What are your Desert Island Expansions?

Many gamers talk about their desert island games – which 5 or 10 games they would take to a desert island if there were infinite players and lots of time before you were rescued. You get deck of cards along with those ten games.  That is an article for another day.

Today’s article is desert island expansions.  You get loads of games for your island, but you can only bring three expansions.  Which ones would you bring and why?

Jonathan Franklin

I have more expansions than I should, but have bought none so far this year.  There is a simple reason, a new personal rule – No expansion can be bought unless you have played the game at least twice that year.  You are probably saying to yourself, “Twice?  That is nuts.  I’ve played all my games twice this year.”  That is great.  If you have played a game twice and still want the expansion, it probably means you like the game enough to keep playing it.  For many, the attraction of expansions is more abstract – ‘maybe it will make that game I did not really like better’ or ‘I know my friend Jim, who I see twice a year, likes that game, so maybe I should have the expansion for when he stops by.’  Of course, Jim will come, you will sit around talking, and never play the game, let alone the expansion.  As/if your collection or access to games grows, be more and more cautious about the expansion trap.  Also consider whether you would rather two expansions or one new game, as the cost is often about the same.

1. Lord of the Rings – Friends and Foes – I like co-op games and although I am happy to play the base LotR, I strongly prefer it with Friends and Foes.  It feels more epic, and hence more thematic to me.  I have tried and have no interest in the other expansions, Sauron and Battlefields.

2. Pillars of the Earth Expansion Set – This expands Pillars of the Earth to 5-6 players.  You would have to send me to lock-down to get me to play the game with more than four.  The benefit of the expansion is that it permits you to place all your workers without feeling that the last placement is worthless.  There are more options and more strategies with the expansion, which I like, as the game space of the base game feels somewhat constrained.

3. Carabande Action Set / Pitchcar Extensions – I am awful at flicking games.  I can barely get around a simple track before being lapped by the Catacombs/Crokinole gurus.  At the same time, a flat track is just not that exciting when you are out of the lead.  The thrill of the jump, the X-Chicane, and the Y-Chicane really make the game for me because it adds the thrill of an awesome jump and the agony of coming out of a curve and hitting the wrong side of the Y.

Dale Yu –

An interesting question for me as I am usually not one to play expansions.  I find that I barely have enough time to play the “normal” game as much as I’d like, much less experiment with expansions…  Secondly, I’ve often felt that expansions are just extras that get thrown in when the base game proves successful… If the expansions ideas were better, they would have been included in the base game, neh?

1. Age of Steam: The Moon – one of the most inventive maps that I’ve come across…  If I had to choose just one, it’d probably be this one.  (Second place goes to AoS: Netherlands – which might actually be neater, but only with exactly seven players – and really, even on my desert island – it’s unlikely to have 7 AoS players)

2. Dominion Prosperity – I think the addition of the new base cards (Colony and Platinum) open up the game.  I also like the way that any given board can play differently depending on whether or not the Colony/Platinum are in play or not!

3. Settlers Das Buch – I might be stretching the definition of an expansion… but I’m counting it here because you still need Die Siedler to play the games in the book.  And, man, a lot of the variants in this book are good!

(if Das Buch doesn’t count): TTR: 1910 – I love the base game, and I find that this little tin of fun opens up the game for more exploration and the extra tickets make the game a bit less predictable, which for me makes it more fun.

Mark Jackson
Jonathan F… Anno 1503: Aristocrats & Pirates?! Really?! – That’s one of the few expansions I’ve ever traded away while keeping the base game. (I think Anno 1701: Das Brettspiel does the same thing he tried to do with the 1503 expansion, but better.)

1. Memoir ‘44: Campaign Book, Volume 1 – In a scenario-based game, it’s the quality of the additional scenarios that can make or break a game system. So imagine my joy when Days of Wonder not only published a book filled to the brim with new scenarios but also created a way to link battles together into Campaigns (4-6 battles) and Grand Campaigns (3-4 Campaigns) to make for an extended good time. I’ve played nearly every scenario in the book & am longing for Volume 2.

2. Zooloretto: Exotic – I love the base game & have enjoyed the way that Michael Schacht has freely expanded on it with simple add-on/giveaway expansions. But the expansion that turned this into a real nail-biter is Exotic – now, decisions about what to take & where to place animals have an extra level of thought… and the endgame becomes trickier as you have more things to avoid (esp. if you filled your jungle path early!)

3. Canyon: Grand Canyon – The original game is a light family trick-taking game (based on Oh Hell) with a scoring portion that is a canoe race around the bend across the rapids above the falls. Grand Canyon adds Cosmic Encounter-ish powers to the game that allow each player to bend the rules in a particular way each round – and those cards change hands depending on race position. I won’t play the game without them.

Of course, I had to leave off the games that really are nothing but expansions that I dearly love: Heroscape, Tannhauser & Summoner Wars.

Greg Schloesser:

First, let me be clear:  I consider expansions to be evil.  Why?  I rarely, if ever, play them.  I purchase them – or I used to – with every intent of playing them.  However, due to the continuing avalanche of new games being released, I rarely play a game often enough to warrant playing an expansion.  Even personal favorites such as El Grande only get played once or twice a year, and often there are new players involved.  So, I don’t want to toss in an expansion right-off-the-bat.  Thus, expansions simply suck money out of my gaming budget and generally rest un-played upon my shelf.

Some glaring examples of this are the expansions to El Grande, Pandemic, Ghost Stories, Kingsburg, Defenders of the Realm and Battlestar Galactica, all games I thoroughly enjoy.  Since I enjoyed the basic games so much, I acquired the expansions, but have not played any of them.  I still want to, but it likely will be a long time before I have the opportunity to do so.

The expansions I have played have been few.  Of these, I have found a few added features to the game that I enjoyed.  Here would be my Top 3:

League of Six
Bohnanza (7 player expansion and High Bohn)
Advanced Civilization – Western expansion map

Jeff Allers:

In my euphoric early days of Eurogaming gluttony, I, too, shelled out plenty of money unnecessarily on expansions for the games I enjoyed.  Most of these remain unplayed, squeezed into the boxes with their base games.  Elfengold?  Sounded like a great idea in theory, making the family game more like the White Wind original, but Elfenland is just too fun without it.  Cities and Knights of Catan?  Making a gamer’s game out of this classic was too tempting…but not tempting enough when it comes time to play–we’d rather reach for Age of Empires III.  Carcassonne expansions?  Lord of the Rings Sauron? It’s now clear, that they’re just never gonna happen.

The exceptions to the rule?  Probably the best expansion I’ve ever played that shall be forever wed to the base game, from this day forward, is for San Juan, which is the best engine-building card game every made.  Period.  And this is probably the best expansion to come out of the Alea Treasure Chest.  The new buildings augment the old ones perfectly, the combinations work together seamlessly, a few new twists are thrown in with the events, and we now have a welcome dose of variety without taking anything away from the original masterpiece.

I’d still love to get the Pandemic expansion to the table someday, and for that reason, I’d take it with me to that hypothetical island (where cooperative games would surely have an even higher value, to keep all of us castaways from killing each other).  That, and I wouldn’t leave without packing my little Joker Slice for Piece o’ Cake, of course.  After all, it’s small, and you have to be aware of those luggage restrictions, these days.

Valerie Putman:

This will be difficult for me–not because I love expansions.  Generally, I don’t. But when a game is well suited for expansions (Age of Steam, Dominion, PowerGrid), I tend to want lots of them.  Limiting me to just one expansion for each of these 3 games is cruel!  I guess I will echo Dale and say that the Moon is my favorite AoS map and Prosperity is my favorite Dominion expansion.  I have a much harder time picking my favorite PowerGrid map.  I guess I’ll go with the Hansa Tuetonica expansion as my third pick instead–and hope that 5 years from now I have difficulty picking from all the great maps that have come out for that game.

Patrick Brennan:

There’s plenty of expansions out there aimed at simply providing variety, be it new AoS maps, new Dominion cards, new Formula De tracks, new Memoir ‘44 scenarios, etc. There are others which simply add new players. The expansions I really value though are those that pick up a game and fling it in a new direction, adding new layers of juiciness. In fact, they’re so good you’ll probably never go back to the base game again. Of this ilk, let me propose:

1. Ghost Stories: White Moon – this picks up a game that can get samey from game to game, wading your way through monster after monster, and overlays the system with a whole new level of difficulty and reward to be managed. The upcoming Black Secrets expansion, taking it to 5 players where 1 player plays Sauron, I mean Wu-Feng, offers lots of promise as well.

2. Race For The Galaxy: The Gathering Storm – apart from new cards, it only adds one new feature, the victory point tiles. Which isn’t that breathtaking a change as changes go, but it adds an interactive mid-game race element and it makes card selection decisions more interesting as you weigh up the tactical races vs the strategic end-game combinations you want. It fulfils the criteria of never going back to the base game once you have it.

3. Lord Of The Rings: Sauron – this is a bit of a cheat in that it represents all of the LotR expansions, but chosen because it is the most iconic and adds the most game-twisting changes. The expansions fulfil the “flinging in new directions” criteria. I like to mix and match them, finding new levels of difficulties which force players to change the way they approached the game previously.

Of expansions not yet mentioned, kudos go to:
– the Battlestar Galactica expansions, which probably should have one of these slots (I personally like the Pegasus New Caprica ending, but the new rules overlay kicks in at the 2.5 hour mark, just when people don’t have the desire to cope with it well).
– the Bohnroschen (Sleeping Princess) expansion for Bohnanza, which adds objectives and a race element, twisting the game beautifully.

The worst expansions I’ve ever played? Well you can check out my Geek comments for these:
– Ticket To Ride: Dice Expansion
– Mississippi Queen: The Black Rose
– St Petersburg: The Banquet

Matt Carlson:

I, too, fall prey to expansion-itis, and find that the trickiest part is what happens after I buy the first one – can I really cut myself off if I’ve bought all the prior expansions?  Since I game less frequently than many power gamers around here and so many of my opponents fall on the newer side of gaming I tend to play base games regularly and ignore any expansions I may or may not have purchased.  Narrowing things down to a “top 3” makes things even harder, as several games I own really come into their own with multiple expansions (Heroscape – nearly all the expansions, Dominion – both Seaside and Prosperity add a lot, Race for the Galaxy, and my FAR too expansive Memoir ‘44 collection I hope to play with my sons someday…)   And then there are a few expansions I just don’t like (Lord of the Rings – Sauron, ugg – it makes a cooperative game into a competitive one…)  OK, just three?

Primordial Soup – Freshly Spiced:  I’m simply in love with the theme of this game (“Ameobas, anyone?”  “Eating each other’s excrement, you say?”  “This is a game?”) and while the base game has its shortcomings, the expansion adds variety to the game without costing more time to play (or even that much more pregame explanation.)

Pandemic – On the Brink:  A great cooperative game I can even play with new gamers.  The basic game does eventually wear thin for me so having the expansion along gives it far more legs.  Mixing and matching the sub-expansions in this set are also a nice touch.  I dislike adding in the opposing player expansion (making it no longer a co-op game) and heavily favor using the bonus player abilities even if using no other part.

Heroes Incorporated: S.U.P.E.R. (Scrap’s Upgrade Pack and Expansion Revision): I’m betting you’re not familiar with this expansion to an obscure, but still the best superhero themed game ever.  The characters in the game have enough theme tied to mechanics to make you feel like you’re fighting crime while preserving a game abstract enough to play through in an hour or less.  The expansion adds several special powers and a few power cards taking super abilities in new directions.  I’d be happy to play the basic game regularly (shoot, I spent nearly a whole semester repeatedly playing this game with my student aides) but when you add in the expansion it makes it even better.

Joe Huber:

I’m not a fan of expansions.  I find that for me, 90% of expansions make the game worse (sometimes simply by adding the question of which version one is playing), and 90% of the rest don’t actually improve the game.  I’ve largely purged my collection of expansions, but there are a few I really do find improve the base game.

Isfahan (Expansion for Samarkand): Absent this small expansion, the game is too static.  With it, I find the game to be a classic.  This, in my opinion, is what’s required in order to be a great expansion – it must notably improve the game, such that you wish it came in the original game.

Advanced Civilization: I know opinions on this expansion are divided, but I find that Advanced Civilization makes the game more to my taste, as it makes it much easier for a leader to be held back; if there’s a clear leader who can no longer be held back, the game is clearly over, and can be safely ended.

2038 Expansion: OK, I’m cheating, since this has never seen wide release.  I was fortunate enough to trade for a copy, and I find that while it’s not always necessary, it makes the game much more enjoyable for five, and more enjoyable for four.  Hopefully this will be made widely available, so that other 2038 fans can experience it.

Larry Levy:

I have very little interest in expansions.  There are two reasons for this.  First, I rarely play a game so much that I either master or tire of the base game.  Second, what I really enjoy about getting to play a new game is experiencing the brand new system and mechanics; expansions usually only tweak these, so they don’t satisfy my Cult of the New craving.  Consequently, I very rarely bother with expansions.  Even the ones which are more or less essential (such as Carcassonne’s Inns & Cathedrals) probably wouldn’t make my luggage for my desert island adventure.

However, since Jonathan has insisted I make room for three of them, I guess these are the ones I’d pack:

In the Year of the Dragon:  As a fan of all things Alea, the Treasure Chest was an automatic purchase, even given my blase attitude towards expansions.  The only one I’ve been able to try is the Great Wall of China expansion for Year of the Dragon and it’s quite good.  In fact, it’s an ideal expansion, as it adds to the game without dramatically changing it.  I see no reason not to use it in all of my future games of Dragon, as long as the other players are willing.  Of course, if Jonathan allows me to bring the entire Treasure Chest, so much the better–maybe I’ll have time to finally try out the rest of the expansions during my enforced vacation.

Mare Nostrum Mythology Expansion:  While I’m not necessarily part of the crowd that insists that this expansion is necessary for the base game to work, it does seem to improve the overall experience and makes MN a less fragile game.  It also represents a bit of a hit to the original theme, but I’m willing to put up with that in exchange for improved and more exciting gameplay.

Peloponnes Erweiterung:  This small, but very nice expansion to one of the sleeper hits of 2009 adds strategy to the original game, as there are powerful tiles that you need to prepare for if you want to use them.  Not essential, but a good addition to the game.

I would have included the excellent Late Bronze Age expansion to Roll Through the Ages, but since it’s only available for download over the internet, it’s not really a true expansion.

Unusually, there are a couple of upcoming expansions that I might even be interested in trying.  One is the Muenzspeicher expansion for one of my favorite 2010 titles, The Speicherstadt; I know nothing about it, but this is the rare game that could easily handle expanded play.  And the second is for the game that seems to have been made for expansions, 7 Wonders.  The Leaders expansion seems very well thought out and I’m actually anxious to see how it changes the base game.  Go figure!

[So… what about you?  Which expansions would you choose to take to your desert island?  Let us know in the comments!]

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to What are your Desert Island Expansions?

  1. Matt J Carlson says:

    @Patrick – I was going to take umbrage at your dig at the Banquet expansion for St. Petersburg until I realized that was the one section of the St. Petersburg expansion I didn’t care for either… The best part of the combined expansion was how a few unbalanced cards were fixed, and then the banquet expansion seems to come in with cards that seem to be slightly unbalanced again…

  2. Frank Branham says:

    Nice lists. And I’ve been working late.

    Essentials I can think of:

    El Grande: King & Intrigue. El Grande has a bit of a flaw in that the cycle of initiative cards is kind of stale. Initiative card play falls into a pretty stale pattern. King and Intrigue ties these together, making for a much better game.

    Advanced Civilization: Generally seems to make the game shorter, more interesting, and is such a critical expansion that most people just call the game Advanced Civ. (Notice that Greg lists an expansion for this expansion.)

    Talisman 3rd Edition: The City. I actually rather like Talisman in a kind of brain dead way. Third edition made the game relatively fast, and consistent. The City expansion gave you places you could reach without the random roll-the-right-number movement central to the game. Of course, this is the reason we mostly play Prophecy instead.

  3. Larry Rice says:

    Unlike many of y’all, I really enjoy expansions, particularly if they add something new and fresh to the game creating a different experience. According to BGG, I own nearly 200! Limiting to just three is a painful exercise!

    1. Chicago Express: Narrow Gauge & Erie Railroad Company: I know this is a tiny expansion in a large box for what it contains, but it changes the game and the strategy immensely. I have no desire to ever play the base game without the expansions with the added bonus for the null action choice and how the potential creation of the Erie changes strategy within the game.

    2. Agricola: Farmers of the Moor: This is a fairly large expansion which I feel adds a lot of additional interesting concepts to the game. What’s this – I have to now heat my house? Horses? Additional improvements? Additional action cards. Yeah, there may be some combo issues but I’ve never really experienced much trouble on that concern.

    3. Galaxy Trucker, the Big Expansion: I played the base game enough times that almost wore it out. Adding in the Big Expansion makes game play much more challenging and much more interesting. My scores were all of a sudden almost halved. I don’t want to play Galaxy Trucker without it!

  4. 1. Dominion: Intrigue: That’s probably my favorite Dominion set, and I always thought that the base game of Dominion needs at least one expansion to really come into it’s own.

    2. Mare Nostrum: Mythology Expansion: This probably is the best expansion for any game EVER. It just opens it up, and tones down some of the fragility. And it’s one of those games that just feels epic. One of those games that is really taken to the next level with it’s expansion.

    3. Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion: This was a great expansion. The Cylon Fleet board alone makes it into one of my favorite elements in the entire game, but the Ionian Nebula actually adds a ton of theme and decisions. It ups the randomness a little, but I really like the narrative it brings to the game.

  5. Mark Jackson says:

    Thank you, Matt, for mentioning the Heroes, Inc. expansion – that’s an example (IMHO) of a game that really doesn’t function well w/out the expansion.

    I thought of a couple of other expansions I really like – Cheesy Gonzola (for Burg Appenzell) and The Spirits of Niagara (for Niagara).

  6. Michael Sosa says:

    Favorite Expansions:

    Race for the Galaxy: They all add significant tactical depth to the game and lots of variety. The first one, Gathering Storm, has that amazing solitaire play variant which is a good way of getting better at the game.

    Pandemic: The additional role cards are excellent, and the two other options sounds like fun even if I have yet to use them!

    War of the Ring: The expansion added significant depth to the game as well as correcting imbalances detected over thousands of plays. That it brings a couple of additional battle scenarios is a plus. Amazingly I have yet to play them….

  7. Doug Adams says:

    This always leads to luggage load questions to our desert island …. can I bring my Command & Colors Ancients expansions, Heroscape expansions, possibly all my Memoir 44 stuff, and how about all my Wings of War miniatures?

    If I had to choose three …
    &cetera for Roads & Boats – extends almost infinite replayability to infinity and beyond.

    Galaxy Trucker Big Box – just more of the same wonderful stuff.

    The expansion packs for Blue Moon – all of them, even the wimpy Pillar!

    Apologies to Friends and Foes – those extra boards really complete the game (look at the numbers on the main path).

  8. Ryan B. says:

    Dale Yu said:

    “Secondly, I’ve often felt that expansions are just extras that get thrown in when the base game proves successful… If the expansions ideas were better, they would have been included in the base game, neh?”


    There is usually a comment made in all these posts that really shouts *meaning*… so I want to talk about Dale’s comment, as I find this the most significant position worth discussing.

    Surprise, Dale. I think yours is very astute point and I 100% completely agree. And, of course, I’m about to take it farther. There is another issue that I think needs to be discussed which runs as a corollary to the comment above.

    What happened to the days when a game was already made for six players?

    We get more and more of these companies out here that design and then charge for what is essentially a four player game. Then we get an offer for a 5-6 person expansion… at an additional cost? So I offer this as a spin to Dale’s question: if the expansion allows the game to accommodate six players, then why not already include this in the base game? Why not set a price for the base game to get us a single source copy of the game? This relatively new concept of “evergreening” games via multiple player expansions, just to create yet another method of raising future revenue, is a dubious proposition at best. Am I going to have to create extra shelf space for all of these “expansions” I’m buying for 5-6 players, when it should already be included in the game?

    I feel ripped off when companies are charging me again for the so called “privledge” of adding two extra players that should have been there all along.

    In my considered opinion, 5-6 player additions are NOT expansions. For anything over a MSRP of over $50.00, we should be getting the full product and design conceptualization. Not a design that is “parceled out” in sections for the sole purpose to extend profit. As consumers, we need to take more of a stand against this new publisher “fad”. I mean seriously, what’s next? The two player game that then expands to four players…. that *then* expands to six?

    The case for six player design is this: A lot of games get played by extended family around the holidays. When you are having couples over, having a 6 player game allows you to have 2 couples. Boardgames, by nature, are social. We *want* more people to be a part of the experience.

    So anything less than six and only one other couple can come over to play. That’s just not as much fun. I think there is plenty of viability to having 6 player games. I might even suggest that companies can make that a “market differentiator” for their game line.

    Just let’s try to get it in one box, that’s all.

  9. Frank Hamrick says:

    The one expansion that absolutely “makes the game” for me…
    * Advanced Civilization. Shorter playing time,etc. Once I bought this, I never again played regular Civ. I know of no other “expansion” that did this for me.
    * Memoir ’44 – hard to say which expansion, but I will say Overlord for starters, so we can play with eight.
    * Dominion – Prosperity. The best of the Dominion Expansions IMO (though I did enjoy Seaside).
    Honorable mention for me include
    * Catan Histories: Settlers of America (if you call this an expansion, though it’s actually a complete game of itself);
    * The 5-6 player expansion for Settlers (since that does enable more players, always a bonus IMO);
    * any of the PowerGrid maps are nice, but not necessary.

  10. Ryan B. says:

    BTW, I’m not against “expansions” in general. I just feel that an expansion should be allowing me to do something pronounced and structurally different with the game…. or *add* some element that is very significant.

    As Patrick Brennan noted, the expansions that are of most value are the ones that take a game and send it in a completely new direction and add new layers of complexity. And I would also add to that: dynamic interaction.

    Just not more players. That should always be fundamental to the base game.

  11. Larry Levy says:

    There are two very good reasons why publishers don’t usually include the materials to play their games with 6 players (and, increasingly often these days, 5 players). The first is economic. The extra materials (almost always extra player pieces and frequently extra cards and such) raise the price point for a game and publishers are very sensitive about how much they can charge for a game and still meet their sales projections. They might even require a bigger box, which is certainly a reason to separate the expanded materials and the base game. The second reason is that an awful lot of games don’t play very well with 6, even with the expansion. It’s surprisingly difficult to design a game that can handle a wide range of players and the most important numbers to focus on are 2-4 players. Often, the expansion is acquired to allow changes in gameplay, but experienced fans of the game avoid playing with more than the number of players provided for in the base game. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that a lot of purchasers of a game will initially try it with the maximum players possible–it’s human nature. If you give them the option to play with 6, they’ll do it and many will form a poor first impression of the game as a result. Even when an expansion is designed at the same time as the base game, the expansion usually isn’t included in the original title for these reasons. I’m sure a publisher occasionally tries to maximize their income string by holding an expansion back, but that’s decidedly risky, since they can’t be sure that the base game will sell well enough to make the expansion profitable.

  12. Eric Brosius says:

    I’ll list two, together with an “Honorable Mention”.

    1. The first is the 1910 expansion for Ticket to Ride. Now, don’t get me wrong—I enjoy the base Ticket to Ride game, but after a while you learn the tickets. In my opinion, knowing that a person who seems to need to connect to San Francisco must have the New York-San Francisco ticket (or whatever) is a flaw, especially since it seems unreasonably unfair to new players. The much wider array of tickets in the 1910 expansion (we generally play the Mega game) adds to my enjoyment, raising my rating from ‘8’ to ‘9’.

    2. The Kingsburg expansion, and in particular, the ability to choose discs to determine how many armies the king will send you (instead of rolling a common die.) I enjoy Kingsburg, but I find the base game grating because having an adequate army is sometimes crucial and sometimes meaningless, with the difference being a die roll. The discs eliminate this aggravation for me, raising my rating from ‘7’ to ‘8’.

    HM. Though I think Commands & Colors: Ancients is the best of the C&C series, I’ve really enjoyed the Epic expansion, which allows 8 players to play a double-sized game with a supreme commander and three subordinate commanders on each side. Walter Hunt has been arranging annual games of this at the Gathering, and I’ve had a blast playing them. This is an Honorable Mention because it’s really a different game with 8 players, not an improvement in the existing game (IMHO), but I’m glad they released this version.


    I’d also like to respond to Dale and Ryan. My three choices represent three different legitimate reasons for an expansion. The first applies to games that have cards or other hidden information. The cards may be a surprise the first few times you play, but sooner or later you learn the whole deck and the game loses some of its zing. This applies in particular to trivia games (a genre I don’t particularly enjoy,) where an expansion that includes a new deck makes perfect sense to me.

    The second reason for an expansion is that the people who enjoy the game, after it is published, are different from the target audience the designer envisioned while designing the game. Kingsburg is an example of this: it seems to be pitched as a fairly light game, but wound up appealing to gamers who wanted less luck (and who complained about the luck of the army die.) An expansion that allows the game to appeal to a different group of players makes sense to me.

    The third reason for an expansion is to create a completely different game. Some of these expansions are fan-initiated. Despite what Ryan says, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say GMT should have included an 8-player option in the original Commands & Colors: Ancients game (after all, it’s a 2-player game.) But I’m glad they added the expansion.

  13. Michael Sosa says:

    I think expansions make sense for publishers because it reduces the initial cost of production and lowers the potential losses if the game bombs. If the game becomes popular you can then sell these additional features to those that liked the original and want them. I do object to charging what seem to be ridiculous prices for expansions (I’m look at you Cuba: El Presidente), and with unnecessarily large boxes for them! But I’m not sure if I should get upset over this, since know one is being forced to buy anything.

    A friend recently became upset after buying the Shogun expansion from Queen Games at a high price, and a large box mostly empty, and with few components and an entire unnecessary set of new cards. There the anger comes out of being surprised at how little you were actually getting. If you know what the expansion brings then you can make your own rational decision. One side effect though is an erosion of confidence in certain publishers who charge too much for their expansions.

    In summary, I’m not all opposed to expansions, even those that turn a 2 player game into a multiplayer game. I’m just opposed to high prices!

  14. Michael Sosa says:

    Scott Nicholson makes an excellent point that the price of board games, and expansions, should not be primarily based on the components but into the effort of design. That of course makes it more difficult to judge whether an expansion is overpriced. When the expansion merely acts extra players and a few additional pieces, it would seem there was not much design work necessary for that particular feature, but perhaps the original was created with that number of players in mind, so that when you buy the expansion you are actually paying for the design of the original game. You can see this as being gouged or as helping base games become more economically accessible and rewarding the designer for a favorite.

    I guess that’s what I did with Cuba…

  15. Michael Sosa says:

    Oh here is the link to Nicholson’s article: http://www.boardgameinfo.com/content.php?445-Board-Game-Pricing

  16. Michael Hall says:

    I agree with a lot of the expansions mentioned by others. I think that expansions can be good if they add replay value to an existing game through variety (Power Grid, Dominion, Small World) or by expanding the design space (Race for the Galaxy, Pandemic, Lord of the Rings).

    My 3 expansions would be:

    1) Pandemic: On the Brink since it adds so much more replay to the game with new roles, new threats, and more variety in the utility cards. The original game was solid but the expansion adds a great deal to the design space without extending the play time or adding too much complexity.

    2) World of Warcraft Boardgame: The Shadow of War adds great new elements to the base game. If you have never played this game it is a lengthy character development game (ie Talisman, Prophecy). My favorite part of the game is that you have decks of cards for each specific character type and so each time you play you can utilize different abilities and make the character unique. The expansion adds a 20 new cards for each character along with new Quests and special cards that add flavor for each of the different Overlords. I would never consider playing the game without this expansion (unlike the 2nd expansion, this one doesn’t add any length to the game).

    3) Lord of the Rings: Friend and Foes – This is just essential to having all the elements of the storyline and the Foes add a new dimension. I will play the game without Sauron but even if I’m teaching new players I like to include F&F.

  17. jeffinberlin says:

    I haven’t read Nicholson’s article, and, in theory, it would make sense. But the reality is, the designer for a game and/or an expansion usually receives the same percentage no matter how much effort he/she has invested in the design and development. We don’t get paid by the hour. And I don’t believe that publishers factor in how much development work they’ve done. From what I know, it is mainly determined by the material cost, what price point they think will help them meet their projected sales (as Larry said), and how they can best market the game/expansion (size/shape of box, etc.).

    So I would have to respectfully disagree that prices are determined by the amount of design and development time for a game.

  18. Ryan B. says:

    I had to laugh recently when I realized that when any of you want to start your conversations that correlate with my way of thinking it goes like: “Now I almost never agree with Ryan BUT….” (LOL)

    You guys are funny because you all think I am out to convince you of something. I’m not. My thought (which is just MY opinion) is that most in the Euro Community think lockstep with each other and there seems to be more of an interest in protecting “the person” vs. “the idea”. Which does not engender true debate. Of course, I’m generalizing… as there are more than a few people whose thoughts I have a lot, A LOT of respect for. I put up my comments to force you you all to at least *consider* a radically different way of thinking. Ironically, the legitimacy from that line of thinking comes from the fact it is based on *feedback* from a whole lot of people… people who aren’t part of the game “community” but actually enjoy all those Hasbro game offerings you all often make fun of… like Monopoly. Yes, I’m the radically different opinion on these forums. But I don’t post here expecting to find agreement….most of the time, anyway, as you will note below.

    @ Eric Brosius: I think about the only thing out there that starts off as “Dale and Ryan” is that I belief that both Ryan and Dale think that it is incredibly weird to see the words “Dale and Ryan” put together to illustrate *any* point. We are so philosophically and diametrically opposed, the concept doesn’t even register. : ) Look, I support Dale’s immediate thoughts here because they were smartly written, reflect a powerful idea and make a strong, logical point. But that doesn’t necessary mean that Dale is going to automatically support…. or being tied to… my follow-up point. So I would be careful in saying “Dale and Ryan”.


    That said… Larry? You certainly have had your morning Maxwell House again. How do I start? Listen. I get in about 2-3 games in a two month period in with various friends. And when we get together, time and time and time again I am asked about why so few of my games play 6 people, especially when we are trying to plan all these game nights. Really, I wish that some manufacturers would publish more 8-10 games, although I know that expectation is waaaaaaaay lofty.

    Ya know…. I was typing away (and copying and pasting) my original thoughts together thinking… “well this might be one of those times when this comment won’t generate any discussion because there will be a ton of agreement”

    And I would be wrong. Never underestimate…. I gotta remember that. So lets look at your comments one by one after the jump. I just want to make sure they get focus.

    (See below comment.)

  19. Ryan B. says:

    To the editors: It would be awesome to get an *edit* button for these comments so we could correct and amend grammatical errors.


    On to Larry’s points:

    There are two very good reasons why publishers don’t usually include the materials to play their games with 6 players (and, increasingly often these days, 5 players). The first is economic. The extra materials (almost always extra player pieces and frequently extra cards and such) raise the price point for a game and publishers are very sensitive about how much they can charge for a game and still meet their sales projections.

    C’mon Larry. The price of materials to add just one more player is absolutely nominal in a longer print run. To get me to believe otherwise will require an in-depth thesis that demonstrates a full command of the logistics and manufacturing process. Either that or a well established game publisher gets on here and gives us both specific figures of what it often does cost. To the penny. And remember, I was talking games with an MSRP above $50.00. That’s important. I definitely think they can absorb the cost. Obviously we see all sorts of companies that show they can produce 6 player games….sometimes component rich games under $30.00.


    The second reason is that an awful lot of games don’t play very well with 6, even with the expansion. It’s surprisingly difficult to design a game that can handle a wide range of players and the most important numbers to focus on are 2-4 players.

    Well, I have no problem with the idea that an awful lot of games don’t play very well with 6. But think about what you are saying. If you design the game for 4 because it doesn’t design and play well with 6…. then why is the corresponding expansion for 6 suddenly a good idea??? It’s circular logic at it finest, Larry.


    Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that a lot of purchasers of a game will initially try it with the maximum players possible–it’s human nature. If you give them the option to play with 6, they’ll do it and many will form a poor first impression of the game as a result.

    If the publisher says a game is designed for 6 players then why in the world is it unfortunate that people would try and play with that many people? You seemingly want to play the game with as few of people as possible. But any fan of games as an motivator of social interaction are going to want to see a game have the potential to get together as many friends as possible. And if a game is not designed for more than 4, fine. Then don’t falsely design the game for 6 or put out an expansion for 6 just for the sake of doing so and they won’t have that poor impression you speak of. But how is that the fault of the people playing the game…. and not the publishers responsibility?

  20. jason says:

    I think I’d have to go with…

    Dominion: Prosperity – great new direction for the base game

    Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm – goals give some added mid-game strategy

    Pandemic: On the Brink – new roles are dynamic and add some freshness

  21. I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.
    I will bookmark your blog and check again here frequently.
    I’m quite sure I’ll learn a lot of new stuff right here! Best
    of luck for the next!

  22. Mich says:

    My brother recommended I may like this web site.
    He was once entirely right. This post truly made my day.
    You can not imagine simply how much time I had spent for this
    info! Thanks!

Leave a Reply