Board Stiff: Star Trek Catan

Board Stiff

Our mission: To explore strange new worlds; To seek out new life and new civilizations; To boldly go where no man has gone before. ~Oooooo Ahhhhhh ooo ahhh ahhhh ahh ahhh ooo~

~Aaahh ooooo Ahh ah ahh ahh ooooo Ahhhh aaaaaahhh aaaah oooo Ooooo ooo Aaah~

~Aaahh ooooo Ahh ah ahh ahh ooooo Ahhhh aaaaaahhh aaaah oooo Ooooo ooo Aaah~

(Nurse! She’s doing it again! The pills! The pills! Quickly! — Pete)

Quite honestly, I think my work here this week is done. Gripping intro from our childhoods, picture of an Enterprise on the cover of a game box. Yep, done.

Oh, I’m sorry, you’re still here? (Yes. — Pete) You want to know why you should drop your hard earned cash on this game? (Yes. Please. — Pete) Having Star Trek emblazoned across the top of the box isn’t good enough for you? Fine. Settle in.

For the most part, anyone that’s played Settlers of Catan can pick up and run with this game. Each element of the original classic has been replaced by something from the Star Trek universe. Your roads are now gorgeous mini Enterprises, and your settlements are Outposts, which upgrade to Starbases. The board is made up of multicolored planets floating around an asteroid field, in which a Klingon Bird of Prey lurks, waiting for a seven to be rolled. The resources up for grabs are now Tritanium, Oxygen, Water, Dilithium, and Food. The building costs are the same, once you figure out the conversion (Dilithium is wood, Tritanium brick, Water stone, Oxygen sheep, Food wheat).

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You lose the old “wood for sheep” joke with this game, and instead get the “Dilithium for oxygen” joke, which just doesn’t make as much sense. And is most likely explosive.

The real difference between this version of Catan and the original game is in the Development deck. The Development deck for Star Trek Catan consists of only two types of cards: Victory Points and Star Fleet Intervenes cards. The Victory Point cards are self explanatory. The Star Fleet Intervenes cards are the Star Trek equivalent of the Knights card from the base game, allowing you to move the Klingon Bird of Prey either before or during your turn. All the other cards you’d normally find in the Development deck have been pulled out and their many actions assigned to Character Cards.

I’m such a ST:TNG nerd that I feel like they’re being racist making the Klingons the robber. Anyone else with me on this?

I’m such a ST:TNG nerd that I feel like they’re being racist making the Klingons the robber. Anyone else with me on this?

Character Cards are where this game gets interesting. At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a Character Card, which grants them a unique ability they may use on their turn, or in Kirk’s case, as an interrupt when the Klingons move. For the most part, the abilities granted are similar to those you’d find in the basic Settlers of Catan game, like build roads for other resources, steal resources from other players, or build an Outpost for cheaper. Once an ability has been used, the player can flip their Character Card to its B side to allow them to use it at another time, or they can exchange it for a new Character they’ll be able to use next turn.

Scotty can beam me up any time, if you know what I mean.

Scotty can beam me up any time, if you know what I mean.

Because the only way to get rid of a Character is to use it, you want to make sure you pick the one that makes the most sense for what you can do right then and there. Picking up Sarek because you plan on building an Outpost as soon as you get the resources isn’t nearly as useful as picking up Uhura, who can help you get those resources now. Kirk is a good default if you’re hoarding resources, but you can’t exchange him until a seven is rolled, which could be for forever. Getting stuck with a Character ability you don’t want because of poor planning, or worse, it was the only thing worth taking, can definitely break your flow. Of course, so can bad dice rolls, but at least those can be blamed on the universe.

Settlers of Catan is one of those games where everyone I know is excited to play about once every few months, because that’s how long it takes to forget the misery that was the last game. If the dice are against the whole table, it can make for a horrible experience for everyone. You can’t build or do anything and the robber just lets you shuffle around the meager resources you’ve collected. The nice thing about the Character Cards in Star Trek Catan is that for the most part, you’re not stuck depending on resources to use them. If the whole game is stalled, you can at least wiggle a little bit to loosen the stranglehold of a drought or food shortage. And I do mean wiggle. They’re not as powerful as some of the base game’s Development Cards, like Year of Plenty, which gives you resources from the bank, but at least they don’t cost anything to get, and getting the card isn’t by chance. (Pro tip: If you’re in a personal drought for resources, Spock is the card for you. He lets you gain a resource when you don’t get one from the die roll.)

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Maybe that’s why I like this game, because it removes some of the elements of chance. In the base game you can strategize until you’re blue in the face, but it still comes down to dice rolls and cards drawn. With this version, you at least have some control over what unique abilities you get. The Character Cards have a little bit of weight behind them to help you control your galactic destiny, but you’re still tied to those damn dice. Dice that you’re pretty sure aren’t even weighted properly.

Alright, so I’ll admit it. This game might not be the Catan you’re looking for. If you like the base game enough and are looking for something to expand on it (or make it better), this game probably isn’t it. It’s pretty, but for the most part, it really is just a new theme tacked onto the original game mechanics. There’s nothing new and exciting in this game aside from the introduction of Character Cards, which aren’t really worth the full cost of the game if that’s the only reason you’re buying it. You’re much better off buying the Cities and Knights expansion for the original game than Star Trek Catan. This game is targeted to the audience that is in love with Star Trek. The players that giggle in delight as they line up their little Enterprises and fight over who gets to start as Kirk or Spock. (Pro Tip: Scotty is the best.) This is a game that’s really just for Star Trek fans that just happen to like Settlers of Catan, too.

More Board?

Mayfair Games seems to make a point to release something Catan related at least once a year. Some of the games released are more than just a re-theme and some aren’t. Usually the one thing that stays constant with these games is the hexagonal maps and die rolls for resource production. If that particular mechanic turns you off from Catan, I completely understand. I’m not generally a fan of games where a die determines your fate, but there are still good Catan games out there.

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If you like Catan but you feel like it’s missing something, I highly recommend the Cities and Knights expansion. You’ll never want to play the base game without it again. It introduces a different mechanic for Knights that make them useful for something other than moving the robber, and, also, there’s now Barbarians threatening the whole island!

Settlers of America is part of the Catan Histories line of Catan games, and can basically be described as Settlers of Catan meets Ticket to Ride. That’s right, it’s Catan with trains. Sadly, this game has been out of stock for a while now, but there are other Catan Histories games out there that offer a bit of history for your game nights.

Also! Coming soon is a new expansion to the base game, Explorers and Pirates, which looks to be an interesting addition to the line. You can read about it, along with some stories, at Klauss’ blog on Catan.com.

This isn’t an extensive list of all the Catan games and expansions out there, but that’s what Google is for. I’m just here to stand on a soap box. Speaking of, what games have you been playing lately? Is there anything new coming out that you’re excited about?

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Board Stiff is GrE’s first foray into the deep, dark, cardboard-smelling realms of analog gaming. Boards, cards or dice, it doesn’t matter, our writer Tiffany will play them all. Follow her on Twitter here.

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