Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Two Part Post, Part II: Expansive

Today I played a good game of Dominion Intrigue with my arch-nemesis.  Fortunately I ended the game at 2 points above my opponent for the win, but this was my first time playing with any Dominion expansion.  One thing I noticed, in general, about the expansion.  While the core game has actions that are, mostly, +1 Action or +2 cards, simple stuff like that with an occassional card that requires a full sentence to explain its purpose, Intrigue's cards are filled with "Choose between this" or "Do this.  If this happens, then do this, otherwise do this."  In short, the game builds on core concepts we already know, and twists them up, adding complication and variety.

I think that's awesome.  It's one of the coolest things about the world of Euro- or Hobby gaming.

The idea of expansion packs for a board game was nearly insane to me when i first heard about it, but they can do amazing things to bring players into a deeper, more complex gaming experience gradually.  To take a classic example, Settlers of Catan;  you have the base game, and the expansion for 5-6 players.  While this seems a little bit like a marketing scheme to make us pay more money, there's actually a logic to it.  Since a 3-4 player map is far too small to fit 5-6 players, and a 5-6 player map is far too large for a balanced 3-4 player game, having the 5-6 player set as an expansion clearly defines the lines for these too maps.  There's no confusion on how to set up the map when you open the 3-4player box - you don't have to figure out which setup is which.  It's just there.  You learn the basics with 3-4players, and then it expands naturally with the 5-6player expansion.

Then, of course, you have Seafarers, which adds a few new bits of complexity - building ships on water, and the idea of exploration - building the map as you go.  Not a lot of complexity, but it builds on what we've already learned in the basic game, adding variety and replayability.  Furthermore, Cities and Knights is essentially a new game entirely.  but, being an expansion, it builds perfectly onto the system we know so well with Settlers.  We don't have to re-learn an entirely new game.  We simply add a few additional concepts to the mix.  Cities and Knights, as a standalone game, would be very complex, a turn-off to most people.  There's a lot of little things going on.  But if you know how to play Settlers, many of the basic mechanics are solidified in your mind, and the extras don't seem like that much to learn.

While "expansion packs" for video games tend to be bloated, overpriced bonus weapons or more-of-the-same missions, rarely adding additional variety to the gameplay itself, expansions for board games often do signficantly more than add additional pretty art.  Many expansion games just add variety or more options to give a game additional replay value, but many other expansions can change a game to an almost completely different game, based on that solid set of core mechanics.  Expansions done right allow us to learn a new game that is simple, fun, and easy to play.  Then they draw us in further to something more complex, challenging our strategies and giving our brains a work out.

If you have never tried expansion packs for games that you own and enjoy playing, you definitely should.  You can experience something new and exciting without having to re-learn an entirely new game.  And as you get used to the added complexity, you might find that you enjoy it, and that could open up an entire new world of games you might never have tried before, put-off by the thickness of the rulebook.

Also, expansions can easily be removed from a game to go back to that simpler system.  You can enjoy the complexity of all the twists and turns of extra content, but then go back to the base game to bring in new players, or to play with your dad.  It makes a game more appealing to all types of players - those who like it simple, and those who want to deal with 18 things all at once.

It may seem slightly silly, but with Armyland, on my spreadsheet of Cards for the game, I have lists for two specific expansion packs, and then an extra list of cards that don't have a home.  Maybe the question would be "why make them separate packs for cards if you already created them?" But the fact is I want to establish the core game without bloating the rulebook with overcomplexity, to draw players in easily - and then add in the extra complexity for those who want a new experience.  And the fact is, if the core game without the added parts isn't fun, then all of it together probably wont be.

Do you guys have any game expansions you're particularly fond of?  Do you prefer playing the base game or with as many expansions as possible?

Next week, I'm going to discuss my thoughts on how to do well at games, increase your chances of winning, and becoming a formidable opponent.  In the meantime I'll have a few other posts, and look for a few bonus tips for winning on my twitter feed!  you're following me, right?  Also, subscribe to my blog! all it takes is a google account which you know you already have.


  1. I really like Dominion: Intrigue and the Traders and Builders expansion for Carcassonne. I'm pumped about Dominion: Seaside, too, since that one looks awesome...but it will wait.

    I do think there's such a thing as too many expansions though. For example, both the Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride series are very near (if they haven't already) jumping the shark with their catapult and alien/dinosaur expansions, respectively.

  2. I love expansion packs, it's fun to come back to a game that you've played a ton and have new twists on the way that you interact with it. It's great to have new avenues to pursue victory that you always wish that you could have done but never had the chance to do. And it's awesome to have more decisions to make and the added complexity that you can pick up quickly if you're familiar with the base game. And to top it all off you can pick and chose how the game will play if there are multiple expansions. If you don't like certain elements added in an expansion then just don't play with it. It's a win-win (except for the money you're going to spend on all the expansions).

    Since you guys enjoy Dominion I'm definitely going to recommend both the Seaside and Prosperity expansions. They are probably my two favorite of the current expansions, with Prosperity possibly being my preferred between them. Both are really great though and add lots of cool new cards and, especially with Prosperity, new ways to win.

    It's interesting that you mention having expansions in mind while you're designing your game since that's exactly what the designer of Dominion did. I believe he had about 5 or more expansions worth of cards before he released the base game. It's cool to see how the expansions can be added seamlessly to the base game as the wording and design of the game was made with this intent.


We'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment to add your voice to the discussion