It’s rare for me to find an expansion that I absolutely love. The problem is that you’ve already fallen in love with the base game, its ebbs and flows, the feeling you get when you play it. You kinda already have to love the base game, or why would you bother getting the expansion in the first place. Now the new material has to walk the fine line of giving you more of what you love while being different enough to justify its existence. Not an easy task. Too often, I find myself wishing I was playing an entirely new game rather than an altered version of a game that I enjoy. That’s not to saw there aren’t fantastic expansions out there, simply that, in my opinion, they are the exception. Here are five of the worst offenders.
Dominion was rolling along with two fantastic expansions (Intrigue and Seaside) when Alchemy came out. It introduced a new currency, the Potion. On its face not a bad idea at all. Where you ran into problems was the fact that you needed to invest in potions to make them worthwhile, and for that, you needed to have a lot of Alchemy cards mixed in to your other Kingdom cards. Too often, Potions would go unpurchased, leaving a bunch of cards just dead. There were some interesting cards in there, like Possession, which allowed you to control another player’s hand for a turn, or the Philosopher’s Stone, a Treasure card with a variable value, but overall, it didn’t feel like the free-wheeling Dominion anymore. Too much was tied in to the economy of Potions and Alchemy quickly left the rotation of Dominion expansions I would play with.
I am a huge Takenoko fan. It’s a really unique and beautiful game with no true comparisons out there. Suffice to say, I was excited to try Chibis when it was announced…that emotion was short lived. Chibis adds a Miss Panda to the mix, as well as some new terrain tiles, different objectives, and some cute little baby panda tokens. So what cool ability does Miss Panda have? Can she move further, or eat more bamboo, or even make some sort of attack? No, it seems like her only special power is procreation. If she ends her turn on the same space as Mr. Panda, you can return a piece of bamboo and she’ll provide you with a baby panda. I remember being quite shocked that that was her only ability in the game. How disappointing. Considering how innovative the base game is, I really hoped they had done something creative with a new character. What we got instead, was one that was reduced to their base biological function. We can definitely demand better than that.
7 Wonders- Cities
This is likely the most controversial pick on my list. Some people I’ve talked to love Cities. I am not one of those people. 7 Wonders is one of my most loved games. It’s probably the one I’ve played more than any other. When the Leaders expansion came out, I embraced it. It added to the game without fundamentally changing it. To be fair, some of the same fans of Cities, were not as enamoured with Leaders. City cards added in this expansion could cause Debts, which would make other players lose money. This form of direct conflict was something new to the 7 Wonders series and, at least to me, not a welcome addition. Sure lots of gamers decry the lack of interaction between players at times, but introducing a take-that element to such a fast-flowing game just slowed it down and created stilted decision making. Another added element was Diplomacy tokens. When playing a card with that symbol, you gained a token and discarded it at the next Military phase. This withdrew the player from battles regardless of their strength. Diplomacy allowed players to negate one of the major strategies of the base game. I received the following expansions with a resounding meh, but none of the others left as bad a taste in my mouth as did Cities.
Catan 5-6 Expansion
Some games are meant to max out at a certain number of players. That’s just a fact. I played a ton of Catan back in the day, and naturally, sometimes we’d have a need to add the 5-6 Player expansion to suit our group for the night. If I had known more games though, I would’ve instead opted for a different game entirely. One that was more suited for our numbers. Catan is designed to be a four-player game. At three, there’s too little tension for space on the board (I’ll still play at three, but it’s less ideal). However, at five or six players, everything grinds down to a snail’s pace. Yeah, there’s more rolls before your next turn, but also a bigger risk of hitting that seven before you can spend all the resources you’ve been collecting. In my opinion, this is a case of trying to appease the people demanding to play with more settlers. It’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, and it makes a great game worse in my opinion.
T.I.M.E. Stories- Estrella Drive
T.I.M.E. Stories is a weird game and the additions are more like scenarios that true expansions. Still, Estrella Drive deserves a place on this list. What I really disliked about this one was less about the mechanics (which were lackluster on their own), but it was more about the theme. In this game you go back in time to stop a horrible crime. It’s fictional, but it’s so clearly based on the Tate murders perpetrated by Charlie Mansion’s ‘family’ that there is no doubt that was the designer’s reference. It just feels a bit icky to A) Make a game based on the brutal murder of real people (I’m aware of war games that are based on true events, but the context is completely different) and B) have participants try and, by the nature of the game, fail several times to avert those events. Even when you do complete the mission, it feels bad, because in reality, we don’t have a time machine to go back and alter things. Those people died. I don’t like the idea of being entertained by those events. Perhaps I’m taking things too seriously, but that’s the way I felt when I was playing.
I certainly don’t want to besmirch the honest hard work people put into these efforts. Making a game is not easy, and not every one is going to be a hit with every person that plays them. These were not hits with me, but they may be for you. And that’s just fine.