Entries in Reviews (2)

Monday
Jan212013

Star Trek Catan Review: “To Half-Heartedly Go Where No One has Gone Before”

star trek catan

Licensed games can be hit or miss. You might come across games that are genuinely good like a Game of Thrones or one of the myriad Star Wars games.  On the other hand, the game can seem like a cash grab that leaves fans with a feeling of disappointment and lost opportunity.  Unfortunately, Star Trek Catan falls into the latter category.

For those unfamiliar with the original Settlers of Catan, the game feels like Risk and Monopoly had a baby.  That baby then grew up to be cooler than either of its parents. In fact, those who play it often call it cardboard crack.

In the game, you play the role of a colonizer of Catan.  You collect resources and trade with your opponents to build roads and settlements. Part of the strategy comes in trying to prevent other players from getting resources they need while making sure you get your bases covered. The goal is to get 10 victory points and settle Catan.

So if it has such a well regarded pedigree, where does this game go wrong? It seems like little thought went into bringing the Star Trek license to the game.  Take, for instance, the pieces representing the players.

Roads in this game are replaced by a load of Enterprises while villages and cities are replaced with Federation starbases.  The swap seems like the obvious one to make at first.  A little more thought would have seen each player in control of a different alien race like the Romulans, Klingons or the Gorn instead of all players in the role of the Federation.  In fact, that arrangement would make much more sense in the context of the game.  After all, why would the Federation compete against each other to colonize the galaxy?

foodThat same carelessness to details creeps into other aspects of the game.  I seriously have to question whoever thought that dark blue is a good choice for a player colour when the entire board is mainly black.  Then there are questionable artistic decisions such as the art for the food resource card. It looks like two Big Mac boxes.

There even seems to be a lackluster attempt to tie members of the Enterprise to the game.  You’re given a card each with a different character on it.  These characters will provide you with certain bonuses.  The problem is that their effect on the game is so negligible that there really is no point having them there.  The game is actually better if you ignore them completely.

That’s not to say that there isn’t anything positive to say about it.  The entire set seems to have a higher build quality to it.  In almost all games of the original Catan, the board never felt solid.  At any point, you were certain it would break apart.  That isn't the case with this version.  Everything snaps together solidly making the board at least feel like it’s of a bit higher quality.

That said, this game has a whole host of problems that prevent me from recommending it to anyone.  It’s more expensive than the normal Catan.  In fact, in most cases it can be at least $20 more.  There’s nothing in this game for a Catan player to warrant paying that much more for a game that is basically the same thing but with a pallet swap.  The lack of detail tying it to the Star Trek universe means it’s hard to even recommend to Star Trek fans.  The only group I can see this appealing to are collectors due to its limit availability.  If that’s the only appeal, than unfortunately it’s a poor one since it means it won’t be played often if at all.  Isn’t that the point of a game, after all?

Sunday
Mar252012

Shake Out! Review

Staking your claim in Shake Out!

Bring a dictionary when sitting down to play Shake Out!  Not because the dice game plays anything like Scrabble.  Instead, the dictionary will help in the search for that perfect word for trash talking your opponent.  It’ll happen quite often.

The dice game consists of piles of cards with the tops of each deck laying face up.  Those face up cards explain what sort of roll is needed, such as a straight or three of a kind, to lay a claim on the card.  Successfully stake a claim on a card and earn points. 

The trash talking comes into play because your opponents will actively try to block you from getting points.  If they roll a higher number, they can lay claim on a card that you had put stakes on previously.  Since it’s in everyone’s interest to stop their opponents from getting points while trying to get their own, this will happen a lot.

Louis-Nicolas Dozois, the creator of Shake Out!, seen here sporting a Bender phone cozy.The game itself is pretty easy to learn.  The game will be set up with everyone playing in no time.  Louis-Nicolas Dozois, the local native who created the game, explains that he wanted a game that was simple to learn yet had enough depth to have everyone coming back for more.

To see whether he was successful or not, I invited a few friends over to play the game.  Two of them are the type that love the more strategically minded games such as Settlers of Catan. The other, meanwhile, mainly loves more party oriented games like Taboo or Cranium.

Everyone picked up the rules quickly after the brief explanation. From there, everyone quickly began trying to one up each other. Everyone was smiling throughout the game.

When it was over, I asked whether they would come over if I specifically invited them to play the game.  The answer was an unequivocal yes.

In fact the only criticism that anyone could lay on this game was the design and packaging.  One thought that the cards themselves looked a little bland. I suppose that is a valid claim, though I’m not sure how much you can do with a picture of dice to make it visually appealing.

Meanwhile, everyone thought that the packaging was a bit excessive.  The game consists of a deck of cards and a pack of dice.  Yet, it comes it the standard board game package so it’s a noticeable bit of wasted material.  I checked into the options he had for packaging at his publisher’s website and found he didn’t have many options.  If he ever switches publishers, hopefully he’ll take that under consideration.

In the end, though, this game is a blast to play.  The rules can be picked up quickly yet the game isn’t mindless.  Everyone will have a fun time.  I can’t think of any higher praise than that.

Oh, and if you’re looking for a new word to express just how badly you’ve beaten your opponent, might I suggest “fustigate”?