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The Frasier of Games - Expansions Episode 3

Jason Moslander
United States
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A Critical Look at Expansions - Part 3
"Frasier," the smartest show on television, and probably one of the most successful spin-offs in television history. Other mediums have tried to do spin-offs of original ideas. Comic books have done this for years with Batman--now there are probably ten different story lines going for him, not to mention Catwoman, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, and the list goes on. You also have "spin-togethers" (to coin a phrase) where you bring two things together. Remember "The Jetsons meet the Flintstones"? Or a more popular one now would be The Avengers and the subsequent movie that recently came to "A theater near you." The question is do we see this in board games? Are there successful spin-offs? And why do we see them?

We see spin-off games all the time in the gaming world. Mayfair has made an entire line of games based off of the Settlers of Catan--Catan is listed as its own family of games. On the Catan page, there are 12 pages of games listed that are associated with Settlers of Catan. Now, that does include expansions for some of the games, but that is a lot of games associated with one game. Why is this? It's simple, it comes down to marketing. It's easier to sell a game if gamers associate said game with a game they already enjoy. The thought process is: "I enjoyed Settlers, so I will probably like Candamir." In reality, the new game is either nothing like the original, or takes something from the original that worked well, and combines it with another mechanic that just is not as good, and you end up with a second rate game. However, the publisher has done there job of getting you to buy the game because of the original association. It seems like a dirty trick, but publishers have to make money so that they can publish more games, and if an established association helps you make a purchase you otherwise would never consider, good for them and kudos to their marketing teams.

Another aspect of the spin-off is using the exact same game name and changing the mechanic. I am talking about you Cardcassonne and Carcassonne Dice. Again, we see Catan doing this with Catan Dice Game and Catan Card Game (now Rivals for Catan). These games use the same theme as the originals, and just change a mechanic or two. Most of the time, you end up with an inferior game that leaves you disappointed. I tend to shy away from most of these. I will admit that I have picked up a few that I have been happy with Rivals for Catan--it does give you the feel of Settlers in a two-player format--, and Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small feels likes Agricola light. Both games accomplish what they set out to do, and do it very well. They have legs to stand on, and that is great. I love when these spin-offs do a good job. The problem is that most of them do not.

Before you go out and buy Dominion Dice (made that one up, but don't be surprised to see it), do some research and make an informed game purchase. Not every game can be a "Frasier;" there are going to be a lot more of "Joanie Loves Chachi." Make an informed decision, and the next time you see the newest version of Carcassonne, ask yourself if this is going to even come close to the original. The answer is probably "no."

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