A Second Look at Expansions (or: The Expansion Expansion)

Several years ago, I looked at expansions in board games. At the time, I concentrated on how the expansions were integrated into the games, and offered the theory that expansions that were permanently added to games weren’t that great, but when you could (optionally) choose to use them or when you could replace some core game system (or even the whole game), things worked better.

It’s now six years later, and I’ve seen many more expansions come and go — some successful and some not — and so I wanted to attack the topic again by instead examining what game expansions do. Along the way, I’ll use examples from some of the more recent games I’ve been playing, such as 7 Wonders (2010), Innovation (2010), Kingdom Builder (2011), and Ascension (2010).

So, how do you expand a game?

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New to Me: Summer, 2012

Here’s my newest quarterly listing of games I’ve played recently that I’d never played before. As usual, this list tends to focus on brand-new games, but on occasion the odd older game shows up that I just hadn’t tried out before. This time around there was a little glut of games in the 2007-2008 range.

I’m happy to have seen a couple of terrific releases (Village and Small World: Realms) which made the Summer a great time to be gaming. Sadly, there were also two total failures in D-Day Dice and (very belatedly) World War 5.

Everything is arranged in approximate ranking of personal like, from most to least.

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The Expansion Game, Part Two: Bane or Boon?

Four weeks ago, I wrote about gaming expansions, positing a history for them that I really believe is how they came to be. Having thus examined the question of how gaming expansions exist, I’d like to talk about a more philosophical question: should they?

This surely isn’t the first time that I’ve talked about whether gaming expansions were good or bad. In my Carcassonne articles, I discussed how much the various expansions — particularly the latter ones — have messed up the core game play, while in a discussion of Memoir ‘44, I talked about how much I admired the system of scenarios, something that has now been carried across several supplements.

So, expansions can be good and bad, and when I answer the general question of whether gaming expansions are a bane or a boon, I generally have to say yes. Continue reading

The Expansion Game, Part One: The History

What was the first gaming expansion? I’m sure that if you looked back to the 1930s and 1940s you could find some amateur Monopoly supplements.  Likewise, I wouldn’t be surprised if amateur Diplomacy supplements appeared in the 1960s. For professional publications, it’s obvious that things got going even later. You can find some linked games as early as 1973, when GDW began their “Europa” series. SPI’s North Africa Quad of four games similarly appeared in 1976. However, the surge of true gaming expansions appeared in 1977, when SPI put out its two supplements for War of the Ring and Avalon Hill supplemented their Win, Lose & Show game.

I’m sure there’s a few scattered earlier expansions that one could dredge up, and I welcome your comments on them, but I think that 1977 is a pretty good starting point for when gaming expansions became a professional business.

And, as part of an overall look at expansions in gaming, I’m going to tell you why. Continue reading

Expansive Theories (or: The Horror! The Horror!)

Gaming expansions. They’re a way of life — particularly if your game has just won the SdJ, or alternatively is published by Fantasy Flight Games. (If both happen some day, we can only assume that the expansions will have expansions.)

Frankly, I like expansions, or at least I like the basic theory thereof. If a game is well-designed or otherwise enjoyable, I want to be able to play it more, but on the other hand my constant need for novelty requires me to go out and find new games to play. Expansions for games that I already like meet both needs.

However last weekend while playing The Dunwich Horror, the second and newest expansion for Arkham Horror, I increasingly realized that in my mind some expansions work, and others are, to put it topically, turkeys. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The Dunwich Horror, and it’s going to get played again, but I also think that FFG is advancing right down the path that makes me most leary of gaming expansion.

Generally, I categorize gaming expansions into four types: permanent expansions; one-time expansions; replacements; and alternative games. As we’ll see, The Dunwich Horror falls into the first category, and the one I like least.

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Memoir ’44, The Seafarers of Catan, and Other Scenarios

One of the most successful games that I’ve acquired in the last few years has been Memoir ’44. It’s not necessarily the most strategic game that I’ve played in that time period. (Despite my occasional grognardery, I’d probably admit that was Puerto Rico.) Nor is it the most clever game I’ve played in that time period. (For that I’d currently say Dungeon Twister, though ask me again when the new-game smell has worn off.)

However, Memoir ’44 is one of the games that has kept me coming back for more the most, and which I expect to keep doing so for years to come. It’s long been obvious that Days of Wonder’s business plan is to create true evergreen games that can not only continue to sell long past the initial drop ship, but can also be evergreen for their players too. And that’s a pretty cool thing.
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