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Catan: Starfarers Duel Review


Ahhhh, Catan, still going strong I see. I know a lot of folk have negative feelings towards Catan, not me though, I still regularly play it with new players to the hobby and with the extended family. There's just something welcoming, warm and fuzzy about it. Plus, I get to shout at people for hoarding all the fricking sheep. I have always wanted to try the space version, Starfarers Duel, but never had the opportunity. Guess what? Yes, there's now a 2 player only, duel version of said space Catan and I am here to tell you all about it. Let's space Catan!

Gameplay - 2 Rulebooks to Rule Them All!

So, Catan: Starfarers Duel comes with two rulebooks, yes, that's right, two. One is the main fully-fledged game rulebook and the other is a little training manual with five missions that slowly introduce each main game element. To be honest, especially when teaching it to people who don’t play a lot of games, it worked a treat.

The first training mission takes you through how to fly and explore, which is simple enough and it also introduces missions and how the general flow of the game functions. From there each mission introduces new mechanics, slowly getting you to, by mission 5, the full game. It's an enjoyable way of teaching games to people. I found it worked well for my family and also meant less reading and more gaming, which is good for us all. Bravo.

The Setup

Catan: Starfarers Duel is quite an easy setup, especially due to the little card boxes included with the game. You assemble your ship out of a few jigsaw-like pieces, grab a few bits from your card box, create a few piles of exploration cards and you are just about ready to go to the races. Well, if the races were in space and involved trading and building stuff.

If you both perform setup together, it can be done in minutes, which in this day and age I appreciate a lot. It gets you to the meat and potatoes quicker, rolling those dice and playing space Catan!

Turn Structure

The person I played this with was immediately put off as a massive Catan fan. “This does not look like Catan!” She said and while she was right, who wants Catan with just a space theme pasted on top of it? Not me that’s for sure.

Your turn is split into five phases and while none of them are complicated there is a fair bit you can do. In between both players are four piles of nine cards, these represent exploration missions you can go on and discover planets, trading outposts and maybe even some pesky pirates. In the first phase of your turn, in true Catan style, you roll a die to both set your production and flight values.

Your flight value is the number on the die, which is between one and three added to your ship's engine value. Your ship has upgradable engines, you start with two level one engines and can upgrade to three level two engines, each adding to your movement speed. After gaining the resources from your ship’s bays and any colonies you have. You add these materials to your hold and you are ready to explore.

You pick one of the four pies of cards then turn one over at a time deciding whether you want to take an action at its destination or not. Your journey through these cards ends when you have either taken two actions or hit the number of cards equal to your movement value. Picking correctly and remembering where certain planets and outposts are is key, especially when they are shuffled between each mission.

Within these cards are trading outposts, which just allow you to buy or sell resources for a set amount. I quite like this system, it reminds me of old video games where I was always buying low and selling high in space and making a fortune. There are also colonies which you can add to your production chain, pirates that you have to fend off and planets which are the key to the game as they allow you to get those all-important victory points to win the game.

Set aside are a few missions that reward you with sweet, sweet victory points. To complete these you must have all the money and resources on them and then visit them during your flights. There is a slight memory element to this system as you have to remember which of the four piles has the planet card buried within them. You also have to be travelling far enough to mke sure you reach them on the deck If the card is seven down the pile and your movement is 4, hard luck, try again next time. It does create a little tension and uncertainty, even if you have all the resources required.

If a pirate card pops up during your flights you can pay cash to bribe them away or fight them for possible rewards or if the horrible happens, it could end your flight early. Fighting is very similar to flying in that you have three gun slots, which start with two level-two guns. You roll the combat die and add it to your combat strength to see if you emerge victorious. Of course, as with the engines, these weapons can also be upgraded to three level three canons. Pew, pew, pew!

Upgrades and Trading.

After all these shenanigans have been completed you do an ‘upgrade and trading’ phase where you can use all of your colonies and outposts to trade materials and upgrade your ship accordingly. You can increase your firepower or speed as described earlier, increase your

storage space, build new modules or even build crafts to colonize even further. Speccing your ship for your ongoing space mission is crucial and getting ahead of your competitor, is even more so.

Components - Ships, Dials and Cards.

The first thing I want to mention about this game is the white elephant in the room, or in this case the box of everyone's game. Every copy of this game was shipped with an incorrect die in it. The production and flight die is an orange D6, it has one through six on it but after reading the forums and talking to the Catan people, it seems it should have been a D6 with two ones, two twos and two threes on it. It makes sense after I spent the first game flying around space like a madman. Hahaha.

The Catan people were very apologetic, will be sending out a replacement die in due time and did give me a month of BGA for my inconvenience. In the meantime, we just have to take three off anything above a three. I suppose I could paint out a few pips but we will see. In the grand scheme of things, it's not massive, just unfortunate.

Everything else is on point, for someone who replaces all their baggies with little boxes and trays, the included card boxes for each player's stuff are great, if a little flimsy. Nothing a bit of tape does not fix. The spaceships are thick card and the dials for the resources work well and cut down on pieces. The cards are designed well and everything looks the part. Apart from the aforementioned die mishap, I found the presentation and components very pleasing.

Final Thoughts

While Caran: Starfarers Duel may not be too similar to Catan, I can see the essence of it here and there. It's different enough to warrant a purchase and has some systems to make the game a bit more in line with m modern board games and keep avid gamers invested. I enjoyed upgrading my ship, trading goods for higher prices and even trying to remember where certain planets were.

Catan: Starfarers Duel may not be the best game I have played this year, it is however a very solid two-player game that I can get my Catan-loving family to play with me, which is a good thing no matter how you look at it.