Monday, March 22, 2010

Moving Targets

I bought into Magic: The Gathering in a big way back in the early 90's some time after the release of the Revised edition. I was fairly impressed, not only by the game itself, but also by the marketing possibilities. The sheer number of cards, combined with the rarity model, was very compelling, and provided virtually infinite possibilities for play.

However, as Magic became even more popular, new expansions appeared with new rules. This meant that, even if you were happy with your older decks, if you happened to see a new card in play with some unknown property (eg landwalk), you were now at a huge disadvantage: you had new rules to learn, and new combos to grok. At first I thought, "Fine. They are making this one update. I'll learn this, and then I'll be okay from now on." And we all know where this went. The game became a moving target. At this point I bailed out.

I'm starting to feel this way about other games as well, such as Race for the Galaxy and Dominion. I understand that popular games are going to get expansions because they will sell. And I also understand the notion that "you only need to play the expansions you want". But this isn't always true. Someone drops Race on the table. It's already got all the cards for the first expansion shuffled into the deck. No one wants to pull out all those cards. With Dominion, it's more the case that those who have the first two expansions will want to "mix it up". So you have to know them all, or you are out of luck. I feel like the expansions have actually affected my ability and desire to play the games at all.

That being said, I love Pandemic: On the Brink and would play the base game no other way. I also have expansions for Carcassonne, Keythedral, Lord of the Rings, and Arkham Horror. But these cases don't feel like moving targets at all. At some point, a series of expansions starts to get out of hand, and the moving target transition occurs.

This is one of those rare posts where I prescribe no solution. I understand gamers who want more of what they love, and I understand publishers that want to sell more of what gamers are buying. But it certainly makes me feel left behind.

8 Comments:

At 11:15 PM, Blogger jaywowzer said...

Well stated; I was feeling somewhat that way with the looming shadow of never-ending Dominion expansions on the horizon. (I only have the base game and so far am still content with just that.)
And just reading preview information on the latest for RFTG left me thinking 'enough already!'. I haven't even picked up the second expansion yet, and am now thinking I will just stop at the first.
Yes, I'm sure that may leave me with times where I opt out of playing because the number of expansions in play make it essentially like learning a whole new game, but I'll still get in some plays; I continue to enjoy both games as they are and don't feel the need to 'expand' them.

 
At 11:16 PM, Blogger Mikko said...

I don't completely agree when it comes to Dominion - after all, you see the kingdom cards when the game starts and if you don't know something, it'll be clear - just ask.

Race for the Galaxy is different thing, as you won't even know what's in the deck if you're not familiar with expansions. It's a hard game for beginners even without expansions and only fun to play with experienced players. Dominion is always easy to teach and you can easily skip the most complex expansions cards when playing with new players.

 
At 8:28 AM, Blogger Dave Lartigue said...

I have to agree here. The ever-growing number of expansions for Dominion have cooled me on the game, not warmed me to it. It dropped off my "want to purchase" list after the second expansion.

I don't mind some expansions, such as new maps for Power Grid or Age of Steam, but I don't want to have to re-learn a game every time I play it, and I don't want to sit down to a game having no idea what I'm actually going to be playing.

This also frustrated me with Steam Barons. I'd like the additional map it comes with, but if I wanted to play a game where I invest in a railroad company, I'd play a different game.

 
At 10:42 AM, OpenID linnaeus said...

I felt like the expansions for Dominion came awful quick on the heels of each other, but I'm not a fan of the game, so it could just be an outsider's perspective.

The Brink of War is supposed to be the last expansion for this "cycle" of RftG, and I love seeing more advanced mechanics cropping up in the spoilers, but I do feel like the deck size is getting out of hand. And I feel for people that are trying to get into the game with a group of veterans that play with everything in.

I'm also curious to see what shape the next incarnation of RftG takes. Will it be for experienced players, or will it ramp up in complexity like the first cycle? Will it have its own base set or build off the original base set? How much will it depart from the established pattern of keywords, strategies and mechanics? It could become a very very good thing or it could be a disaster.

 
At 1:15 PM, Blogger Jay Treat said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger Jay Treat said...

Your observations are totally valid, but just so there's some representation from the other side of the camp: Expansions save games for me. There is NO game so good that I won't get tired of it after 10, 20 or 100 plays. Add an expansion to it and that number is doubled.
I love Dominion and Magic not despite the never-ending expansions, but because of them. There's always something new and different to explore.
That said, an expansion for expansion's sake is not a good thing and there have definitely been expansions that transform the base game so much that I no longer enjoy it. Like every Settlers expansion that doesn't rhyme with "seafarers" or "5-6 player expansion." Or the last half of Carcassone expansions.

 
At 7:28 AM, Blogger Mr K said...

I agree on most fronts, but not on Dominion. The beauty of Dominion is that no expansion is essential, and each game only uses ten cards. Certainly you are at a disadvantage if you are playing with cards you've never seen, but not as massive if you've played the base game usually. For Race it is an entirely different kettle of fish, although if there are not many new mechanics you shouldn't have to worry too much.

 
At 3:01 PM, Blogger Josh Edwards said...

My bigger complaint with the Dominion expansion is that it causes it to be so much bulkier when carrying it around. That is, unless you carry the game in a normal card box, but then it is much more of a pain to sort.

Josh
Board Game Reviews by Josh

 

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