Joerg's Settlers of Catan Ideas

I have been toying with Catan variants for years, and I'd like to get some feedback from other people who created scenarios and variants. One thing I like about the Settlers of Catan game is that it makes it easy to create playable variants without having to produce a new game along with the game material from scratch. Mostly when I look at a new member of the Catan family I tend to look at the rules as modules that can be used with other modules. Any input appreciated.
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Catan Mini-Expansions - or - How to make the Helper effects less obtrusive

Jörg Baumgartner
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If you are using the Helpers throughout a game of Catan (or Ancient Egypt, or AGoT Catan, or Star Trek Catan, or the Rikshaw Run geography set), these cards take on quite a weight in the way the game runs. You also have to decide whether to reuse the Helper card you chose, or whether to take a new one (hopefully available) which looks like it is appropriate for your current situation.

This mechanism can be quite dominant – possibly more so than the progress cards in C&K, which were sort of the ancestor of many of those concepts.

The Helper cards in Legend of the Sea Robbers are a lot less dominant in the game. You get to choose one as a reward in each of the three first chapters, and you get to use each Helper up to twice in a chapter. There is a difference – you have up to four Helper cards available to do something on your turn, although you can always only use one Helper card in your turn. These Helpers are more of a tactical reserve than a “use as often as you can” advantage.

Recently, there have been two promotional sets of one-use Helper cards for two stand-alone Catan games – the High Priests of the Inka and the Houses of the North, for Rise of the Inka and A Game of Thrones Catan, respectively.

Rise of the Inka is the first of the recent Catan publications without Helper cards included. Adding this choice of five one-use cards (each player gets to choose one, first choice goes to the starting player) gives a slight taste of the Helpers, but limited to one time rarely a game-changing one.

The five abilities of the High Priests are:

Development Card Bonus: pay one resource less for a Development Card, and choose one of the topmost three cards, place the other two on the bottom of the current Development Card stack.
(Rise of the Inka has two sets of 7 Martial Arts cards (Knights) and one each of Road Building, Rich Year or (the weaker form of) Monopoly (drawing up to two cards of the chosen resource from each other player), in order to avoid having all of the latter cards on the top or the bottom of the deck. No hidden victory points…)

Determine the Dice on your turn. (Basically the Alchemist progress card of C&K)

Send the Robber to the Desert (actually, the jungle frame) and take one of the resources (or commodities) of the hex you just liberated.

1 : 1 Bank Trade: you may exchange exactly one card for a card of your choice.

Move a terminal road: most useful in the first generation as you start with a road on each starting settlement. Later on it will be rare for you to branch your road network without closing the road.

The cards have the faces of friends of the developers and names that have been “Andenized” from their German names. While this has some tradition in Teuber’s games (the special cards for Rivals have been based on real people, too), using these very Middle-European faces for presumably Inka high priests probably wasn’t such a good idea. I’ll spare you the images and the names.

The six “Minor Houses of the North” cards that come as one-off Helper cards for AGoT-Catan all have very specific functions tied to Tormund (the robber) and/or his activation by patrol development cards. This allows their introduction without much interference with the Heroes of the Watch cards, none of which (in the 3-4 player box) have inherited the “security from the Robber/the Seven” feature of the other Helper sets (Sean aka Siegfried / James T Kirk / Isis).

Speaking of this, I haven’t seen any details on the AGoT Catan new four hero cards yet. The rules for the expansion aren’t available on yet, and the extension has only two measly images (apparently taken from the promo presentations at some convention).

There hasn’t been any sign yet of this extension making it to the German language edition, so I would be willing to make an across-the-Channel (or across-the-pond) swap of some German language Catan stuff unavailable in Anglophone editions for that extension. Contact me via Geekmail if you’re interested in such trades.

I also got me in my “annual new stuff” order from the 2018 world championship bonus scenario (or really basic game add-on) “Kölner Dom” (Cologne Cathedral) which actually fits very well under this header as it uses Helper-like abilities as a reward for sponsoring a part of the cathedral under construction.

The scenario has some similarity with the concept that was first used in the Cheops historical scenario and re-worked for Ancient Egypt, copied for Settlers of Canaan (or Zarahemla) or Siedler von Nürnberg – participation in a joint building project as a way for the leader to earn bonus VP (and some of those variants have negative VP for those players who lag behind most). The cathedral is a 3D cardboard puzzle of seven parts which can be clipped together to form a replica of the cathedral that looks rather impressive for its 4 inch height. Each of the seven parts can be purchased in game for one brick, ore and wood card each. A player may only build one of those pieces on his turn.

As a reward, there are six builders’ advantage cards (with one side printed in English, the other in German). You can use the printed advantage immediately on your turn, and keep re-using it until someone else builds a part of the cathedral. In that case, you switch your reward card to the wrong language side, indicating that its function doesn’t work any more. You have to be rather lucky (or your fellow players unlucky) to be able to use the reward card more than once or twice.

While there are seven pieces, the last reward card has no bonus action (but in case of two players having the same number of cathedral parts, it acts as a tie breaker for the 2 bonus points the best cathedral builder earns – provided the cathedral is finished by the end of the game. An unfinished cathedral earns no bonus points.

But let’s look at the card texts. There are two pairs:

2X the Aqueduct/Samwell Tarly effect: if a number other than 7 is rolled and you don’t get a resource, choose one from the bank. This works once on each player’s turn and isn’t limited to your own turn.

2X Pay one resource less when building a road / settlement / city.

1X Move the Robber to the desert and earn one resource of the type of the field he occupied before.

1X Pay 1 resource less when buying a development card. View the top three cards on the stack and choose a card from those, and put the other two to the bottom of the stack.

And, like already mentioned above, 1X Cathedral Completed, with the potential to act as a tie-breaker beween the busiest builders.

This is an easy add-on to any other Catan game (and might even work with the Rise of the Inka standalone game, or possibly AGoT-Catan.).

The limited time activity of these helper functions are another cute way of introducing such a bonus without making it dominate a game. They also sweeten the deal to invest into a project that may well remain unfinished in the game - for a real world comparison, the towers of the Cologne cathedral were finished only several centuries after the rest of the cathedral had been constructed. For those centuries, the building crane on one of those towers was the highest point in the city, and its defining landmark.
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