Review: Helpers of Catan

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Catan

For a while, there have been special “helper” cards that were only available in German, as “Die Helfer von Catan”. Catan Scenarios: Helpers  (BGG) 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 digital versions of the game, and the wider Catan universe. 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 level 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 don’t have anything bad to say about using the helpers. The biggest difference from the regular game is that negotiation is somewhat decreased. So if you think interaction and negotiation is the best part of the game, you won’t enjoy it as much. The helpers also don’t work as well with some of the expansions and scenarios, such as Cities and Knights. 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, but making it more accessible may offset this.

Conclusions

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.

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  1. #1 by Dusan on November 18, 2013 - 7:01 am

    Can a player use a helper during the first turn in the game? If can, than first player (his helper is Louis) can immediately move his road and take some other better helper.

    • #2 by Oakleaf Games on November 18, 2013 - 2:50 pm

      Yes, helpers can be used right away, allowing a player to trade for a new helper right away.
      In fact, I have read that the selection of starting powers intentional to balance the early rounds for players later in the starting order. They seem like they do that but I haven’t used them enough to be able to quantify that effect.
      If you usually play with any house rules for the starting rounds (such as gathering resources from both initial placements) I would recommend having the Helpers not be usable until the second round.

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