The Herald Bulletin

May 31, 2013

New expansions bring more variety to great games

By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin

---- — Quite some time ago, board games came out, were played until they got stale and never changed or were altered in any way.

There are numerous examples of this: Monopoly, Sorry, Life, Yahtzee and Scrabble to name but a few. That was then, this is now. Now there are many reasons why a board game will be revisited by expansions. The worst two are for more money or to fix a problem that cropped up after the game released.

I want to cover three expansions that do not fall into either of those categories, at least not exclusively, for a do believe that all three companies would like to make some money off these releases. But none of them feel as if they were released with that as the sole purpose.

The three games are: Kingdom Builder from Queen Games, Rivals For Catan from Mayfair Games and Smash Up by AEG. All three have strong followings for the base game and two of the three had previously released expansions.

The most heralded of the trio is Kingdom Builder from designer Donald X. Vaccarino, which won an international game of the year recognition two years ago. It is already supported by Nomads, an expansion that adds scoring options, new boards and the ability to move settlements that had already been placed to different locations.

The new expansion is called Crossroads and it can easily be labeled as more game changing than Nomads. Anyone who has played Nomads would expect an expansion to contain new boards and it does. They would anticipate new location tiles and it has those. But Crossroads introduces a new means of scoring as well as some new pieces to put on the board and that will be my focus here.

In Kingdom Builder, players put settlements on the modular game boards in order to try and earn points made available through three scoring cards randomly drawn before the start of the game. With Crossroads, there are four new pieces to be put into play depending on which board is randomly drawn for play. The elements are warriors, wagons, ships and city hall tiles. They come in the five different player colors.

Without going into great detail, this is what these elements add to the game.

Warriors enter the game through use of the Barracks tile. No settlements of any player may be placed on a space adjacent to the warrior. Wagons come into play through use of the Wagon tile. Wagons may move across land spaces on the game board. Ships enter play through the Lighthouse action and they may move through water spaces on the board. City Hall tiles come in through the City Hall action and they occupy seven spaces on the board and contain seven settlements.

The new Task cards provide more opportunities to earn gold (which counts as points for determining the game's winner). There are six Task cards and one is drawn randomly for each board from Crossroads that is used as part of the four boards that make up the game's playing surface.

Though playing with this expansion is something I have only simulated as the game is still nearing its U.S. release, all of the additions work quite well in expanding the game without making it overly complicated or fiddling too much with the overall game flow and strategy. Fans of Kingdom Builder will want to mix Crossroads into the game's options immediately, but I would caution even those experienced with the game to start out by only allowing one of the four boards to be included in any setup until very familiar with the new ideas and options.

The Rivals for Catan is a two-player card game that gives a feel of the popular board game Settlers of Catan, which isn't designed for two. Age of Enlightenment is really the third expansion for the game. The base game contained an expansion built in. Each expansion has contained three theme sets. they are cards that can be added to the mix individually or collectively.

The three themes for this expansion are The Era of Explorers, The Era of Sages and The Era of Prosperity.

Explorers is the most game changing of the three and it allows the gamer to set sail on some sea tiles in search of victory points needed to win the game. The sea tiles begin the game in play on one end of the game area and limit city building to take place in the other directions. Players will need to watch out for Pirates on that sea.

The Era of Sages allow players to earn wisdom through those Sages and use that to alter certain occurrences in the game. The Era of Prosperity permits the gamer to build schools and hospitals designed to make the people living there more secure and happy.

These themes are fully compatible with the six themes previously released. Rivals for Catan is one of the best and probably the most immersive two-player games on the market. Anyone who has purchased Rivals and enjoyed it, should seek out Age of Enlightenment for even more variety and enjoyment.

Smash Up was one of the big hits of last year's GenCon in Indianapolis and it was announced as a release designed to have expansions.

Smash Up's base game featured eight different factions, each with a 20-card deck. The game features a mechanic labeled shuffled building instead of deck building. Gamers take two of these 20-card decks and shuffle them together to form their forces.

The eight factions that came in the game are Aliens, Tricksters, Pirates, Dinosaurs, Robots, Ninjas, Wizards and Zombies. So it is no surprise that the first expansion, Awesome Level 9000, would bring more factions into the mix.

Those factions are Killer Plants, Ghosts, Steam Punks and Bear Cavalry. Each has its own set of strengths and abilities unique to that faction. When mixed with the eight that came in the base game, there is a ton of variety in the ways that the 12 factions can be mixed. There are new bases that also come with the game and those bases are where the victory points are earned that are needed to win the game.

One other needed element for playing the game that comes in this expansion is victory point tokens. With the base game it is necessary to use pencil and paper, dice or some other means to keep track of each's player's total. These tokens make game play much easier and more enjoyable, as do the new factions.

In a recent announcement, AEG will release a second expansion, The Obligatory Cthulhu Set, to be released later this year with four more new factions. AEG should be applauded for aggressively supporting this game and it only gets better and more varied as each new faction is released.