Opposing Opinions: Expansion Fever vs. Expansion Fatigue

Tom Rosen  and Larry Levy are good friends who regularly get together to play games as part of their games group.  Despite this–or perhaps because of it–they seem to have very different ideas about gaming and are not shy about pointing out just how misguided the other’s views are.  In this semi-regular series, we’ll eavesdrop on one of their many gaming arguments to get their opposing opinions on a variety of subjects.  Feel free to take a side and add your own thoughts on the subject as well.

This time, the topic is board game expansions.  Let’s listen in…

Expansion Fever (Tom)

Expansions are the lifeblood of modern board games.  They are the lure that keeps me coming back for more with countless titles.  An expansion has the potential to inject new life into an old favorite and often succeeds in resuscitating a game on its last legs.  There are so many virtues of these small treasures to extol.

First and foremost, they give you the opportunity for a new experience without having to learn a whole new game.  I often want to try something different but am not in the mood to sit through an entire rules explanation and learning game.  Expansions that are done right give you the best of both worlds.  A new map in Age of Steam or new characters in Mr. Jack or armies in Neuroshima Hex, they all shake things up without much of a barrier to entry.

Second, expansions are economical.  This may seem insane to those of you who have spent gobs of money on countless expansions for Carcassonne, Heroscape, or Dominion, but expansions really are economical if acquired in moderation and with some forethought.  Pandemic was on its last legs and would have been dead weight without On the Brink and Summoner Wars would surely get tired fast without new faction decks to try out.  If a moderate cost allows me to extend the lifespan of my big box game then I’ll consider that a win.

Third, video games have patches, why shouldn’t board games?  Expansions allow a designer to improve or fix an earlier release.  Designers are human and sure to learn more about their games after they’ve been released into the wild to be experimented with by the masses.  It seems only fair to allow them to fine tune their games by essentially making a new version available through incorporating additional components and rules.  A Game of Thrones is a fine example of this principle with significant improvements and fixes introduced by Clash of Kings and Storm of Swords, so much so that the upcoming 2nd Edition will incorporate elements from both.  Carcassonne was similarly improved by the new units and tiles in both Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders before the game eventually went off the deep end.

Those are just a few reasons why expansions deserve a place of honor in any gamer’s collection and ought to be treasured as a gamer’s best friend.

Expansion Fatigue (Larry)

Actually, a steady flow of new games with interesting ideas, compelling themes, and innovative mechanics are the lifeblood of modern boardgaming.  Expansions of existing games are just an added enhancement that publishers love, because it allows them to cater to an audience that is already hooked, usually at a reduced cost and reduced effort.  Some gamers love the idea and some don’t.  Include me squarely in the latter camp.

Before I get to the specifics of why I almost always avoid expansions, let me address each of Tom’s points.  First, it’s true that there are plenty of gamers who prefer to play something familiar rather than having to learn something completely new.  I, however, am the exact opposite of that.  I love learning new games and will almost always prefer to play something new rather than an old favorite.  That desire to explore a new system is very rarely satisfied by an expansion.  More often, it’s a tweak of or an addition to the base game.  The thrill just isn’t the same.  Playing an expansion gives me the worst of both worlds:  it lacks the thrill of the new and doesn’t allow me to explore a game I already know.

Second, expansions are economical?  Sure, if by economical, you mean a money pit!  I can buy a new game and play it dozens of times, getting terrific value for my money.  But once expansions enter the picture, there’s no end to how much money I can pour into that same game.  And we both know this isn’t an academic distinction I’m making:  there are players who pour hundreds of dollars into new enhancements of their favorite design.  I say play the games you like and fork over the dollars if they fit into your budget.  But don’t tell me that I’m saving money by purchasing each and every expansion that comes out.

Finally, yes, designers and publishers should be allowed to make mistakes and to correct them with a patch.  Many are able to do this with an official variant, possibly communicated on the Geek; these can be played free of charge without having to buy an expansion.  But sure, if the expansion leads to an improved gaming experience, I’m not opposed.  And I have played some games, like Carcassonne and Mare Nostrum, which were enhanced by their expansions.

But gaming time is precious and limited, so there’s a lot to be said for a designer getting it right the first time.  To be honest, with so many good games out there, it’s the rare game that gets a second chance.  Why take a chance on a game you know to be flawed, that might be improved with a patch, when you can play something you know is good?

And let’s get real:  the vast majority of expansions are not aimed at those who didn’t care for the base game, but at those who can’t get enough of it and want more.  So taking all that into account, your third point barely registers.

I will point out one related concern.  I’m a little fearful that the current emphasis on expansions in our hobby may be leading to a trend towards disposable designs.  I play the latest expansion a couple of times, I say “Okay, I’ve figured that one out”, and then move on to the next.  This, as opposed to truly exploring a single game with a single set of rules.  I’m seeing a little of this in myself.  We’ve recently been playing Age of Industry on its two base maps and two expansion maps.  And while it’s been fun, there’s the tendency to say, “What gimmicks do I need to master this scenario?” and to check out another one after you’ve had some success.  Whereas I never felt that way with the game’s predecessor, Brass.  Each game was a continued challenge even though the rules and the map remained the same.  It may be that Brass is a little deeper than AoI, but the explanation can just as likely be the attitude that players get toward the game due to its expandable nature.  While the variety is nice, I don’t think this is altogether a healthy situation for the game and for the hobby as a whole.

I could continue to poke holes in your feeble arguments, but I guess I should give you a chance to pipe up.  So let’s see if you can do better.

Tom’s Rebuttal

The worst of both worlds?!  The gloves are coming off now!

Surely you mean that expansions are the panacea for all of board gaming’s ailments.  They provide the thrill of trying something new without the downtime and effort of learning something entirely new.  It’s so much quicker and easier to learn an overlay that integrates a few new components and rules into an old favorite, rather than slogging through an entirely new system.  Yet with just a little upfront effort, you get the benefit of experiencing something new, different, and exciting.

As far as expansions allowing designers to improve or fix earlier releases, it sounds like you’ll come around on that theory.  You make a great point with Mare Nostrum and I appreciate the additional support for my position.  War of the Ring deserves to be mentioned here as well with the greater balance that is achieved through the introduction of siege engines, Galadriel, and the Ents.

It looks like there’s room for you to come around on the first two points as well.  You’re right that expansions are not economical if purchased wholesale and without regard for their potential impact on game play.  However, I’m not advocating the purchase of every expansion ever made, but rather for the utility of many expansions in revitalizing a sunk cost investment.  My copy of Small World would start collecting dust if I hadn’t been able to shake things up for the small cost of the Cursed and Grand Dames expansions.  Galaxy Trucker would have suffered a similar fate if not for the new tiles and boards introduced by the Big Expansion.  And Hansa Teutonica would never have seen so many plays if the East Expansion map had not been released.  Those base games have seen so much more table time as a direct result of their expansions.  I may not have your mathematical expertise, but simple arithmetic tells me that these are economical expansions.  I could run the amortization numbers but I know they’ll tell me I’m coming out ahead by purchasing these expansions.

The rise of disposable designs is a potential problem in the modern board game market, but it has nothing to do with expansions.  In fact, expansions are a solid indicator that a game is not disposable.  The glut of new releases over the past few years has witnessed all sorts of throw-away middleweight games coming out.  Those inconsequential, derivative games are disposable and responsible for turning a burgeoning market into an overflowing one.  But those are not the games that get expansions.  You see expansions for the tried and true games, the games that have their real fans and that can stand up to 50+ plays.  Games that get new maps are anything but disposable.  It would be absurd to say that Age of Steam, Power Grid, or Ticket to Ride are disposable games.  They’re some of the most enduring designs of the past decade and their surplus of maps are a testament to that fact.

Whether it’s a new map or new armies, new tiles or new units, new rules or modifications, expansions frequently bring out the best in existing games.  In many facets of life, it’s hard to get something exactly right the first time around.  Expansions recognize that fact.  Expansions let us allow the designer into our home to fiddle with his or her creation and fine-tune it.  Expansions allow a game to mature into the fully realized design that it was meant to be.  Board games flourish when expanded and boardgamers benefit when they embrace expansions.

You surely realize that your position has become untenable at this point.  I will graciously accept your concession now.

Larry’s Rebuttal

Damn nice of you, Tom.  I might be tempted to accept if you had actually made any relevant points.

Here’s the thing.  I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any expansions or that they’re evil and shouldn’t be played.  I’m just saying they aren’t for me.  As I mentioned earlier, I am a fully pledged member of the Cult of the New.  With exceeding few exceptions, a game expansion just doesn’t satisfy my desire to try something novel.  They rarely introduce new mechanics or combine existing ones in interesting ways.  So they just don’t score on the Newness factor.

Another point is that expansions work best for dyed-in-the-wool fans of a game who have played it numerous times and want a slightly different approach to freshen things up.  That does not describe how I play games.  I crave variety, so I play a lot of different games, both new ones and old favorites.  If I play the same game half a dozen times a year, that’s a lot.  I just don’t ever get to the point where an expansion is required, as there’s still plenty to explore in the base game.

As a case in point, Age of Steam is one of my all-time favorite designs, solidly entrenched in my Top 10.  But until recently, I had never played anything but the Rust Belt map that comes with the game.  Why should I?  The original map plays great, the game is always a challenge, and it’s a tough game to get to the table.  I realize that there’s approximately 197 expansions for this game, but I don’t see the need for them.  I’m perfectly happy with the original game I bought.

And obviously I’m not saying that this makes Age of Steam at all disposable.  But each individual expansion does seem to come off as somewhat disposable, given the way that some of the game’s fans keep snapping them up like so many M&M’s.  I just worry a bit about the subconscious effect of all this plenty.

Exploring the depths and nuances of a game is one of the best things about our hobby, but expansions often make that exploration more difficult.  Hansa Teutonica is a good example.  I like the base game, but struggled with some of the strategy.  But when the expansion came out, all of the game’s many fans wanted to play the new version.  This only put me further behind the learning curve and was definitely frustrating at times.  In my case, it made for a lesser game experience than just playing the original game.

This attitude addresses all of your points.  Expansions give you something fresh without the drudgery of having to learn new rules?  I’m a rules junkie, man!  I love going through a new rule set, so that’s a definite negative point against expansions for me.  Expansions give you the incentive to play a game more often?  I rarely get to play the base game enough before all the shiny new releases get all the attention!  And if they don’t get the game right the first time, I’m just not likely to throw good money after bad in the hope that an expansion will improve things.  Better off selling the failed game and moving on to something new.

I’m happy that you enjoy all your expansions, Tom.  But for me, they truly are the worst of both worlds.  Let me play something brand new or an old favorite and leave those silly new maps at home.

Tom’s Final Say

I think you may actually put many Cult of the New members to shame with your utter devotion to all things shiny and new.  It’s beginning to become apparent that expansions may not fit into your unique approach to the hobby, but I maintain that expansions are a blessing for the vast majority of gamers who see far more than a half dozen plays on their favorites in a given year.

While you master the breadth of the hobby, many of us are striving for a bit of depth as well.  Based on the five & dime (and quarter) lists you see every January, I think you’re an outlier in your ways.  I often have 10-15 games that see over ten plays in a given year, and overall I’ve had a number of games hit 50+ plays.  Games like Carcassonne, Mr. Jack, Pandemic, and Reef Encounter are enduring designs that stand up to play after play, but eventually, as they reach 50 plays, they need a bit of a boost to shake things up.  I don’t want to just discard them and move on to one of the many inferior 2011 releases, I want to continue to explore these tried and true games with a tweak or two.

Expansions are the hobby’s savior from disposable designs.  You decry this growing trend but fail to recognize its true source.  Disposable designing comes from your hummingbird ways of flitting hither and thither, never stopping to smell the roses, if you will, and engage at a meaningful level with a game.  Expansions are what allow gamers to repeatedly play and explore the best games from years past.  Yes, expansions can be exploited for a quick buck, as you tend to see following each Spiel des Jahres award presentation, or as you see once a single game amasses a double digit number of expansions.  But you’re throwing the baby out with the bath water if you dismiss all expansions because of a few bad apples.  Expansions have enormous potential to improve the hobby and the board gaming experience, and as we can see from the specific examples I’ve mentioned throughout, they’ve already achieved this potential in many cases and they have a promising future ahead.

Larry’s Final Say

But the whole point is that I am striving for depth by ignoring expansions.  Look, I’d love to get to play my favorite games from each year more often, but I don’t get to game as much as you do, nor do I have a regular two-player opponent (I’ve noticed that many of the examples you cite are two-player affairs).  You can only play the games that others want to and the call of the new and shiny affects most of my potential opponents as strongly as it does me.  But when I am able to devote a good deal of time to a design, I want to use it to develop a greater appreciation for the base game, rather than hurtling off in a new direction with some expansion.  It is the expansion lovers who are the real hummingbirds, craving some sparkly new tweak instead of truly mastering the game as published.

I acknowledge that I am not typical in my feelings towards expansions.  And I’m not too unhappy with the current state of affairs in gaming, since even with Expansion Fever at an all-time high, there’s more than enough new stuff coming out each year.  But I do have to admit that the expectation of expansions in many cases has me a bit concerned.  I recently purchased The Lord of the Rings Card Game and it came in a box about four or five times larger than it needed to be.  It was truly ludicrous.  The justification, of course, is that it provides room for the dozen or so expansions that FFG assumes that everyone will pick up.  I guess that’s a good thing for the target audience, but the suggestiveness of the packaging made me feel a little sad.  Sometimes you just want to buy a standalone game and not make a lifestyle choice.

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23 Responses to Opposing Opinions: Expansion Fever vs. Expansion Fatigue

  1. McJarvis says:

    I think there is some hidden humor here: I’ve seen Larry play more expansions than Tom in the last few weeks during our game groups ;)

  2. jeffinberlin says:

    Interesting discussion. I was just in the process of posting a short essay on this topic from a game designer’s perspective–see my blog, Berlin Game Design.

    It is definitely a mixed bag, as publishers can focus so much on their expansions, that they have less resources to find and produce new games–especially by new designers. On the other hand, successful games and their expansions can also give publishers more resources to find and produce new games.

  3. huzonfirst says:

    Mike, that’s just weird timing. Age of Industry was taught to me using an expansion, so in a way that doesn’t count. And I played the Steam expansion you brought because it handles 2 players, something the base game doesn’t do. (It’s the one by Morgan Dontanville and is actually very good.) So while I may be branching out a bit, my basic attitude towards expansions remains the same. If there’s still any doubt in your mind about our two positions, just remember, Tom is evil!

  4. McJarvis says:

    Oh the thorny tightrope that is our gamegroup!

    For the record- I’m on board with Larry. Whenever I see an expansion is coming out, all I can think is “great, the designer decided to milk an old franchise instead of developing a new game for me.” Admittedly, this is self centered. :)

  5. peer says:

    I usually dont play any expansions (only exception being Descent-Add ons and Himalaya for sic and the odd Settlers expansion).
    However, whenever a publisher milks a cow, Im happy, because that means they will get money they can invest in new games.

  6. peer says:

    Oh one more thing: What I dont like is if a game relies of being expandable. Expansions should not be mandatory. The game should be able to hold on its own. The Lord of the ring Cardgame for example needs to be constantly “updated” to hold its interest. For me thats not a good sign.

    • bilben says:

      Peer wrote: “The game should be able to hold on its own. The Lord of the ring Cardgame for example needs to be constantly “updated” to hold its interest. For me thats not a good sign.”

      Actually, my experience with this game so far is that it stands on its own quite well. I purchased the game with the first two expansion decks, but I’ve played it about 20 times so far without touching them. I’m sure I’ll want to explore the new adventures provided by the expansions at some time in the future, but I feel like I’m definitely getting my money’s worth out of the core set.

  7. Kevin Wood says:

    I find it ironic that both of you are concerned that we’re heading towards an era of “disposable design” without realizing we’re already in it. Just look at the Essen report from last year and tell me I’m wrong.

    Some games really do shine with expansions, especially experience games such as Talisman or Descent. I also appreciate expansions that really do add to the original design (Carcassonne being the poster child for this category).

    However, there are also a LOT of unnecessary expansions out there, with some games reaching the “spam” level of expansion releases. Carcassonne also fits this category nicely, and Michael Schacht has released a stunning number of additions to some his games.

    I guess the crux of the problem is that, with so many games out there, it’s a rare that an expansion will ever even hit the table. However, in my experience, “essential” expansions seem to be adopted rather quickly and so see the play they deserve.

  8. Jason says:

    I may or may not be the average gamer, but games are a “luxury” for me and I don’t have hundreds of them. With the limited amount of money that I have to buy games and the limited amount of time I have to play them, I avoid expansions. I’d rather invest my resources in something different – variety is the spice of life, eh? Just this weekend I was at a FLGS (not mine, as my town does not have a good one) and was going to make one purchase. One of my girls wanted Dominion: Intrigue. I just couldn’t do it, yet (probably some day – and only on that one because there are 5 people in my family who like to play). If I’m spending that kind of money, I’m getting something new.

    Other than that, the main reason I disagree with expansions is when a designer specifically designs a game for furture expansions to exploit gamers and their money when they could have added that component in the core game to begin. Or when they milk a very popular game with never-ending superfluos add-ons (i.e., Carcassonne). If it is a true correction to fix the core game’s mechanics for a better game – and then they stop with that one expansion (ala Kingsburg, for example) – then that is a bit different…

    But all gamers are different and if they love a particular game, they’ll probably love the never-ending expansions and buy them. So I can’t really blame the designers; just Mr. Rosen, ha! :-) Of course really, the making and buying of expansions is no skin off me – I just prefer to let them be.

    • Chuck Waterman says:

      Interesting, Jason! I’m also dealing with a limited games budget and limited space to store them (I have 110 games and live in Japan.) However, one of the resaons I *like* expansions of favorite games is that I’m *not* buying new games, and I’m often able to store expansions in the box that the original came in. (Don’t get me started about game boxes that don’t have enough room to store expansions….)

      I’ve also gotta say – **hold on there just one cotton-pickin mee-neet” (in a Quick Draw McGraw voice, of course) about the “exploiting gamers comment. I’m just guessing now (not being a serious game designer myself), but I’d say that certainly some designers begin with a grand design fora sprawling game that will be good when all the components are in place, but could also be enjoyable with a stripped down set of those components. As I understand it, there were more than *300* different Kingdom Cards in Donald X’s **original design** of Dominion. Can you imagine if the company had decided to only publish a complete set with all the cards in it? I think the same could be true for Lord of the Rings the Card Game, and several others. I’d prefer that a company splits up a design into an affordable “base game” so that I can spend **less** money on it before deciding whether I want to pay for the whole kit and kaboodle.

      For example, I’d never buy Dominion Alchemy, Glad I didn’t have to pay for that part of it.

  9. jeffinberlin says:

    Jason wrote: “…when a designer specifically designs a game for furture expansions to exploit gamers and their money when they could have added that component in the core game to begin. Or when they milk a very popular game with never-ending superfluos add-ons…”

    You hit the nail on the head, Jason–we are out to exploit you and get your money! Muhahaha!
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist:-)

    In case you haven’t noticed, game designers are not in this biz to make a fortune. Some of them do it full-time and need to feed their families, but even then, the motivation to make expansions is more from a desire to keep tinkering on a game design they loved and just can’t leave behind (why Schacht, for example, keeps offering free expansions to his games). And I don’t think it’s part of a publishers evil plan to swindle gamers out of their hard-earned cash, either, but rather an attempt to keep a good thing going.

    Gamers just need to be discerning when deciding which expansions, if any, are necessary for their situations, just as they need to be discerning which new games are absolutely necessary to their respective collections.

  10. Lucas Hedgren says:

    Great discussion!

    So, I’m curious though. it seems like everyone has examples of the types of expansions that they like, but what are some examples of “bad” expansions? Carcassonne expansions are frequent targets of derision, but it seems to me that the the volume of the expansions is the sore point, rather than the actual content.(Carc:Catapult notwithstanding.) What makes an expansion bad? If there are no bad expansions in a vacuum, why do the existence of other expansions make the collective experience poorer? What expansions have you played that were “bad”?

    Now, I’m not arguing that there are no bad expansions (I’ve experienced some) nor that expansions in general can cause issues (What version are we playing? Why not explore the base game more? Etc.) but rather exploring the consensus that builds around “too many” expansions.

  11. McJarvis says:

    Jeff wrote: “the motivation to make expansions is more from a desire to keep tinkering on a game design they loved and just can’t leave behind …”

    I would prefer they store up all these ideas and release a wholey new game experience for me. Brass transitioning into Age of Industry comes to mind: AoI is obviously inspired by Brass and probably could have been released as an “expansion pack” or something, but it works much better standing alone as its own play experience. Steam Barons is an example of an expansion which probably should have been its own game. (To use two Wallace titles)

  12. McJarvis says:

    Lucas wrote: “What makes an expansion bad?”

    Three things come to mind:

    1) An expansion that is outright unfun
    —> Obviously if the base game is preferable to playing with the expansion, then the expansion is “bad” by the normal definition of bad games.

    2) An expansion that “fixes” a game
    —> If an expansion addresses major issues the base game had, then I view this as a failure of the base game. Don’t get me wrong- it’s great that designers care to fix their games…but I feel like games should be well polished and “complete” before they hit the shelves.

    3) An expansion that could be a whole new game
    —> There are some expansions which really deserve the be a whole new game unto themselves. Variety is a great thing and all, but it is much easier to get a new game taught to a group than a base game + expansions.

  13. Lynn Ellis says:

    One fact that has been alluded to in the comments, but not expanded on, is the reality that expansions to successful games help “pay the bills” for the publisher. If you are really averse to acquiring expansions for any game, then don’t. It’s often as simple as that. But at least be aware and appreciative of the fact that that new great game you just bought and rave about playing from company X, may not have been possible to produce in the first place if it were not for the influx of revenue from producing expansions for the publisher’s high volume titles.

  14. garygarison says:

    Goodness, I’ve never seen this side of Larry. Bravo, good man! Sling some of that trenchant muck over at BGG!

  15. Michael Hall says:

    I agree with Jeff that expansions are a “mixed bag”. For me the good expansions are the ones that add new depth or new life to the game. On the Brink added new life to Pandemic, Friends and Foes added depth and complexity to the Lord of the Rings board game, and Leaders added a new layer of drafting strategies. I also like expansions that add variety like Small World races and powers, Puerto Rico buildings, and Power Grid maps, however I can see how these could be viewed as not adding value and even taking away from the original (Alhambra, El Grande, Thurn & Taxis are some examples for me). I agree with Larry that there is a little too much emphasis on expansions during the design of games (LCG, Deck building games, etc) and that putting room in the box to store the expansions does seem to place an obligatory need to fill that space with said expansions. This might be good marketing and foresight by the publisher but only if I really want the expansion.

  16. Jason says:

    Lynn Ellis wrote: “But at least be aware and appreciative of the fact that that new great game you just bought and rave about playing from company X, may not have been possible to produce in the first place if it were not for the influx of revenue from producing expansions for the publisher’s high volume titles.”

    I see the point. And I also see jeffinberlin’s point in reply to my comment. I by no means imply to lump the whole industry together, nor do I want to appear majorly cynical. However, money is also a motivating factor in producing these games, just as “love of the hobby” is. Maybe more so for publishers than designers? Saying otherwise I think is simlpy unrealistic. I cannot fault that. We all have bills. And doing what you love and making money from it: isn’t that a philosophy preached and promoted?! Doing something for money and love need not be in conflict. I don’t know, maybe that’s too American of me?

    But now, I also have trouble believing that Fantasy Flight really needs the proceeds from their Arkham Horror (and other) expansion publications in order to pay for their next new game release. Or that Days of Wonder needs all those Ticket to Ride add-ons to stay in business. And I also think that designers know the trend right now: design a hit game and set yourself up for any number of future expansions. I personally think many expansions could have been included in the base game for not much extra production cost and, thus, price to the consumer. Small World Underground may be the best hot-off-the-press example. This is no personal attack against Keyaerts, but with the track record of the base game and the success of the expansions, could Underground not have included more in it right out of the gates, instead of following the exact same mold as the original game? Because you know more expansions are coming for it. Maybe it was a Days of Wonder decision, not Keyaerts’, I don’t know?

    I have the same issue with my all-time favorite computer game, Civilization – boy do they know how to keep the loyal fans coming back to the stores! :-)

    So again, it’s not that I’m really faulting the expansion model, but it annoys me. I’ll spend my money on something new and hopefully original.

  17. patrickkorner says:

    Heh. I wrote an article about Expansionitis several years back now over at the now defunct Gamefest site, so I guess the old saw is true: the more things change…

    I was anti-expansion then and I still am today, although that doesn’t stop me from buying quite a few expansions myself. The self-loathing is growing… ;)

    My primary complaints are that
    a) Too many expansions are clearly the result of under-developed titles being released to beta testers (aka the public)
    b) Too many expansions take talented designers’ time away from finding new fields to explore and leave them ‘in a rut’, so to speak.
    c) Too many expansions smell like the excess stuff cut out by diligent editors being stuffed back in. A really good game doesn’t usually need the excess complication that expansions provide (this is also why most of my favourite expansions are ones that do subtle things like replace the board or cards instead of adding wholly new mechanisms)

    There are a few games out there that NEED expansions to thrive, and for those my opinions naturally differ. Mansions of Madness, for example, needs new scenarios to enhance replayability, so I don’t mind FFG expanding the heck out of the game. Same goes for Dominion, since the game gets stale very quickly without a continuous influx of new cards (it’s essentially a Living CCG, even though it isn’t being promoted as one…). And let’s not forget the granddaddy of all games built on the expansion model: Magic: The Gathering, which has turned its steady treadmill of cards into a healthy profit vehicle…


  18. Ted Alspach says:

    Excellent article…those were some great insights from Tom, and some very very shaky thoughts from Larry.

    One thing that’s missing from Tom’s argument, and it’s probably something Larry knew that he didn’t want to bring up, is that the enjoyment of expansions is very high relative to the average “new” game purchased. Because you already like the game system, you’re probably going to have a good time with the expansion that utilizes that system. There’s much less risk in terms of time, money and shelf space that you have to invest, and the likelihood that you’ll enjoy the expansion (because you already enjoy the game) is much higher than a new game that you haven’t yet experience. I love new games, but I will *always* buy one or even two expansions for games that I love. Even if I decide later that the original game is “better,” the expansion has given me a new experience or two while playing that game I love, and maybe it makes me love that game even more.

    And Larry is wrong about publishers making expansions to make a quick buck. Expansions *always* sell less than the original game, usually substantially less, because only a small fraction of players of that original game are going to like it enough to plunk down more $$$ for an expansion. There are so few games like Carc and Dominion that have sold 10’s or 100’s of thousands of copies that make expansions viable, and even then they aren’t guaranteed.

    Just wait until Larry finally publishes “Deduce or Die…or Don’t” and then we’ll see him change his tune…

  19. peer says:

    Mmh, its true that Expansions sell less, but there is also much less risk involved of publishing them. Take Fantasy Flight: If they put out an expansion for -say – Arkham Horror, they are sure to sell x copies (I would guess lower thousands, but I dont know). And the development costs are relatively low.
    If they put out a new game they dont know if it will be a hit or miss. They can only guess. And especially if its a game that needs a lot of material (= high production and development cost) there is a serious risk involved that the game is a flop.
    A publisher with a line like FFG that has a huge output on “big” games, that are expansive to produce needs to run some lines of expansions, just to be sure to be able to pay for the rest. The new games might pay for themselves, but they might not. Expansions are more predictable.

    So I totally understand the need to bring out expansions, even if I dont play them myself.

  20. Put me square into the anti-expansion camp. I like a game that stands on it’s own merits.

    However, there are a couple games that I thought the expansion “improved” the original, and that is Mare Nostrum and Game of Thrones. Lucky for me the latter is coming out with the best of everything in a new 2nd edition game. I haven’t bought the expansions for GoT, but I will definitely be buying the 2nd edition. And of course the only expansion that improves Small World is Vinci. And I don’t even need small world to play it. Win Win.

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