DIE STERNENFAHRER VON CATAN


By Klaus Teuber, published by Kosmos Mayfair Games.

The title I think translates to something like "Starfarers of Catan". It is published by Kosmos, and designed by Klaus Teuber.

This is one of the latest and most expensive variants of the tremendously successful "Settlers of Catan" series. In this, the settlers of Catan have settled the whole of the Earth, and are now ready to move out into the rest of the galaxy.

Justifying the cost, are the bits. This is a "bit-intensive" game. The board is big and stout, and shows the home/start planets at one end, and a scatter of unexplored planets elsewhere on the board, and four species of aliens to be encountered, two on each side of the board. All of these are linked by the familiar, large, hex-grids of all the Catan games.

Each player has a large space ship, in which one could easily imagine Buster Crabbe flying with gritted teeth. With this, a player keeps records of his people's technology and achievements, by adding or subtracting various plastic moulded add-ons. The number of extra engine pieces determines how quickly his people's ships can travel over the board, the number of guns how well they will fight if they need to (space is full of pirates), cargo rings around the belly of the ship tell him how well his people will survive on cold planets, and how much he can offer to the aliens in trade. The ships also act as dice. Each has a few coloured balls which rattle around inside, before two come to rest in a transparent cup at the bottom end of the ship.

The game starts like other Catan games, with players placing their colonies on the home planets, next to planets which offer one of the five resources: carbon, technology, food, energy, and good old-fashioned rock. Every turn, a player rolls 2d6 and the effects of this are the same as in other Catan games: players next to planets with the number rolled get the resources produced by those planets. Players also shake their space-ships and consult a little table to see what they have rolled. The coloured balls determine how far ships can be moved, and whether a black card is to come into effect (which often they do).

Black cards are read out by another player, and they have on them flow-charts. These are all in German, and English translations have to be pasted over the top. These say things like "You receive a distress call from a ship about to crash into a sun, do you go to its rescue?" For doing good things, like rescuing ships, players get glory points, and these are lost for doing bad things. There is usually a risk in doing good things, however. Usually, the risk is resolved by pitting one player against another, so a particular set of choices made in the flow-chart might lead to a box saying "Make a movement roll and the player to your left should make one too", then lines lead from this box labelled "faster than other player" and "slower than other player", which lead to the outcome.

Players send out ships to visit other planets, and when they get to them, they get to see what resource numbers the planets have, and then they can choose whether to colonise them or not. Resources are needed to build ships, and to upgrade them.

Another way to get ahead, is to trade with aliens, and to befriend them. It takes a while to get to them, though, and later in the game, other players might win the aliens' affection from you. Mind you, the rewards are great.

The game is Settlers of Catan at heart, except that the board is very big, and so it can take a while to get anywhere, and each turn is a bit more complicated, especially if a black card is to be played. This is its downfall. It is pretty much the same game, only slower, longer, and more frustrating. Once one player has started to do badly, he has very little chance of catching up, and, in a game as long as this, this is a big frustration. If the other players have more engines, then they can zip across the board faster, colonise more planets, do more trade with aliens, and become faster still. Catching up becomes harder and harder. Another problem is that the game is likely to be won long before players are strong enough to do some of the more interesting things, such as colonise pirate planets (one needs a LOT of guns to do this). Once one player has the required number of victory points, the game is over for all.

Overall, I'd say that this game is a good way to appreciate how good the original game of Settlers of Catan is. Starfarers looks interesting, and fans of Catan will like giving it a try, but I doubt that they'd choose to play it very often.



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