Review of expansions for Era: Medieval Age by Jeff Lingwall
- Designed by Matt Leacock
- Published by Eggertspiele
- 1-4 Players
- Playing time: 45-60 minutes (expect longer plays than with the base game due to increased complexity, at least at first)
The Basic Idea
When the Opinionated Gamers reviewed Matt Leacock’s Era: Medieval Age some time ago, the reaction was generally lukewarm. Two OG’s rated the game “I like it” and five listed themselves as “neutral.” Although I’d been a longtime fan of the Roll Through the Ages series, I hadn’t yet played Era when the review was published. If I had, I would probably have been in the “I love it” camp. I enjoy dice games, city building, simultaneous action, games with “toy” value that a younger child can play with regardless of the rules, and sandboxy engine building. Era combined all those elements in a pretty package, and so when I finally got on board the game received quite a bit of play.
Since its release, Era has seen three mini expansions called “Collector Sets” and one major expansion called “Rivers and Roads”. The expansions generally add more: more buildings, more ways to score points, more geometry to puzzle through for optimal placement, more disasters, and so on. I very much enjoy the additional creative space opened up by the expansions, but that space comes at the price of substantial increased complexity, at least when playing with all expansions together.
The Rules, in Brief
Collector Set 1 added two new buildings and a new way to use an existing building (the Cathedral). These powerful buildings have the potential to score massive amounts of points based on dice at the end of the game, and each gives access to one “super die” when built. Collector Set 2 expanded the farming strategy through the Manor, which scores extra points for farms, and the Abbey strengthened religious towns by giving extra points for white buildings. Playing with the Manor also engaged a new disaster (blight), which has the potential to destroy players’ farms. Collector Set 3 introduced Schools and Weigh Housse, buildings that added trade goods or culture when collecting resources.
Rivers and Roads then added a host of new material. Players can now build a network of roads (scoring a point for each touching building) and build their town around a river (doubling adjacent building scoring like walled in areas in the base game), with the river flooding during disasters. Bridges and Gates can traverse these in a nice aesthetic touch. We also received new buildings with a variety of uses. Chapels continued the religious die re-roll mechanism by enabling an additional die re-roll, Wharfs (built on the river) let players swap resources, the Joinery and Quarry let players add builds and automatic stone collection, the Armory added automatic swords for the exhort step, and the Trade Fair increased interaction by enabling forced trades with other players.
Rivers and Roads came with a number of scenarios to play through, first introducing roads, then rivers, then both, along with the new buildings. As these elements add substantial complexity to the game in terms of sheer number of options, these learning scenarios are very welcome.
First, the expansion elements that I love. I love road building, which increases the geometric puzzle elements in city building. I also love the structures that enable engine building, like the Quarry, School, Joinery, and so on. These add substantially to game play without overcomplicating the game. I also quite like the buildings that strengthen certain strategies, like the Manor. I’m partial to building up a large farm network, and so the possibility of strengthening that strategy for points is a great thing.
I’ve enjoyed playing with the river, but am a little less enthused. The river complicates the geometry of the game in a more restricted way than road networks, and also incentives linear construction to gain the river bonuses, resulting in perhaps less creative building arrangements. I’m also a little hesitant about the buildings in Collector Set 1. These “super” buildings generate a bit of a race element due to their scoring power, in addition to the existing race elements (such as going for the cheap, extensive walls early in the game), and they are potentially quite powerful, so whoever wins that early race may have a substantial advantage. Perhaps those worries would go away with more plays, but that’s my impression for now.
Overall, for those that enjoy this game and are willing to invest a bit of time in getting to know all the additional options provided by the expansions, they offer a significantly expanded sandbox for city building, new ways to engage the other players, and a chance to create new scoring combos. For those willing to make that investment, there is plenty here to enjoy. More casual players might be overwhelmed.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Chris Wray: I’ve been loving this expansion, which adds variety to the base game (which is, IMHO, an underrated gem). As Jeff mentioned, there are a lot of options provided by the expansion, and I enthusiastically recommend it for owners of the base game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
§ I love it! Jeff L., Chris Wray
§ I like it.
§ Not for me…