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I LOVE EXPANSIONS!
I do, I admit it. I love everything about them. I'll never accuse a designer of making an expansion just to milk more money out a game - on the contrary, I'll encourage him to give me more of the game I love!
Expansions can offer so much. They can allow a designer to add in elements that may have been left out - Fresco anyone? The can expand a game system to give you more locations to play - ever heard of Age of Steam? Expansions can also add in new rules and elements to a game like the many additions to Arkham Horror do. They can also ramp up the difficulty to make players work harder and offer new challenges like in DOOM.
Most of all though, I enjoy seeing a creative addition to a game that I already loved in it's original form, yet now can enjoy in a completely new way. The mark of a good expansion does at least one of these things. The mark of a great expansion does many of them. Here are the first 5 of my Top 10 expansion of the games ranked 1-100.
My Top 10 Favorite Expansions (Part I)
(For Games Ranking between 1-100 and shown in order of their Base Game Ranking)
Farmers of the Moor - Agricola(3)
Le Grand Hameau - Le Havre (6)
Grand Inquisitor & Colonies - El Grande (11)
Pegasus Expansion - Battlestar Galactica (18)
The New Huts - Stone Age (26)
Shattered Empire - Twilight Imperium (3rd) (27)
On the Brink - Pandemic (28)
Rails of Europe - Railroad Tycoon (33)
Innsmouth Big Box Expansion - Arkham Horror (56)
The Alea Treasure Chest Expansion for Notre Dame - Notre Dame (86)
To discuss these however, I'm going to list them in my order of preference...
#1 How I rank my top two expansions probably depends on which game I've played most recently and therefore, the current top spot has to be for On the Brink. Expansions can do lots of things for a game, but this one seems to do it all. If I were to have made a wishlist for things that an expansion for Pandemic were to include it would have been along these lines:
More Roles & New Player Cards
Alternate rules to ramp up the difficulty
Add another player
Different ways for a Virus to react
A way to play against each other
Guess what? On the Brink DID all that! It's a great expansion as you can add in things you like, leave out the things you don't and change the game to suit your needs. Some people might say that this is a sign that the original game was flawed in some way if you need to tweak it with variants, but I totally disagree. Variants keep a game fresh and challenging and allow you to cater the game to your game group. Got some seasoned vets who always win? Add in the Virulent Strains Epidemics and the Purple Cubes. Having some newbies over to convert them to boardgaming? Add in additional Special Action cards and only use 4 Epidemics.
However you want to play, this expansion gives you a complete Tool Box to tweak the game to suit your tastes and it's this kind of expansion that is most appealing to me.
#2 Agricola is a fantastic game. Who would have thought that a game about farming in the 14th century would be so engaging? So challenging? So FUN?
Certainly not me. In fact, I AVOIDED all the hype regarding this game when it initially came out. Only after playing it with a friend (at his request) at a game convention did I see how great this game really was. I love the variety that the Occupations and Improvements bring to the game and find it a constant challenge to do the best I can with what "nature" deals me. I've never played the family version and have no desire to - I enjoy the game being a bit "unknown" as to how things will work out as I try and make the best of the cards I'm dealt with.
It's no surprise that when Farmer's of the Moor came out, I jumped at the chance to add even more variety to the game. I was expecting some basic additions to the base system - more Minor improvements and more Occupations at minimum, but FotM added in so much more! Horses! Peat harvesting! New Actions! and haviung to HEAT your home as well. These items add a level of complexity through interesting and difficult choices that have to be made, without bogging the game down with confusing or strange mechanics.
There are 3 ways to play the game with these expansions, allowing players to alter the 'meatiness' of the game to suit their preferred style of play. I prefer the middle version which allows the addition of the new Minor Improvements (and no Occupations) without over simplifying the game. I'm wanting to try the game full on with the new additons, but that is still a ways down the road.
All in all, FotM is a much more satisfying expansion than some of the others - especially over Agricola: The Goodies Expansion, which is really more for the collector than the game player (some of those decks are really lame and silly).
#3 Surprisingly Le Grand Hameau is my 3rd favorite expansion for a game in the Top 100. It's surprising for a number of reasons, the first being that it is very different from most of the other choices I've made. Where the others tend to offer lots and lots of variety and/or changes, Le Grand Hameau doesn't really change that much at all. I've mixed my set in with the normal set of Special Buildings and each game I shuffle the whole deck and select the 6 cards that will be in the game. Odds are that I will get at least ONE new building in the mix, but I always play it as they get dealt and I don't peek, so I don't know until the game is over if the expansion even came into play.
Even if I do manage to get 2 or 3 cards in the mix, the expansion buildings are all that different from the regular ones so what's the big deal you may ask?
Like Agricola, the unknown aspect of what will or won't come up is intriguing to me. Every game is going to have some unique building or buildings come into play at some time and each time one does, you have to assess the situation, determine if the building is something worth owning and decide how your strategy might change because of it. It's a little curve ball that gets thrown at you each game that you have to react to and how you react can often have a big impact on the game.
The Marketplace becomes really important as you get to peek at the two next Special Buildings that are due to come up and you have to decide which one to bury for another turn and which one is to be built by the town. Knowing what is due allows you to plan for it (possibly buy it if it's worth doing so) and potentially get a jump on your opponent.
Sure, often the building is unappealing, but it's that uncertainty that is intriguing and Le Grand Hameau is a great example of how an expansion can be so simple yet very interesting and appealing.
#4 Next up is one of the older expansions I own and it's also for one of my favorite games - El Grande. I think I was one of the first people to own this expansion back in 2000 as BGG was in it's infancy at the time and there wasn't much chatter on it at rec.games.board either.
Grand Inquisitor & Colonies was part of the larger expansion The El Grande Expansions, but this is really the expansion that I played the most of. Grand Inquisitor & Colonies introduced new territories, ships, and two new action stacks to pick from. One of the coolest things I liked was the addition of Portugal to the territories on the map. Portuagal was always there on the original board, it's just unlabeled and had no scoring track. Adding it in (and the new borders it made) really changed the game up a bit too - most importantly as it was the ONLY region that could not be selected to put your men from the Casillo in.
This alone opened up new tactics and strategies to players. France and the Americas were also included and you could bring back wares to earn additional points as well as having two new action stacks with cool cards in them. There were black cubes that were part of the Inquisitor and if you were in control of him, those cubes counted for you.
All in all, this made a great game even greater - not necessarily better (which may sound like a contradiction), but here was a whole new set of options to change up the game and back then, expansions were more of a rarity than the norm (thought there were some big exceptions like Settlers.
#5Railways of Europe is my 5th favorite expansion. Railways of the World is one of my favorite games but it really is best with at least 4 people (6 being my favorite). Railways of Europe is also better with more people, but it still works great with just 2 - which is how most of my gaming is done these days. Having less territory to fight over in the early stages makes the game more interesting and usually leads to a larger confrontation over a critical route towards the end of the game.
The changes to the gameplay are minor (Major Lines are now available from the start and there are some new cards) so they still are very similar in the overall feel which is a good thing. One thing I like about the series is the way you feel like a real Rail Baron in control of building track, making deliveries and expanding your empire. I also like having to compete with the other players for completing routes and racing to get the higher value cubes before they do.
I've also played the Mexico Map and recently just picked up Railways of the Western U.S. which I'm really wanting to play. Having copies of both Railways of the World and Railways of the World means that I'll have enough track pieces and cubes and I'll be ablt to try out the transcontinental variant floating around BGG right now. SWEET!
Well there ya go - I'm halfway done for now and am looking forward to hearing some of your favorites!
So, until next time - Happy Gaming!
What are your Favorite Expansions (for Games in the Top 100)? Which don't make the cut? What do you like about your choices? What expansions do you want to try? Which will you avoid?