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STARSHIP CATAN

Reviewed by Herb Levy

STARSHIP CATAN (Mayfair Games/Kosmos, 2 players, about 1 hour; $30)

 

The Settlers of Catan (featured back in the Fall 1996 GA REPORT) has become a cottage industry for its creator, Klaus Teuber, as well as its publishers, Kosmos (in Europe) and Mayfair Games (here in the United States). It has spawned numerous variations including The Settlers of Nuremberg, shifting the setting of the game to the real world city of Nuremberg, and Starfarers of Catan, shifting the colonization venue to outer space. (Both of these games were featured in the Winter 2000 GA REPORT). This time around, in his latest Catan creation, the prolific Teuber has taken the outer space concept of Starfarers and centered it on two spaceships: Starship Catan.

The premise of this two player card game is that two Starfarers have become lost in space and, in this new galaxy, need to navigate, trade and establish colonies to earn membership in the Galactic Advisory Council – a challenging assignment.starcatanbox

Starship Catan comes boxed with two Starships (consisting of two puzzle-cut board pieces joined together, one for each player). Each Starship has five cargo bays which hold (and track) the resources used in the game: Ore, Fuel, Food, Carbon and “Trade Goods”. Players begin with 2 Trade Goods as well as 1 Science Point (indicating their degree of technology). Aboard each Starship is a hanger capable of holding two smaller “Space Ships”. Space Ships come in two varieties: a Colony Ship (marked with a “C”) and a Trade Ship (marked with a “T”). One of each of these begins on each player’s Starship. The game also includes sets of cards (70 Sector cards, 12 Adventure Cards, 18 Module cards), a blue die, a yellow die, cardboard cannons and booster rockets, coins representing “astros” (the currency of this galaxy), 2 special Victory Point cards and markers. Also present are TWO rulebooks: the standard “rules” and a “Prof. Easy” guide to getting players into the game quickly. (Unfortunately, the rulebooks can be a little daunting as they are not quite as “user-friendly” as was their intent. But stick with it. The game is NOT as complicated as it appears at first glance.)

The Sector cards are separated into cards without border and those with borders. The 40 “borderless” cards are shuffled and dealt, face down, into four 10 card stacks. Those other Sector cards (differentiated by Roman numerals) are separated into four stacks (by Roman numeral), shuffled individually and placed in one stack so that Roman I cards are on the top of the stack followed by Roman II, Roman III and Roman IV on the bottom of the pile. The Adventure cards are handled the same way: separated, shuffled and stacked in number order. Three Adventure cards are turned face up to show Missions available to the Starfarers during the game. Missions are more easily achieved (and Victory Points more easily attained) by improving the quality of your Starship. Starship improvement requires building higher level Modules which necessitates gathering the necessary resources.

Each player turn consists of three phases: production, flight, and trading & building. Production requires a roll of the yellow die. This six-sided die has two “1”s, “2”s and “3”s. If the rolled number matches the number of owned Colony Planets or built modules, the player gains the matching resource (or Science Point). Then, the player decides which of the four stacks of Sector Cards he wishes to “explore”.

Exploration translates into turning over cards in the chosen stack. The number of cards allowed to be exposed is equal to the value of the speed of your Starship. Speed is equal to the number of Booster Rockets on each Starship PLUS the number rolled on the yellow die. So, for example, if a player has one Booster Rocket and rolled a “2”, he can explore up to 3 cards. The types of cards revealed allow a player to take certain actions.

You are allowed to take two actions while exploring. (Upgrading your Starship can increase that total to as high as four.) If a Trade Planet is turned over, you can buy or sell the resource shown on the card. Some Trade Planets are marked with a “T”. These may be claimed as a “Trading Post” (and placed below your Starship next to any other colonies) provided that you have a Trade Ship in your hangar. A Trading Post allows you to purchase or sell the resources listed on the card, one each turn! Should a Colony Planet be revealed, you can establish a Colony if a Colony Ship is available in your hangar. Colonies produce resources. In addition, you can buy or sell Science Points (by visiting the Galactic Library at Kopernikus II) or complete a Mission. (Four “Adventure Planets” – Pallas, Hades, Picasso and Poseidon are linked with Adventure Cards. If you can fulfill the requirements of these cards when visiting these planets, you reap rewards in resources, astros, even Victory Points.) As planets are claimed and missions completed, cards from the Sector and Adventure decks replenish the available supply. But danger lurks among the stars! Players may run into Pirates!

Some Space Sector cards reveal Pirates. Once revealed, the active player has a decision to make. Generally, he can pay a bribe to the pirates (in astros) or, if unwilling or unable to pay, must fight. Fighting involves a roll of the blue die (which has a “1”, three “2”s, two “3”s and a “4”). The blue die roll is added to the firepower of your ship. (Each Level 1 Cannon is worth one point; each Level 2 Cannon is worth 2 points.) Your opponent also rolls the blue die for the the Pirate and adds the Cannon strength of the Pirates (as stated on the Pirate card). If the player’s total is equal to or greater than the Pirates’, the player wins and receives a reward (astros, resources and Fame). If the Pirates’ total is larger, the player’s turn ends immediately (even if there were potentially more cards to explore). Sometimes, the penalties are more severe (such as losing some of that firepower). Once completing your Flight and Exploration, you can trade and build.

During this phase, players can upgrade their holdings using the resources they have accumulated. Different combinations result in different upgrades and there are a multiplicity of choices for players to face. For example, it takes one each of Ore, Fuel and Food to build a new Colony Ship (to colonize planets). A Level I Booster costs 2 Food while a Level 2 Booster costs 2 Foods AND 1 Science Point (for additional speed). Level One modules cost 1 unit each of Ore, Carbon and Food and allow you gain some advantages in play such as storing more resources, taking more actions during a Flight Phase, looking at the first 2 Sector Cards (and possibly removing them to the BOTTOM of the stack BEFORE your Flight begins) and more. Level Two modules (only available when you’ve built a Level One of that particular type), cost 1 Ore, 1 Carbon and 2 Foods, increase these advantages. Along the way, players will earn Victory Points (for their space adventures, for colonization and improvements in their Starship), Friendship Points (for trade planets) as well as Fame Points (for defeating pirates). A player earning three Friendship Points gets a card worth 1 Victory Point as does the player who manages to get three Fame Points.

The first player to amass 10 Victory Points at any time during his turn wins!

Starship Catan operates, basically, as a solitaire game for two people. In a game designed by less adept hands, this can ruin the play. But the talented Teuber has eliminated this potential problem in a simple and satisfying way. By having your opponent handle your Flight cards, drawing them one by one, and rolling the die should Pirates appear, your opposition becomes intimately involved with your turn. Down time is, for all intensive purposes, eliminated and interest remains high. The symbiotic relationship between Colonies (that produce goods) and Trading Planets (where goods and money can be exchanged for one another) challenge players to maximize their opportunities to generate Victory Points. Despite the many choices in how to apply resources each turn presents, the actual game mechanics are simple and straightforward and, with repeated play, flow very smoothly.

Over the last several years, many quality two player games have hit the market. Starship Catan flies high with the best of them, combining the right portions of luck with judicious planning and elegant design, truly a worthy addition to The Settlers of Catan family of games. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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