SJG's Star Traders

Board game designed by David Ladyman; published by Steve Jackson Games
These remarks by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated sometime in 1995

Isaac Asimov's Star Traders is one of the most underrated economic games made. Sure, it's a light game that doesn't take a lot of time to play, but it's a lot of fun, has a decent amount of player interaction, and requires enough skill that it has a high replay value. But for some reason, this game never sold well and continues to have a "fluffy" reputation on the net - undeserved, in my opinion.

Finding economic games with a lot of player interaction isn't easy: most of them play like multi-player solitaire. Star Traders gets around this in two main ways: you can play cards on other players every turn, and each cargo to be delivered is available to all, so the game consists of numerous mini-races. The cards allow you to do various nasty things to each other (or avoid nasty things being done to you), which tends to spark some interesting exchanges. As for the many races, more than one person can be carrying the same cargo, but only the first to deliver it gets payment and prestige for it.

The game has 36 solar systems, laid out in five arcing arms and a central hub. There are a number of cards turned up each turn, which show which cargo is available where, and which worlds need that particular cargo. Each player has a spaceship which can carry up two cargoes, and movement is along jump lines, which require you to roll above a certain number to navigate successfully. The number to roll depends on the length of the jump - the lines are clearly color-coded, and you usually have multiple routes to choose from, so you always know what you need to roll when choosing which way to travel. However, each player starts with one trading station, and can build more at other solar systems - and jumping to a trading station is automatic (usually), if you have permission. (You always have permission to jump to your own stations, but getting permission at other players' stations may take some bargaining - another aspect of the game which encourages player interaction.)

You can also buy more engines - each engine allows you one move. Ships start with three engines, and can add two or three more.

Each player is a unique personality, determined at the start of the game in reverse start order. My favorite is Lucky Lou, who gets an extra Trader's Luck card. Others include The Navigator, who can make jumps easier, The Engineer, who can buy engines more cheaply and easily, The Hero, who gets more prestige when making a delivery, and so on.

(Here is a link to some additional personalities not included in the game, and a link to some variations on the existing personalities.)

The object of the game is to become the sole Imperial Trader - but to do that, you need both money and prestige. Delivering cargo is the primary way to get both, but there are other ways. Trader's Luck cards can help you get both, for example, and allow you to hinder an opponent from getting either.

All in all, a very fun game, one that I pull out every couple of months without fail. True, it's not something I play every week, but how many games from my 450+ game collection do I pull out six to eight times each year, even after many years? Not as many as I'd like - but this is one of the few that I actually do. It's sadly out of print, but with a little searching you can probably find a copy.

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