GS TABLE GAMES: Review Star Trek Catan

On opening up Star Trek: Catan, two questions immediately leap to mind. The first is the obvious one: “Is this a good game?” and the second: “is this a good version of Settlers of Catan?” They’re very different things, and I suspect that they are applicable to very different audiences. Settlers of Catan is one of the unquestioned classics of the board gaming scene, but at the same time many people will pick up its Star Trek iteration with little prior knowledge of the game it is based on. So this, as they say, will be a review of two halves.

So first, how does Star Trek: Catan actually work?

Well, you open the box and you’ve a nice tray inside with storage for all your parts, cards and game tiles. As you’d expect, it’s a physically nice product; the printing is clear and crisp, the miniatures are cleanly moulded and it looks like it will survive a good few games without getting too tatty. The Rulebook looks pretty thin, but Catan is a game that is quick to learn, with simple rules that interact in complex ways, so you spend time learning how to win, not learning which piece goes where or moves in what way.

The Board is assembled from hexagonal tiles that are shuffled and then laid out into a larger hexagonal board, and then six “sea” pieces are put around them in a ring to hold them altogether. Each tile represents a planet that produces a certain type of raw material, and once they’re all down they are each assigned a number in a set pattern, so ensure that each board is different, but the not totally at the whim of random chance. To play the game, during each player’s turn they roll two dice, and the total on the dice (between 2 and 12) represents which planet “produces” and the player who has a Starbase on that planet gets the resources (whether it’s their turn or not). Resources can be traded to other players, to the “bank” via ports on the edge of the board, or spend to build supply routes and more starbases.

Star-Trek-Catan_Battle-Cruiser-100pcSo the name of the game, simply put, is the accumulate resources, build starbases and supply routes, and score points based on how many of them that you have. There are a few additional wrinkles; a marauding Klingon counter can block planets from producing and make you discard cards, and points can be scored from special cards, longest supply routes and a couple of other ways as well. Finally, each player gets a special action card based on one of the Original Star Trek Characters featuring a minor, but possibly game-winning, change to the rules (often a free resource swap). These latter items are the only major change from “Classic” Settlers of Catan and seem fun without being significantly game-breaking.

That may sound complicated, but I have in essence just explained the entire rules of the game in two paragraphs and that is part of Catan’s great beauty. Within a full turn around all the players you’ll have a grasp of most of the game’s mechanics and within a couple of games you’ll have most of the tactics fully understood. It’s a simple game with enormous depth and replayability, and best of all it is not intimidating or difficult to learn. I’ve played this with a 6-year-old, and they needed a bit of help with the tactics but certainly had little problem understanding the game itself.

This latter point is key: Catan is an entry point to the sort of board games that are beyond things like Monopoly or Mousetrap and one of things that makes it so is that you are not directly competing with other players. You can’t attack them or take things off them, you can’t destroy their Starbases and Supply Lanes. The worst you can do is place the Klingons on one of the worlds they have a Base on, but even that isn’t that bad and it can be moved on pretty easily. If you were feeling really aggressive you could build a Supply Route where they wanted to, but this is a game of building your own network faster than everyone else, not a game of slowing other people down. It makes it friendly and fun, and in most games you end up helping each other to make the best decisions you can with your resources.

Which is pretty much in the spirit of Star Trek, when you think about it. StarTrekCatan2

So, back to the two big questions we started off with. First, is this a good game? Yes. It’s a great game. It may be mostly a “reskin” of Settlers of Catan but if you don’t own Settlers of Catan you could do a lot worse than owning this version. It’s well produced, good to look at and easy to play. Given the time of year, I would hazard it would make a cool present for the board gaming Star Trek fan in your life. Now, onto the second question of how it compares to “Classic” Settlers.

This is a bit harder. Obviously, there are some minor changes but they don’t seem to majorly affect the game play, so I’m forced to conclude that if you already own Settlers of Catan, it would be a lot of money to pay for a new version because aside from all the tiny plastic spaceships you could ever want it’s not bringing a lot to the table. In some ways, I’m pleased about that though because I think that destroying with change what makes Settlers great would be a very foolish thing to do.

So in conclusion – whilst this may be a superfluous purchase if you already own Settlers of Catan, this is a fun and well-produced version of a classic modern board game, and if you don’t own a copy, this is certainly a version worth getting.

 

Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Matt

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