So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Expending My Thoughts About Expanding My Games…

Image by Antony Hemme
Last week I mentioned punching out the expansions to Zooloretto.  Expansions are crazy things.  Some games will have a million of them; some will have none.  Some expansions are specifically geared to up the number of players involved.  Some tweak the rules to add variety or another layer of strategy.  Some tweak the rules to fix a problem that was discovered after release.  Personally, I have mixed emotions about expansions, and I will tell you the good and bad.

First of all, what is an expansion, and how do they come to be?  An expansion is a set of rules packaged with some new playing pieces, designed to change up the original (base) game.  Typically, expansions require the base game to play it.  They are not stand-alone games.  Games that often have expansions are very popular games:  games which sell a lot of copies.  Lately, a game winning the Spiel des Jahres is almost a guarantee expansions will be produced, though this year’s winner, Qwirkle, might be difficult to expand.  Expansions make good business sense for the publisher, since it capitalizes on a line that people already know and like.

Carcassonne has LOTS of expansions! (Image by Big Woo)
There are a few, very good reasons to specifically buy an expansion.  The biggest reason I mentioned last week:  to change up a game that is played very often.   Around our house a game will see a lot of table time because they are easier to teach and have wide appeal (Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Zooloretto).  When family and friends who only play casually have come to call, these games tend to be played.  A good expansion will add more strategic depth with a minimum of rule changes, and so can be incorporated as soon as your guests say “Let’s go again!”  For the game owner, this keeps the game fresh.  Another good reason to buy an expansion is in those few instances when a game needs a rule “fix”.  While games are play-tested by the designer and again by the publisher, every once in a while a problem surfaces only after the general public has played it repeatedly.  Sometimes, a dominant strategy immerges.  It may there is a turn-order advantage that is overwhelming, or some set of random circumstances that typically determines the winner.  Those can be fixed in an expansion.

What I most dislike about expansions is the cost.  Often, the expansion to a game will be 2/3’s the cost of the base game.  For that expense, I would rather put the money towards a whole new game and get a brand new gaming experience out of it.  I would probably feel more this way if I had a small collection. At well over 200 games, having a couple of expansions isn’t a big deal.

After all of that, which for which games do I have expansions, and why?  Here is a short list:
Image by Dean
  • Carcassonne:  I have several expansions to this, and there are a truckload, but the only one I really need is Inns and CathedralsThis gives me some variation in play, which is great because it is the game I have played the most (other than chess).
  • Zooloretto:  I haven’t played this one much, but I anticipate it will be played in much the same way (and frequency!) as Carcassonne.  I need to teach it to the family first.
  • Ticket to Ride:  We also have several different (stand-alone) versions of this game.  Again, the expansions, like 1910, add variety.  These are my son’s (Daniel’s) games, and he loves expansions, which is the primary reason we have these.
  • Dominion:  This game has a stand-alone game that can be mixed with it (Dominion: Intrigue), making it a kind of hybrid.  Dominion is my son’s; I bought Dominion: Intrigue so I have a copy after he eventually goes away to college.
  • Settlers of Catan:  Again, this is Daniel’s game.  The expansion we have for it is designed to increase the number of players from four to six.  A couple of years ago, I thought this was a great idea.  Now I would say that most expansions that increase the number of players just make the game too long.  I personally would not buy this one.
  • Runebound:  I bought some new adventure decks for this fantasy game, which change the challenges and the end game.  They cost less than $10 USD, so I really couldn’t go wrong.
  • Battleground Fantasy Warfare:   This game is not really a family game.  If you have ever seen wargamers playing with miniatures, you have some idea of how this game works.  Figurines are replaced with cards.  The expansions are different factions (men, elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.) and they have different abilities.
  • Warrior Knights:  The expansion for this game adds some rules and another strategic area, but is also highly recommended as a fix to some issues.  The last reason is why I bought it.  Warrior Knights is a long, complex game, and it hasn’t seen the table yet, so I can’t really say.
Expansions are definitely worth considering.  I recommend the less expensive expansions unless you really love a game.  A reasonable mix of new games and expansions makes sense, though exactly what the mix should be is a matter of personal taste.  It’s your money, and

It’s Your Move!

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