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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