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Subject: Starship Catan: A Detailed Review rss

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Image Courtesy of nrihtar2

All of my 'Detailed Reviews' aim to offer an in depth look at a game including the theme, mechanics, game play and overall 'feel'. Where possible I will seek to include visual images to give a visual impression as well. Any feedback is always welcome.

Summary

Game Type - Card Game (Catan Franchise)
Play Time : 60-90 minutes
Number of Players: 2
Mechanics - Resource Management, Trading, Exploration
Difficulty - Moderate (Will take a few plays to iron out the rules)
Components - Excellent
Release - 2001

Designer - Klaus Teuber (All things Catan, Anno 1503, Barbarossa, Domaine, Entdecker, Hoity Toity, Lowenherz, North Wind, Starship: Catan)

Overview

Starship Catan was one of those games that I had heard positive comments (on the whole) about for some time, but I had never really been drawn to it for several reasons. First this was simply another 'Catan' Game (I already had plenty) and it is based on the board game 'Starfarers of Catan'. I am not a big fan of the board game so some of that mud was sticking (unfairly) to this title.

But one can only hear good things for so long before they are tempted. After 6 plays I am extremely happy that Starship Catan found its way into my collection.

In a Galaxy Far Far Away...The Back Story

Two pilots of the Catan Space Fleet have been sucked through a wormhole to an undiscovered section of space. There they discover 4 alien races that help them understand the financial, political, scientific and demographic ways of this new frontier. In truth the aliens are not really used in any great way except to add some flavour. After several plays you won't be giving a 'toss' for the aliens themselves. All you'll be looking at is the benefits they can bestow.

So the scene is set as both players try to curry favour with these strange creatures in order to make their way back home. Err, well we assume this is the aim, but it is never really outlined in such concrete terms. No - both Starfarers are locked in a battle to be the first to accrue 10 Victory Points. Why? Well I don't know really but heck who cares. If one wants to connect the dots, those Victory Points are earned by upgrading your ship, establishing Colony & Trade Planets and learning new sciences. Thus we must assume that these endeavours would help us find a way back to our 'Home Galaxy'.

The Components

The game revolves around both players’ starship template, which consists of 2 mid-sized sections. Each starship contains a series of bays, a hangar that can hold up to 2 smaller vessels (Trade and Colony Vessels) at any one time and your boosters and cannons. Six of the bays are used for storing resources (fuel, ore, carbon, food, trade goods and science research) and a similar illustration feature is used to that seen in the 'Settlers of Catan Card Game'. For those unfamiliar with the concept, there are illustrations for 1, 2, 3 or 4 of each resource in a bay. Small arrow tokens are then placed in the middle of each bay and can be rotated to point to (and reflect) how many of each resource you currently have on board. It is a really nice design mechanism and one that allows the game to flow easily.


Image Courtesy of Goodsound


There are also 6 empty cargo bays and these are used to hold 'Modules' that can be researched and purchased throughout the game. Ooh my Spock ears are tingling with excitement.

The Boosters and Cannons take the form of cardboard tokens and these slot nicely into position at the stern and bow of your vessel, just like a jigsaw piece.

The currency of the game are called Astros and they are depicted using round cardboard tokens in denominations of 1's and 5's.


Image Courtesy of ConraDargo


Finally there is a plethora of cards to reflect the encounters you may experience on your travels.

All in all the quality of the components is excellent. Each starship also outlines the resource costs to build or upgrade the many components, so it serves as a reference mat of sorts as well as a functional play area! In fact it is something of a mystery that all of the bits fit into the little box, but they do with clever baggy'ing.

The Set-up

A pair of sun and moon symbol cards are used to represent the two sides and the players take one card each. The sun player goes first but more importantly the starting card taken by each player also acts as a starting Colony Planet and offers the players a resource that can be collected on a roll of 1 (fuel or carbon).

Each player must then set-up their starship by adding 2 cannons and 2 boosters. Each player also starts with 1 science point and 2 trade goods and they can then select any 1 science module to begin the game with. The rules recommend that beginners start with the Logistics Module but once the players are experienced they can start with any module of their choice. The ability to customise is always good and it helps to alter the early flow of each game.

It should be noted that the starship upgrades are basically identical for both players. The only difference is the numbers that must be rolled to gain a resource from some of the science modules.

Now the Galaxy Decks, Reserve Galaxy Deck and the Mission deck must be created.

The players then take their starting quota of 25 Astros and the game is ready to begin.

The Game System

d10-1 Resource Collection (This is still Catan) - A player's turn begins by rolling for resource collection. The number rolled will determine what resources each player may collect from their Colony Planets. Each Colony Planet founded by a player will feature a number and a resource. If the dice roll matches one of your planets you are able to add one of that resource to the appropriate bay. If a bay is already at its maximum holding capacity then no more can be added.

It is important to note that the resource dice only goes up to 3 (two of each number) so controlling multiple Colony Planets can result in regular resource booms in the later stages of the game.

d10-2 The Flight Phase - This is where the game really shines. The value of the resource roll is now added to the number of Boosters your starship has and this total is your flight speed for the turn. There are 4 Sectors that can be explored each turn and they are represented by 4 Sector Decks, each containing 10 cards. The active player must select any 1 of these decks to explore for the turn and the flight speed determines the maximum number of cards that can be explored for the turn.

I find this mechanic to be totally refreshing as it perfectly combines the theme and mechanics into a meaningful gaming experience. As a player you actually feel like you are venturing into unknown sectors of space (on account that each deck is randomly created each game) and the development of your vessel limits your ability to venture deeper into space! It's these touches that make a game stand out from the crowd. cool


Image Courtesy of Aldie


d10-3 Completing the Flight Phase - One by one it is your opponent that must reveal each card in your flight path. As each card is revealed the active player must decide if they will take an action to utilise the card. Each player only starts the game with 2 actions per turn (these can be increased by building the Command Module). As soon as a player exhausts all of their action points, their flight will end, even if they had remaining flight points (card draws).

The Sector Decks consist of Trading Posts and Colony Planets that can be founded by a player if they have the appropriate vessel. They also feature Alien Trading Posts that cannot be owned but can be used on a once per visit basis. Then there are the Mission Planets, but more on those later.


Image Courtesy of Yaboo


Then of course there are the Space Pirates and it is the inclusion of the Pirates that makes it important for your opponent to reveal each card (as the player facing the Pirate cannot know the strength of the Pirates). The opponent must read the text, which outlines how many Astros the Space Pirate demands of you. You can choose to pay the demand or fight instead. See Combat below.

It is also important to point out that a player can choose to stop their flight voluntarily. This may be done if a player is light on Cannons and fears the potential of encountering a Space Pirate. Defeat at the hands of a Space Pirate will (at the very least) result in a player's turn ending immediately. This means a player cannot trade or build for this turn and this can be highly detrimental in a tight game.

When the Flight Phase is concluded the Sector Deck must be reshuffled. Regardless of a player's memory, reshuffling helps to maintain a small element of surprise with each future flight.

d10-4 Combat - Combat is a simple affair but it works. Each side must roll a blue combat die that features 1 'one', 1 'four' and 2 'two' and 'three' values. The number rolled is then added to the number of cannons (for the active player) and the strength of the Space Pirate as outlined on the Pirate card. The Space Pirates must have a higher combat value to beat the active player. A draw or lesser value will see the Space Pirate defeated. The Space Pirate cards outline the conditions for victory and defeat.

d10-5 Trading & Building Phase - With the completion of the Flight Phase we return to classic 'Catan' mechanics. In this phase the active player can make use of their Trading Post Planets to buy or sell the resource outlined on each card. Up to 2 Trading Posts can be utilised per turn. All trading with the use of Trading Posts must be done at one time and of course a player cannot exceed their Resource Bays holding capacity. In this way a player cannot go on crazy trading and buying sprees.

Like other forms of Catan, the players can trade with each other but it doesn't seem to transpire very often (if ever). I am yet to trade with an opponent in my 6 games but I'm sure it could happen if both players felt they were getting something crucial to their plans.

All manner of things can then be purchased by paying the required resources. New boosters, cannons, and vessels can be purchased as well as new Science Modules.

d10-6 Winning the Game - The above steps are the core of the game and are simply repeated until one player acquires their 10th Victory Point to win the game.


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Nice Touches - The Mission Deck

It is possible to embark on specific missions, relating to each of the 4 Alien Races. At the start of the game a Mission deck (12 cards) is created and 3 cards are turned face up to display the possible adventures on offer. Each adventure relates to a Mission Planet and these can be found in the Sector Decks, but of course their exact location is not known at first and must be discovered.

The early adventures simply require the players to visit a planet but as each completed adventure is replaced with a new one, the requirements required to fulfill the missions become more challenging.

Completing missions will always bestow a free resource choice, but they may also offer fame, Astros or friendship points as their demands increase (See Bonus Victory Points below).


Image Courtesy of Caesar!


Nice Touches - The Reserve Sector Cards

It is crucial that each of the Sector Decks maintain a total of 10 cards throughout the game. However it is possible for the players to take cards from the Sector Decks as they establish new Trading Posts, Colony Planets or defeat Space Pirates. This is where the Reserve deck comes in.

When a card is taken from a Sector Deck, the next card drawn for the Flight must come from the Reserve Deck. This deck features a range of new planets and Space Pirates. This is a really clever design feature as it enables each Sector Deck to change and keep the players guessing. Thematically this is exactly what you would expect from an unknown sector of space and is another example of the mechanics being true to the theme and feel of the game.

Nice Touches - The Deck Structures

Each of the decks (Sector, Mission and Reserve) has been well designed to offer a scaled difficulty factor that moves with the progress of the game. The initial Sector Deck cards offer a large number of Colony Planets and Trading Outposts as these are needed to help acquire more resources and speed up each player’s development of their starship. There is also a smattering of Space Pirates but they are relatively weak and only a poor set of combat rolls tend to end in defeat.

The Mission and Reserve Decks are built using cards numbered 1-4. By placing the '4' cards on the bottom with the '3' cards on top and so on, the game can effectively match the player's progress with more challenging situations. This may not seem obvious at first but the logic goes like this.

New cards can only be exposed from the Mission and Reserve decks if other cards have first been taken from the face-up Adventure Cards or a Sector Deck. However cards can only be taken if a player has begun to upgrade their Starship or colonise more planets or trading posts. In this way the game can always ensure that the next challenge is always within reach, without making it too hard or too easy. Very Nice!cool


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Nice Touches - Bonus Victory Points

Like most Catan games, Starfarers also offers 2 Bonus Point Victory Cards.

Hero of the People (1 VP) - This honour is bestowed to the first player to acquire 3 Fame Points on their travels. Fame is most commonly won by defeating Space Pirates but it can also be gained by completing some Missions. If another player manages to equal the leading Fame total, the card is returned to a neutral stance and will be won by the first player to gain the lead again.


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Friend of the People (1 VP) - This honour is bestowed to the first player to acquire 3 Friendship Points on their travels. Friendship points are earned by establishing new Trading Posts. If another player manages to equal the leading Friendship total, the card is returned to a neutral stance and will be won by the first player to gain the lead again.

The Tech Guide

Boosters - Each booster costs 2 fuel and they allow your starship to fly further into a given Sector of space. Each ship can hold up to 3 Level I boosters. They can then be upgraded to Level II boosters at the cost of 2 fuel and 1 science research point.

Cannons - Each cannon costs 2 carbon and they allow your starship to fight back against the Space Pirates. Each ship can hold up to 3 Level I cannons. They can then be upgraded to Level II cannons at the cost of 2 carbon and 1 science research point.

Colony Vessels - A colony vessel can be built at the cost of 1 ore, 1 fuel and 1 food. If a player discovers a new Colony Planet they can colonise it and add it to their play area by discarding their Colony Vessel. Each new Colony Planet allows a new resource to be acquired during the resource roll phase. A lack of Colonies will always end in defeat.


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Trading Vessels - A trading vessel can be built at the cost of 1 ore, 1 fuel and 1 trade good. If a player discovers a new Trading Post Planet, they can establish a trading base and add it to their play area by discarding their Trading Vessel. Each new Trading Post allows the owner to buy or sell the resource listed on the card. Trading Posts are crucial to managing your finances, which are crucial to victory.

Sensor Module - After choosing a Sector Deck to explore, the top 2 cards can be viewed and either card can be placed on the top or the bottom of the deck. This is great for avoiding those nasty Pirates.


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Deep Space Sensor Module (Level II) -Cannot be built unless the Level I Module has been built first. Allows a player to view the top 3 cards of the chosen Sector Deck. Each of these cards can then be placed on the top or bottom of the deck in any order before beginning the flight. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.


Image Courtesy of hobbes2888


Command Module - Allows a player to take 3 actions during the Flight Phase instead of 2.

Integrated Command Module (Level II) - Allows a player to take 4 actions during the Flight Phase instead of the 3 made possible by Tech Level I. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.

Science Module - Allows the science resource to be gained on a specific resource roll of 2 or 3 depending on which side you play.

Advanced Science Module (Level II) -Cannot be built unless the Level I Module has been built first. Allows the science resource to be gained on a specific resource roll of 2 or 3. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.

Trade Module - Allows a player to buy 1 resource from their opponent for a cost of 2 Astros. The resource must be present in one of their resource bays and the 2 Astros go to the player losing their resource.

Improved Trade Module (Level II) - Cannot be built unless the Level I Module has been built first. Allows a player to buy up to 2 resources from the opponent per turn at the cost of 2 Astros each. Again they must be available in the Resource Bays of your opponent and all money goes to them in compensation. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.

Production Module - Allows trade goods to be gained on a specific resource roll of 2 or 3 depending on which side you play.

Expanded Production Module (Level II) -Cannot be built unless the Level I Module has been built first. Allows trade goods to be gained on a specific resource roll of 2 or 3. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.

Logistics Module - Allows up to 3 resources to be stored in each of the Resource Bays instead of the standard 2.

Enhanced Logistics Module (Level II) -Cannot be built unless the Level I Module has been built first. Allows up to 4 resources to be stored in each of the Resource Bays instead of the standard 3 offered by the Level I Module. This Module is also worth a Victory Point.

The Resource Guide

Ore - One of the most valuable resources, Ore is needed to build all Modules and both Colony and Trade Vessels.

Fuel - Fuel is not surprisingly needed for propulsion and is used to build new Boosters. It is also used to build both Colony and Trade Vessels.

Food - Food is used in the construction of Colony Ships and Modules. Two food is needed to develop Level II Modules.

Carbon - This resource is used to build the powerful Cannons for your Starship. It is also used in the construction of every Module.

Trade Goods - These are used in the construction of Trade Vessels only. There other main use is as a commodity that can be traded to earn Astros and finance your spending elsewhere.

Scientific Research - This resource is only used in the development of Level II Cannons and Boosters. It can also be traded but it is perhaps the most under-utilised resource in the game.

The Final Word

Image Courtesy of Caesar!


I love this game and will quickly go past 20 plays by Christmas. Everything from the components through to the design and experience this game offers is top class.

But no game is without a few flaws. The rules are not as clear as they could have been in sections and it will take several reads and 'in-game' rule clarifications to get things right. My edition came with a 'Professor Easy' tutorial booklet and this was most helpful.

Then there is the game length. It will take up to (and possibly over) 2 hours to play when first learning and this will be way too long for many people. If you persevere though it can be reduced significantly and I am now playing it in just over an hour (if my opponent also knows the game well). This may seem long for a game of this nature but the ratio of 'time to gaming experience' is spot on for me.

The end game is usually a frantic affair as each player can see what they need to do to achieve victory. Each Level II Module offers a Victory Point so a race usually forms to gain as many of these as possible. Often each player will acquire 3 of the 6, maintaining the razor edge balance. This means that victory is usually secured by gaining control of either 1 or both of the Bonus Victory Point cards. However this is not always the case and additional Colony Planets can be found as the Reserve Deck becomes more exhausted and gives up the gems within.

This is definitely better than the Settlers of Catan Card Game as it feels more innovative. I easily rate this above its bigger brother of the board game variety.

Links

For a full list of my 500+ reviews in a search-able Geeklist -

My Review Geeklist for Easy Reference

Kosmos Links

Following is a list of games in the Kosmos 2-Player Series (plus Pick & Pack) that I have or intend to review. Hopefully these are of value to you if you are researching for a good 2-Player game but are unsure of which one to get. At present I have all of the games on the list below.

Babel

Balloon Cup

Blue Moon

Caesar & Cleopatra

Crocodile Pool Party!

Dracula

Dragonheart

Elkfest

Finale

Gone Fishing!

Heave Ho!

Hellas

Hera & Zeus

Jager & Spaher

Kahuna

Lost Cities

Odin's Ravens

Pick & Pack

Perry Rhodan

Rosenkonig

Summertime

Targi

The Pyramid of the Jaguar

The Reef

Tally Ho!

Times Square


EDIT - Updated the visual appeal of the review, added the release date and added designer credits
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Thomas P. Felder
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I underscore this, it is really much, much better then Starfares of Catan (which I don't like at all) and gameplay is much different, as anyone can see.
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Matthew M
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Fantastic review.

Minor edit - you list the Sensor module as being worth a VP rather than the Level II Sensor module.

-MMM
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Tony Wai-kit FUNG
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Sternenfahrer-MUC wrote:
I underscore this, it is really much, much better then Starfares of Catan (which I don't like at all) and gameplay is much different, as anyone can see.

I dont comment on personal preferences.

I would like to make a words about the Catan series. Games from the Catan Franchise do share some "trademarked" features. According to my actual experience playing these games, each catan game are different. They may be subtly different, or mechanically different. The differences do enable new experiences, new strategic options. An usual mindset in one game may not work in another, if one is lazy to reformulate a new strategy to adapt.
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ShepparCon was a Blast!
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Octavian wrote:
Fantastic review.

Minor edit - you list the Sensor module as being worth a VP rather than the Level II Sensor module.

-MMM

Thanks for the pick-up MMM. I hit the Submit button just after midnight so a typo was likely somewhere.

Edit made.
 
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Joe Casadonte
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Great review, Neil!

Neil Thomson wrote:
Sensor Module - Allows a player to look at the top 2 cards of any Sector Deck before they choose which Sector they will explore.

I believe you choose which Sector to fly, then look at the top two cards, then decide which order you want those cards to be placed back on the top and/or bottom of the Sector deck. Then you fly through it.


Neil Thomson wrote:
Command Module - Allows a player to take 3 actions during the Flight Phase instead of 2. Allows a player to look at the top 3 cards of any Sector Deck before they choose which Sector they will explore.

Methinks that second sentence is misplaced.....

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ShepparCon was a Blast!
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Holy @*$@$&* zombie

Thanks for the pick-up Joe. This will change our play quite significantly.

Note to self - Don't try and use cut and paste after midnight! blush
 
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Professor of Pain
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Well crap! Now I want to buy this game... shake

Nice review!
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Gavin Hamilton
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Nice review

I finally managed to pick up another copy of this game last year after my sister gave away my original copy gulp

A couple of small but significant rule corrections:
- If you have several colony planets with the same resource production number, then you can only choose one of them to produce when that number comes up.
- If you are beaten by a pirate then your flight phase ends immediately, but it does not end your turn; you can still trade and build.
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Michael Nerman
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Thanks for the review! A few things:

1. The player with the MOON Crest goes first, not the sun.

2. There's a broken jpeg.

3. Do you really think it will take a few plays to iron out the rules? It seems like looking through the rulebook after your first play to figure out what you did wrong should be enough.

4. You start off with one cannon.

5. What you call "Science Modules" are just "modules". One is the Science Module, one the Trade Module, etc.
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ShepparCon was a Blast!
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EDIT - Updated the Kosmos Links section to reflect all games in the series in my collection and those that have been reviewed recently.
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