Hast ye seen the White Whale?
This review also appears on my site: http://oakleafgames.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/review-helpers-...
For a while, there have been special “helper” cards that were only available in German, as “Die Helfer von Catan”. Catan Scenarios: Helpers of Catan finally brings an official version to the US.
If you are familiar with Star Trek Catan, you are aware of the Character Cards (Kirk, Spock, etc.) that give you special abilities. The Helpers are the same abilities, but themed for regular Catan, using artwork and characters from the computer version of the game. They make the game less dependent on dice and really add a new level of strategy while leaving the base game mostly untouched. Here’s what makes them a must buy for anyone who owns Catan.
What you get
1 Double-sided Rule page listing the rules and abilities in detail.
10 Helper Tiles
That’s it. No extra chits, pieces, or complicated components. These tiles are card-sized pieces of thick cardboard stock, which is an improvement over the cards from Star Trek: Catan.
What you do
Each player starts the game with one helper, designated by turn order. (That is, the first player always starts with the same helper). You know what helper you will start with, which can influence your starting placement. Because there are alternate ways to change costs or obtain resources, you can ignore a resource with your placement, or you might specialize in something and use the trading abilities to get what you need. After you use it, you have the option of keeping it or trading it in for a new one. If you keep it, you must trade it in after the next time you use it.
However, there are two limits. For most abilities, you can use them only once per turn, so you can’t chain them together. And you can only trade in an ability after you use it, so you can get stuck with something you can’t use if you plan poorly.
The abilities are as follows:
Take any resource when you don’t collect resources from a roll (except 7) [If you don’t collect resources because the robber is blocking, that counts too.]
When a 7 rolls, don’t discard, OR take any resource if you have less than 7 cards
Move any single open road section (Like a ship in Seafarers). [Only count your own pieces]
Replace 1 wood or brick when you build at least 1 road [not per road]
Return the robber to the desert, and take the resource from the old location [can’t steal with it]
Force a trade. Name a resource and pick 1 or 2 players, who must give you that resource. You must give them one in return. [We didn’t see anything that forbids returning the same resource obtained]
Trade 1 resource type at 2:1 for the rest of the turn.
Look at the hand of a player with more points, and take 1 resource from them. [Only visible points count]
Replace a resource when building a development Card AND choose from the top 3 development cards, shuffling the unchosen cards back in.
Discard a knight and build a settlement for 1 brick and 1 wood, or a city for 2 ore and 1 wheat. [The knight can be played or unplayed]
What I Liked
In general, there are so many ways to either get the resource you need or replace it that rolling the right numbers is less important. It is much harder to get hurt by a bad roll, because you can usually switch to an ability that will help.
Trading in the helper cards is also a new layer of strategy added to the game. You have to consider not only how they help you, but whether you will be able to get rid of it and whether another player needs it. You have to think a turn ahead, since you can’t get a new one and use it in the same turn.
Surprisingly, the game is not any longer due to the additional thought involved in selecting a helper doesn’t. It takes less than 1 game to become familiar with the roles (for those already familiar with any form of Catan). So after the first game, there should only be infrequent pauses for selection, especially since you can use the other players’ turns to think about your next choice of helper. There are two other factors that help speed up the game. The helpers make it easier to build something almost every turn, so it doesn’t seem to take as long to make progress. And player-to-player trades are less important, so you don’t have to wait 2 minutes for a negotiation on every player’s turn.
What I didn’t like
I see very little downside to using the helpers. The biggest difference is that if interaction and negotiation is the best part of the game, you won’t enjoy the game as much. It also doesn’t fit well with some of the expansions and scenarios, such as Cities and Knights, or Oil Springs. But it does work with Seafarers, and can always be left in the box. The additional level of strategy also means it might not be as easy for casual gamers or young children to pick up.
For those looking for a little more strategy and a mitigation of the dice rolls, Helpers of Catan is a great addition to the game. It doesn’t take much room in the box, and it’s only $5 which is a great deal for how much it adds to the game. My group usually plays Star Trek: Catan over regular Catan because of these cards, but I’m hoping this will bring us back.
"Let us go out this evening for pleasure; the night is still young."
STOP! WHOSE TURN IS IT NEXT?
My group usually plays Star Trek: Catan over regular Catan because of these cards, but I’m hoping this will bring us back.
I saw this expansion in my local game store today and was hoping that it was, in fact, the cards from Star Trek Catan made for Settlers. Your review verified that this WAS the case and I immediately bought them!
I had contemplated buying Star Trek Catan simply for this variant but I didn't like that I'd be missing out on Seafarers and Fisherman of Catan. Now, for 5 dollars, I've got all of the playability of both versions!
Thanks for the great review!