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I think, sad to say, this is still a common problem in modern boardgaming. You buy a game and it's maybe okay, but then you discover that there's an expansion set that makes all the difference. If you don't go out and buy that too, you're not really experiencing the game as it was meant to be played.

It's in all of our interests as consumers to know which games are going to be satisfactory straight out of the box, and which have hidden costs involved. Which games in your collection wouldn't really be complete without one or more of their expansions? Obviously I don't want vague answers like "Dominion is really good but Dominion with all the expansions is even better": please provide concrete explanations of the actual problems a game's base set has, and how the expansion set goes on to fix them, if possible!

I have a bugbear or two of my own to tell you about, but rather than shoehorn them into the question as "examples", I'll post them as an answer below!

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Wasn't a fan when I read the subject. Seemed like YARQ (yet another rec question) but your writeup is really good. I think this has good potential and am eager to see some answers. –  Pat Ludwig Feb 3 '11 at 19:56
    
@Pat: I'm hoping it'll produce useful information. If it doesn't, we can just close it and say no more about it :) –  thesunneversets Feb 3 '11 at 20:04
    
Interesting question. I cannot think of any, but then again if I didn't like how the base game played, I wouldn't be buying an expansion for it :) –  Chris Persichetti Feb 3 '11 at 20:16
    
@Chris: I guess part of the idea is to alert people of expansions that really transform the experience. As you point out they might never even look at the expansions if the base game was flawed... and then they might be missing out! –  thesunneversets Feb 3 '11 at 20:19
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8 Answers 8

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Civilization

It's really a great game, but the so-called "expansion" Advanced Civilization is actually more of a "revised version", which fixes things which were a bit broken, and adds some variety.

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+1. I agree. FWIW, it's somewhat straight forward to build yourself the Advanced Civilization with creativity, since it usually costs > $150 when you can find it to buy it –  David Oneill Feb 4 '11 at 17:30
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Agreed. Civ was fun, but flawed; advanced civ fixed the holes neatly. –  Tynam Feb 5 '11 at 23:03
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I know I've played either Civilization or Advanced Civilization, but I'm not 100% sure which one. What was broken about Civilization, and what did Advanced Civilization do to fix them and add variety? –  Aether Jan 6 '12 at 10:12
    
Trade was not exactly "broken" but it was greatly improved, so much you never want to go back. Also, it fixed win conditions, fixed advancements, and added a lot of new advancements too. –  Lohoris Jan 8 '12 at 10:34
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Here's my big one:

St Petersburg

This is a pretty good mid-range boardgame, but its basic set has some serious problems. It contains cards which are significantly undercosted, like the cheap Observatory and the seriously overpowered Mistress of Ceremonies. Rather than fix these cards in a new printing of the base game, they released an expansion which contains replacements for the broken cards, as well as a 5-player option, and a few dozen new cards. The problem being that this box costs over $20 for, basically, a slim deck of tiny undersized cards! I really like fixed St Petersburg, but my local independent game store refuses to stock the expansion for being a rip-off, and I can't really fault his reasoning.

And a couple of minor quibbles for good measure. Carcassonne I love, but the basic game is a pretty simplistic thing before you add in at least Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals. I guess most people buy the Carcassonne Big Box these days for value, so it isn't often a problem... but some people may buy the basic set and not realise they're not getting anywhere near the full Carcassonne experience.

Agricola is my favourite game ever, and it's superb straight out of the box, but I have to say I find it difficult to imagine going back after experiencing the Farmers of the Moor expansion. There are some dominant strategies in basic Agricola, like building rooms for early Family Growth, that are hard to escape from: I have friends who have gotten bored of Agricola because, in their opinion, it's too obvious what move they should take at any turn, just take the resource that the other players have allowed to build up the most. Farmers of the Moor really does fix all of that: now that you have to pay to heat your house, building lots of wooden rooms to fill with people is no longer a no-brainer strategy. And the Free Actions really do give the starting player an agonizing choice between getting a choice pile of resources or an extra action in the turn. Agricola is great, but FotM just makes it near perfect in my opinion. Of course, the cost of both boxes is going to be well into three figures of dollars... :-/

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Farmers of the Moor is cool, but the real issue I have with Agricola is the ani-meeples and vegi-meeples in the Goodies box set. Why can't those be included in future printings of the base set? –  Pat Ludwig Feb 3 '11 at 20:27
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@Pat: agreed. Farmers of the Moor just makes the meeples situation worse, because now you have awesome horse-meeples, can you really go on living with stupid cubes to represent your sheep, boars, and cattle? –  thesunneversets Feb 3 '11 at 20:32
    
@the - you are completely right! I had it easy and bought both expansions at the same time so I didn't have to deal with horse envy :) –  Pat Ludwig Feb 3 '11 at 20:38
    
The animeeples have not been (and most likely won't ever be) included in future printings because they were originally offered as a bonus to people who pre-ordered the first edition of Agricola from Z-Man. Being able to get them without pre-ordering (or buying them separately) undercuts the idea of a pre-order bonus, and Zev committed to not do that. –  Robert Rossney Feb 4 '11 at 17:46
    
Would be +1 for the main post, but I want to give a -1 to the Agricola comment, so it cancels out at +0. Our group has played Farmers of the Moor a few times, and it's certainly good, but we rather prefer the original Agricola. The diversity of strategies facilitated even by the E deck, let alone the I and K decks still in the base game, just feel more appealing. Farmers of the Moor seems to be going in a different direction to where we like Agricola. –  AlexC Feb 4 '11 at 23:02
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It's funny that you mention Dominion.

Dominion's base set doesn't have any problems that require you to buy the expansions, but the Base set is extremely weak on variation. In my opinion, Intrigue makes a much better starting set.

Other expansions are optional.

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Hmm, maybe Dominion falls into the same category as Carcassone (in my answer): it's an okay game in and of itself, but serious gamers will quickly crave more meat. I think people who don't like the extra complexity that Intrigue et al offer won't really like Dominion in the long run, so perhaps they should forget about the newbie-friendly set and just start with something more tricksy! –  thesunneversets Feb 3 '11 at 20:18
    
I feel like Settlers of Catan falls into this same category. Perfectly fine game by itself, but serious gamers will want an expansion to add a bit more depth. –  CodexArcanum Feb 3 '11 at 22:44
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My vote is Twilight Imperium. They made a lot of changes to the base game that really improved it.

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It was a question about how to fix a severely dominant strategy in the Twilight Imperium base game that sowed the seeds of this question in my mind, I think :) –  thesunneversets Feb 4 '11 at 20:11
    
Hmm... on the one hand, the Imperium II card change is a good example. On the other hand, they released that change for free in the FAQ before the expansion came out, and aside from that issue I wouldn't say the base box alone didn't work well. (I really like it as an expansion, it improves the game, but I'm not sure it belongs as an answer to this question. In two minds - thoughts, anyone?) –  Tynam Feb 5 '11 at 23:02
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Can you detail some of the changes and why they were needed? –  Pat Ludwig Feb 10 '11 at 16:25
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Most of the time, I think the point of expansions is to improve replayability. Most games are fine without any expansions, but might get boring after you play them enough time. How many 'enough' is varies greatly on the game, but the approach I'll take toward the question is what games have relatively little re-playability without expansions.


Citadels is one that plays fine without the dark city expansion, but Dark City adds SO much new variety its hard to imagine playing without it. With just the base there's one possible set of 8 characters; with the expansion there's 256 possibilities with 8, and an extra 256 if you play with 9. There won't always be a gigantic change when you switch some characters, but there's definitely at least 20 different combination that all make the game completely different and require a total recalibration of strategy. The later editions of the game mostly come with the Dark City expansion in the box.

Settlers of Catan is another where the expansions add a huge amount a re-playability. The base has a significant number of different maps, but as with Citadels the expansions increase the possibilities of the island exponentially, not to mention giving some completely different strategies. Ending up with smaller surrounding islands with Seafarers will definitely change your building plans, and you'll probably think differently about your military if you have to worry about being attacked in Cities and Knights.

Countless more games have similar situations, like Dominion, Three Dragon Ante, Carcassonne, Pandemic, and probably at least 200 others. IMHO any good expansion should add a lot of re-playability.

Are they satisfactory without the expansions? Definitely. Are they really complete? That's a matter of opinion. Is the Dominion base set complete because it has 3,268,760 possible kingdom sets of 10? Or is it not complete until you have at least one big expansion and 10,272,278,170 possibilities? Or 2 big expansions and 828,931,106,355 possibilities? Or all the first 4 expansions and the 3 promo cards and 6.20885664 × 10^13?

I totally agree that there are some games that aren't very good standalone. My point is that the definition of completeness if very subjective. :D

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+1 for calculating those ridiculous numbers, which made me laugh. I wonder, does it really matter a game has a mere 10 million permutations as opposed to a googolplex? (I tend to think that all lotteries give me pretty much equal chances of not winning...) It could be argued that a smaller number of possible kingdom sets are better, too. One thing I don't like about Dominion is that, I start to see the possibilities for a given kingdom set halfway through the game... and then it's too late, the set will never come up ever again! –  thesunneversets Feb 5 '11 at 19:21
    
@thesunn how is it too late? You can always play that game again, especially if you save on a website for exactly that purpose, plus you'll know what kind of combinations to look for in the future. dominiondeck.com/games :D –  Gordon Gustafson Feb 5 '11 at 20:29
    
+1 for pointing out a few games that feel like demos until you buy an expansion (Pandemic really comes into it's own once you have more jobs; I still haven't forgiven Settlers for insisting on selling me 5-6 player expansions for their expansions) –  Allen Gould Jun 11 '13 at 21:10
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Alhambra

The basic game has very little variation and really only two methods to score victory points... buy buildings and place them so you have long walls.

The expansions each add some small element to the game, many of which are alternate methods of scoring victory points, but some of them are minor gameplay changes which create more interesting variations.

Bazaars as an example, are a tile which are more valuable the more tiles of particular types that are adjacent to it. Treasure Chamber lets you buy and stow chests in your Alhambra for VPs.

On the other hand the expansion with coins gives you change for overpaying for tiles! These little things help make an otherwise fairly humdrum tile drawing game into something pretty cool. Or the thief you can use to steal money cards when it's not your turn.

There are multiple expansions and each comes with four of these game play elements and they are completely independent of one another. So you don't have to own them all, or even play with more than one or two of them. You can have a bit of variety every time.

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I'd definitely agree with previous mentions of Catan and Carcassonne (although I've only played the latter on the 360, it also has available expansions, so I will assume the experience is the same with the original version).

From personal experience, I'd also suggest Talisman. (I think 2nd edition is what I've played.) It may be a fun game with just the base set - I can't say because we never played just with that - but if you add the Dungeon and City expansions, as well as the base Expansion, you've got a much deeper game. (I don't remember if we actually tried to tie in the Timescape expansion as well ... after a certain point, there can be too many options.)

Games like that, ones that have expansions that don't depend on each other, give you a lot of options in terms of replayability ... and you'll always have the original game if you want a simpler, scaled-down game night once in a while.

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Heh, I used to play Talisman years ago when I was a nipper. I did think that the expansions were fun, but as you yourself implied, once you had three or four expansion boards and were trying to play them all at the same time... it was just a bit too much. There's a lot to be said for games with multiple expansions, but where you only play one of the expansions at any given time. (Alhambra springs to mind... you'd have to be crazy to play with ALL the expansions in the Big Box simultaneously!) –  thesunneversets Apr 8 '11 at 17:38
    
Quite so. There's a sweet spot with Talisman: add the right expansions and you get enough variety in characters and such to make it much more enjoyable, but one too many and you spend twice as much time discussing how expansions overlap as you do playing the game itself! –  Dave DuPlantis Apr 8 '11 at 17:51
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Cosmic Encounter, 1977 version (Eon games). This may have been the game that launched the expansion set trend, so worth describing for the historical value:

Original: Nice idea but not enough variation in Alien powers or edicts to make it interesting for more than a few games and limited to 4 players max.

Expansions 1-3: Worth buying for adding players 5 and 6 and a little more variation thanks to more powers and edicts, but the game still did not have strong replayability power.

Expansion 4: Flare cards added, which tremendously added to the variability of initial conditions and outcomes. Getting the basic set and expansions 1-4 is enough to get hundreds of games of enjoyment.

Expansion 5: Added moons. Most people I know hated moons and never used them. Was not a necessary building block for future expansions.

Expansion 6: Added lucre (a money system) and powers. It did add variation but some people liked it, some didn't. Best bought in conjunction with Expansion 8.

Expansion 7: Added powers. Best bought in conjunction with Expansion 8.

Expansion 8: Added the flare cards for the powers added in Expansions 6, 7, and 9. Therefore a required purchase for those who bought any expansions above #5. Also added kicker cards, a welcome addition among those I gamed with.

Expansion 9: Added a single power (the Aristocrat) and rules/stickers needed for inverse play. The inverse rules were not liked by those I played with so this expansion could have been skipped (though Aristocrat was well loved).

Comments: This is the only game system I've used where the basic set is so boring that it's essentially a requirement to buy expansion sets (1-4 at a minimum). However, the expansion sets were sold in thin plastic bags at a low cost ($5-$6 for each expansion kit). So buying the basic set plus expansions 1-4 was the equivalent of paying for 2 games.

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Note that the latest (fifth!), somewhat expensive FFG version of cosmic encounters includes the rough equivalent of the base game plus expansions 1-4 (and even a little more). So variability is plentiful, which justifies the higher cost. –  Joe Golton Dec 26 '13 at 17:03
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