Review: Star Trek Catan (Board Game)
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Who needs hay, gold and roads, when you can have phasers, lithium and galaxies?...
Long before the phrase ‘gaming with friends’ became synonymous with firing up Xbox Live and rampaging across digital battlefields wearing headsets and shouting (mostly) good-natured abuse at your mates in different houses (or countries), I would regularly get together with several of my chums, often accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, and we’d spend a few hours playing board games. Our games of choice back then included the likes of Kings & Things, Judge Dredd and Talisman, all produced by the then-fledgling Games Workshop. Unfortunately, as we got older and scattered to the four winds, this regular ritual was lost to the mists of time. Or so I thought...
About seven years ago, after listening to me reminisce about my beloved gaming past, my wife and step-children introduced me to a board game that they regularly played and thought I might like called The Settlers Of Catan. I instantly fell in love with it and we’ve regularly played ever since, so when the opportunity arose to review a copy of Star Trek Catan, it seemed like the perfect combination of two of my passions.
Set your phasers to info
For those unfamiliar with the original game, the object is to develop colonies on the island of Catan, represented by a series of hexagonal tiles that, bar one, each yield a particular type of resource that are harvested by way of a player’s die roll. These resources (brick, grain, wood, wool and ore) may be used to build roads, settlements and cities or be traded amongst players. The odd tile out represents a desert area, and is the start point for a robber who, on the roll of a seven, can be used to steal a rival’s resource or temporarily block production in a particular hex. Victory Points are awarded for the number of settlements and cities established, with extra points available to the player who currently has the longest stretch of unbroken road or the largest army, and the first to ten points is the winner.
This latest deep space incarnation of the franchise, set in Star Trek’s Original Series era, is essentially the same game with the same gameplay mechanics, but with starships, outposts and starbases replacing roads, settlements and cities. The board’s hexagonal tiles now depict vibrantly-hued planets that yield Starfleet-friendly resources in the form of dilithium, tritanium, food, oxygen and water; and the dastardly robber has become a beautifully sculpted Klingon Bird Of Prey that emerges from an asteroid field.
The original’s roads have become space supply routes represented by tiny detailed Enterprises that sit atop clear plastic bases and appear to hover above the board, and the outposts and starbases are magnificent miniature sculptures, the latter in the form of an impressive saucer-shaped structure that interconnects with – and sits atop – the upright cylindrical former.
So the board looks great, the pieces are magnificent, even the two dice are flecked with a star field effect, but what of the actual gameplay? Previous Catan players will be up and running just as soon as the play pieces have been assembled (perhaps the only bugbear of the game, though it’s a minor one, as each starship, outpost and starbase must be affixed to their clear bases at the start of each game due to a lack of space in the box to store them assembled), and will take the only addition to the rules, a series of ten Support Cards, in their stride. These cards depict the famous faces of the Enterprise crew and allow each player the opportunity to use their chosen character’s abilities to bend the rules in a minor fashion, and rather than being change for change’s sake they do actually add something to the mix.
An enterprising concept
Though the box suggests that a Star Trek Catan session will take in the region of 75 minutes, the reality is that by the time players have spent time considering trades and making and breaking alliances this, in common with classic Catan, stretches to more like twice that, but this is no bad thing. Catan is one of the most entertaining and enjoyable games that I’ve ever played, and an evening spent in the company of friends indulging in a couple of sessions can be, for my money (and I speak as an enthusiastic electronic gamer here) even better fun that an evening on Xbox Live.
One interesting thing that we all noted as experienced Catan players, though, was while Star Trek Catan is essentially the same as classic Catan, the fact that it has a space setting and not what could be considered, at a stretch, a historical setting made it feel like a very different, but no less enjoyable experience. If you already own Catan then this edition may not be different enough from the classic version to warrant picking it up, but if you’re a Trek fan as well then the joy of playing such a brilliant game set in the Trek universe makes it an essential purchase.
The very concept of sitting down with friends and having a gaming session that doesn’t include holding a controller in your hands for several hours is one that may be alien to many of you reading this, but if you’ve never experienced Catan before, then I urge you to try to boldly seek a new experience and settle down with family and/or friends for a session of Star Trek Catan.
After all, to try it would be the only logical choice...
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