Saturday, July 21, 2012

Expansions Part 3 - Dominion and Carcassonne, Where to Stop?

In the last article on expansions I said I was going to talk about Carcassonne and Dominion expansions, the good and bad, and what felt like a complete collection.


All of this talk is predicated on you knowing the base game, because I'm going to talk about what these expansions do to change that for good and bad.

Let's start with perhaps the most controversial - Dominion.  All these expansions are viewed through the lens of what they are after Hinterlands, before Dark Ages, and not what they were when they came out.

  • Intrigue - This functions as a full game, since it includes all the basic treasure and victory cards.  It's also needed if you're going to play with more than 4 players.  Notable cards include Nobles, Minion, Torturer, Saboteur, and Pawn.  The set of cards are a bit mean, lots of attacks, and the reaction card - Secret Chamber - isn't great in comparison, but I feel like this is a worthwhile expansion for large groups.
  • Seaside - Duration cards.  Basically, cards that do something now, don't get discarded, and do something on your next turn.  I love this mechanic.  I think it gives a bit more strategy to the game, though it can enhance play time, since players are really gearing towards card drawing decks.  There are some engaging attack cards, Pirate Ship, Ambassador, Ghost Ship, and some just plain fun cards, Treasure Map, and Treasury.  I think Seaside is a great expansion to own and play with.  I wouldn't necessarily want it as my only expansion, but it's fun.
  • Alchemy - One word for this expansion - Potions.  Potion cards are a new form of currency.  There are cards that can only be purchased using a potion and some amount of money.  This does increase the cost of those cards, and forces players to consider the drain on their deck from a card that doesn't contribute to the Province quest, but it may help get cards that get you to Provinces.  Alchemy has a bad rap because several cards feel like they are just redone versions of original cards, but I find the changes enough to warrant inclusion.  Alchemy isn't for everyone, it has one of the meanest cards in the entire game - Possession - but all things can be counteracted and it does adjust strategy.
  • Prosperity - Why 7 can be a good amount to have.  Many of the cards in Prosperity are bigger versions of base game cards.  Expand is a bigger Remodel, Kings Court is a bigger Throne Room, etc.  It also added Platinum and Colony cards to the game for better or worse.  What Prosperity really does is add to the game length.  Provinces are no longer the goal, instead it's Colonies which cost 11.  This leads to players spending more time buying money and action cards, which lengthens the game.  I like the strategy change, because some cards are more useful in long games, while other cards are less useful.  It forces players to adapt to different strategies, and now players hate getting 10 instead of 7, a much less common occurrence.
  • Cornucopia - Variety.  I like to call this the "new player" expansion.  Cornucopia has a lot of cards that deal with having different cards in your deck, so it's perfect for those who like to buy one of everything to see what it does.  The card set is interesting, but I found some annoying - Tournament - and many others lackluster - Harvest.  Big Kudos to Horse Traders for being the most fun reaction card in the game, and arguably the most useful in most games.
  • Hinterlands - Plenty.  Many cards in this set do multiple things.  There are cards that do something when you buy them like Embassy, Ill-Gotten-Gains, Cache, Noble Brigand, Nomad Camp, Mandarin, Farmland and Inn.  That's almost 1/3 of the set that does something when you buy it, and then it does something in the game.  Hinterlands to me is the most refreshing expansion I've seen.  There are some cards that do very different things, but they don't feel overpowered, nor are they overly complex.  They are subtle at times, but when used right, the cards do wonders.

To conclude the talk about Dominion, some advice lists for expansion purchases based on different criteria.

           If you own Base Game          If you own Intrigue        

  1. Seaside                                     Prosperity                
  2. Hinterlands                               Seaside
  3. Prosperity                                 Hinterlands
  4. Intrigue                                     Cornucopia
  5. Cornucopia                               Base
  6. Alchemy                                   Alchemy
If I had to pick only x sets of cards, since you can buy the basic treasure/victory cards separate, this is what I'd buy.

  1. Prosperity
  2. Hinterlands
  3. Seaside
  4. Base
  5. Cornucopia
  6. Intrigue
  7. Alchemy
If I had to draw the line in the sand for Dominion I would say start with Intrigue game, get Prosperity and Hinterlands, maybe Seaside, and call it there.  That gives you 75/100 cards and a lot of neat ideas to explore.

Let's take a little bit to talk Carcassonne aka Carc.  The game presents almost limitless expansion potential, but how much is really enough?  I think the answer to this really comes down to another question.  How much do you play Carc?  For me, I used to play it often, probably 1-3 times a month.  Now, I'm lucky to play 1-3 times a year.  With that in mind, let's talk about the different expansions.

  • Inns and Cathedrals - This is by far the single most important and necessary expansion to Carc.  It adds the intrigue of double or nothing roads, gives players a large meeple to use in takeovers, and has some neat tiles.  It's also important if you have more than 2 people playing so you get enough tiles to feel satisfied.  I always play with I&C.

  • Traders and Builders - I like the expansion.  It has city tiles with trade goods on them which are given to the player who finishes a city.  This gives you reason to complete someone else's city, which is an interesting twist.  It also has a pig and builder meeple.  The pig goes on an existing farm, and gives the player an extra point per city at the end.  The builder can be placed in a city or on a road, and then whenever you add to that feature, you get to draw and place another tile.  This isn't something I pull out with new players, but once someone has played a couple of times, this is a great depth enhancer.

  • Princess and Dragon - This is the attacking expansion.  The princess appears on some city tiles and forces a player in the city to remove one of their meeples.  This drastically alters the flow of the game, and makes life rather annoying.  The dragon roams around the board and devourers any meeples in its path.  Also making the game rather annoying.  The dragon does mitigate some of the large farm problem, but it really just creates a lucky break for the first player who can place in an open farm.  I'm not a fan of this expansion.

  • The Tower - I've personally never played this, and likely never will.  The whole idea of capturing your opponents' meeples seems out of place here.  If I want to directly attack someone, I have a lot of other games that do it better than this seems to.

  • Abbey and Mayor - This expansion did two things I really liked, and a few that I didn't.  First, it gave everyone a one use tile that ended everything it touched.  The trick is, you have to wait until there's a tile on every side, essentially, you're looking for a missing hole in the board.  This gives you the ability to end a city or road that may not have a legal tile available to play.  The other thing I really liked was the Mayor meeple.  It is worth one point of strength, for determining who has control in a city, for every shield symbol in the city.  This gives those symbols a further reason for existing, and I think ties in nicely to the theme.  The thing I didn't like is the wagon and the barn.  The wagon rules are a bit convoluted and complicated for Carc.  The barn is ok, but I think it just further promotes big farms, and that's something that isn't apparent to newer players.

  • The Catapult - Great idea, horrible execution.  I think the idea of some randomness in the game is fun, but the way they did it just doesn't work.  For one, the catapult is horrible, so much that a friend actually built one for me out of scrap wood.  It currently sits on top of my game shelf.  I've never played by the actual rules to the catapult, it just seems a little too random.  I'd like to sometime, but it's not something for new players.

  • Wheel of Fortune - This is how I'd by the basic game now.  It has all the original tiles, but it also has this neat wheel mechanic.  Players can add meeples to the center and get certain points for different things in the game.  I think this gives players a chance to catch-up, and score points for some things that aren't normally scored, which is good.  I think it's not something to play with the first time you play Carc, but it makes a much better base game.

  • Bridges, Castles, and Bazaars - I haven't played this expansion nor do I own it.  I also probably never will.  The bridge idea sounds interesting, but the others don't appeal to me.  (If you have played this, leave me a comment, and I'll go back and edit this with your comment to have a more complete view)

Those are all the big box expansions.  I'll talk about those before briefly going over the small box ones.

I can't imagine Carc without Inns and Cathedrals.  I think that needs to be part of the game.  So definitely get that if you like Carc.  I highly recommend Traders and Builders.  The rest, up to you.  If those two were the only 2 big box expansions I have, and I'd be happy.

  • The River - This eliminates the starting tile and replaces it with the river.  This helps break up the mega farm.  Overall, a great thing to have.
  • The River 2 - Splits the starting River in 2 directions, further breaks up farms, but does require more play area.
  • King and Scout - Like the tiles, never use the bonus things, find they give too much of an advantage.
  • The Count - Interesting idea to start with a big city, don't like the stealing/sharing aspect of the Count.
  • Games Quarterly - Like having more tiles, nothing groundbreaking here, just more good Carc.
  • Cult, Siege, Creativity - Love the cult pieces, they give an interesting dynamic to the cathedrals.  The sieges are a nice change up, not too many of them around to wreck havoc, just enough to mess with people.
For me, the only mini expansion worth getting is the River, maybe River 2.  The rest do add to or change  the game in some way, but none are necessary for an enjoyable experience.

So that's my thoughts on Dominion and Carcassonne.  Agree or disagree with them? Let me know.  I think the big message here, don't buy everything. It's not worth it, because you'll never play with them all.

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