending from the '1' downwards. Players can buy these, paying their value in coins, and may only own one of each, so the quicker they buy them the least they will pay. This is however a trade off for while you are buying them you aren't recruiting Catalysts and thus adding cards to your scoring stack.

Catalysts are one shot useage. They may be activated on their own and then flipped onto your 'scoring stack' but they are usually best activated when they are attached to a Building as they then also activate the Building's effect, the added bonus being that although the activated Catalyst is removed to the 'scoring track' the Building isn't. Catalysts can be activated on their own but Buildings cannot.

Although the Catalysts are in the same colours as the Buildings they can be attached to any of the Buildings, example a Blue Catalyst with a Brown (Building) icon and a Green (Chain Activation - I have trouble not calling it 'Chain Reaction') icon, could be attached to a Red Building with a Blue (Recruit Catalyst) icon and a Yellow (Take a coin) icon. If you activate that Blue Catalyst you may use one or both of its effects and then you may use one or both of the Building's effects - it is important to remember and easy to forget that you have to complete the Catalyst before you activate the Building. Sometimes there is only one effect on a Catalyst or Building and other times there are two. If the two sit side by side they can both be activated but if there is a slash (/) between them then you have to choose which (if any) to activate. Catalysts may be held in front of you on their own but if you have a Building without a Catalyst and you have one or more Catalysts in front of you, you must immediately place a Catalyst in a Building; that is Buildings may only be empty if there are no Catalysts present.

 

There are certain things to consider when buying a Catalyst from the display. One is obviously the cost; each Catalyst card has a cost value which may be affected by the game board +1  0  or -1 to the cost in coins. The colour of the card; this is not important unless the GOAL card gives additional VPs for a certain colour. The Value of the card; not just because of it's cost but also because the value is also the VP value when totting up your score. The effects on the card; some GOALS give additional VPs for certain effect icons. 

The effects may give you Military Tokens - there are bonus VPs for these - others give Chain Activation Tokens which at first seem like a super reward as these allow you to activate another Catalyst (seeing as you may only activate one Catalyst per turn otherwise) but there is a neat kicker - they can only be used on the turn obtained; they are returned to supply at the end of that turn whether used or not. Gold coins are required to buy Catalysts and Buildings but you can never have more than 8 at the end of your turn; everything about this game is give and take, acquire and balance, we love it! 

   

The artwork is really good eye-candy but it has no real impact on the play because the game is abstract, so in actuality the art is merely beautiful chrome because there isn't truly a theme - it does look really nice though. There are duplicate illustrations, each colour being a set of art so that all Yellow 1s have the same art as each other, all the Blue 1s have the same art as each other but it is different art to the Yellow, Red or Green 1s etc etc.

Theme and chrome may make a game look good, but the mechanics and the players are what make the game as entertaining, enjoyable and as much fun as it is. CATALYST may only be a 30 minute game, but it's a BIG 30 minute game.

The game is credited to Permar Rodaser which is a name created from the conglomorate of designers: Per Abrahamsson  Martino ChiacchieraRoberto CorbelliDavid Fröjmark Sergio Roscini with some beautifully creative art from Yann Tisseron

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015