We’ve talked before once or twice about some of the best expansions in board gaming. They take a beloved title – one that has been survived repeat play and been cherished – and put new life and challenge into it. Here are a few more than really take the best of a title and push it further.
Alchemists: King’s Golem
Alchemists is a brilliant game that takes worker placement (or action selection) and melds it seamlessly with a deduction puzzle. Players mix ingredients into various potions and from the results try to divine the hidden alchemical signatures. It’s a wonderful blend that pushes the players toward discovery – even by drinking their own concoctions if need be. But the first expansion, The King’s Golem, takes the process to a whole new level. Now, you not only get a new way to publish theories, but you also have a new puzzle – awakening the golem.
The King’s Golem adds four semi-independent modules. Two of them increase variety by changing the turn order track or providing different starting resources. But the other two greatly expand the decision space. The Royal Encyclopedia allows you to publish new theories about an aspect – rather than about an alchemical directly. And the titular Golem has you using precious turns to discover how to animate it. Sure its eyes glow or its ears smoke. But what does that mean?
The expansion increases the turn order pressure, makes the experience more brain-meltingly enjoyable, and enlarges both the depth and breadth of play.
Istanbul: Mocha & Baksheesh
In Istanbul, you walk through the eponymous market trying to buy and trade for rubies. You zip from warehouse to warehouse and dealer to dealer, even making stops at the Post Office or the prison. At each place, you have to either drop off or pick up apprentices – which means you have to plan your route efficiently. Planning your route as you traverse the stalls is an enjoyable challenge. You have to circle back just enough to keep moving forward. And because the first to five rubies wins, it has a distinctive race feeling.
But an enjoyable game becomes a fantastic one with the addition of its first expansion: Mocha and Baksheesh. The expansion breaks the base game’s duality between goods and coins. In the base game, goods turned into coins and vice versa and either could be used to get gems. But the expansion introduces coffee. The new resource really fleshes out the game and provides a tripartite means of acquiring gems.
Now, players can explore whole new strategies. It’s very freeing to have a third avenue for obtaining rubies and it can result in some sneaky maneuvering to grab a fifth gem unexpectedly. This expansion takes a good game and makes it great.
Pandemic: On the Brink
When I first got Pandemic, my wife and I played it repeatedly. I remember in one of our first sessions we played seven times in a row before we finally got a win. But like many avid fans, after a time, we started to learn the best strategies and when to avoid risks. Because it’s a cooperative title, it can be more accessible to casual gamers. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have much granularity when adjusting the difficulty. Although you can add in another Epidemic, it’s a crude metric.
But On the Brink completes the entire Pandemic experience. For one thing, you get the Virulent Epidemics. Not only do they reshuffle the infection cards, but they also designate one color the virulent disease. It becomes more difficult to treat or even pops back up after eradication. You also get the mutation – purple cubes – that can make finding the cures that much harder. Between the number of epidemics, the virulent strain variant, and the mutation, you are much more able to tailor the difficulty level of Pandemic to your group’s taste.
And for those who want to add a layer of competitiveness, it even introduces a bioterrorist variant. One player goes around spreading disease secretly while the others not only have to find the cure, but apprehend the evil-doer.
Core Worlds: Galactic Orders
Core Worlds is one of the best deck builders on the market. And that’s partly because it’s not based on merely building a deck. Instead, that’s just one major mechanism among many including resource management and careful planning. It’s a solid title where you slowly acquire power – first from the outer realms, and then inwardly toward the more advanced core worlds.
The first expansion, though, Galactic Orders totally shifted the paradigm of play. It makes use of small icons that were meaningless in the base game. Now, you get special tokens when playing those cards that can be used for special powers. This upends the strategy entirely. Sometimes you’ll take a card because it helps you conquer worlds, but other times it becomes attractive merely because of the symbol it provides. It changes the calculus and creates a more dynamic, engaging experience.
More than that, it takes a couple of overpowered strategies from the base game and tweaks the rest of the system to bring other strategies more in line. In fact, it powers up the whole thing rather than trying to bring down the offenders.
Have you experienced any of the awesome expansions above? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Czech Games Edition, Alderac Entertainment Group, Z-Man Games, and Stronghold Games
Featured Image Credit: Z-Man games