Celestia – A Little Help: expansion review

Celestia* is a remake of the 1999 light family card game Cloud 9, which benefited from a beautiful new art direction when re-released in 2014 (and fully reviewed by me here).

In a nutshell, it is a push-your-luck card game in which players are travellers in a fantastical airship, where they take it in turns to pilot the ship between a series of increasingly tricky to reach floating islands.

Unless you’re the current pilot you always have the opportunity to get off the ship and collect a reward from the current island – but if you take a risk and stay on board, better rewards await at the next island.

But the problem is, you don’t know if your current captain has the right cards in hand to complete the next leg of the trip…

What does Celestia: A Little Help bring to the party?

Celestia: A Little Help essentially adds four mini modules to the game. You can add any number of them to any game you play, adding a bit of flexibility and meaning that if one doesn’t take your fancy (or you think it’s a little advanced for some players) you can just leave it out.

The module that lends its name to the expansion is made up of 14 ‘A Little Help’ cards. These have the usual icons on for the four types of hazard, but also have a hand symbol on them. These cards cannot be used by the captain to beat hazards – but if a captain says he cannot beat a hazard, friendly passengers can pitch one (or more) of these cards in to avert disaster.

There are also eight ‘upgrade’ cards – two in each of the hazard colours. Each of these simply has two symbols of a kind on instead of one, meaning you can beat two dice of the same hazard type with a single card (and as with single equipment cards, you have to play them if you have them – even if thee’s only one dice needing to be beaten and you have no single cards).

Next come two new power cards (two of each): The Bandit and The Mooring Line. Both can be played by any player (so passengers, captains or those who have already jumped ship) and make life harder for those trying to get to the next island – so will generally be played by those who have gotten off earlier.

You play The Bandit before the captain roles the dice – and it makes them have to role an extra one. The Mooring Line is played after the captain reveals a successful hand and means that, instead of moving forward, the airship stays where it is and must try to reach the next island again.

Finally, you’ll find six ‘character cards’ that match the player colours in the base game. As well as giving a male and female side for each colour (a small omission from the original game), these give each player a unique ability they may use once during the game.

These largely give a chance of escaping an imminent crash, while one lets you make a trip easier by rolling two fewer dice than usual – while the only nasty one lets you force someone to stay in the aircraft.

How much does it change the game?

The 14 ‘A Little Help’ cards add an interesting extra element to play when you have them and are a great addition to the game. It can be annoying if you draw quite a lot of them at once if they’re never any use, but generally they’re great tactically.

They also largely redress the difference in the amount of each type of hazard card in the base game: so where there six less black cannon cards than blue compass cards in the original, there are five black little help cards to just two blue ones.

Both The Bandit and Mooring Line power cards do exactly what they should do: elicit moans and groans when played from both the passengers and captain. They’re exactly the kind of card that makes the game better and both work well. It’s a pity that, if you’re near the final island and someone plays The Bandit, you’ll have to re-throw one of the dice again (as they don’t provide an extra one in the expansion); but this is a small niggle.

The ‘upgrade’ cards can make a difference, but are rarely needed: in a game where you’re usually rolling two dice, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll need a double symbol of the same type. That said, they can lead to a cheer if you get by in an unlikely situation and they certainly don’t do any harm – as well as helping to keep the ratio of equipment to power cards about right if you’re throwing in the other expansions.

Unfortunately I think they really missed a trick with the character cards, for several reasons. Firstly, most of the powers are very circumstantial and you may never get to use them – and they’re pretty boring, so we often found players forgot they had them. This is made worse by the fact the purple player’s power – forcing someone to stay on the airship – is super fun, putting the dullness of the other ones into sharp perspective.

I would much rather have seen a positive and a negative effect on each card, letting the player who had it use one or the other before discarding. This would’ve balanced them, as well as making each more likely to be useful.

In addition, it seems an odd (read: terrible) idea to tie these powers to specific colours – why would you do that? I always like to play green – why make me have the same boring power every time? It would have been just as easy to deal these out at the start, or draft them for negative points at the start, which would be far more interesting.

Is Celestia: A Little Help value for money?

Even at less than £10, you may think this is a little steep for 33 cards – but as always, you have to remember that art is the most expensive part of game production and you have a whole host of beautiful new illustrations on display here. And this is a price we’re used to playing for small expansions.

But more importantly for me the ‘upgrade’, ‘helping hand’ and new power cards immediately became a permanent part of my Celestia draw deck – a sure sign that they add fun to the mix. And I’ve seen each of them have a genuine impact during games we’ve played with them. Whether that makes it value for money, of course, is up to you – but I think it does what any expansion worth its salt sets out to do: it makes it a bit more fun without changing the base game you already love.

Is A Little Help essential?

Absolutely not. Nothing here changes the base game enough to convert someone who didn’t like the original, and while the subtle alterations are fun they certainly don’t revolutionise the game.

That said, if this is a game you have played to death and it is starting to hit the table less, I think the ideas in here will do just enough to encourage it off the shelf a little more: so if that sounds like you – or if it gets regular play and more is only going to be a good thing – it is probably worth the investment.

… and does it fit in the original Celestia box?

Yes – just about! I wouldn’t want to try and get too much else in there though. The Celestia insert was never the best, but the extra cards don’t make the card deck too big to fit in one quarter so you’ll have no problems keeping the airship in one piece too.

* Thank you to Blackrock Games for providing a copy of A Little Help for review.

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