It’s the end of the year so it’s that time for the inevitable “of the Year” lists. Here is my 2020 Gaming Expansion of the Year.
To be eligible for this category, the item must be an expansion to an existing boardgame or wargame that is unplayable without the base game. It must also have been released in the 2020 calendar year. For a near-complete listing of all game expansions I acquired in 2020 (including some items not eligible for this list) please see my GeekList 2020 RockyMountainNavy Gaming Acquisitions and look for entries labeled “EXPANSION”
Wing Leader: Origins1936-42 from GMT Games. It continues to amaze me how the abstract model used by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood for his Wing Leader series shows the relative capabilities of different aircraft. The system really shines with early World War II aircraft. This made every play of Origins a ‘flight of discovery’ because although the reputation of many of these aircraft was poor (to put it charitably), when placed into the Wing Leader system those same poor capabilities became challenges to be dealt with. The play absolutely enhanced my understanding of aerial combat at the start of WW2 and showed the rapid advancements in aircraft performance.
ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY Juniors new favorite boardgame, Tranquility Base (Worthington Publishing, 2018) hit the table again for the weekly family game night. Except this time we added Soviet Moon, the in-the-box expansion. When playing with Soviet Moon the Soviets are a non-player that the American players race against. We found the multi-player experience fair. This is not to say the expansion is not worth it; where Soviet Moon shines brightest is as an opponent in solo play.
The Soviet Moon expansion board sits next to the regular player board and is used to track milestones. A set of twelve Soviet Moon cards get shuffled into the play deck and when they come out they move the Soviet lander up or down the track. Several of the cards also are Milestones roughly comparable to the US Milestones in the game. If a Soviet milestone come out before its US counterpart, the Soviet lunar track can be “locked” which prevents the lander from moving backwards (or “setback”) at certain points. The Soviet lander is also automatically advanced one space for every complete round of play by all players.
We used Soviet Moon in a 3-player game and found it lacking. Maybe it was because the cards were poorly shuffled into the deck (my fault) and too many of them came out too close together (like five in a row together, ugh!). Thematically, playing Milestones to beat the Soviets did not seem as important as playing Milestones to race against the other players. In the end, the Soviets “won” the Space Race to the moon…and we just played on to see which of us was going to win. The Soviet win really didn’t matter.
The multiplayer experience differed greatly from a solo play I had using Soviet Moon. Here, the Soviets are the “timer” against who you are racing. It’s all highly thematic and a very good use of the Soviet Moon mechanics.
I don’t foresee Soviet Moon being used in any of our 3- or 4-player game nights. There is enough thematic tension of racing against your fellow players that the non-player Soviet AI is not needed. Soviet Moon could possibly be used in a 2-player game to add the extra cooperative play element in and avoid the game from being a straight-up fight between the two players. The absolute best use of the Soviet Moon Expansion is in solo play; I don’t think I will every play Tranquility Base solo again without it.
I was playing Saxony/Militant which is strong on military power but short of cash. I was on the verge of getting my game engine going but was just a few coins short. When RockyMountainNavy Jr., playing Nordic/Industrial, offered me an Alliance I took it as it pays a fair amount of coinage.
S. T. U. P. I. D.
Although I gained the Nordic Swimmer ability he gained the Saxony Multiple Objectives ability. The next turns were ugly as he completed multiple Objective Cards. We also reached a point in the game where I really should attack him. Instead of breaking the Alliance and losing money in the final scoring I hesitated. That was my fatal mistake.
The Outcome of Episode 3 is the opening of Box A. Suffice it to say we all were very excited and thrilled with the reveal. As I mentioned before, at first I was disappointed in the “open at the end” approach to some of the new material. I am happy to report we are not disappointed but rather are excited to get on with the campaign. So it’s on to Episode 4 as we continue to discover the meaning of “Rise of Fenris.”
***WARNING – I am trying to write this entry as spoiler-free as possible but if you are playing, or plan on playing, Scythe: The Rise of FenrisExpansion then you may want to skip reading below.***
THE SATURDAY ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY GAME NIGHT this week was a continuation of our Scythe: Rise of Fenris Expansion (Stonemaier Games, 2018) campaign. We played Episode 2. There are actually two options for episode two, and we played 2B. The game difference is a new Triumph Track and an Alliance mechanic.
The Triumph Track was…interesting. I can see how it can be used to change the nature of the game. That said, although the track we played was designed not to reward a certain action, we probably came closer to a large-scale use of that action over any other game of Scythe we have played. I’m not complaining – It’s a feature, not a bug.
The Alliance rules were neat. We usually play 3-player so the RockyMountainNavy Boys ganged up on me. Being Nordic/Engineering and Crimea/Innovative they figured they were far enough apart that they both would have space and not get in each others way. For myself, as Saxony/Patriotic, I was initially hamstrung but quickly figured out they feared my military power. As a result, I was able to shape their actions and drive them into each other. Being limited by the Alliance, the RMN Boys bickered and stumbled about the board trying to not get in each others way. I was able to not only get my six stars out first, but also to secure the victory.
I fully believe that the key to victory in Scythe is to get your engine running as efficiently as possible as quickly as you can. In Episode 1, Youngest RN Boy ran away with the win because he got his engine going. This game I was able to get my engine cracking pretty quickly and played to my strengths. Middle RMN Boy, my Autism Spectrum angel, in Episode 1 never figured out how efficiently use his Bottom -Row Actions. This game he started out slowly but was able to make a better recovery. His engine was on the verge of going into overdrive. Good thing – for me – that I ended the game before I got blown away by him.
This was another quick game clocking in at less than 100 minutes from opening the boxes for set up to finishing clearing the table. This is just at the low end of the stated play time. The quick speed of play is making for lower scores; maybe too low as one needs Wealth for the campaign. On the positive side, the game is playing fast enough that the RMN Boys don’t feel the campaign is bogging us down.
The Outcome of Episode 2 introduces a major new rules module. At first I was a little disappointed that the end of the game is used reveal the new module. “This is stupid,” I thought. “I can’t play with the new module now…the game is finished!” Then I realized, “Duh, this is there to get me back for the next game.” I also read the introduction to Episode 3 and the Story Summary in the setup to the RMN Boys. Yeah, after that we definitelyare going to play the next game – possibly as early as next week!
Boardgame publisher Days of Wonder released this month a new expansion for their lite wargame Memoir ’44. The New Flight Plan Expansionbrings aircraft into the mix for Memoir ’44. The original Air Pack Expansion (now long out of print) actually won the Dice Tower Awards in 2007 for Best Game Expansion. I never owned or played it so New Flight Plan is our first foray into air warfare for the Memoir ’44 series of games. My initial reaction to New Flight Plan is that of cognitive dissonance; I like the introduction of aircraft into Memoir ’44 but find some of the abstractions very jarring.
The first abstraction that jarred me is the model colors – or lack thereof. Although I looked at the ad copy several times, when I first opened the box I was confused by all the aircraft being the same molded color. I had not seen this in a DoW game since Battlelore 1st Edition. Granted, production cost is probably driving DoW to this decision; nonetheless it was jarring seeing all the aircraft in the same, neutral, off white. The model details are acceptable but even the aircraft recognition nerd in me has some issues immediately recognizing which plane is which on the battlefield. The aircraft stands have a place for a Nation Marker but honestly, the lack of color variation was unexpected and diminishes the play experience.
The second abstraction that jarred me was the choice of aircraft. In New Flight Plan, each nation gets a bomber, a fighter-bomber, and a fighter. For example, the Americans get a B-17 bomber, a P-47 fighter-bomber, and two fighters (P-51 for European Theater and F4U Corsair for the Pacific Theater). When I saw the selection of aircraft, I asked myself, “what about the other aircraft” quickly followed by a rueful comment about a new DoW money-grab with different models. However, after reading the rules I discovered that the actual models are purely representational; all bombers have the same qualities, just like all fighter-bombers or all fighters. At first, this coarse level of abstraction jarred me until I got my head wrapped around the concept of gaming for effect. Thus, the choice of air unit models is not indicative of the capability of that particular aircraft, but averybroad-brush abstraction of that class of aircraft.
The next jarring abstraction that hit me was in the rules. Specifically, air units blocking line of sight and other interactions with ground units. Amongst the rules that I found challenging:
“…an air unit occupies the hex it is on and will therefore block line of sight.”
“An air unit may move through a hex with an enemy or friendly ground unit. It cannot end its move on the same hex as another unit though.”
“An air unit may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit.”
“A ground unit may move through a hex with a friendly air unit. However, it may not move through a hex with an enemy air unit (this is called ground interdiction).
Although it makes no sense to me that an aircraft blocks line of sight, I have to remind myself that the effect of the air unit can be practically translated as blocked line of sight even when the strict reality is otherwise. As far as the other rules, I have to constantly remind myself that Memoir ’44 has a very loose definition of scale, both in distance and time. Like the abstraction of models, I have to remind myself that it is more important to game the effect of air units, not to strictly simulate them.
It will probably not be until later this month that the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself get New Flight Plan to the gaming table. When we do I believe I will enjoy it, but I will also have to prepare the Boys (like myself) to set aside preconceptions. Yes, that model is a P-47. Yes, that plane could, and could not do, some things better than others. But the model does not represent a P-47, it signifies the (broadly defined) capabilities of a fighter-bomber are available to the player. Abstractions are not automatically negative; but some need to be understood to avoid overthinking a game.
Late Saturday Youngest RockyMountainNavy and I played a scenario from Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940(GMT Games, 2018). It has been a while since we played Panzerso we went for a simpler scenario and chose the all-tank Scenario 35 Tank Battle at Crehen, Pt. 1: Crehen, Belgium, 12 May 1940. The battle pits a French Light Armored Company (Mixed) with 5x S-35 tanks clashing with a German Light Panzer Company (Mixed) with 3x PzIVD attached. For victory, control of a town and hilltop are needed.
Our play started slowly as we had to relearn the rules. Although the scenario is designed for use with the Basic Game, we used the Advanced Game Spotting and AP Fire rules. Not using the Command Span rules made a difference as Youngest RMN Boy, playing the French, split his forces and fought towards both objectives. As the Germans have better mobility, I was able to reach the victory objectives first and seize then. After that, it became a slogging match as both sides traded ineffective fire. The battle ended in a French victory as Youngest RMN Boy was able take the hilltop and destroy enough panzers to achieve the needed victory point margin.
After the game, Youngest RMN Boy stated that he had a new appreciation of French tanks. Although slow and poorly armed, the French have comparatively good armor against the German tanks of the day. He started reading up on the French SOMUA S-35 using the excellent Tanks-Encyclopedia site. In the course of doing so, we were able to talk about why the French historically were defeated in the battle and how the use of various Special Conditions in the scenario could bring our play closer to reality. In particular, Without Radio Sets (7.4), Command Span (7.52), and Tank Crew Size Rules (7.57) can be used to show the massive command and control advantage the Germans had over the French.
In the course of reading about the S-35, Youngest RMN Boy ran across a name, Colonel De Gaulle of the 4th DCR (4th Armored Division). This gave me an opportunity to ask him if he recognized the name. He didn’t, but after a short time googling about he discovered who Charles De Gaulle was. He was highly intrigued that another major figure of history has ties to a wargame he enjoys. We looked through the Playbook and discovered Scenario 42 De Gaulle’s First Action: Montcornet, 17 May 1940. Maybe next game….
Feature image SOMUA S-35 from tanks-encyclopedia.com
I have been playing Panzerby James M. Day since the Yaquinto Publishing first edition in 1979. As a matter of fact, Panzerwas my first wargame ever (nothing like jumping straight into the deep end!). Through the years I followed the development of the Panzer and the sister modern version, MBT, but it was not until GMT Games brought out Panzer (Second Edition) that I upgraded my collection. The latest expansion to drop is Panzer Expansion #4: France 1940. In addition to covering the Invasion of France in 1940, the game also includes a new set of rules for Panzer players that have a hard time finding face-to-face opponents or are tired of always trying to outsmart their alter-ego.
Surprisingly, GMT Games apparently didn’t really play up this angle of the new expansion. One has to look deep within the publishers description on the game page to barely find mention of solitaire rules:
The two solitaire scenarios utilize a game driven AI system for French forces in The 6th Panzer is Delayed and the German forces in Billote’s Charge.
In stark contrast to that short blurb, Panzer Expansion #4actually includes a very robust set of solitaire rules. As in 15 pages worth (in a Playbook of 68 pages). The Solitaire System is credited to Fernando Solo Ramos, a long time Panzerfan and the man responsible for the best Panzer wargame support site on the internet, The Panzer Pusher.
Fernando explains the intent of the Solitaire Rules in section 10.1 Introduction:
The Panzer Solitaire Rules are intended to offer the solo Panzer player a guideline to enjoy the game, fixing the two aforementioned problems of solitaire play; enemy unit placement and enemy intentions. The Panzer Solitaire Rules use Hidden Unit rules to manage the player’s knowledge about the exact location of the enemy units. The player only knows the most probable locations of the enemy, and only when an enemy unit actually appears on the map does the player know the exact number and type of those enemy units. In addition, several tables handle the behavior of the enemy, determining their commands and their actions, all without compromising the standard Panzer rules.
Mr. Ramos has very thoughtfully provided many designer’s notes inline to the rules text. These comments help explain some of the rules and are essential to getting the original grok of the rules. Concepts like Enemy Main Unit and Most Dangerous Friendly Unit seem complex at first, but after reading the designer’s intent then stepping through the rule it (sorta) all comes together. The back cover of the Playbook is the complete Panzer Solitaire Tables. [I really wish this had been separate Play Aid because it gets constantly referenced in executing the Solitaire Rules.]
Although the designer claims the Solitaire Rules work “without compromising the standard Panzerrules” the harsh reality is that one needs a better-than-average familiarity with the standard rules to make full sense of the new design. After having read and reread the rules several times already, I think I am ready to try the first solitaire scenario, The 6th Panzer is Delayed: Monthermé, France, 15 May 1940. In this scenario, the AI controls a reinforced French Anti-Tank Battery against a Light Tank Company and mixed Infantry Company of Kampfgruppe Raus. This is a simple “cross the defended map” scenario. Using the Solitaire Rules will be interesting.
To be honest, after reading the Solitaire Rules I am going into the first scenario play with a good deal of trepidation. I am worried because I feel I need a better familiarity with the standard rules before stepping into the solitaire version. Not that the solitaire rules are hard in concept, but there are so many rules interactions it worries me that I will miss something simple.
Although I have yet to play a full scenario, I cannot help but make comparisons between the Panzer Solitaire Rules and the card-based AI system in Conflict of Heroes: Eastern Front Solo Expansion (Academy Games). The Panzer approach is a traditional, table-driven design whereas the Eastern Front Solois very innovative card-driven design. Two radically different approaches to the same wargaming problem.
I really need to get the Panzer Solitaire Rules to the table sooner than later to judge for myself how well it works.
I absolutely cannot imagine ever playing Terraforming Mars without the Preludeexpansion. The Prelude Cards jumpstart your corporate engine and gets the game going faster in the early turns. It doesn’t really shorten the game, but it does make it alot more fun!
Several of the other expansions are also great but for each the base game can be enjoyed without them, unlike Prelude which has made itself an essential part of the game. That said, The French and More!is more like a bonus box then an expansion and is practically inseparable from the base game. Both MBT: BAOR and MBT:FRG add new “factions” and optional rules that make the overall game more interesting but can easily be ignored if desired.
Kingdomino: Age of Giants occupies an interesting spot in my game collection. Although ostensibly an expansion for Kingdomino, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself feel that it doesn’t really fit that game because it adds a bit too much of a “take that” element that spoils the feeling. On the other hand, adding it to Queendomino, which has more “take that” mechanics than Kingdomino, feels much more organic.
Expansion 7 – Epic Battle Events: This adds event cards to the Fyrd Deck (the Fyrd being peasants that join battles to defend their homes for the English)
Expansion 8 – Viking Ships: Adds Viking ships to increase mobility along the coasts
Expansion 9.2 – Legertha: Legertha is a Viking Leader that can be added to another invasion; she adds an “extra” invasion but divides the forces.
I played the Vikings against the RockyMountainNavy Boys who divided the English. My Viking hordes quickly conquered northern England. I was doing great until my third invasion which encountered the Traitor event card in the Fyrd Deck. In the Traitor event:
The attackers choose one of theirFactions to fight for the defenders asTraitors. The defenders roll the Traitor Faction’s dice and make decisions for the Traitor Faction’s Units during this Battle. Surviving Traitor Units are placed in the Fled Units Area. (Viking Age, p.9)
As this was the initial invasion for this leader the army was large and it was painful to have to “give away” a major portion of the army. Elsewhere, I got a bit too ambitious and ended up with both of my other leaders killed in battle. Of course, the next Round I drew a Reinforcement card and not another invasion which stopped any chance of seizing more shires. Desperately trying to end the game, I played both Treaty of Wedmore cards to trigger the end game conditions. Alas, in Round V I tried to use Legertha to add a second invasion leader but all I really ended up doing was diving my force. It also didn’t help that the English Ships event card made an appearance and severely limited my choice for landing locations. With the arrival of King Alfred I ended up losing my ninth Shire and failing watched helplessly as victory slipped away.
The added expansions were easy to incorporate into the game with no real additional rules overhead or extra play time added. They did add some major fun as the RockyMountainBoys were all high-5’s and the like when the Traitor card showed up. They also took great pleasure in burning my Viking Ships.
Between the Advanced Setup rules in the base game which allows players to customize their Event Card Deck and these expansions, 878 Vikings has shot to the top of my list for enjoyable family Game Night products. Although there are many games in the RockyMountainNavy collection, I fully expect this one to get to the table often because it has proven it can deliver great fun every time.
In Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants the major change is the addition of Giant meeples. Thematically, certain tiles bring the Giants to your kingdom, and others chase them away into another player’s kingdom. Mechanically, Giants cover up scoring crowns and take away VP. The expansion also features a neat Domino Dispenser (tower) that makes dealing the tiles that much easier. With the additional tiles a fifth player can also be added.
I really liked the Giant meeple idea so that alone was enough to sell me on the game. To be honest, as much as we like Kingdomino it was dropping in popularity in part because the RMN Boys and myself had “solved” the game. We had reached the point that every game we play ends up with the scoring bonus for Middle Kingdom (bonus points for having your Castle centered in your grid) and Harmony (complete grid with no gaps). It is the very rare occasion that we don’t get the full 15 point bonus. The Giant meeple mechanic looked to be a great way to reinvigorate the game.
In looking at the publisher’s blurb for Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants I totally glossed over this part:
End of game bonuses are eliminated, instead, before the start of each game, players must draw 2 challenge tiles. These provide additional ways to get points. For example, get 5 bonus points for each lake tile that surrounds your castle, and get 20 bonus points if your castle is located in one of the 4 corners of your kingdom.
This, my friends, it the true hidden gem of Age of Giants and the real reason Kingdomino will be back on the table with a vengeance. The game includes 17 Challenge Tiles, each with a different bonus scoring condition. Middle Kingdom and Harmony are just two of the possible bonus scoring means; there are 15 others.
Upon getting Age of Giants we immediately played several games. In our first game we all fell back on our “solved” approach – and failed to actually score many points. Midway through my second game I realized I had to “unlearn” what I “know” about Kingdomino and state with a new strategy to fit the scoring bonus. Rather than playing Kingdomino by reflex, I really had to think!
Bottom Line: The Challenge Tiles make Kingdominoreally fun again.
Designer Bruno Cathala deserves great respect for what he has done with the Kingdomino line. From the “basic” Kingdominoto the “gamer’s” Queendomino to the renewed challenges in Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants, a game for every skill level of gamer is present. This entire series of games are deservedly core members of the RMN gaming collection.