By Jack Eddy
Expansions are not a new concept. The first one I ever owned was “The Return of the Witch Lord” for my brother and I’s beloved Heroquest. Somehow we scored a copy of what is now a highly sought after collectors item. Regrettably, ours was lost to the abyss that has eaten oh so many childhood treasures. The expansion contained exactly what young adventurers wanted, more miniatures, more stories, more maps, if anything it felt like a sequel than anything else.
Like dwarven miners, we dug greedily and deep into the new content, always taking turns with who played the heroes and who played the forces of evil, my wins were probably more to do with the benevolence of an older brother than any skill on my part. In the days when we had only one or two “cool” board games, the expansion perfectly augmented the base experience, fleshing it out enough to make the game feel new even after playing the original quests a hundred or so times.
I can’t speak to the perfection of The Return of the Witch Lord, as my current copy of Heroquest is sadly lacking any expansions. But there are many excellent expansions that I do consider pretty much perfect for their admirable augmentation of the base game. To recognize these small twists that make great games even better, here are three expansions that I love so much that I would almost never consider playing the base games without them, even when teaching new players.
Five Tribes: The Artisans of Naqala
Designed by - Bruno Cathala (Ca’Thal’a, Ca’Thal’a!)
Published by Days of Wonder - 2015
What’s New: Five tribes get’s a 6th tribe, the purple artisans. They earn you face down treasure tokens, which are either points ranging from 5 to 9, or one time use powers! To accommodate the extra meeples, there are a few more board spaces including an impassible pit, and three tiles that have tiny wooden impassable mountain ranges placed on two of it’s sides. Also there are are a few more Djinns that play off of the treasures and artisans.
Why it’s so good: In base Five Tribes, you either saw optimum moves or you didn’t; there was never much risk in the game aside from turn order bidding and leaving good moves for your opponents. The treasure tokens entice you to consider risks when evaluating your turn, never knowing the exact reward they will net. Fortunately the artisans are inherently worth points, the treasures are never bad, and you get your choice of those drawn, so it never impacts the strategic core of the game. The impassable terrain also present interesting obstacles, causing you to migrate meeples in more interesting ways, making the board feel more dynamic and alive. Also the little wooden mountains are visually striking, making the otherwise drab board pop a bit. Plus, purple is the best color for board game pieces, so I’m happy to play with the artisans.
Designed by Ted Alspach
Published by Bezier Games - 2013
What’s New: Bonuses, Challenges, and Borders! Awesome, jaggedy borders!. One bonus and one challenge tile are drawn randomly at the start of the game and placed face up on stacks B and C. Players fulfilling the bonus or challenge when those stacks are available are given rewards. Borders are like super-tiles that function like any other city tile, but you can only build off their interior jaggedy edge, meaning that your city will begin taking strange, OCD defying shapes. Oh yeah, you also get some extra scoring objective circular token thingys, and really interesting city tiles to add some variety to the base set.
Why it’s so good: The bonuses and challenges are an elegant little twist that gives everyone a clear mini objective to follow, or not follow, as they so choose. It nudges them in a direction and helps add value to different city tiles each game.And the borders. Oh boy, the borders. These puppies are what give your city life and character, it tells the story of what your city is, and how it came to be. Not only will it make your burrough thematically different, your city shape will change to become unique and unlike anyone else’s. Overall the expansion just adds so many cool options that are intuitive and consistent with the rules and spirit of the base game; which is amazing because it does that while ALSO enhancing the thematic imagery of expansive, sprawling, unique cities. Now that I own Inc., I can't imagine playing Suburbia without it.
Lords of Waterdeep: The Scoundrels of Skullport
Designed by Chris Dupuis, Peter Lee, Rodney Thompson
Published by Wizards of the Coast - 2013
What’s New: Tons of stuff! An extra meeple for each color, tokens for a 6th grey player, and 2 separate modules that can be combined or played separately. “Skullport” and “Undermountain”. each add new Lords, quests, intrigue cards, an additional location board, and buildings that get mixed in with the base stack.
Skullport adds the corruption track and most of the new content revolves around gaining and losing corruption. The more corruption tokens that are taken from the track by the end of the game, the more negative points each token is worth. lf all players are “dipping in”, these little smurf poops* can be up to -9 points each. Why not avoid corruption you ask? The problem is the skullport locations and buildings and quests provide awesome rewards, and many chances to return corruption to the track.
*corruption tokens are supposed to be blue skulls, but we can all agree they are secretly smurf poops. I bet Gargamel is behind this...
Undermountain, perhaps the less interesting of the two, adds new PHAT & FAT quests and big actions. I’m talking 40 point quests, or quests that put all buildings in builder’s hall into play under your control. Undermountain doesn’t change the fundamental play of the game, other than adding the option to go after really explosive actions that require high investment for high reward.
Why it’s so good: First off, this kit is modular without the hassle. Too often modular expansions are a hassle to deal with if they don’t integrate with each other. Not so here. The insert is beautiful and easy to manage and the components for each module are clearly identified, so integrating and separating is a breeze. Both modules compound the interesting options you have in the game.
Skullport adds a risk and reward element which alters the flow of the game in a really cool way. Early on, you amass a pile of corruption, rarely thinking about the consequences, but later you are desperately searching for opportunities to get rid of it. Or maybe you avoid corruption altogether, and try and find ways to force other players to take more? I almost never play without Skullport EXCEPT when I’m playing with Undermountain.
Undermountain is fun for a change of pace, because completing your aforementioned PH/FAT quests feels really, really good. You’ll relish the-deer-in-the-headlights your friends give as you zoom forward on the point track, only to witness them soon do the same. The lack of corruption doesn’t mean Undermountain is without risk, either; there’s a balance in completing a variety of quests, and not getting bogged down with too big of quests with not enough turns or resources left in the game. The big difference with Undermountain’s risk is that it isn’t punitive like Skullport.
For advanced gamers, or those who want more strategic meat on Waterdeep's bones, Skullport has you covered. Alternatively Undermountain adds more variety and tactical options while keeping the barebones, new-player-friendly nature of the base game intact. For those who just want a sandbox to play in, they can play with both. What’s not to love?
Well. That went well. Now I want to play all three of those games! And, in writing this article, I’ve found my new expansion review format. What are your favorite expansions? What expansions destroy what you love about the base game?
Look forward to more expansion mini reviews in the future!