Tibs Manor

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

First Impressions - Starfarers

Last week at the Wednesday night after-work gaming session, we played Alan's latest acquisition - Starfarers of Catan. This standalone spinoff is several years old but I have never gotten a chance to play it, and being a big fan of most things Catan, I was quite excited. The rules on this one are a little longer than Settlers of Catan, but there is a lot that is shared with that title, so we were up and running fairly quickly.

I have to say that I liked it quite a bit. First of all the theme is really well integrated with the mechanics. Lots of little touches really make you feel like you are out exploring the galaxy. The encounter cards are a bit of luck, but since some are bad and some are good it tended to even out in our game. The alien alliances were definitely cool. They take the place of ports in the original game, but also add some other tweaks to the system, like extra production of a given resource, another way to accumulate victory points, etc. There is no robber (you can still lose cards if a 7 is rolled, but at least there is no production blockade) which was nice, although it's possible that removing the main way to rein in the leader will have adverse effects.

What didn't I like? The length was one thing - sure, it was a learning game, but we had to call it a night around 8pm and still were at least 30 minutes from finishing. That should come down with experience. There was also a lot less trading in this game than in vanilla Catan. Hopefully that was a result of none of us really knowing what our long term goals were or how to evaluate scarcity of resources, as the trading is an aspect that makes Catan shine. The price is another con - Starfarers has an MSRP of $60. It can be had for mid 40s, but you are paying for a lot of plastic that is mostly there for looks. It's been complained about ad nauseam, but the fragile mothership models really are a problem. We all knew they were delicate and still managed to break one in our game. It doesn't affect things at all, but for a pricy game that is quite frustrating.

All in all, assuming that the time can come down a bit, and that trading loosens up as we gain experience, I like Starfarers quite a bit. It scratches the same itch that Catan does, but in many ways it does it better. There are numerous routes to victory, and lots of choices each turn. The cost is a definite concern, and it's not exactly an entry-level game, but I really liked it.


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