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Subject: A Long Time Ago in A Catan Far Far Away rss

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Chris
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Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.
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In this review I will try to give an evaluative examination of the game, rather than a detailed summary of the rules. This review will assume the reader is at least familiar with the basic Settlers of Catan.

Overview

Starfarers of Catan mixes up the mechanics of Settlers of Catan and re-engineers it for a space based theme. You start with 2 colonies and a spaceport. Colonies function like settlements and provide resources. Spaceports also function like settlements (not like cities), and they allow you to send out new colonies. You do that by building colony ships, which start at your spaceport and move out to unexplored planets. You can also build trading posts. They ship out from your spaceport, but they won't produce resources for you. They only allow you to develop important relationships with alien species.

# of Players: 3-4. I think it plays slightly better with 4 players. With 3, 2 players tend to fight on one half of the board and the other has free reign of the other half of the galaxy. Haven't tried playing with 2, but it doesn't seem like it would be fun.
Play time: 1.5 to 2 hours.


Theme

To me, theme isn't necessary for a game to be excellent, but it makes a big difference in how often I want to play it and how fun it is. The theme is true to Catan - expansion and settling. This time, you start with Catanian colonies expanding throughout the galaxy. The theme is fun, and it fits. There's something about sending spaceships across the galaxy that is more exciting than building a city on an island.


Components

To me, components won't make or break a game, but they definitely have the potential to add a lot of fun. Instead of 7 sided blocks of wood, this game features detailed plastic miniatures. The design tries to be retro sci-fi a la flash Gordon. The coolest feature is your mother ship. You start out the game with this nice big mother ship, and throughout the game you can pimp out your ride by adding cool expansions. The mother ship isn't just a cool piece of plastic, it provides game function. There are 4 small colored balls inside the ship, and a small clear plastic tube that can hold 2 balls. Each color has a corresponding number. So you shake your mother ship, and the 2 balls that come out is the number for your roll. Often the expansions you've built on your mother ship add modifiers to this roll. The mother ship is used in addition to dice. Ultimately, it's just as random as dice, but what can I say, it's just more fun to roll the mother ship! It's a nice creative way to do the same old thing a little differently.


Decisions

The biggest factor in what makes a game fun for me is if it has challenging decisions that have an interesting payoff. First, like Settlers, each turn you have to decide what to build, and how to trade in order to build it. Settlers has proven that this is a tried and true fun game decision. What Starfarers adds is the decision to build expansions to your mother ship. You can add boosters which adds to speed, cannons which allows you to conquer pirate planets, or freight rings, which allow you to settle on ice planets and establish trading posts with alien species.

There are 4 alien species. The player who establishes the most trading posts with a given species gets 2 victory points. There are 4 alien species, so it's like having 4 different longest roads to fight over. This provides a few interesting decisions. Fist, the choice of which alien species to befriend. Each one provides different bonuses which will be familiar to settlers connoisseurs. Every time you establish trade with an alien, you get to decide a card from their pile which will provide ou with a nice bonus. Each specie has their own set of bonus cards to choose from. With 4 species to choose from, the competition over aliens can be tense. Choices must be made to befriend a new alien or fight to wrest the friendship of a specie from an opponent.

The biggest strength to this game is its many paths to victory. It has as many or more paths to victory than Settlers with Cities and Knights expansion. You can conquer pirate planets, settle ice planets, befriend alien species, build new colonies, focus on expanding your mother ship, or be daring and try to gain fame throughout the galaxy. All provide victory points. From my play so far, they seem balanced with no clear front runner. One single path is not enough to guarantee total victory, so success will go to the player who best optimises these many choices.

After each build and trade phase, you then have a move phase. This is when you roll your mother ship. If a black ball appears, it results in an encounter. One of your opponents draws a card and reads it to you. It may read like "You encounter a merchant. How many resources will you give him?" You have no knowledge of how the card will resolve. You could give him 2 resources, and be rewarded handsomely, or it could turn out to be space pirates in disguise. This provides the player a decision, but not a strategic one. The choice is fun, but it's about as deep as trying to decide heads or tails.


Game play and Mechanics

The game incorporates many basic Settlers mechanics. It has planets that provide different resources, with die rolls matching numbers on planets that determine what resources are produced. It also has the trading mechanic. All of these are fun and work just as well in Starfarers as Settlers.

There's no pirate that moves on 7 rolls. There's also a stack of Earth cards. It's a stack of random resources. On each of these turns you'll draw one card from Earth stack. This way, you'll always get at least one card on your turn. No robber combined with guaranteed resources eliminates any of the negative play experiences that people can have in Settlers. While there's no negative play experiences, it takes away some conflict.


Overall

If you're considering Starfarers and haven't tried Settlers, then I would recommend just getting Settlers plus the Cities and Knights expansion. Not that this game is bad, but if you're looking for a Catan experience, just get settlers. Starfarers is kind of like a Die Hard sequel. It has a few twists, but it's pretty much more of the same. Which isn't a bad thing, especially when you're getting more of Catan.

Rating: 7
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Peter Marchlewitz
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I prefer this to the basic Settlers. I like how you can't really get cut off as you can in Settlers. I like the theme, exploration component, eye candy, etc. Highly recommend the 5/6 player expansion, with the extra planets left on for three and four players too.
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Giles Pritchard
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Thanks for a great review Chris!

I agree with you Peter, this is by far and away my favourite Settlers incarnation. This game has everything Settlers has, but doesn't seem to leave one or two players behind on the Victory Point track. This one feels very much like a race, you don't want to fall too far behind in any of the technologies, in Colonies or in Trade Stations. It's always a lot of fun.

I used to love Settlers, but will rarely play it now. On the other hand - I love Starfarers, and will rarely turn down a game.

Not to take anything away from your review though Chris!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

Cheers.

Giles.
 
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Simon Harris
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We seem to end up playing this quite a bit with 3. The 'official' 3-player rule (whereby you can only have 2 out of 3 colony 'spots' occupied per star system) forces players to head off into deep space sooner rather than later.
At first flush, the amount of player interaction is minimal, however you don't want to get left behind in the technology race (especially for cannons and less so for boosters). The problem being when you face an encounter and the card says something like 'you must fight pirates - another randomly selected player takes the part of the pirate'. If you are behind in the arms race, you are going lose more often than not.

Simon
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Greg Cornell
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You don't think playing with 2 players would be fun? I've played the two-player version using the rules posted by Steve Wessels (fastfingers) and found it very satisfying. Nobody dominated the game and it was a race to the end. Games can last around 2-3 hours. The 5-6 player expansion is used for these rules and you are limited to only placing one settlement per player in each star system so you are forced to expand out across the board. Resources come fairly quickly so you can build ships and explore faster than in a 3 or 4 player game. I suggest checking it out if you only have one player who wants to play a game with you.
 
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Chris
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Though here at journey's end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell: I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell.
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Dredry Toenail wrote:
You don't think playing with 2 players would be fun? I've played the two-player version using the rules posted by Steve Wessels (fastfingers) and found it very satisfying. Nobody dominated the game and it was a race to the end. Games can last around 2-3 hours. The 5-6 player expansion is used for these rules and you are limited to only placing one settlement per player in each star system so you are forced to expand out across the board. Resources come fairly quickly so you can build ships and explore faster than in a 3 or 4 player game. I suggest checking it out if you only have one player who wants to play a game with you.


Thanks for the tip. I checked out the two player version. It looks like it could be worth trying.
 
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Chris Kubik
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Keep in mind also that there actually is a 2 player game called StarShip Catan that is a sort of adapted version of this StarFarers. Its actually quite good, albeit not as elaborate.
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