I’m going to be honest and say I’m an expansion sceptic in the main (unlike Will Moffat below!). Some expansions end up feeling like a cash grab that overcomplicate a clean design. But recently I’ve had my mind changed by some great expansions; Spirit Island, Journeys in Middle Earth, Tiny Towns to name just three. So, in the zealous spirit of my recent conversion, I asked my fellow bloggers to recommend their favourite expansions. Here are Kirsty, Tom, John and Will’s recommendations with a cheeky extra one thrown in from me at the end.
Kirsty Hewitt – Ticket to Ride Europe: 1912
For me, an essential expansion is one you would never play without. Therefore, it was easy for me to decide what I would pick for this piece, the 1912 expansion for Ticket to Ride: Europe. The 1912 expansion offers two additions to the base game - warehouses and depots and new tickets.
In warehouses and depots, players fill up their warehouses with train cards. When you connect to a city with a depot in it you can then choose to take all the train cards in that warehouse. To do so you must discard one of your depots. Whoever has the most depots left at the end of the game gains ten points.
The new tickets offer an additional three ways to play the game. In Europe Expanded you simply add the 1912 regular tickets into the tickets from the base game. Mega Europe gives players a choice of two long routes and five regular routes at the start of the game. This also increases the pool of cards which players can draw during the game. When I play with my family we always use the Mega Europe tickets.
Big Cities makes the board tighter at lower player counts as the routes tend to focus on connecting the big cities of Europe. There are no long routes used in this game. As well as different cards, every time a player draws route cards they must keep at least one. Big Cities is my favourite way to play Ticket to Ride with two.
Although I have not played it, I am reliably informed by my fellow blogger, Nick T, that the 1910 expansion has the same impact for the original Ticket to Ride. If you have either base version of Ticket to Ride you should definitely check out the relevant expansion!
John Hunt – Cyclades: Titans
For me really successful expansions fall into one of two categories: cheap, small incremental expansions that add a little bit of new flavour (Carnies for The Bloody Inn or Chaotic Goods for Bargain Quest) or massive game changer expansions that keep the heart of the game but make some fairly radical alterations, sufficient to feel like you are playing a new game. Anything inbetween is a bit disappointing to me. Cyclades Titans definitely falls into the second category.
Retained is the core spirit of a ‘dudes on the map game.’ Also, the excellent auction mechanic with its tense bidding for who gets to do exactly what they want dependant on their ability to outbid rivals for control of the necessary god. Added is a new game board, replacing the eponymous Cyclades island chain with two bigger land masses and two smaller high value islands.
Alongside that are new rules for starting placement which is no longer fixed. These changes alter the feel of the game. Army movement feels more significant. The choice of where to place and how to interact with your most immediate neighbour in a 4 or 5 player game is a very different experience.
Hand in glove with this comes an additional god, Kronos, and their associated titan miniatures. Kronos provides additional tactical options to achieve the core ‘base game’ strategies for gaining metropolises. Titans provide a second, but costly, route to achieve troop movement (other than Ares) which dovetails well with the larger land masses. Kronos also offers routes to build other gods’ buildings, providing further tactical options which have won me the game.
And yet there is even more! Divine artefacts add additional on-board buffs to troops, or other revenue generation powers. They are simple enough modifications but linking the buff to an on-board miniature creates losable resources. This means placement is a strategic consideration. You also get specialist metropolises which provide further simple but interesting tactical nuance.
Finally, Titans provides the option of 3 vs 3 team play. Wow! As a huge fan of 878 Vikings, an expansion which offers this and executes it so well lifts the crown of ‘Ultimate Expansion’. If you haven’t tried a competitive team play game, then I heartily recommend it – you are in for a treat.
Yet, the final mark of excellence for this expansion is that it is utterly dispensable. I can go back to the base game and have a fab time. It’s not a patch for a broken v1.0. It’s an excellent but different experience and one which I am glad I have in my collection.
Tom Harrod – Viticulture: Tuscany Essential Edition
With Tuscany – the expansion for Viticulture: Essential Edition – I knew I’d struck gold. Or should that be ‘struck grape’? Viticulture is, after all, a worker placement game about running and improving a vineyard. Grow grapes. Fulfill wine orders. Liaise with visitors. Score points!
Tuscany provides everything I want from an expansion, and that’s a series of extra modules. You can introduce them one at a time or play with all three combined. First of all, there’s a new, double-sided, bigger main board.
All four seasons feature as phases you visit across a year. This dovetails with an extended Wake-Up Chart. It provides rewards with each passing season, rather than a single card. Picking your Wake-Up spot always gives you cool stuff! There’s also an area majority ‘Influence’ map that provides resources. Another location allows swapping resources with the supply. With smart planning, you don’t need to ‘waste’ workers by sending them to pick up certain cards. This also helps to mitigate misfortune of not drawing ‘useful’ Visitor Cards. You feel like you’re accomplishing more.
The Special Workers module is neat. You pick two (out of 11) worker cards which state a certain skill that worker provides. They cost a little extra to train and hire, but they grant said (optional) ability each time they’re placed. For example, you can place the Traveller in any space from a previous season! These offer fun and flexibility, adding a soupçon of further depth. Not all workers get created equal, it seems…
Last of all, there are Structures, an extension for your vineyard player mat. Have the local carpenter build you unique structures, such as an aqueduct, a veranda or a gazebo! Some provide passive rewards when other players take actions; others when you do it. Some are personal worker placement spots. Others provide boosts every year. These structures let you create a far more modular vineyard!
Once you’ve played Tuscany, Viticulture’s base game tastes cheaper, less fruitful on the palette. Tuscany adds numerous possibilities to your strategy and, for me, that’s a wonderful thing. Now, where’s that corkscrew…?
Will Moffat: Terraforming Mars: Prelude
I have an average of one expansion for every four games I own – that means that 20% of the board game content that I buy is an expansion for a game I already have! That’s 23 expansions in total!
I’m not sure if those stats are above or below average for a board game enthusiast, but one thing I am pretty clear on is my favourite expansion – contenders include Arcadia Quest: Pets and Raiders of the North Sea: Hall of Heroes, but the top expansion I own is a modest deck of 47 cards for Terraforming Mars, known as “Prelude”.
This small box expansion contains seven new projects that can be shuffled in with the large wedge that come in the base game and five new corporations which can also expand your playing choices – but the real meat of this expansion is the 35 eponymous prelude cards.
These prelude cards are a simple addition to the setup phase of the game where you are dealt four and choose two to keep. The two chosen cards give your corporation’s engine a pre-game kick-start in various ways: giving you a city and a boost to your Megacredit production, or allowing you to place two oceans before the game begins, or increasing your energy production by three steps, or giving you four titanium and increasing your titanium production, etc.
You then play the game as normal… “Wait! How can you recommend an expansion that is done and dusted in the setup phase, before the game even takes place?!” – Terraforming Mars is fantastic, but the first few rounds of the game usually grind along until around round three, where people’s engines start to slowly click into gear. The main reason why Prelude is such a great expansion is that the prelude cards don’t alter the way the game is played (because let’s face it, the base game of Terraforming Mars is a very fine game anyway), rather they enhance and speed up the early game toil so the most interesting part of the game, when your engines are in full flow, occurs sooner.
Gavin Hudson – Flamme Rouge: Peleton
Cards on the table; I think the base Flamme Rouge game feels a bit thin. It often feels like things are getting going just as they end, particularly at lower player counts. Because of this I put off buying the expansions and even considered getting rid of it in my last shelf cull. Thank heavens I didn’t!
Lockdown and the need to make games soloable twisted my arm to get both the Peleton and Meteo expansions. Of the two I prefer Peleton and feel like it turns a low-middling race game into a fantastic, tactical nip-and-tuck.
First off, it solves the lower player count problem with the addition of two types of bot team: Peleton and Muscle. The Peleton team will move together using a standard rouleur deck and two special breakaway cards. The muscle team will use standard decks with an extra 5 tucked into the sprinteur’s supply.
Everything about this shouldn’t work as you are simply drawing a random card to determine bot movement. But the way the decks are set up and your need to stay with the pack mean that in solo and multiplayer the bot is ultra-competitive. It also fixes another flaw. Every player going slow at the start and rushing at the end. Now you need to keep up with the relentlessly chugging pack of NPC riders, making the whole race engaging and not just the finish.
Peleton is an essential expansion for me because it fixes some of the flaws I found in the base game. This might be annoying to some, but it is a reasonably priced expansion and well worth it. Heck, perhaps you aren’t as picky as me and feel it doesn’t need the fix. If that’s the case buy it anyway for the extra depth it brings. And this from an expansions sceptic.