STAR TREK CATAN (Mayfair Games, 3 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, about 75-90 minutes; $55)
Very often in games we see style over substance, particularly when it comes to licensed properties. Generally, the belief is that the license will sell the merchandise no matter what so what you usually get is a picture slapped on a box containing assorted cardboard with very little play value. But there are, fortunately, exceptions to that rule, the latest exception being Star Trek Catan. If you are familiar with games at all, Catan should be a recognizable name and this licensed property draws on the award winning The Settlers of Catan (Fall 1994 GA Report) as designer Klaus Teuber applies his original design to the Star Trek Universe.
Those familiar with The Settlers of Catan will find playing Star Trek Catan a cinch. It follows all the rules and regulations of the original game. For those unfamiliar with the original, a brief overview.
Catan is played on a map consisting of tiles placed (either following a suggested pattern in the rules or randomly) to make a large hex playing board. Each tile represents an area (planets in this case) that will generate resources. (In Star Trek Catan, the resources available include oxygen [white], water [blue], food [yellow], tritanium [red] and dilithium [green]). One area produces nothing [asteroids] but is the starting point for the Klingon warship [which serves the function of the Robber in the original]). Areas are randomly numbered from 2 to 12 (no 7).
Players start with 2 starships and 2 outposts (in their chosen color). Outposts are placed at corners where planets meet; starships are placed on the connections between outposts and other corners. Each turn follows a set pattern: roll the dice, collect resources, trade and build.
The active player rolls the dice. The number rolled indicates which planets produce resources. Players with outposts (or starbases) bordering those planets get the resources those planets produce. But what if a 7 is rolled? In that case, the Klingons come into play.
The player who rolled the 7 moves the Klingon warship to the planet of his choice. That planet will NOT produce resources (and will NEVER produce resources as long as the Klingon ship remains there). But there's more. All players holding more than 7 resource cards in their hand LOSE half of their cards (rounded down). These cards are returned to supply. Finally, the player who moved the Klingons may now randomly swipe a resource card from any player who has an outpost or starbase at that planet. After the dice roll (no matter what number is rolled), the active player may trade with other players (to get resources needed), even trade with "trading posts" on the board if an outpost has been built at a particular border (you can always exchange four of a particular resource for 1 of another but trading posts offer a more advantageous 3:1 or 2:1 exchange), and then use collected resources to build starships and outposts (by handing in the required resources and placing the new pieces onto the board), upgrade outposts to starbases (noted by "crowning" them with one of their pieces) and/or buy development cards.
Development cards come in three varieties. One simply awards Victory Points to the lucky player. These are played at the end of the game to add to a player's VP total. Some are Progress cards which allow you to pick up needed resources. The third type is Starfleet Intervenes.
Starfleet Intervenes cards act as if you rolled a 7. When played (Development cards may only be played on turns AFTER first getting them), that card remains in front of the player. The player who first places 3 of these gets the Strongest Starfleet card (worth 2 Victory Points). That player will keep that card as long as no other player has more Starfleet Intervenes cards. (If someone manages to put down more of these cards, then THAT player takes the card AND the 2 VPs.) Having the longest string of starships (the longest "road" in the original game) also grants a 2 VP bonus which remains with the player unless someone builds a longer string. Built outposts are worth 1 VP and starbases are worth 2 VPs. As mentioned, previously acquired Development cards may also award VPs. The first player to amass a total of 10 Victory Points wins!
The game does a wonderful job in capturing the Star Trek ambiance particularly in the plastic models of the Starship Enterprise and Klingon warship. It is also a pleasure to see Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Chekov and the others make an appearance in the game as "Support Cards" which are the only significant difference between this game and the original Settlers. (For some reason, the artwork portrays the Star Trek characters as their "older", movie, versions rather than how we first encountered them in the original television series.)
Ten Support Cards are available and, at the start of play, each player is specifically assigned one of these. These cards allow you to bend the rules of the game. For example, Spock allows you to take any resource as "compensation" if a number (not a 7) is rolled and you receive no resources, Kirk not only makes you immune to the Klingons but if you have less than 7 resources, you may TAKE one resource of your choice. But all Support cards are beneficial. The twist here is that after using a Support card, you are faced with a choice. Flip it to the B side and use it for a second time on a subsequent turn OR exchange it for one of the remaining Support cards not already claimed. (If you choose to hold the card, you MUST turn it in after its second use.) My initial concern about these cards was that they would unbalance the game. Fortunately, the concern proved to be unfounded. In our sessions, the cards actually enhanced play and offered a new set of meaningful decisions to make. The "Star Trek Catan Almanac" gives detailed rules and its back page nicely lists all the cards and their powers. The cards also display text but in a font so small and italicized as to make it difficult to read. We suggest making copies of the back page of the Almanac and distributing them to players as a welcome play aid. And, as long as we're talking about difficulty in seeing, the six sided dice provided with the game carry on the space motif by being black with white specks (stars?) on them. Combine that with the red and blue used for pips and you have dice that are harder to read than they should be.
"To boldly go where no man has gone before" was the mission statement of Star Trek. Star Trek Catan doesn't quite follow the mission as it draws heavily on its predecessor, the wildly successful The Settlers of Catan. But it does something almost as impressive by managing to stay true to its game roots while successfully evoking the mystique of the Star Trek Universe. The result is a successful Settlers entry that will please both devotees of the Settlers and Star Trek franchises and should and deserves to, in the words of Mr. Spock, "live long and prosper". - - - - - - - - - Herb Levy