Expansions – so much more fun. Oh, really? – part II

In my previous post I have written about games that got expanded a bit… unnecessarily. You might even have gotten the idea that I’m against expansions in general. And that is an absolutely untrue statement. I believe there are games who wouldn’t last long if not for the expansions! Let’s see, how it actually works.

In the first part of this text I have quite openly stated that some, or even most eurogames can do pretty well without expansions. They simply are (or are supposed to be) so well calculated, that adding anything might disrupt the delicate balance they’re built upon. It actually applies to even best of them, like Castles of Burgundy. You can get these fantastic mini-expansions, adding just a few new tiles to the pool… and diluting it dangerously! The game becomes unbalanced – slightly, yet it starts to slide slowly towards a broken luck fest. Which is not what you’re looking for in this masterpiece. But there are other games than euros (hard to believe, yet true!) and I strongly believe that they not only can manage expansions – they can’t live without them. And I’m not talking about the obvious – CCGs and LCGs of the world (are you also waiting for this Doomtown Kickstarter ?), but some solid fun-in-the-box board games.

Like adventure games. What is the point of an adventure game? To bring you to the realm of unknown. To let you fully immerse in the universe you like so much. In Descent, for example, you find fun in tricking the Overlord so that he does not mess with the adventurers scheme… or the other way round 😉 But the point is that you can play one scenario a few times and still have fun. But really, exactly how many times? Three? Five? Eleven? At one point you will realize that you have to put your favorite game on one of these dusted top shelves, where it will lie silently for years to come… Unless you get one of the plenty expansions into your hands! You can invite your friends again, set up the table for the night and play away! Why? Because adventure games need the mystery, the enigma, the unknown to be… well, an adventure. If you see and Indiana Jones movie for the fifteenth time, you will not be doing it because you want to see how he will do. It’s only because you want to see him eat the monkey brains again! But seriously, when you go into the world of adventure games, be prepared for some extra expenses in the future – and there is nothing wrong with it. You will get a ton of emotions for a couple of bucks and be able to relive the thrills the game gave you at your first date. Nowadays we can actually even play games that will only last one play and then you just need to move on and get an expansion – like T.I.M.E Stories – but that is yet another story.
Then there are also 4x games. If you are into exploring, expanding, exploiting and exterminating, then you know how it works – four civilized people gather together to have a nice cup of tea, a few biscuits and a knife in the back or two. Eclipse, Twilight Imperium or even our Exodus – they are all lovely tools to rule the world and lose some friends. And still, after several games you can feel that you have seen enough. Hence the strong need for expansions in games that can be somehow calculable (OK, with Twilight Imperium it is just a strong need to be able to play a game that lasts more than 24 hours 😉 ). The core of each expansion when it comes to 4X is to broaden the experience as in to let you explore, expand, exploit and exterminate even more – more races, fractions, planets, recources, technologies, and so on. It is yet very important that these expansions were implemented into the game with special care. More experienced players could benefit from introducing all the new things to the base game, but newcomers might actually get lost in the jungle of new possibilities – when they still haven’t fully discovered the old ones. Of course, modular expansions kinda help here – that is why Rainer made Event Horizon a modular expansion for Exodus. You can pick some new spices and try adding them to your beloved dish, trying new tastes and looking for this magic moment that will hit you straight in the head and let you remember why you loved the game so much in the first place.

Finally, there are card games – not the CCGs or LCGs, but rather just tabletop card games. Look at Dominion. Will playing the base game give you joy for many, many days? Yes. Will having even one expansion make you even happier? Sure! Do you know why? Because building a deck always leads you to the same outcome. One day you will build a perfect deck. And that’s it. Finito. You’re done with the game. Why would you play it again, when you already know the “solution” to the game? That’s when the expansions come into play – by “dilluting” the source of cards you can manipulate with, they creat hundreds, thousands of new possibilities, new connections. The game’s meta changes and you have to look for even better solutions than the ones that led you to your perfect deck. To simplify: the more chocolates you add to the box, the bigger choice you will have. Now, it takes a really great pastry chef to know in what order to serve them so that the taste achieves its peak. Simple as food, huh?

This is it, I’ve said my share about games that need expansions and these which will only get worse with them. I know that the subject is as wide as a Nutella-covered baguette, yet I hope I managed to at least give you an idea of what sits in my head. OK, time for me to grab something to eat. All this writing makes a man hungry, doesn’t it?

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