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P.D. Magnus' ruminations on gaming, along with shrill promotion of his own designs.
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Expansions yay, expansions nay

P.D. Magnus
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I have at least one expansion on the shelf that's still in shrink, which I bought as the second half of a buy-one-get-one deal when buying a game I really wanted, but this post is about expansions for games I love to play.


I bought Isle of Skye: Journeyman with trepidation. Nobody else in my play group had gotten a copy, and I really wanted to try it. It sounded like a hot mess, though. It takes the base Isle of Skye and adds a whole extra game on top of it, with route finding, pattern matching, and tech tracks.

The first play with the expansion was rough but fun. Further plays have been rewarding. Some others in the game group prefer Journeyman to the base game, and one guy who'd been lukewarm on Isle of Skye decided to buy it just so that he could also buy the expansion. Yes, it adds a new game on top of the original-- but the new game is also pretty fun.

Since getting Journeyman, I've also played many games with players who were new to Isle of Skye. We played the base game. Because it's a different experience, I still enjoy the base game.

I also bought the Druids expansion. It takes the core game and adds more of the same. You get more tiles. Most of the new ones have banners, so you get more scoring. It also makes it harder to block other players, so the game becomes looser.

Last week, three of us played with both expansions. To my surprise, that was also fun. So, depending on who I'm playing with, I'm happy to play with no expansions, with either, or with both. Combinatorics means that I have 4 different ways to play a game I love.


Kingdom Builder is one of my favorite games, and I own all of the expansions. Each expansion adds new boards and new goal cards. Along with the new boards come different powers and different special buildings.

The first two expansions were good. The maps in Nomads added new powers and also swapped castles for nomad camps, but the nomad camps didn't change the game too much.

The last two expansions introduce new powers on each board, new terrain types (marshes and farm lands), and new special buildings (palaces and silos). Any of the changes separately are interesting, but they all come locked together.

If you want to try the new kind of power that appears in the Marshlands, you also have to play with the maps that have marshes. Conversely, if you want to have marshes on the maps, you have to play with those powers.

If you want to play with farm lands, you have to also play with the new powers on the Harvest maps.

So I face a dilemma:
If I want to play a game that focuses on a particular element, like farm lands, then I have to play with the powers from the Harvest set and with the silos.
With a random set up, teaching the game to new players (or brushing up the rules for players who haven't played in a while) is kind of a mess. And they spend a lot of their time just getting the rules straight, rather than strategizing.

After the first play or two with the expansions, I'm not satisfied with either way of playing. The dilemma means that Kingdom Builder doesn't get to the table as much as I'd like.

They could have made the options modular. Putting base set powers on a Harvest map with castles in the special building spots would add just farm lands. With the amount of card board in the game, just a difference in graphic design would have made this possible.

The upshot

I have a love-hate relationship with expansions. The best of them allow me new ways to play a game I love in new ways. Others, not so much.
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