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.
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.
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.