Expanding Fears

Expanding games is a bit tricky. A very good game can be lessened by an expansion that destroys its balance, its flow, or its overall feel. A solid but imperfect design can be either improved, or made worse, depending on whether its flaws are tackled, or ignored. And the perception of any game can be spoiled by making the fan base perceive an expansion as a simple money grab.

Expanding games has changed over the last few years, and one of the most notable aspects of the change was how many publishers decided to do away with secrecy. Nowadays publishers are not afraid to outright admit that they are thinking about possibly expanding their games in the future, often introducing symbols or other elements of the game for future use – and revealing the plan right from the start, in the game rulebook itself.

Core_WorldsI first encountered this in Race for the Galaxy, and then later in Core Worlds, the latter going so far as to have each card exhibit a symbol unused in the base game. Nowadays the idea of leaving some stuff for later – and freely admitting it – is much more popular. I’ve done that myself with Mistfall, introducing a symbol and a rules reference that will be used by a future expansion. And I’ve done that so that I would not have to paste it in retroactively.

It’s quite obvious that setting up for future expansions is a logical way to go, and yet, for many years this has not been done. Instead designers and developers would always have to create workarounds, reprint some of the components, add paste-ups to the expansion boxes, or simply create lists of changes players would simply have to remember. Even the biggest and most successful would not freely admit that expansions for their games are coming – and yet they would go so far as to finally produce an expansion for the string of previously produced expansions (Arkham Horror, I’m looking at you).

Exp_RFTGStill, the industry needed a few good years to finally work up the courage to freely admit – right from the start – that there will be (or at least might be) an expansion. And the initial trepidation is easy to understand, as it seemed that talking about expansions right from the start made the base game announce itself to be a somehow incomplete product, or (even worse), a collectible game with a blind purchase model.

But that was a few years ago – before FFG found a way to make money off of collectible card games without going toe to toe with Magic: the Gathering. It turned out that by being open we can all gain, as some gamers are naturally drawn to expandable and customizable products, while others will simply feel happy that the complete game they got might be expanded in the future. And instead of thinking that it is a money grab, they will embrace the idea, and make the most of their experience with the game.

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