Star Trek Catan – Review

Title   Star Trek Catan
Developer  Distrubuted by Esdevium Games
Publisher  Mayfair Games
Platform  Board Game
Genre  Catan/Strategy
Release Date  2012

For a website called GamingLives, you’d rightly guess that we rarely cover anything other than video games. Don’t get me wrong, we cover a huge variety of them – everything from Call of Duty to Train Simulator, but we were recently asked to review a type of game that came before multiplayer required everyone to be in separate rooms: the board game, Star Trek Catan.  There are few things that bring a group of people together like a good board game. You’ll notice I said “people” and not “gamers”, and that’s because, more often than not, you will find yourself playing a board game with your parents, grandparents or your kids – not exactly hardcore gamers.

I assembled an elite team of players in the form of my dad and my little brother, as they were the only people I could get to play the game with me at the time. Between them, my dad represents a player who loves Star Trek and has watched it for a long while. He does lack the spock ears but it’s his birthday soon, so that might change.  My little brother, on the other hand, is not a fan of Sci-Fi. Actually, when we first sat down he picked up a card with Captain Kirk’s picture on it and asked if he could be Han Solo [I just died – Ed.]. He does love board games though, and does have an incredibly annoying winning streak over me in Warhammer 40k. In any case, we had a decent spectrum of players and could get on with learning how to play Catan.

The Catan series of board games started in the early 90s in Germany with Settlers of Catan. It involved players settling on the island of Catan, trading resources and building villages and cities. It became a bit of a hit in Germany and seems to have a bit of a cult following and a number of additions to the series, but these all maintain this principle of expansion and trade to achieve victory.  In this Star Trek edition, players settle the final frontier, working to build outposts and trade lanes while fending off the Klingons. Taking turns, each player builds or trades to earn victory points, with the first to ten victory points winning the game. There is a strategic element to this, however, as resources are given to players randomly. If you over-spend early on you may find yourself with a quick boost of victory points, but then lack the resources to build or trade later on. On the other hand, if you decided to play it safe and take it slow, you may have to give some of your collected resources back as they spoil over time.

All of this keeps games moving at a pretty quick pace – we finished ours in around two hours and this seems to be about the standard, which was pretty good as we were all beginners. It’s a fairly simple game to pick up, but due to the number of elements (including cards and the board itself), it can appear to be a lot more complicated than first seems. In the box you will find a large number of pieces, such as little plastic star ships and outposts instantly recognisable from the original TV show. All of these are of a very high quality, something I wasn’t expecting when I first opened the box. The game’s board is made up of a high quality cardboard frame and a number of hexagonal planet tiles. The tiles allow players to create their own random board games, although this isn’t really advised for new players. Unfortunately I missed this bit in the instructions and created my own random frontier (this excuse will be used later on).

At the start players get two outposts and two ships, along with a support card. The support cards are character cards based on the crew from the original TV series and movies; each character gives the player a bonus that they can use twice before having to swap it out for another card. Dice are then rolled to determine what planets and, subsequently, which players receive resources to fund their galactic domination.

While all this is happening, if a player rolls a seven then they can move the Klingon battle cruiser, steal resources and generally disrupt the operations of another player. My dad and little brother used this as a great opportunity to gang up on me, which I feel was purely based on me being the better looking member of our little group, meaning every time the Klingons moved they seemed to end up on one of my planets, messing up my carefully planned schemes. This adds another element to an already pretty interesting strategy game, as in retaliation for this kind of strategy I held back resources they needed.

In the end my little brother won, thanks to my poorly laid out map (he literally had all of the Tritanium) and lucky card draws (down to my poor shuffling). As he danced about the table doing a little victory dance and my dad went back to watch TV and never think about the game again, I pondered how much fun Star Trek Catan actually was. It turns out, despite the lack of anything blowing up or cutting edge graphics, you can have a good time for a few hours with a board game. I may not have won, but it was fun to sit down, listen to some very poor Star Trek jokes and play with a dice for a few hours.

Star Trek Catan focuses on trade and expansion; there is very little combat, but there is a large amount of strategy involved. Players’ relationships become tangled up in the trades and Klingon actions, while each player tries to balance the number of resources they have to the speed of their expansion. The game board is great quality and the pieces and cards are all to a very high finish. I do think the designers missed a trick with the character cards; it would have been nice to see some famous quotes from the character or maybe a little description of who they are, and there were a few characters in there from the original series I didn’t know. Still, when I asked my dad and little brother if they had had fun playing, they both said yes. Is there anything more you can ask from a game, video or tabletop?

    High quality board and pieces Lots of strategic thinking
    Support/Character cards were a little bit of a let down

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  1. Keegan Keegan says:

    Lies! It’s all lies! Nothing could be fun if there are no explosions and helicopter shooting sequences!

    Seriously though, I do quite like boardgames and I like the look of this. All the plotting a scheming could be fun and lording it over the losers, well, that’s always the best part of a game.

  2. Stu Stu says:

    I’ve seen Catan pop up a few times in various conversation threads but never realised it had become so popular as to spawn special editions.

    After reading this review I’d happily sit down and have a game of this…I just need to find a couple of friends first! Might even take a gander at the xbox live version of basic Catan and see what that’s like. :)

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