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Buying Expansions vs Buying New Titles

Expansions or New Titles - Ticket to Ride Germany

The deck-building games Star Realms and Ascension were the two titles that pulled me into the world of board gaming from my previous hobby, Magic The Gathering. For a few months, those games were essentially all that I played. To keep them fresh and interesting, I would buy expansions. The Star Realms expansions tended to be small, cheap additions to the base game, whereas the Ascension expansions would be standalone games that I played separately.

As I started to discover other board games, my focus shifted from buying expansions for a couple of games to buying entirely new games. I remember regretting that I'd acquired four different Ascension sets when that money could have been used to broaden my collection.

Now I feel like I've come full circle. Or, at least, I'm getting there. I now own a modest collection of games that I really love and enjoy playing repeatedly. Although good new games still excite me, I'm only really interested if they do something different from all my other games and if I think I'll be able to find people to play them with. Instead of looking at every single new title I hear about, I'm becoming more focused once again on buying expansions for the games I already own and love.

I, like many people, can't afford to just buy every game I like the look of. Even if I could, I wouldn't have space to keep them all. That means I have to be picky about my games and the type of game - expansion or new core set - really matters.

The Case for Expansions

Expansions give us more of the games we love. If you already have a title that you enjoy playing regularly, the opportunity to add new content to it is very appealing. A well-designed expansion will give players more of the qualities that they enjoyed in the old game at the same time as adding new components, mechanics and strategies into the mix.

Small Expansions

To discuss expansions further, it's helpful to break them down into small expansions and standalone expansions. Small expansions tend to be cheaper and, well, smaller than the base game and cannot be played on their own. A classic example would be the Catan series.

Small expansions are appealing to me and many others because they allow me to keep the experience of a favourite game fresh without needing to spend a large amount of money. One of my favourite games is Clank!. I was thrilled when I got the Mummy's Curse expansion, because it breathed new life into a game that I enjoyed but had played a lot.

Smaller expansions also allow you to tailor the experience of a game depending on who's playing. They tend to add additional complexity, which is fantastic if you've played the game a lot. However, if you're teaching a new player, they're easy to strip out, leaving you with a simpler base game that you're comfortable teaching.

Standalone Expansions

Standalone expansions can be played on their own. Some of them are compatible with the base game, but none of them require you to own it in order to play. The lines are blurry between standalone expansions and sequels, but I'm defining a standalone expansion as anything that uses the same core mechanics as a base game without needing it to be played. A good example would be the line of Ticket to Ride games, or the Ascension games I mentioned earlier.

Standalone expansions are often similar in price and size to the base game, so they feel much more like buying something brand new than buying a small expansion does. They keep the same core mechanics, but will often add new mechanics, factions, maps etc.

I personally don't love standalone expansions as much as I love small expansions, unless they are compatible with the base game. For example, Specter Ops and Specter Ops: Broken Covenant are great because I can mix the components together and have a hugely increased number of setup variants. But do I actually need the four Ascension expansions I own? Probably not.

Personally, I think that standalone expansions are strongest as entry points for new players that may be more widely available than an older base game, but they do have their merits. They still give the breath of fresh air that small expansions provide and if you have the budget and space for them, they can be great ways to continue playing the games you love.

The Case for Brand New Games

Buying new games is the only way to add real variety to your collection. The nature of a good expansion is that they give you more of what you love, as opposed to a completely different experience. When I stopped buying Ascension expansions and started investing in building a more varied collection, I suddenly found that I had a range of games that gave me options that I could choose between depending on time, who I was playing with and the mood I was in.

Looking for new games is great, whether you tend to like one type of game or, like me, you're trying to keep your collection varied. If you like one style of game, like Euro games, war games or co-op games, buying new games allows you to see all the different ways that designers have made your niche fun. You'll be able to appreciate the nuances in games and the innovations that appear.

If you're looking for variety, the possibilities are endless. I mentioned my criteria for new games at the top of the article: they must be fairly different from the games I already own and I need to be able to get them to the table regularly. If I focused entirely on expansions, I would miss the chance to play superb titles like Root, which adds a completely asymmetrical game to my collection, or Specter Ops, which is the first hidden movement game in my collection.

Should your Next Game be an Expansion or Something New?

You can argue the pros and cons of expansions and new games all you like, but the situation you're in is probably the biggest factor to take into account. I know that I enjoy buying expansions when I'm feeling really happy with the games I own and want to get the best out of them. I'll then shift to buying new titles when I want to add a new kind of experience to my collection.

I'll be more likely to buy an expansion for a game that I've been playing a lot recently, whereas I'll lean towards a new title if I think it's one that my wife or a particular group of friends will love. For me, it's all about what I'll actually be able to play.

If you're finding yourself with a pile of games that you're wishing you could play more, why not put the brakes on your drive to purchase brand new titles and instead by an expansion for a game you want to keep playing when you feel that itch to buy?

Or, if you find that you're always playing the same kind of game, why not make an effort to look for new titles that interest you without just adding more of the same? There are so many great games out there that you're bound to find one that you enjoy.

Of course, it's not like you have to only focus on expansions or new titles. The most important thing is to buy whatever you think you're going to have the most fun with and to continue to enjoy the games you already own.