Thursday, August 5, 2010

Starship Catan

I played a couple games of Starship Catan today.  It was pretty fun, but it's very tippy - it seems like somebody who gets ahead early will stay ahead.  There are a number of mechanisms that reinforce this (nearly every way to get victory points also is moderately to very useful for other purposes).  The biggest is the construction of the super-modules for your spacecraft.  These are not terribly expensive, but they provide a pretty good bonus ability plus a victory point plus there is only one of each, so you block your opponent from both the victory point and the bonus ability.

The other thing that's interesting is that the two sides are fundamentally unequal - the Sun player starts building fuel cells, while the Moon player starts building carbon.  Carbon is used for weapons, fuel cells for engines, but that part of it isn't too bad - both engines and weapons are useful, and they're not entirely central to the game, so that's not a big deal.  What seems more unfair is that carbon is needed for the modules, which are very useful, especially early on, while the fuel cells are needed for trade ships and colony ships.  The trade and colony ships are nice, because they let you grab more planets, but they don't seem as useful both immediately and long-term as the modules.  This is compounded by how they're used - you need to find a planet to use a trade ship or colony ship on, while you can build a module whenever you can afford it.

In my second game, I was the sun player, and I was swimming in fuel cells but never had any carbon, so I got way behind with the modules, and then never was able to catch up or mount any kind of challenge.  The first game was more even, but as the Moon player, I had a tremendously powerful ship and most of the double-upgrade modules. 

I do applaud the effort to differentiate between the two sides, and the game is strategically rich and very complex in other ways.  I haven't played enough to know how it goes all the time, and there may be a counter strategy I haven't stumbled upon yet for the Sun player, but it does seem pretty slippery-slope, where the early leader will usually win.  There aren't any catch-up mechanisms built into the game - not one that I can see, anyway - so there's nothing holding back the snowballing effect.

I enjoyed it, though, and would recommend it to others.

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