That one not so much
Ohh that tickles
As well as for many people being THE gateway game, Settlers of Catan has started it’s own family of games. These include Catan histories, Settlers of the Stone Age and The Struggle for Rome, Catan Adventures, Candamir and Elasund, recently the first Catan geographies Germany and the no series name Starfarers of Catan. (And lots of other, limited editions, spin-offs and expansions)
My favourite of them all is Starfarers so I thought I would share some of the reasons why with you.
What’s it all about?
As with all Catan games, it’s about victory points. In this edition your task is to explore the galaxy, establish colonies on distant planets, make alliances with Alien races, defeat space pirates and terra-form ice planets. Sounds easy huh? As a real break from Catan tradition though, your victory point target is 15. (I know quite a shock)
What’s in the Box?
Loads and loads of stuff. This game has probably the most stuff this side of Fantasy Flight big box game, and it might just have more than some of them. It has a fairly large board (Not quite Eagle games size), six sections in all. Which although having a lot of dark colours on it (it is space after all), somehow manages to seem very bright. It has a hex grid superimposed over it. In common with other Catan games you use the hex sides rather than the hexes themselves. All ship movement is along hex sides.
Again a bit like a Fantasy Flight big box, there are lots of cards. Mostly these are resources, like in settlers. But there is some bad news here, there are no space sheep in this game. Resources are Food, Fuel, Ore, Carbon and Trade goods. You also get cards for four alien races that you may encounter during the game. These cards give various advantages in game. You get four ‘friendship’ tokens for the aliens. Whoever builds the best trade relations with each race during the game gets one of these. The resource tokens that are placed face down on the board at the beginning of the game. Unlike in settlers apart from your start spaces the other resource tokens (they have numbers on that determine if you get resources) are only revealed after someone builds a colony (settlement). The resource each produce is determined by the design of the planet.
There are lots of plastic pieces for each player. 3 spaceport rings, 3 transports, 9 colonies and 7 trade bases. Also one wooden victory point marker per player.
A deck of cards that are used for encounters that can happen when you move your ships
And then there are the mother ships and their parts. Did I mention the mother ships? These are big big ships and they represent your fleet. They start off in a very basic state but as the game progresses you can add enhancements to them, you can add booster to make your ships go faster, you can add weapons to fight off space pirates and you can add freight rings to help you trade with alien races. All are physically added to your ship so just by looking at it you can see it’s capabilities. There are also fame rings that attach to your mother ship.
How do you play it?
On one end of the board are the starting systems. Everyone starts there and these set your starting resources. All players start with two colonies, one starbase and one colony ship. This means you start with 4 victory points, two for the starbase and one each for the colonies. Twelve of each type of resource card are shuffled together to make a deck of random resources and each player gets three cards each. Each player also gets 1 fame ring. Fame rings attach to the top of your mother ship. Every 2 fame rings you have are worth one victory point.
Once play starts a turn goes like this:
Player rolls two dice and all players receive resource for every planet with the matching number on that they have either a colony or a spaceport next too. Here is one of the places that I think Starfarers fixes what I see as a problem with Settlers. While you have less than 9 victory points, on your turn regardless of what you roll, you take a card from the random resource pile. In Settlers it’s not uncommon (especially early in the game) to go a few turns without drawing any resources. As is usual with Catan games, you don’t get resources when you roll a seven. All players with more than seven cards have to discard half or their cards and the player who rolled the seven can take a random card from any one player.
Then the player who’s turn it is can trade and build in any order he likes. Trades can be of any amount or combination of resources that can be agreed with any other player. You can also trade with the bank. Here again it is a bit more easier than Settlers. Exchanges with the Bank are 2 for 1 with trade goods and 3 for 1 with all other resources. Players can build either new colony ships or trade ships depending on resources. When you build a new ship you attach a transport to either a colony or a trade base. You only have three transports so you can never have more than three active ships. You can upgrade a colony into a spaceport. New ships can start from any hex spine next to a spaceport. So as you move up the map it is a good idea to build another spaceport or later in the game your ships will need to travel a long way to do anything. You can also build enhancements for your mother ship, boosters to increase speed, weapons to increase combat capability and freight rings for trade purposes.
Then you move all of your ships on the board. There are four coloured balls inside the mother ships. To move you tip the mother ship and shake it. Straighten it up and two of the balls will show at the bottom of the ship. These determine the speed of all the ships you currently have active. The balls and the numbers they represent are: black 0, blue 1, yellow 2 and red 3. Add the balls value together and that is your base speed, add 1 for each booster you have plus any extra speed you may have from alien trade cards. All your ships can then move along that many hex sides.
However if either of the balls are black before moving you have an encounter. The player to the left of the current player draws the top card from the encounter deck and reads out the instructions. These encounters will be things like a friendly merchant, space pirates, ships in distress, wormwholes etc and usually the player they are affecting has to make a couple of choices which may end in something good or bad happening to them. For example if it’s a merchant they are asked to give between one and three resources to the merchant and he will give them something back. Sometimes the merchants are generous and will give you more back that they give you and sometimes give you less. If it’s space pirates normally you can fight them or run away. If you run away you will probably lose a fame ring. If you fight you shake your mother ship like you do in movement and add the total of the two balls to the number of weapons you have on your mother ship. One of the other players will do the same to represent the pirates. If the pirates have the higher total they win otherwise the player wins. If the pirates win typically you lose resources or ship enhancements, where if you win you gain resources. In both cases you usually gain a fame ring.
If you move a colony ship to the intersection between two planets you can look at the numbers under the counters, and if you like what you see you can stay there till your next go where during the build phase, you simply remove the transport ship (which you can then reuse) to found a new colony, and flip both the counters over. There are two times when you might not be able to do this. If instead of a number the counter has a pirate symbol with a number. To build a colony here you need at least as many weapons as the number on the counter. If you can do that remove the pirate counter and replace with a random resource counter. If there is a white band with a number on the planet this means it is an Ice planet and needs to be terra-formed before it can be settled. In this case you need to have as many freight rings as the number on the token. Again if you can settle there remove the ice token and replace with a random resource token.
As well as establishing colonies there are four alien races that you can establish trading bases with. Rather than sending a colony ship to them you send a trade ship. The first player to visit an alien race needs to have one freight ring to deal with them, the second needs two etc up to five. The first player to trade with each race gets their friendship token and a choice of five cards all of which give bonuses. The second player gets to choose from the four that are left etc. The Alien bonuses are things like the ability to trade two ore to the bank for any one other resource rather than three, or every time you get a food resource draw an extra one. The friendship token can be taken from you if anyone else gets more trade basis with that Alien than the first player. The trade bases are numbered and in case of a tie, whoever has the lowest numbered (the first one settled) get’s the friendship token.
So how do I win?
You get to 15 victory points before anyone else.
You earn victory points for the following:
Colony 1 point
Starbase 2 points
Friendship Token 2 points
Every 2 fame rings 1 point
Ice planet settled 1 point
Pirate base settled 1 point
What’s it like to play?
Like any Catan game it can be a bit slow at the start with limited resources. Although the fact that early on everyone gets a bonus resource does keep it moving. There is always lots to do and of course you never have the resources you really need so being a good trader really helps. Like all Settlers games, there is a fair bit of luck involved. Bottom line though is it’s a fun game to play. The components are great (Did I tell you about the mother ship?) and the play is solid. It can be a bit long (especially with the five and six player expansion) but you don’t really notice it as your having fun. It’s not a game I want to play all the time, but it’s a game I really enjoy when I do play.
Thinking about the design some more, I feel like it needs some major speed improvements. Settlements in Settlers of Catan generally get you access to 3 more resources or 2 more resources and a trade power. In this one, you get 2 new resources or if you sent a trade ship, you get a trade power or other power. That's just a couple of the differences. The goal VP is higher in starfarers.
One of my variants to speed the game up is that you all start with more settlements, you get more free resources, and revealing a planet's chip by colonizing, reveals the entire 3 planet system for everyone. You could even go so far as to reveal all chips for a system as soon as someone looks at a chip. This makes enough sense to me.
Also another variation would be to allow you get get resources from all 3 planets at a system if you have a settlement there. More resources for players = faster game.
I might just sell the game though as we rarely play it with so many other games in our collection. I'd be willing to play it one last time with my latest speed variants to see if that helps.