When I Kickstarted the base Tesla Vs Edison, I was captivated by the theme, being a fan of the era of history they occupy, and having read various histories and explored documentaries that cover their stories.
When I got the game, I loved the history aspect, but the final turns of the game devolved into a massive stock manipulation game, making the previous turns seem less important. I still thought it was a good game, but not a great game.
The expansion appeared on Kickstarter earlier this year, and after looking into it, I was surprised at what I saw. Most expansions add on to the existing mechanics, and add a new mechanic or two. This expansion looked like a big overhaul, changing one of the fundamental aspects of the original game
So I was able to pick up my Kickstarted copy at GenCon, and I've been able to play it solo several times, and got a 2-player game last night. So the question is, does the expansion improve the game? Or just change it?
NOTE: This review assumes that you are familiar with the base game.
The game adds several new Luminary and Propaganda cards, as well as a 6th inventor: Madame Walker, who was a cosmetics millionaire at the turn of the century from Indianapolis. The expansion also comes with 2 additional stock certificates for each character to support the 6th player.
Each inventor now also comes with a small player board with additional artwork, and supports better organization for players. At the top of the character board are slots for the inventor and the luminaries that the player will gain. At the bottom are spaces for a new mechanic: the workshop. Each inventor now has 4 cards that they can use to gain special powers throughout the game, and score bonus points.
The expansion also includes event cards that are drawn at the beginning of each turn and affect the stock market, and add an effect for the entire turn. This might be a card that can be auctioned, with the winner receiving the power for the turn, others affect everyone equally.
The expansion also comes with AI decks, which program the turns of other players, allowing solo games. The really nice thing about these decks is that players can add as many as they like. I've played 2 games with 3 different AI decks, and I'm really impressed with how easily they all play together. The expansion comes with 2 decks, and the Kickstarter came with 2 more.
Parts of the expansion can be played with the original rules, but the game also includes major changes to the original rules.
The basics of the game are the same. The game still includes the city map, the technology track, fame track, AC/DC track, and stock market. The game still takes place over 6 turns, and players still auction luminaries at the beginning of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th turns, and actions are still taken by exhausting luminaries with matching symbols.
The changes begin before each turn, with the drawing of an event card. The event card has an effect, and alters everyone on the stock market equally.
The biggest change involves the stock market. In the base game, the stock market is the entire focus. The end game score is based on the value of your stock portfolio. The only way to win the game is by skillfully buying and selling stocks, thereby changing the stock prices up and down.
However, this ended up being really unsatisfying while playing the game. Players would spend time building up their technology, and network of connected cities, and at the end of the game the only thing that really mattered was the ability to dump stock at the end, tanking the price of a stock, while buying up another stock to increase it, trying to squeeze out a few more points.
Of the 4 original actions, the ability to interact with the stock market is completely removed. It is replaced with the ability to improve your workshop. Each workshop card is associated with one of the luminary symbols. By exhausting a luminary, players can now turn over one of the cards, gaining it's special power.
Players can still manipulate the stock market, but it is much more controlled. Players now work with the stock market at the end of the bookkeeping phase. Instead of buying as much of a stock as they want, and selling as much of another stock as they want, players are much more limited. Players can trade one stock for another, earning or paying the difference. Then they can purchase a single stock certificate. In this way, players can only affect a narrow range of prices, and gain a single share of stock each turn.
This is a major change to the way the game plays. The stock market doesn't take massive swings any more.
The other big change is the final scoring. Instead of stock portfolio value being the only thing that matters, players now score in categories.
The first category is stocks. The highest value stock is worth 6 points, then second highest 5, the third 4, etc. The players score points for every stock in their portfolio. So if they have 4 of the most valuable stock at the end of the game, they gain 24 points.
Whoever has the most money gains 6 points, 2nd 5, etc.
Players then score their workshops, gaining up to 10 points for having all 4 cards improved.
One of the workshop cards also gives bonus points for a specific category. Finally, players score that, and whoever has the most points wins.
So, the game is definitely still recognizable to players of the base game, but with the final scoring mechanic completely replaced, the game feels a lot different.
So is it better? Or just different?
There are a few things that I really love:
1) The AI decks are wonderful. They are really well balanced, and in the 2 games I played, the scores were close between me and the AI players. The fact I can play a full table game by myself is something I hadn't seen in a game with automation. Having 4 is a really big bonus as well. If you didn't get the Kickstarter version, and they're selling the extra decks, they're definitely worth it if you play solo.
2) Events and Workshops - The events and workshops add a nice bit of flavor and a bit of extra strategy. The extra powers really differentiate the various inventors, and give players a reason to play one over another rather than liking a specific color.
3) Historical flavor - The base game focused on the age of electrical invention, and all the characters were historical figures that contributed to the world of electricity. The original promo cards were of Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer, and Michael Faraday, an early electricity experimenter. Neither of these people were around for the invention of the light bulb, or the subsequent electric revolution, but they work in the context of the game, as they were important historical figures. Each card has a sentence or two explaining why the character, building, or event is significant. I really appreciate this aspect of the game.
4) Diversity - The expansion worked really hard to include women and people of color in the new luminaries and propaganda cards. It would be easy to fill up the new cards with only white men, but I really appreciate the effort to find significant figures in this era that aren't regularly celebrated.
There's a lot to like in the new expansion, but the game still feels like it doesn't quite all hang together. It kind of feels like you're playing a couple of different games on the same table.
That being said, the game is still good. I've played it 5 times between the base game and the expansion, and I still enjoy playing it, and I'll definitely keep playing it.
So to answer the original question: the game with expansion is definitely better. How much better? I would consider the base game good, but not great. With the expansion, I think the game jumps to very good, but doesn't quite reach great. That's not to say it's not worth playing or buying, but I don't know if I'd recommend it unreservedly.
I will say this for the expansion: I now consider the expansion to be the definitive version of the game for me. I won't be separating the material and playing the base game alone ever again. If you like the base game but feel like it could be improved, the expansion will definitely do that for you. The AI decks are the big gem of the expansion for me, and anyone who plays solo will definitely want to pick this up.
UPDATE: I got this on the table with 4 players and I've realized something:
Tesla Vs Edison is not a very good 2-player game. In fact, I'd say it's flat out dull with 2 players. But with 4, it transforms into a great game, especially with the expansion. If you've got 4 players regularly, then go for it. This game is excellent.
I'll try it soon with 2 players and extra AI decks to fill out the players.
- Last edited Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:14 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Sun Aug 14, 2016 6:32 pm