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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!]