I am going to repeat my strongly felt maxims about what makes for a good expansion. The best should either be a massive reengineering of the base game which nonetheless keeps true to its spirit (Cyclades Titans) or they should be relatively inexpensive tweaks adding new content and mechanical variation to provide a few extra wrinkles.
Perlae Imperii, just like the first expansion, Lux et Tenebrae does the latter in spades; while Res Arcana is a less lean beast with one or both expansions included the two additions both add muscle rather than flab. I am also going to repeat my brief entreaty on Res Arcana. If you are reading this then likely you have it already, but if you don't then you really should.
It is a beautifully svelte deck and engine builder from the great Tom Lehmann, of Race to the Galaxy fame. The two titles share plenty of common DNA, but this is tighter, has a different elegance and has far better iconography than its bigger and older sibling. Working with a tiny, drafted deck of just 8 cards you will build the best engine you can muster to produce essences, claim monuments and places of power and try to beat your opposition to 10 VP… or 13VP with Perlae Imperii, but more on that to follow.
So, What's New?
In effect, Perlae Imperii adds a little more to every aspect of the base game, just as the first expansion did: artifacts, mages, monuments, magic items and places of power. But it's more than the sum of its parts as, yet again, there is a new mechanical flavour this time in the form of pearls.
Pearls are a new essence that has two important characteristics: first, they can be traded for one gold or two other essences as an instant free action. Second, each peal is worth 1VP, on top of any VP they might individually be worth on one of the new places of power.
Now, at first glance, this far from blew me away. It looked like it might create unnecessary bloat and a slower and stodgier experience. But not so once you play it though.
Actually, what you get is more crunchy decision making. Time and again you are faced with the choice of whether to keep the pearls you have or trade them for the convenience of additional essences, at the cost of VP. And you might, depending on the places of power and your draft, make the decision to actively pursue a pearl strategy which is challenging as they seem (understandably) more arduous to produce.
Play is in no way stodgier and the extra 3 VP to win does not affect game length but rather is an offset for the inherent value of pearls.
More Is Better?
Like the first expansion, Perlae also expands the player count to 5, but steers you away from 6 should you have both expansions. Likewise, the rules for a scaled setup are included in this box too. This is based on player count, which affects the number of monuments and places of power used.
The intent is to make the two-player game tighter and the four-player game looser, and it does just that very well. And just like Lux et Tenebrae, it fits in the base box too, with the pearls occupying the central void in the essences tray…. I knew something would end up there.
Overall, A Winner!
Well done again Tom on another satisfying and successful small expansion. More variety through carefully designed additions and tweaks at a very low cost. Is it better than Lux et Tenebrae - no, just as good and just different. Do I need it? No… Res is great without it, but this does add some new additional wrinkles, and at the price, if you love the original why wouldn't you pick it up when the base game feels just that little bit tired… as if that were possible.