Monday, March 27, 2023

At the Helm totally clicks

This is just my very first impressions of At the Helm. I have a feeling I will be revisiting the game again, particularly after I try out the first two expansions.

At the Helm is a solitaire deck builder that, in its base form, consists of eighteen cards. It’s themed around the era of tall ships, which is definitely evocative. (I can’t decide if I blame that on Moby Dick or Treasure Island or Horacio Hornblower)

If you’re familiar with deck builders (quite frankly, even just Dominion), At the Helm pretty quickly makes sense. You have a starting deck of five very basic cards with a marketplace of eight more advanced cards. In addition, there are four double-sided goal cards and a captain card which is just a place to track life points. (I guess you could replace it with a d8)

I know it’s a bit of a stretch but you can say the game has five currencies or resources. Which seems like that should be too many but it works. You spend gold, sail, damage and hearts to complete different goals. You also spend gold to buy market cards (every card costs one gold, which is a surprisingly effective simplification) and spend hearts to heal damage. 

The marketplace also serves as a resource, not just as a place to get cards but as a resource to manage. Randomly deal out the eight cards in two rows of four. When you need to shuffle the deck, you add a card from the bottom row to your deck. If there’s a card above it, it drops down. If you can’t add a card, you lose. It’s a timer and it makes the order you deal out the cards matter.

I’ve only played the base game and used the easiest goals. Even then, At the Helm is still both interesting and challenging. I not be only have more goals to work through, I have two expansions. (And neither of them have more goals so I am sure there are more expansions to come)

At the Helm creates a legitimate deck building experience with just eighteen cards. I don’t think it has the replay value of Friday (which I’ve been playing off and on for more than ten years) but it still have a lot of replay.

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