A collection of my thoughts on which board game expansions are necessary, and which are just there to make you collect ’em all.
7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – This adds a pretty major addition to 7 Wonders: Duel by giving a third action to be taken (which opens up its own stalling tactics): buying a god card. The God effects are quite powerful but generally the costs seem to work for them. This runs the risk of adding a few more mechanics than the game wants, but if you are feeling played out on the already deep and cutthroat base game, this is a good way to add a few more wrinkles into the mix.
A la Carte: Dessert – Not exactly necessary, as these are all minor changes to the basic gameplay that do not seem to change things much one way or another. The Menus are nice in that they give a bit of direction in your food choices, and the mixed spice jar is fun (but quite random). New salt recipes and coffee cups are all fine too (though, ultimately unnecessary).
Arkham Horror: The Dunwich Horror Expansion – Great expansion, I think it definitely improves the base game. With 4 investigators this is just perfect. Gatebursts and extra locations keep the win from being locked in after sealing a few high probability gates. Injury and Madness cards are awesome too. Can be a little much for teams of 2 or even 3 investigators sometimes though.
Arkham Horror: The King in Yellow Expansion – I feel like the Acts are too hard if you play as recommended, and too easy if you just shuffle them into the deck. Otherwise, the blight stuff is cool. Also, the item decks are getting pretty watered down for those who want weapons. No Dunwich (or other extra board) mythos cards, so, again, this will water down those gates if you add these mythos cards to the expanded game.
Bang! A Fistful of Cards – Nice card additions spice up the base game, but sadly they do nothing to fix the pointlessness of the system. Recommended if only because it at least puts a time limit on the proceedings.
Beasty Bar: New Beasts in Town – Not really an expansion as much as it is a stand-alone game with entirely new animals. I actually really like a lot of them though they are slightly more complex (and, perhaps, less elegant) than the originals. Still very worth getting for the variety it can add.
Claustrophobia: De Profundis – Two new characters, some new monsters, and a bunch of new tiles and scenarios gives you plenty to add to your base Claustrophobia experience. The new hellhounds are a mixed bag…powerful, but sucking up an entire dice to activate them can be crippling at times. Not essential, but definitely worth picking up, the scenarios I played have all been quite good.
Codenames: Deep Undercover – You’d think an entire deck of dick and ball euphemisms would be a hit for Codenames, but due to the base game’s “don’t let them pick the opponent’s cards!” gameplay, having a whole expansion of similarly themed cards doesn’t work as well as you’d think…playable, but probably best shuffled into your regular cards.
Codenames: Marvel – This plays the same as regular Codenames (one person gives one word clues to pertain to different elements in a grid, and the other players guess which elements they are), only with Marvel-themed pictures instead of words. It turned out to be easier to give clues based on the visuals rather than actually using Marvel knowledge (some of the superheroes were pretty obscure). As a visual twist on Codenames, it actually works very well, but I still think I prefer the simplicity of the word version.
D-Day Dice Kickstarter Small Expansions – The Flare Pouch, Distinguished Service Pack, K-Pack, and Comission Pack are all just extra cards that are pretty much completely unnecessary (and bog down gameplay with too many card options)–some of the packs are even functional reprints of other pack cards. The MGF dice are easy enough to incorporate, but I’m not convinced that they are a better option than just rolling a d6 (troop loss seems the most thematic way to represent machine gun fire). The Badges pack, however, while it makes the game a bit easier, is the clear winner here, giving a great new RBW option. If you get one, get Badges.
Dungeon Twister: 3/4 Player Expansion – If you find yourself in the rare situation of being in a game group with more than one other Dungeon Twister fanatic, this is great! Though, even at 3, downtime becomes an issue, and adding extra players does nothing for your ability to control anything beyond the tactical level.
Dungeon Twister: Forces of Darkness – This heavy DT expansion adds a fair amount of complication, but nothing that is unmanageable (though I’m not sure the darkness mechanic is worth the trouble). The “go after your opponent’s wounded” mechanic is cool (though it makes for a fairly bloody game as it is now much harder to heal before they steal your bodies), and there are a few standout characters (the form switching vampire is fun–as is the body snatching ghoul)…some of the others are a little meh (the regenerating dragon and the zombie summons that still lose you a victory point are not super fun to play).
Dungeon Twister: Mercenaries– This expansion focuses primarily on combat, giving everyone abilities that are only useful when you decide to go for a blind bidding dust up. Due to this, it is one of my least favorite expansions–Dungeon Twister is all about the clever moves for me, and combat should only be a last resort, not a primary objective.
Dungeon Twister: Prison – Even though this is technically a new base set (and comes with minis instead of cardboard standups), it is basically just a Dungeon Twister expansion. Tiles now have “arrow slits” which the Naga snake guy can move through. Only the Wizard, Cleric, and Mekanork are kept from the original game. Other new characters of note are the Telepath that chooses the other player’s combat card (not super fun for the other player), the Banshee that can push a character back (ideally into a pit trap though that’s rare to pull off), and the Backstabber that is super fast and gets a bonus in group combat. The “ranged” items are interesting, and the tiles don’t contain many surprises aside from the arrow slits. The solo rules are actually pretty good, but I don’t get much enjoyment out of solo gameplay, so they don’t do a lot for me.
Kingdom Builder: Harvest – This adds new farmland terrain that gives a player next to it a free build every turn. Otherwise the big change is that each board now has two DIFFERENT special tiles to pick up, bringing the total to 8, which, honestly seems like a bit much to me. Part of the allure of Kingdom Builder is how simple it is, and the four special powers already push the simplicity, adding 4 more just seems a little unnecessary.
Krosmaster: Arena – Arena Map – This tournament map has a special rule that you can’t target any of the central squares unless you are also in them (along with a few restrictions on teleporting into them). It makes for a nice incentive to mix it up in the middle and is honestly one of the better maps out there.
Krosmaster Arena: Boufbowl – Playing the teams against each other with Krosmaster rules revealed that the boufball token was surprisingly hard to set up cool plays with. I’m sure a bit more practice would improve my positioning, but as it was the boufball movers seemed underpowered compared to Laika (when buffed), Marty (one hell of a teleporter), and Amalius (deceptively strong).
Krosmaster: Arena – Brotherhood of the Forgotten (Season 6) – Despite ignoring most of the cooler characters from the cartoon in favor of endless Toxine reskins, there are still some cool characters to be found here. Toxine and Arpagone are SOLID level 3’s, Ruel and Elely are weak but situationally super fun, Oropo is just weak, and most of the level 1’s are quite playable.
Krosmaster: Arena – Cemetary/Fog Map – This promo tournament map only has one side, with “fog” squares that reduce your range by 1 and block line of sight if they are between you and your target. There are also 2 stairwells in the middle that I like to house rule you can move between for one MP, though this can be unbalanced depending on the teams, especially because the map already punishes ranged teams so badly. One aesthetic quibble with the 3D terrain, the gravestones are so big that they look like they would block line of sight instead of just movement like they actually do.
Krosmaster: Arena – Dark Heroes – This is one of the more powerful sets of additional Krosmaster characters out there. Black Crow is almost broken due to his low cost, and really fucking annoying summoning ability. Djaul is also an auto include in many teams due to not losing GGs when destroyed, though I’ve had mixed results with his weird damage switching attack. Dark Vlad and Vampyro both seem overpowered at first, but their relative fragility makes them balanced in my opinion. Katar is very strong as well, though tough to use.
Krosmaster: Arena – Frigost – While the board is very fun (one of my favorite’s in fact–pushable ice blocks, if you can manage to set them up, are very satisfying for trick plays), the demonic rewards are ridiculously overpowered. Basically save up to 18 kamas and then whoever gets the most broken reward wrecks house. Fun for a laugh every now and then, but not recommended often. As for the miniature, Count Harebourg is fun enough, though his summons can be a liability (and he is a little too reliant on blue damage boosts to be a real powerhouse). All in all I prefer the promo version, Count Frigost.
Krosmaster: Arena – Ice Map – The special ice squares are a fun, dynamic way to move around the map quickly, though they will disproportionately favor melee characters. I also like that this map is a frozen over version of the original elemental map.
Krosmaster Arena – Ice and Grass Map – This is definitely the weirdest tournament map, with Krosmasters only able to target other Krosmasters standing on the same type of terrain. Honestly, it’s a really cool idea, but in practice it’s way too easy to forget how restrictive that actually is–leading to a fair amount of frustration.
Krosmaster: Arena – Piwate Island – Very nice looking board with the basic variations on “trees and bushes” alongside the new rafts. Honestly, rafts themselves are underwhelming, having little effect on gameplay (aside from non-intuitively blocking pushes and pulls) for the amount of extra rules they use. The included Krosmaster is a winner though–Le Chouque is very fun, unique, and quite powerful with the right teams!
Krosmaster: Arena – Stalls Map – This is a fairly basic map with the new ability to push the stalls around within the dirt area. The stall-push doesn’t really come into play that much, though opportunities for clever manipulation of the ability definitely exist.
Krosmaster: Arena – Wild Realms – The models look great (as always) despite the usual re-skinned molds that always clutter up a release (though the center of gravity on the wolves is slightly off), and the mechanics are very fun. Track is a nice bonus, and Invasion especially shines–I’d thought it would be too tough get into the opponent’s territory safely, but there are plenty of opportunities for clever play with this mid to late game. The Jelly Kings are probably the highlight of the set for me–not only do the 3D summons come included, the abilities are all a lot of fun–with Mint King probably being my favorite for clever push/pull play. Groulagorasalar is another push/pull highlight with his very versatile power (and cool model), otherwise the set is a bit heavier on low level creatures that are interesting enough but fairly simple to play.
Lord of the Rings: Friends & Foes – Definitely improves the base game by making it a bit harder, and giving lots more options. However, due to how the boards work out, I only ever really see people taking one route through this (ie, ALWAYS skip the two boards you can skip), so that feels a little gamey.
Mage Wars Academy: The Priestess – The Priestess is not my favorite Mage to play, her healing/guard marker game just feels kind of boring and can drag the game out a bit (not a huge problem in Academy which already plays mercifully quickly). Still, if you are the kind of white bread unimaginative person that plays Clerics in D&D, maybe you’d like the Priestess…
Mage Wars Academy: The Warlock – The Warlock is definitely more my style of Mage, his “hurt myself to make cool shit” powers are super fun and thematic. And, obviously, I love all the demons and shit.
Memoir 44: Operation Overlord – For those times when you have 8 players that REALLY want to play Memoir ’44, this isn’t a bad option. Each player controls 2 lanes on a 6 section double board with commander players issuing their 3 players cards where the battle needs them most. Again, it works fine, though the beach invasion scenario we played felt pretty static for the Axis.
more dude – Expansion to dude that has a new set of cards with more of an accent theme than the punctuation based original. I prefer the base game as even without hand gestures (which make this too easy), half of these are just too immediately identifiable. A few rules issues too–for example, it is unclear whether or not you can add an “itsa!” in front of “dude” for the Italian one…
Mr. Jack Extension – 6 new characters to add to your Mr. Jack games, though none of them are really all that much better than the originals. You’ve got another 2nd turn winner with the 6 move Pink lady, an unintuitive jumper (long jumps over people, adjacent jumps over buildings?) and a few other only mildly interesting variations. Mostly skippable.
Necromunda: Eschers – This is a tricky (and swingy) team to play well. They are pretty fragile, and do not hold up to a beating well at all, but their poison almost makes up for it, as long as the dice go your way. The models are some of the best in the game, but their whole shtick is perhaps a little too dependent on good dice rolls for them to be my number one choice.
Neuroshima Hex! Iron Gang – The Iron Gang isn’t a radical departure from the base sets, the two main differences being their ranged nets (kind of fiddly) and their “clothesline” chains (kind of cool). They seem slightly underpowered, but they are pretty fun to play and a good addition to the Hex factions.
No Thank You Evil: Story Please – A welcome addition to the base game, this adds a deck of places, adventure hooks, allies, and items to randomly draw (or incorporate however you see fit). Great for a quick pick up game that you don’t want to have to sit down and think up something cool before you play.
One Night Ultimate Daybreak – I still need to try this with more players, but at low player counts, this feels like it has too many wolves and almost becomes a game of pretending to be a wolf rather than a villager.
One Night Ultimate Vampire – This has the twist of having a middle phase where people can change who the “vampires” are. It’s a good idea, but most of it is a little rules heavy for what wants to be a simple game.
The Quest for El Dorado: Heroes and Hexes – This expansion adds some welcome new cards, and then a host of minor rules (mostly revolving around the new temporary curse mechanic) that are mostly unnecessary. The complexity doesn’t ramp up much, but I’m not sure the new stuff like named characters you add to your deck was really necessary.
Railways of Mexico – The Mexico map is designed for 2-3 players and is quite welcome when you have a low player count. There are a ton of mountains, so be prepared to take out a lot of loans, but otherwise, this is the map you want for 2-3.
Runebound: The Island of Dread – Supposedly this map improves a few things from the original game (and disallows PvP combat). However, the basic flaws in the game are still there. Deaths can be a big set-back, especially in the beginning and when you are kitted out for the final battle, but, more importantly, it’s still way too fucking long.
Small World: Realms – The regular Small World maps work just fine and don’t need modularity (especially now that there are other boards), but the scenarios are pretty cool in this expansion and make it worth picking up. Good stuff for all player counts here.
Small World: Underground – A stand alone expansion that has an entire underworld map to explore with its own rules and races. There are a few extra rules here with the relics and places, but overall they are fun to use and don’t push things further than they need to be pushed.
Ticket to Ride: India– This might be my favorite TTR 2 player map. Things are reasonably tight (depending on the starting areas), and then get tighter as players try to complete mandalas (basically, connect two cities in two different ways). Even better, wilds are actually used as wilds, which makes the draw much less luck dependent than it is in Nordic Countries/Switzerland, that can find you stuck without a certain needed color turn after turn.
Ticket to Ride: Netherlands – The toll mechanic really does provide a nice incentive to play aggressively. The scores are unusually high this time, but it’s still one of the better expansions.
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries – It still irks me that, like Switzerland, you can’t use wild cards on the colored tracks. Forcing players to draw only the color of the route makes the game a little more susceptible to certain colors getting buried in the deck. That said, this is otherwise a great 2-3 player version of Ticket to Ride (and the super long route is a fun challenge, though, also swingy/risky).
Ticket to Ride: Switzerland – While the map is a perfect size for 2-3 players, the rule change for wild cards (they can only be used for tunnels, which, granted, cover half the map) leaves me a little cold. With no more wild cards for the half of the map that isn’t tunnels, the whole game becomes a lot more swingy as drawing just the right color is the only way to finish late game routes.
T.I.M.E. Stories: Under the Mask – A good outing for the series…nothing too groundbreaking, but the puzzles were all fair enough, and there were no major rules ambiguities, so I’ll call it a win. The switching bodies mechanic was fun, and implemented well, and there were a few really creative uses of the system to cap things off. My appreciation for this expansion was probably increased due to not falling for any of the red herring dead ends which would have pissed me off if a run got ended because of them.
Ubongo Extreme Craxy Expansion – The four piece puzzles in Ubongo Extreme are a sweet spot for “really hard, but still playable,” so adding a 5th piece to the mix (as this print and play expansion does) honestly ups the difficulty too much. There’s really not a good way to logic this out, you just have to hope you get lucky with your initial placement. Fun for a lark, but definitely not recommended as a go-to for Ubongo.
War of the Ring: Lords of Middle-earth – This gives both sides a bit of help, perhaps a bit more on the fellowship side as the ability to muster into a besieged city makes the elves VERY hard to snatch VPs from. On the other hand, the hunter witch king is almost worth skipping the battle powerhouse version, ensuring a lot more sucessful hunts. The rest falls under the “more rules, more complexity” and is probably just for super fans, though having alternate fellowship cards and a fleshed out Balrog is pretty cool.
War of the Ring: Warriors of Middle-earth – This expansion adds quite a bit of complexity to the base game, featuring full on rule sets for factions (Ents, Dead, Eagles, Corsairs, Hillmen, Spiders) previously only seen as event cards. It is all quite evocative, but, I’m not sure that all the cool minis and rules are an overall improvement once you factor in all the minutiae you’ll need to keep track of. Because, at the end of the day, all the new Ent rules end up having the same effect on the game as the original three Ent event cards did…if you build them up and roll well, you’ll take out Saruman…just one way looks a lot cooler and has a LOT more hoops to jump through to get there.
Warhammer Underworlds: Nightvault – Nightvault improves on Shadespire by adding magic and continuing the lethal terrain from the last map pack, both welcome additions. The new 3D terrain can be annoying (as some of it goes on spaces you can move into, but it looks great and is a welcome addition as well!
Warhammer Underworld’s: Mollog’s Mob – This warband was a bit of a disappointment. Despite being some of the coolest models in a game full of cool models, the way the team plays ends up making for an unsatisfying experience, both for you and your opponent. By putting all the power on one best of a troll mini, it ends up making the diciness of the main game really show. Basically, you will either charge in your troll, roll a critical hit, and take out half their team in one hit, or you will roll shit, and end up getting taken out early.
Warhammer Underworlds: Spiteclaw’s Swarm – This warband is very fast (movement 5), and can return to play after being taken out (which is good as most of them have health 2). They are best at running from the enemy and sneaking onto objectives, though the leader can get pretty lethal when he’s upgraded.