E27 | Games | Expansions - Expand, Explain, Explode Your Brain
Do you know what is better than a really good boardgame? More of that really good boardgame! In this episode Dalton, Nelson, and a special guest The Board Game Critic (Mckay) discuss the wonderful world of expansions! We discuss what we like, what we don’t want to see, and then give our top expansion recommendations for the six mechanics we have analyzed in previous episodes! So sit back, relax, and hide your wallet as we dive into expansions!
What's on our Flight (00:54)
Dalton’s drinking: Journeyman Distillery's Last Feather Rye, a Valentines Day Gift! This rye is 40% wheat in the mash, providing a nice sweetness underlying the spice profile typical of a rye. Grass and grains in the nose, grainy, vanilla tastes in the body with a black pepper / Tabasco finish. 4 cheers here, this one is a favorite!
Nelson's drinking: Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey from Bardstown, KY (Nelson County, in fact!). 101 proof, this is a strong bodied whiskey with clover and honey notes in the nose, orange and caramel in the body that finishes on cinnamon spice. The sour mash makes a bit of an odd flavor, similar to the twinge you get from sourdough bread. 2 cheers, Nelson found it a bit jarring.
Discussion starts at 07:55 in the episode
We are joined this episode by McKay from The Board Game Critic (IG: @theboardcritic) who has experience in board game design at Hasbro and Backfire Games Studio. McKay runs The Board Game Critic as a way to provide in depth reviews, blog about the hobby, and generally express his passion and knowledge about the hobby. With that background, he makes an excellent addition to our team to talk about expansions!
Expansions are a tricky design element. The completionist in us wants to own every expansion printed for our favorite games. However, what expansions are best to buy? Will a given expansion truly enhance our experience, or will it close itself in complexity, pulling the game away from the reasons we feel in love with it in the first place? The balance of adding interest in decisions versus changing the feel of the game is a delicate one and we explore all facets of this topic in this week's episode.
Recommendations start at 45:15 in the episode
Cooperative - Dalton
Mysterium: Secrets and Lies. There are two parts to this expansion, the first is a strict content expansion. New dream cards, new people to investigate, all of which adds to the experience of Mysterium since over time a group can get stuck in a rut with specific cards meaning specific things. This expansion also introduces "Story" cards, which replace weapons from the base game. Since weapons are so simplistic in design, they could create very swingy gameplay where the ghost either has something that points to the weapon or they do not. The story cards offer variety, a slight increase in difficulty, and make the gameplay more fair.
Worker Placement - McKay
Everdell: Spirecrest. With Everdell as a straight-forward Worker Placement, the designers use the expansions to add to the playable board area. Of the three currently released, Spirecrest is the most interesting. Weather is added to the game to restrict when certain actions are available, forcing the players to think on their toes and interrupting their strategies. It also introduces a new scoring avenue which the game needed to bring opportunity off the cards. Overall, the expansion makes decision making in the game much more involved and difficult which helps cater to those of us who enjoy a more complex game experience.
Asymmetrical Player Powers - Nelson
Scythe: Invaders from Afar. The Albion and Togawa factions are added in this expansion having been teased by including their spots on the original player boards. The factions face challenges completely unique compared to the base 5 factions, namely by lacking a "Speed" mech upgrade and therefore being forced to find other ways around the mobility challenge on the map. Albion focuses on defense, getting bonuses for controlling territory at the end of the game. Togawa is able to set traps for other players and has some teleporting abilities which make the faction flexible. Overall, if you only play Scythe a couple times a year, this is likely not an expansion for you. If you are like us and you like to explore as many APP applications as possible within a game, this expansion can add a lot of replayability to Scythe for a small investment. Definitely a good way to increase your experience with the game!
Area Control / Dudes on a Map - Dalton
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game: Mother of Dragons. There are a couple of key benefits to this expansion. First, it allows players to freely trade power tokens, which should have been an errata but at least the expansion provides wording for how it works. Second, the expansion introduces "Vassals," a way for players to interact with houses that are not being played. This fixed the issue with scaling and number of players and makes for some very enjoyable power plays as players grapple for control of the vassals. Third, the Iron Bank of Braavos comes to the board, offering players powerful actions but at a very high price. Providing players with interesting choices like this is a key design feature we look for in a good expansion. Finally, House Targaryen is added to the game with a different win condition and the ability to control 3 dragons. This may unbalance the game a bit, and some will not enjoy playing with it so consider it optional. I, for one, found it incredibly fun to play.
Deck Building - McKay
Mystic Vale: Vale of the Wild. This is a completely unique Deck Builder, letting players upgrade the actual cards in their deck (3 slots per card), creating an explosive environment of decision making throughout the game. Of the available expansions, Vale of the Wild specifically enhances the experience of the game significantly. It adds a "Leaders" function to the game (think 7 Wonders) that can be upgraded for a powerful benefit but a steep cost. This provides guidance in strategy that the player can lean in to but is not forced to pursue. Additionally, the expansion took the primary antagonist of the game ("Decay," which forces a player to end their turn) and turned it in to a viable strategy by offering cards that play off the available Decay in a player's deck. These added benefits and strategies strongly enhance the interesting decisions the players are presented with throughout the game, making it an excellent recommendation to an already fascinating game.
Engine Building - Nelson
Underwater Cities: New Discoveries. This is an admittedly expensive expansion, coming in around $60, though it holds its own in content. New Discoveries adds variable player powers, a fun addition that gives the players direction in this heavy Engine Builder. The expansions also adds dual layer player boards which was sorely needed as the piece placement can be fiddly and tricky if displaced. The content is fairly modular, with parts of the expansion being optional to play with, extending your experience and interest in the game. If you can swing the initial cost, it is definitely a worthy investment!
Thanks for reading! Let us know what your favorite expansion to a game is in the comments!