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Review: Starfarers of Catan

12 July 2007
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I had occasion to play Starfarers of Catan recently, so I thought I would relate the experience. I liked it.

Contrary to my initial speculations, Starfarers is not just Settlers in space. Some mechanics, like victory points, are similar. Some of the mechanics are quite different. The biggest difference is the mothership. Each player has a plastic rocket to adorn with cannons, boosters, and freight rings, each of which give you advantages as you travel the cosmos.

Rolling for resources happens as in Settlers, if you have a colony adjoining a resource planet whose number chit matches the number rolled, you get that resource. Unlike Settlers, though, some of the chits have obstacles, like you need 4 cannons to unlock the resource (a numbered chit from a separate pile replaces the obstacle chit).

And, unlike Settlers, only some of the resources are available, which leads to
exploration. By visiting far-off planets (color-coded by resource type, of which
there are five types like Settlers), you can determine how plentiful their resources
are and whether you want to build a colony there.

Ships can only be built from spaceports. Colony ships allow transportation of colonies to far off planets. Trade ships allow establishment of trade with trade outposts. Building mothership improvements and new ships happens in a build phase, just like Settlers.

Trade ships don’t net new resources, but are worthwhile. Not only do you get two victory points for being the latest player to land at a trade outpost, but each of the four trading outposts is run by a different alien race and each offers a different stack of advantage cards you may pick one of. Players all start on the same narrow end of the board, and the trading posts that are furthest away offer the best advantages.

After building comes ship movement. In the center of the mothership there are four colored round beads. When the mothership is set on the table, two are visible through a plastic window, which randomized how many vertices along a fixed hexagonal board that each of your ships can travel in a particular turn.

The appearance of the black bead signals an encounter, and this is the most interesting component of Starfarers. The encounters are random and unpredictable, because many of them share the same initial setup. Some involved removal of ship improvements. Many involved meeting up with pirates, merchants, what have you, and them requesting or demanding X number of resources, from 0-3. Depending on how many you offer, your lot improves or worsens, especially in terms of fame points, which translate to victory points.

When we had to stop playing, I was well ahead of the other players. Unlike other players, I purchased cannons early and fared well in my dealings with pirates.

And, I chose to establish trade with a far away outpost. Whereas my fellow players got trade advantages (2:1 resource swapping instead of 3:1, something familiar to Settlers players), I got the special ability that during the role of resources, if I didn’t end up with a resource, I got a resource of my choice from the bank. This one is very potent, because like every Catan game I’ve played, everyone is always short on some resource.

Another player, The Host, had the resources to build a second spaceport in the center of the board, which made her a serious threat. It would have been interesting to see whether she would have been able to turn the tide before I got the last few victory points I needed.

The game is complicated, but rewarding. I recommend it.

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