Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hey Travelers, Don't Bother Calling

In a previous post I expressed my love for the Travelers, the mysterious race of intergalactic merchants from Starfarers of Catan. I mentioned how I wanted to hang out with them, that they seem cool. I wanted to be friends. Well, I take it all back. If I was to spend any time with them it would merely be to kill them, Tro-Taphon specifically. I blame him for my Starfarers loss the other night, no one else. Just him.

The 5-6 player expansion for Starfarers adds the Travelers to the game as a trade outpost, previously they were just a very generous black ball encounter. It is indisputably the best trade post in the game and the one that all players try to reach first. All of the cards are very good, but the Small Donation card has got to be the most valuable in the game for several reasons. Here is what it does: It allows the player to ask the lead player for a specific resource. If the lead player does not have the card then Tro-Taphon and his scumbag friends take an Upgrade from the lead player’s mother ship. An upgrade! That is absurd. I’m taking this very personally, it’s true. But it is a killer.

So, here’s what happened to me last night. We were playing a five player game of Starfarers (Mike, Katie, Tozer, Danielle, and myself) and I jumped out to an early lead on the strength of some colonies and fame rings. Mike eventually wound up getting a trade ship to the Travelers and got Tro-Taphon on his side. It was a great move for Mike, especially since he was in last place and wasn’t looking to be the lead player anytime soon. Since my lead was pretty substantial I wound up being the victim of his Small Donation for the majority of the game. I lost several resources to him, but the worst part was the lost freight ring and the four lost cannons. I had an abundance of carbon so I was working on a cannon strategy in the hopes of fighting a bunch of pirates and freeing some pirate planets. That went down the drain real fast since I was losing a cannon just about every turn. At one point I had seven cannons (I had picked up the plus two cannons from the Scientists) and was one move away from freeing the (7)Pirate planet. That was the closest I ever got to it. The game unfolded in a wretched manner and Mike wound up winning. I finished with 14 points.

I guess my question is if the Small Donation card is too good? Is it unbalanced to the point that it is foolish not to get it? Let’s see, the only reason to not get it would be if you are in the lead since it won’t help you at all as long as you are winning. You could even make the argument that it would be worth taking it just to prevent someone else from getting it. Compared to other cards it yields much more over the course of the game than a typical card from another trading post. I’m going to make some vast generalizations in an attempt to quantify exactly what this card is worth. Here goes. In an average game of Starfarers there are going to be about 18 turns. Small Donation is going to be one of, if not the, first trade cards picked up. We will say that someone gets it on turn 5 of the game (it is at the far end of the board, so it takes a little while to get there) and begins to use it on turn 6. That is twelve turns that they will have it, and let’s predict that they will take the lead on turn sixteen. That means it will be yielding resources for ten turns and it is guaranteed to produce something every turn. A smart player is going to ask for a resource that they know the lead player does not have, so for seven turns it will yield an upgrade (all of which are worth two resources). Following my fuzzy math that card has yielded 17 resources over the course of the game, plus has the additional effect of taking those resources from the lead player. Wow, that’s a lot. Does anything else even come close? Let’s compare it to some others.

A card from the Scientists is worth four resources (some combination of a booster and a cannon, or two of one type) plus a little bump up since it allows you to get your cannons over six and kill that one real tough pirate. I’ll be generous and say that they are worth five resources each. How about the Green Folk? At most they will yield an extra resource every other turn over the course of the game. Say you get to it early and it starts to pay off right away, it might be worth nine resources over the course of the game. The Merchants are hard to quantify since they allow you to convert your resources into others at a more favorable exchange rate, but it’s really an improvement on something that any player can do regardless. The trade goods one is the most useful, but since it is only usable once a turn I doubt that it is worth more than a couple of resources a game. Let’s be generous and say it’s worth eight resources over the course of the game. What about the Blue Folk? They seem to be sort of a mixed bag of usefulness. Let’s go with the one that is similar to Small Donation. The card (I can’t remember the name) allows the player to take a random card from up to two players, as long as the players have more victory points than the player taking the card. That one is pretty good. It has the potential to generate two resources a round, but they are random so not worth as much as picking a resource. This one puzzles me. I am going to say that it will be useful for half the game in all, but for half of that will only yield one resource. That’s a total of 15 resources, but since they are random I’d say that it is worth about 12 resources altogether. Plus the same bump that Small Donation gets for taking resources from someone. What does this all mean? It means that Small Donation is probably the best card in the game. I can’t even think of the last time we played Starfarers and it was not one of the first cards taken, which shows how highly valued it is.

Am I bitter? Sure. But it’s not so much because I lost but rather that this one card seems to be grossly out of line with other cards in the game. It doesn’t seem fair, not particularly to me but just in the general sense. The point is that if I ever run into Tro-Taphon on the street I’m going to tear him a new mouth.

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