Note: This review pertains to a “Reskin” of Settlers of Catan. Unlike expansions that require the base game to play, a reskin instead takes the game and re-releases largely unchanged except for a new theme. We are assuming that you are familiar with the base game, or at least have read its review.
Captain’s log, stardate 51641.4: The Enterprise has been recalled from its mission of exploration to take part in a new venture that the Federation Economic Board is calling the Commercial Acquisition and Transportation Affairs Network. In the past, on Earth as well as other planets, nations would enter into friendly competition, pitting their citizens against each other in displays of martial and athletic might for the pride of their homeland. While my first officer might disagree, humanity has evolved past such dated standards of achievement.
Instead, several charter members of the Federation have agreed to compete through the economic development of a sparsely colonized area of space located within Federation borders. Four teams have already established outposts in the sector and have reviewed sensor data provided by Starfleet survey teams. In the coming weeks, they will harvest resources from the sector’s eighteen planets and moons while expanding their networks of trading posts and supply routes. The team that shows itself most capable of encouraging economic growth will gain prestige and a larger voice on the Economic Board.
Unfortunately, this sector of space is near the Neutral Zone, raising the specter of Klingon interference. For this reason, the U.S.S. Enterprise and the U.S.S. Hood have been assigned patrol duty for the duration of this exercise. The Organian Peace Treaty is still in effect, keeping any incidents from escalating to a full war, although raiding may still be a threat. Since this is a high profile project, some at Starfleet Command have also seen this as an opportunity to reinforce the non-military, scientific aspects that makes up Starfleet’s core purpose.
To that end, several members of the Enterprise command staff, myself included, have been made available to the CATAN competitors as consultants. While my senior staff is off the ship, the U.S.S. Hood will assume primary peacekeeping duties. I have every confidence that my crew will comport themselves in a manner befitting representatives of Starfleet and of this ship.
In this re-imagining of Settlers of Catan, players are not building and advancing their own small tracts of land on an uninhabited island. Instead, they explore and harvest resources from a small sector of space set in the Star Trek universe. The goal is still the same – be the first to reach 10 VP by creating the most successful territory on the map possible – but it now takes place over many light-years.
Rules Creep Factor
As with most reskins, Star Trek Catan functions largely unchanged from the normal Settlers of Catan, and anyone familiar with Settlers can easily play this one.
Most of the differences are cosmetic, not thematic. All the way down the list of Catan components, everything has been remodeled to be Star Trek: instead of Wood, Brick, Grain, Sheep and Ore, we have, respectively, Dilithium, Tritanium, Food, Oxygen and Water.
Moreover, all of the colored Terrain hexes are now differently colored Planets, Roads are represented by Starships, and Settlements and Cities have become Outposts and Starbases. The Robber now moves about the board as a Klingon cruiser. Even the Developments, card for card, have been re-themed.
There are only two actual rule changes from the original Catan. First, a player may not build a Starship (Road) if an opponent’s Outpost is blocking the way. Players who traditionally tend to play more aggressively by cutting off opponents’ Settlements may find this slightly annoying, but it’s not really game-changing.
The second, and much larger difference, is the inclusion of ten new double-sided Support cards. These cards, each bearing the face of a character from the original Star Trek series, offer various abilities for the players to use once per turn. At the start of the game each player receives one Support card, with Side A face up. When a player uses a Support ability, they choose to either flip the card to Side B, or return it to the supply and choose a different Support card from those available. The B Side of these cards has the same ability, but once the Support ability on Side B is used, you must exchange it for another from the supply. Therefore, you can use a character twice, at most, before they must be traded in. You are able to choose that card again at a later point, but you cannot take back the same character you just turned in.
Each of these cards provide a different effect. For example, Chekov allows you to move the Klingon before rolling for production, giving you a resource from whatever planet it just left. Sulu allows you to move your Starships after they’ve been placed. And Scotty lets you build Starships without the usual resource restrictions.
Of the ten Support cards, all but two of them can only be used on your turn (the exceptions being, naturally, Kirk and Spock). Kirk allows you to avoid discarding whenever a 7 is rolled, while Spock compensates you by providing a resource of your choice if you wouldn’t otherwise receive any that turn.
These cards add some more unpredictability to the game, but more importantly they give you options. Interestingly, their inclusion is very similar to the fan-made Cosmic Catan variant, but that they constantly shuffle in and out of the supply is a great addition. While certain Support cards are stronger in some situations than others, they all make a noticeable impact on the game.
The physical quality of the pieces also deserves special note. Anyone familiar with the Star Trek Micro Machines – or any Trek ship model – knows how flimsy warp nacelles can be. The Starship models in Catan are surprisingly sturdy and hold up over time far better than you’d expect.
The Outposts are also modeled well, and the simplicity of the Starbase upgrade is nicely done. The cards are a little thinner than the originals, but while their ability to hold up over time might be affected after many playthroughs, it isn’t a major issue.
The question becomes, then, how does Star Trek Catan compare with the original?
Unsurprisingly for a reskin, from a gameplay perspective your opinion on Catan won’t change much based on this version. For example, Strikers won’t like the uptick in randomness the Support cards generate as they feel the game is already chancy enough, and while Tacticians will be be enticed by some of the new strategic options the cards present, the variety of effects and quick turnover rates makes what is already a difficult game to plan around even more so. On the other hand, if you like Settlers of Catan, you’ll likely also enjoy Star Trek Catan.
The reverse is not a guarantee, however. Granted, this version does have a lot of flavor going for it: we particularly enjoy how appropriate each Support ability is tied to the characters. (McCoy and Chapel are a bit of a stretch, but still…) The models are well done, the resources are clever, and placing Starships on a hex grid is always fun.
But, it doesn’t feel like a Star Trek adventure.
All the necessary pieces and portraits are present, but the rules haven’t changed. It’s still enjoyable and recommended for fans of either the Catan of Star Trek franchises, but part of the reason to play a Star Trek-themed version is to entertain your inner Trekkie. For Star Trek Immersionists, this feels like a missed opportunity. To that end, because no Star Trek experience would be complete without a devoted fan ranting about “what wasn’t right”, here’s our list of plot inconsistencies:
- For starters, the front of the box should look as above. The images are all from the movies The Wrath of Khan through The Undiscovered Country. Mayfair likely bought the rights from Paramount and not CBS, which would explain why the ship and crew don’t look like their younger, Original Series selves, but it would have made some nice consistency.
- How and why are members of the Enterprise competing against each other? Is the Enterprise darting back and forth during each player’s turn? Is Kirk allowing them to take turns as acting captain?
- “Space Roads”. These possess the same thematic problem as “Sea Roads” in Seafarers of Catan. A physical Road needs Clay and Wood. However, a sea or space lane is not a physical object. You do not lay a foundation for vehicles to move over. Are we nailing ships together to form a solid surface to walk over? At least with the Explorers and Pirates expansion you build ships, and they go on voyages. That’s logical.
- If Space Roads represent Exclusive Trade Routes that other members of Starfleet / The Federation cannot use, why would Starfleet want that, exactly?
- While it’s understandable to emphasize brand recognition using iconic imagery, a heavy cruiser representing Federation supply lanes is overkill. Moreover, the Robber (the Klingon Battlecruiser) would go down in history for maintaining its activities in the face of that many Constitution Class vessels.
The introduction of Star Trek into the Catan franchise does not at first glance appear to be a very intuitive one. Despite the original show’s focus on exploration, most Star Trek games tend to be starship combat scenarios, with individual adventure arcs trailing much farther behind. Conversely, the Catan series of board games centers on network building and trading. While the two are in no way incompatible, a game that truly reflects the spirit of both would require a slight rules overhaul. This is not quite that game. You will not find a heftier science-fiction game with Starship battles here.
Instead, Star Trek Catan feels more like a Settlers of Catan variant. The addition of Support cards are a nice way to spice up your Catan experience with something just a little different, but they don’t alter the game enough to make it feel like it’s something altogether unique. For fans of Catan, this is a viable alternative to the stock uninhabited island locale of the original. For those considering the game based on the Star Trek theme, it’s a little trickier. The game does a great job of recreating Catan with look of a Star Trek setting, but it doesn’t reinvent the warp drive. Still, if you’d rather be trading in Dilithium than Sheep, this could be the Catan for you.
Star Trek Catan is a product of Mayfair Games.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4.5
Replay Value: 4
Physical Quality 4.5
Overall Score: 4