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My Top 10 expansions for Games in the Top 100 (Part II)

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Welcome to the 2nd half of this particular Top 10. If you didn't read the first one, you may want to jump back one blog entry and do so first so you are caught up on what is going on. These first two posts regarding some of my Top 10's were a lot of fun to do as well as being an experiment of sorts. I think on the next one, I'll reverse the order to give a little suspense to the thing. I also plan to do one of these series approximately once a month - maybe less, maybe more, depending on how much people enjoy them.

I also plan to do one more post regarding this particular Top 10 - The Expansions I Passed Up and Why They Didn't Make the Cut, so stay tuned (subscribe!) and you can expect to see that up next.

Without any further rambling, here are the second 5 of my Top 10 expansion of the games ranked 1-100.


My Top 10 Favorite Expansions (The Full List)
(For Games Ranking between 1-100 and shown in order of their Base Game Ranking)

Farmers of the Moor - Agricola(3)
Le Grand Hameau - Le Havre (6)
Grand Inquisitor & Colonies - El Grande (11)
Pegasus Expansion - Battlestar Galactica (18)
The New Huts - Stone Age (26)
Shattered Empire - Twilight Imperium (3rd) (27)
On the Brink - Pandemic (28)
Rails of Europe - Railroad Tycoon (33)
Innsmouth Big Box Expansion - Arkham Horror (56)
The Alea Treasure Chest Expansion for Notre Dame - Notre Dame (86)

#6Stone Age: The New Huts is a great example of an expansion that can make a game seem fresh and new, without taking away the appeal of what you enjoyed most about the game in the first place.

Stone Age is a great worker placement game that feels very different from other games in the same genre like Agricola or Caylus. You are collecting resources with your tribe members (or perhaps attempting to collect resources is a more accurate statement), and then you use these resources to buy cards or huts to earn victory points. The game is fantastic the way it is, and the way the huts are valued is strictly based on the cost of the resources that you used to purchase them.

Until now.

The addition of the New Huts changes that idea in a bunch of new and interesting ways, yet keeps the overall feel of the game very similar to what it was initially. There are 6 new huts in the expansion and unlike the base game, they don't reward you with points based on the resources you spent to buy them. For example the hut that costs 3 stone should be worth 15 points if the base game criteria is used, but here, it is only worth 5 points. Instead of the other 10 points, you are granted the ability to collect a free stone each turn for the rest of the game! Now you have to carefully weigh the benefits of this hut against it's cost (3 stone) and whether there are going to be enough turns to earn you more (hopefully a lot more!) than you paid for it. There are similar huts for clay and wood and each is tempting under the right circumstances.

For the person going after the set collections of cards, the free resource each turn makes it simpler to plan your strategy and more likely that you'll have enough resources to do what you want and buy what you need card wise.

The other 3 huts offer either a bump up on the food track, a free tool, or an additional tribesman. Again, these incentives are very tempting depending on what you already have (or are behind in), where in the game ltime-wise you are, and how many points you already have. With these additions, the game is just not about racing to get the most points for the huts, as now you can grab huts to give you extra advantages to then get more huts or cards even faster - leaving you with the choice of guarenteed points now or the potential to get even more points later on.

These are simple additions, yet they greatly increase the decisions you'll need to make and take the game to new and interesting places.

#7 Okay, I'll admit that I've only played Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) a few times with Shattered Empire, but this is an expansion that MUST be included in any game of TI:3rd as far as I'm concerned.

This expansion is actually built along the lines of my number one expansion - On the Brink, as it includes a tool box of additional components to use (or leave out) as desired. There are: 4 new unique races, 28 additional system tiles (including the new Ion Storms), 8 variant strategy cards, 1 variant Imperial Strategy card, 22 new and additional domain counters, 28 objective cards, 12 shock troop counters, 8 artifacts, 98 addition technology cards, 14 new single race specific technology cards, 12 space mine tokens, a tile and rules for a "Wormhole Nexus", 16 facility cards, 2 Mecatol Custodians tokens, 40 new action cards, 32 new political cards, rules for up to 8 players, new rules to make Tactical Retreats, Political Card variants, rules for "Simulated Early Turns" to speed up the early game, and finally, new rules for a Winnaran "Yellow" Technology.

Now THAT is a big expansion!

That selection of stuff allows you to tweak the game and alter it to suit your tastes. You kind of have to be a dedicated, semi-regular, player to really get the most bang for your buck out of this expansion, but it will be great journey getting to that level of familiarity to be sure. I always prefered the 1st Edition of Twilight Imperium as it was more of a wargame in that incarnation, but Shattered Empire has easily returned the 3rd edition of the game back up to the lofty levels of appreciation I had for the 1st edition. If you like your games epic, long and very satisfying, there are few games that can deliver an amazing expirence like this one.

#8 I find Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game to be a great game - but not one that I would want to play too often. I really enjoy the political intrique, the suspicion, the accusations and the duality of two opposing groups working against each other. It's especially good after a long hiatus fromthe table, where you've forgotten a lot of the nuances of how to play - like some of the more devious ways to subvert the humans when you are a cylon for example. Pegasus adds to the choice of characters, adds in another whole SHIP, adds in new cards (and the brilliant Treachery cards) and alternate way to end the game (which I have not tried, but have heard is the weakest addition to the game).

Like the show itself, the arrival of the Pegasus was a mixed blessing - on one hand you had all the additional firepower, crew and command personnel to utilize, but on the other, you had to deal with the ramifications of all that as well - good and bad. The expansion captures this love/hate relationship very effectively - you will find yourself thinking about making decisions as Admiral Cain would have - even though you may not want to, as often they ARE your best choice - morals be damned. To me, this story arc was one of the highlights of the series and to now have the opportunity to be thrust into the middle of it - and have it all WORK so well, is a testament to how much the designers really worked at making this expansion feel unique and yet familiar to the fans of the series and game.

Like I said, this is not a game I want to play that often as when I do play, I WANT to be thinking it's fresh as I am discovering new ways to play as both Human or Cylon, but I don't want to play so much that I automatically play the same way for either every game either.

#9 The Alea Treasure Chest Expansion for Notre Dame is a fantastic addition to an already amazing game. The base game comes with 9 Grey "person" cards that are labeled in 3 groups. All 9 of these cards will show up during the game one at a time (in group order) - but the 3 cards in each group will come out in a different order each game.

People who have played the game a lot, know what the cards are and can plan their strategy based on that knowledge. The expansion adds in 9 new Grey person cards - allowing you to either substitute them entirely for the originals (and use them by themselves), or mix them in with the originals and randomly pick 3 of the 6 in each group to use in the game. This may not sound like a big game changer, but considering the new Grey person cards offer very different opportunites than the originals, it actually mixes up the game considerably.

I admit I've not played the game nearly as much as some - in fact up until recently, it had been sitting on my shelf UNPLAYED. However, after reading Ender's very detailed description of how the new cards change the game, I HAD to dust off the box and finally play the game. Once the wife and I had played enough times to be familiar enough with the game, I added in the expansion too. Our path will be different with the game - we won't become too familiar with any one particular strategy as we won't be seeing the same cards in each game. For me, this is the ideal situation as once I start to get too familiar with a game it can suddenly become stale and less desirable to play. Sure, I can add in some new options at that time, but once I hit that wall, the additions only help temporarily and I get less bang for my buck I think. Adding in some variety before that point allows me to keep exploring a game, seeing the different ways the game play and strategies change - which ultimately will help keep my interest much longer overall in the long run.

Colosseum is a game that comes to mind that I think suffers from this problem. I loved the game when it first game out. I played it and played it over and over. I raved about it enough to get both my sister and my non-game playing brother to break down and go hunt out a copy of the game on his own. However, the game became predictable - a pattern developed on how to score the big points and to win, you needed to really follow a scripted series of moves to get there. At that point, the game became much less desirable to play for me. I've thought up a few possible ways to mitigate this problem, but for me, I can now only play the game once in a great while - after enough time has passed to where I may have forgotten some of the scripted stuff and can play again in that "exploring" frame of mind.

I think that any expansion for the game at this point would only re-kindle my interest in playing it again for a short term and even then only if it addressed my problems with the game. Had there been some inclusion of components or rules for some variety to the game play from the beginning, I think the length for the "arc of my enjoyment" of the game would have been significantly longer.

#10 Last up is an expansion I have not actually played yet.

I can hear the cries of "FOUL!" already, how can it be one of my favorites when, I've yet to try it out myself? Well, let me tell you and then you can decide if you still feel that way.

As I was first getting into Arkham Horror the second time (yes, I did mean to say that - you can read about what that means in my comprehensive and very popular review of the game: Arkham Horror - A Geeklist Game Review), I was reading a collection of short stories from H.P. Lovecraft and the best story in the bunch was the one dealing with the mysterious seaside Innsmouth - "Shadow over Innsmouth". I vividly recall thinking how cool an expansion in this setting would be and as I was writting the review, it was announced by FFG.

I saw this expansion being used a few times at a couple of game conventions and as I sat to watch thoses games, I really saw how much detail and thematic flavor had been added to the game. There were many additions to the game in this expansion, but the two that stand out were "Personal Stories" and the Deep One's Rising Track. "Personal Stories" were basically a side goal or quest that each investigator needs to complete to gain some item or knowledge to help them. Failure to do so usually involves some kind of penalty or loss to that investigator as well. The best addition however was a totally new and unique mehanic to this expansion and it was thematically perfect in relation to the events of the short story.

Here is the description of The Deep One's Rising Track from my review to summarize this particular addition:

If you've read the story "The Shadow over Innsmouth", you already know about the "Deep Ones". If you haven't, then briefly they are an aquatic, fish like race that lives deep in ocean off the coast of Innsmouth. They are slowly increasing their numbers but mating with the townsfolk of Innsmouth and their offspring begin life normally as humans but develop the "Innsmouth Look" as they age - ultimately turning into one of the Deep Ones themselves!

To simulate the rising of the Deep Ones, the Innsmouth board has a "Deep One's Rising" track that - like the Ancient One's Doom Track, must also be kept from filling completely as it is another way to awaken the Ancient One in play. Any time a gate is prevented from opening - such as by an Elder Sign (or an investigator's ability) OR if a monster's movement on the Innsmouth board moves it into one of the various Vortex spaces on the board, you place a token on the Deep One's Rising track. This is a pretty cool thing as normally the Investigators would be celebrating the prevention of a gate opening , now they have to be very caustious about letting it get out of control. They are not powerless against this new effect however.

Investigators in Innsmouth may place Clue Tokens on a parallel track as well which simulates the collection of evidence by the investigators in order to convince the authorities to conduct a "Federal Raid" on Innsmouth. This extra track is color coded to the various Innsmouth street and locations and during the Upkeep phase, any Investigator in Innsmouth may place Clue token(s) on empty spaces of the track that match their location color. If they can fill up the Clue Token side of this track, a Federal Raid occurs and then all of the tokens get removed off BOTH tracks - giving the Investigators some breathing room.

This mechanic adds yet another thing for the Investigators to have to watch and manage and it is a simple way to capture some of the tenseness that was in the Innsmouth story.

How COOL is that?!

Arkham Horror may not be for everyone, but for fans of the game, this is the kind of additional elements and twists that we want to see - things that keep the game challenging, things that fit into the mythos and things that keep you wanting to play again and again.

Until next time, Happy Gaming!

Discussion Points

Do you agree with my choices? Which ones did I leave out that you think should be there? What are your Favorite Expansions (for Games in the Top 100)? Which don't make the cut? What do you like about your choices? What expansions do you want to try? Which will you avoid?
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