Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. Today's award is for the Expansion of the Year 2018, as chosen by members of our talented blogging team. These are the expansions which have been a worthy addition to their relevant base game, adding brilliant new content and ideas - without changing the overall feel of the game.
The Game Shelf - Rise of Fenris (Scythe)
Rise of Fenris is the final expansion for Scythe. Scythe is an extremely highly-rated board game in its own right, but the hype for this expansion has been huge! It promises to be an eight-episode campaign, not a legacy game, but with legacy-like aspects. Once played, you could play the campaign again or use some of the many new elements as modules in your standard Scythe games – a lofty ambition. Every game in the campaign is unique and extremely well-linked with a fantastic story.
There is so much to explore in the box and the different aspects will all appeal to different kinds of players. This expansion turned Scythe into one of our most played board games of the year and is an absolute must for Scythe fans. It totally refreshes the game experience and I hope it continues to do so as we explore the standalone modules further.
If you love multiplayer Scythe, then this expansion is an almost guaranteed hit. If you’re playing with two players, then I’d still recommend this expansion, but you might want to find a bigger group to experience it at its best.
Tom H - Rails to the North (Great Western Trail)
Ask 100 people what they think of Alexander Pfister’s Great Western Trail, and a good 90% of them will give it two thumbs up. Imagine then, the number of board gamers out there that squealed (ahem, doffed their cowboy Stetson) when this major expansion, Rails to the North, was released in 2018.
GWT, as it’s affectionately known, blends the mechanics of deck-building, point-to-point movement and a pinch of money management that sees ranchers herding cattle (your four-card hand) across the US and then shipping unique bovines along the train line for dollars. Some argued that simply building a strong cattle deck was a too-obvious advantageous route to victory. Rails to the North, however, offers a whole other direction for players to take.
And we mean that literally, by the way. Rails to the North adds on a whole new set of tracks in the form of a separate board, where players can travel up instead of the usual Kansas City-to-San Francisco left-to-right fare. Additional components, in the form of branchlets, can be placed along applicable routes that are accessible from where you’ve currently delivered. Placing branchlets is an auxiliary action – an extension to your player mat. They’re kind of a big deal.
The more branchlets you place, the more options you’ll give yourself, not to mention the more bells you’ll uncover, which could earn you some beefy end-game bonus points. Branchlets also offer a multitude of benefits when placed: additional stations to upgrade in ‘station towns’; earning money, free cattle cards, worker discounts and more in ‘medium towns’; and additional cities to deliver to in ‘big towns’, earning you end-game points. Those branchlets have the potential to be game-changers. And that’s exactly what you want in an expansion, right?
There are also additional building tiles and new Station Master tiles for even further variety to gameplay and replay-ability. However, Rails to the North is all about those new tracks, and they’re guaranteed to add in plenty of meat to your strategy. This expansion is different gravy.
Craig P - Prelude (Terraforming Mars)
My pick for Expansion of the Year has to go to Terraforming Mars: Prelude. Whereas there were PLENTY of other expansions widely available on the board game market throughout the year, this small box expansion had the greatest impact on any game I played in 2018.
Whilst upon first inspection this would seem to be nothing more than a booster pack of cards, it soon becomes apparent that Terraforming Mars: Prelude improves gameplay with all new Corporations and Project Cards, the variability in set-up through Prelude Cards, and in practice, helps to bring down the overall game time of each playthrough. Now, I am in no way saying that I have ever found Terraforming Mars a slog to get through, but it does help bring playing time down to something a little more manageable, and speed up the engine building process for players from the get-go.
Not only that, but this provides a wider variety of options to players when it comes to drafting Project Cards at the start of the game, and their choice in Prelude Cards following off the back of it. It may not be packed with oversized miniatures, or blinged-out components, but it certainly provides great value for money, and most important of all, is easily integrated into new games for new and seasoned players alike.
This expansion has single-handedly pushed the base game further up my all-time list of games played - of all the expansions for Terraforming Mars to date, this is the one that packs the most punch.
Nick W - The Unquiet Dead (Wildlands)
For the most part, a good expansion adds new elements to the game without fundamentally changing its feel. For me the expansion that I’ve played that does this best this year is Wildlands: The Unquiet Dead from Osprey Games.
The base game sees you taking control of a faction of five pre-washed miniatures from the four factions in the box. Each faction comes with its own deck of cards and you will use these and your minis to be the first to five points. Each point is earned by knocking out an opponent's mini or by collecting one of your own crystals. The base factions all work broadly in the same manner, with the decks and health of the minis providing some differences in play. For example, one faction might be better at ranged attacks while remaining relatively weak, whereas another might be purely melee. The best description of the game I’ve heard is ‘Euro skirmish’.
The first expansion brings in a new faction, the unquiet dead, which offer a new experience to try and even impact the game when they aren’t used by a player. Firstly, this is a faction with six minis, meaning they have one more than the base factions. Also, they each can be used more often thanks to their cards being tweaked, of course this means they are a little weaker than most of the other factions and it costs them more to pick up gems.
The other way they can be used is when no active player chooses them. Then they spawn on any space where a mini has died and can then be controlled by that player and any other players who lose characters. This expansion is relatively small but adds so much to Wildlands!
Ben G - The Mummy's Curse (Clank!)
Clank! The Mummy’s Curse took one of my favourite games of all time and gave it even more fantastic content. The smaller expansion, Expeditions: Gold & Silk, could also have taken the top spot but The Mummy’s Curse wins it simply because of how much the new cards and minor monster do for the game.
The Mummy’s Curse does what every good expansion should do: it lets you do more of the most enjoyable things in the game. Specifically, going after the mummy makes it a lot easier to earn gold, which irons out the frustration that can sometimes be felt in the base game. Plus, having more monsters to fight reduces the risk of your combat being wasted on a goblin. The new cards that have been added are fun and thematic, with the Egyptian theme complementing the game’s overarching dungeon-raiding story. A lot of their effects interact with the expansion’s curse mechanic, which is another great penalty/cost system that has been built into the game.
I also like that this expansion feels very different to the other Clank! expansions. You can buy it alongside Sunken Treasures and Expeditions: Gold and Silk without feeling like you’re owning multiple copies of the same experience. It comes with the double-sided game board that is standard for Clank! games that gives you plenty of replay-ability. A couple of extra secrets and a new main monster meeple also adds some nice touches. For fans of Clank! this is a must-buy. I’ve had a blast with it, and it's given me everything I want from an expansion.