Cardboard Children – Expansions Round-Up

Okay, so next week I have a MAJOR REVIEW of a very important indie game. It’s not a new release, but it’s a historically important one, I think. And before we head off into better coverage of indie/small-print releases, I think it’s one we have to cover. Before THAT though, we need to clear the decks a little bit. I realise that there are a number of expansions that I’ve not covered yet, and they’re worth highlighting here. All of them are strong. Very strong.

EXPANSIONS ROUND-UP

ELDRITCH HORROR – Mountains Of Madness

Eldritch Horror is, at this stage, host to two expansions. A mini-expansion called Forsaken Lore and a larger expansion called Mountains of Madness. The first expansion is, I think, essential. It’s actually one I’d pick up alongside the base game, because it offers a little bit more variety right from the start – and Eldritch Horror is a game that’s all about weird and wonderful random encounters. You want as many of those as possible.

Mountains of Madness brings another board into play – allowing your investigators to visit the blasted icy wastes of the Antarctic, where weird giant penguins will force you to make die rolls and go “Oh bugger. I rolled a zero.” There are eight new investigators too, hugely increasing the variety in the make-up of your team. There are new cards for encounters, new cards for spells and items and such. There are 32 new Condition cards – and these are my favourite things in the game. They are little cards that inflict a condition upon you that can, when the stars are right, be flipped to show a random change (or worsening) of that condition. You’re never really sure what you’re going to get. They’re a burden and a thrill.

“Focus” is a new mechanic, a very simple one, and it improves the game quite a bit. One of the problems with Eldritch Horror’s base game was that there would sometimes be a turn when you only needed to use one of your actions – sometimes there was just too little to do as you waited for the encounter phase to roll around. But now you can focus to gain tokens that will help you with re-rolls and with some character stuff. It’s a small change to the game, but it works beautifully.

All in all, Mountains of Madness is a strong expansion. It’s not quite as necessary as Forsaken Lore, but fans of the game should snap it up just to get more of that cool Lovecraftian shit. You can never have enough, right?

SPARTACUS – The Shadow Of Death

Spartacus is probably my second favourite board game of all time. I love it. I love it, love it, love it. I absolutely love it. It’s exactly what I look for in a board game. Conflict, negotiation, constant interaction, thrills, spills, vengeance. And it’s another game with two expansions. The first, “The Serpents and The Wolf”, adding two new houses into the game (player roles, with special abilities), lots of new cards and the “Primus” – team combat in the arena. The newest expansion, just released, is “The Shadow Of Death”. It adds another new house, boosts the game to 7 players, adds new Intrigue cards (the Intrigue stage is where much of the brutality in this game happens) and three special miniatures that represent three of the best gladiators in the game.

Now, The Shadow of Death is definitely a smaller expansion than the first. There are less new cards, so it seems like you’re getting much less meat at first glance. Dig in, though, and you find that the new Festival cards really help twist the arena combat in brilliant new directions. The boast tokens are a really flavourful new mechanic that let you brag about the abilities of your gladiators to gain benefits – but if those hyped-up gladiators are beaten in combat you stand to lose a lot of influence. It’s a brilliant addition to the game. And the new miniatures in the box are impressive too – adding even more prestige to any purchase of those stand-out gladiators Spartacus, Theokoles and Crixus.

So, a real quality-over-quantity expansion for an absolutely terrific game. I couldn’t recommend it any more highly.

RELIC – Halls Of Terra

Relic is pretty much Warhammer 40K-themed Talisman, with a few changes flung into the mix. If you hate Talisman it’s unlikely you’ll dig this game – even though it does have a few tricks up its sleeve to give the player a little bit more control over the cruel boots of fate. As you know, I love Talisman, and I think Relic is a great, fun time. It completely nails the Warhammer 40K feel, and you can play it without having to think too much about what you’re doing. It’s just a fun ride.

Halls of Terra is the game’s second expansion, after the brilliant Nemesis, which allowed players to play as some powerful Warhammer 40K villains and go full PvP. This expansion adds a new sideboard, representing the Sol System itself – humanity’s home in the dark far future. There’s a new deck of cards detailing encounters in the new system and so the game’s story is expanded with lots of new incidents. This expansion is all about affiliating yourself with organisations, gaining their favour and becoming their champion. It’s very similar to the sideboard expansions for Talisman – it’s another possible path towards your final goal, an optional route to the end of the story. New characters, a new nemesis, and new scenarios are in the mix too. There’s a really nice new co-op scenario called The Black Crusade, where you have to clear corruption from Sol and prepare for a battle with Abaddon, one of the bad ‘uns of Warhammer 40K. More variety, more stuff, and more beautiful artwork – if you’re into that kind of thing.

SUMMING UP

I love a board game that stands alone. But it seems, these days, that very few do. Many of my favourite games are expandable and expanded. Cosmic Encounter is one of the best examples – a terrific game with so many expansions, but all of them with fun new options. You can sneer at expansions all you want – but they help support the publishers and designers of the games we all love. So keep them coming, I say. Keep them coming.

Next week, finally, into the darkness. Prepare for a Cardboard Children like no other.

30 Comments

  1. thekelvingreen says:

    I bought Spartacus on your recommendation and it is ace. My bank account is intimidated by this talk of expansions because I will have to buy them.

    AND YET. I like games that plan for their expansions and leave space in the box for them. I don’t like how untidy games that don’t plan ahead can get. So I’m torn.

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      Waltorious says:

      The Serpents and the Wolf expansion fits into the original game box easily. I haven’t grabbed Shadow of Death yet (I think it only just came out yesterday in America) but my guess is that it might fit too. My only worry is the figures, which might be too bulky. But there’s definitely room for more cards, and probably for another house board.

    • Underwhelmed says:

      As has already been said, the expansion easily fits in the box, so no worries there. Having said that, I have to say that I can no longer imagine playing Spartacus without more than 4 players. As much fun as it can be, once you have played a few games with 5 or 6, you won’t want to go back.

      • thekelvingreen says:

        I’ve played a few times with eight, with two players per team, and that was great fun, as it seems to emphasise the scheming phase even more than normal, but it is a hack. I’m keen to play it with the expansions.

  2. frenz0rz says:

    You didn’t mention that Eldritch Horror has another expansion about to come out, Strange Remnants, which adds ancient ruins and more uncharted areas to explore, as well as more of pretty much everything. More investigators! More encounters! More conditions, spells, assets and monsters! More ancient ones, mythos cards, mysteries and tokens! MORE, I SAY!

    Which is great news for everyone but my dining room table, as it may require replacing with something much larger on which I can actually fit all of this damned crap.

  3. Fuligin says:

    Ameritrash Children

    • frenz0rz says:

      From the BoardgameGeek Glossary:

      Ameritrash is “a catchphrase for ‘American style boardgames.’ In general, this means games that emphasize a highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck.”

      I have no problem with this.

      • Fuligin says:

        I dont’ really have a problem with Fantasy Flight Games in general (Ameritrash and FFG are pretty much synonymous at this point) but they receive a ridiculous amount of attention in this column compared with pretty much everything else. It would be nice to see stuff on GMT, Vlaada, whatever instead of endless articles on the latest “fistful-of-die-plastic-figurine-orgy” of the month.

        • Immobile Piper says:

          God forbid the author writes about what he loves. Although I suppose I understand your concern in the sense that for many this is their only window into boardgaming. But that’s not really an issue now is it. I got into boardgames via this column and sure enough I found my way into Agricola et al soon enough.

          That said, I wouldn’t mind hearing Robert’s take on say Galaxy Trucker for instance. Church of Vlaada and all that nonsense.

    • Edgewise says:

      Yeah, I always come to Cardboard Children to read about being a freaking dye merchant in the golden age of Abyssinia. No wait, I want to read about chainswords.

      • frenz0rz says:

        Actually, being a dye merchant in the golden age of Abyssinia sounds rather fun.

        …that’s not actually a boardgame, is it?

        • StarkeRealm says:

          …maybe? It sounds just familiar enough that it might be a thing. Or the power of suggestion is messing with me.

    • Saul says:

      Rab writes about what he likes. If you like different stuff, you’re free to go and read other game columns/sites/watch videos/whatever. There’s loads out there. I’ve bought quite a few things on his recommendation, and have rarely been disappointed. Spartacus, for example, is bloody fantastic.

    • Rindan says:

      Wear it with pride! USA! USA!

      Sorry.

      Honestly, I love Ameritrash. I wish Euro style games would learn a little from it. Sure, “Euro games” will never have piles of dice, wanton slaughter, and full throated cursing at your (presumably drunk) friends, but a half assed attempt at theme isn’t going to kill anyone. A little flavor text, maybe a mechanic or two that helps convey the heart break and suffering of being a jewelry merchant in the Auvergne of France between the period of 1681 and 1697 isn’t going to kill anyone.

      I swear, Euro game makers are just fucking with us now, trying to come up with literally the most boring settings they can possibly conceive of. I swear that there is a secret cabal of Eurogame makers where, once a game is finished, it gets its theme by selecting and utterly random place and time, and the poor maker has to somehow explain how their game fits in that time and place.

      Euro games are defined by particular types of mechanics. You can have those mechanics without running screaming from a little theme. A really good example of a Eurogame with a them is Chaos in the Old World. That game oozes puss covered theme all over the place. You are god damn Khorne, and you are going to sunder this worthless land your way! However, if you strip it down to its mechanics, it is almost pure Eurogame. A boring wretch of a person could have easily reskinned Chaos in the Old World to be about merchants in the city of Bari between 1211 and 1223 fighting (economically of course) over if the market is going to have more dyed silks or cheese wheels today.

      • Xantonze says:

        Yeah, orcs and elves and space marines: now THAT’s original!

        • Rindan says:

          Do you see the word “original” anywhere in my post? Cool reading skills bro.

          • Xantonze says:

            Come on, you see what I meant : just because a theme is so “in your face” as in CitoW doesn’t make it outstanding.
            The whole deal is how well the mechanics serve the theme, and on that front, lots of euros fare better than your average FFG stuff (which I quite like btw). Chvaatil, Boelinger, Sivel come to mind, but there are many others.
            Of course, there is also Stefan Feld to confirm your point.^^

      • slumcat says:

        I would call Chaos in the Old World a hybrid. Many of the base mechanics (area control, VP track, multiple paths to victory, etc.) are pretty Euro-ish, but the thematic integration, player asymmetry, direct conflict, and use of dice in battles are more Ameritrash.

        As a die-hard AT fan, I love the game, but many of the Euro-philes in my game group will not play this game, despite its Euro-ish elements.

  4. Xantonze says:

    I don’t really get those posts about expansions. People owning those games and love them enough will always find out that new stuff gets released. Kinda useless coverage imho, while so many good games are left unspoken for.

    Also, I found Spartacus quite good, until the actual fighting begins, which basically boils to “how far do I have to run so that the other guy loses initiative and I can hit again”. We found it lacking and flawed, often dragging on for too long for the reason above. The primus is nice though (if you have the… expansion).

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      lasikbear says:

      The best way we found to get around that is to have everyone yell “5 second shot clock” at anyone who is taking too long to move their dude. Previous times we played got bogged down like you described, but everyone yelling tends to keep people moving. The trick is to keep yelling it at them constantly until they get to the “sit and hit” stage.

    • Moraven says:

      I don’t follow a lot of board game news, so expansion news are nice reminders that they are out.

      But they also work for those of us who do not even own the base game. Reminder that already great games have been expanded, so there is more to the game to purchase if I pick up the base game and enjoy it.

  5. OmNomNom says:

    Wish i had friends to play these with. They look cool

    • Immobile Piper says:

      It can be pretty easy. I called up some old high school chums, “hey I got this cool game about hoplites and kraken, wanna game?”.

      That was months ago, we have a weekly group thing going strong.

  6. derbefrier says:

    Hmmm going to have to check out this sparticus game. I started buying board games for my DnD group and they have loved it. I cant decide what game to buy next and since my group can get pretty big i tend to lean more toward games with a higher player count. All i have right now is king of tokyo and Space Cadet: Dice duel, both fun games but it about time to bring something new. I have been looking at Shadows over camelot but this Sparticus looks like a contender.

    • thekelvingreen says:

      I’ve played Spartacus with newcomers to boardgaming, board game veterans, and my regular role-playing group and everyone loves it. Give it a try.

  7. ExitDose says:

    I can’t wait to get my hands on the new Netrunner expansion. The entire Sansan cycle has been pretty good, so far.

  8. RanDomino says:

    I wanted to like Eldritch Horror but it just wasn’t quite as fun as Arkham Horror and it takes as long to play. It’s a little simpler but it’s a little too simple for my tastes. Replacing money with a dice-roll just feels wrong.

  9. therighttoarmbears says:

    I really do enjoys me some Eldritch Horror. Now if only I could ever convince my wife to play with me, maybe I could talk her into an expansion pack or two.

  10. tonallyoff says:

    My favourite expansion I’ve played of late is Gates of Arkham for Elder Sign. Really cranks that game up a notch, not like the Unsees Forces one which belongs in the bin.