New-Game Smell (Part 2)

In the last blog, I started a series about how game companies keep things fresh for their existing game lines. The three methods I wanted to focus on (in this 3-part series) are errata, expansions, and editions. This second blog is all about game expansions, and for veteran board gamers, card gamers, role-playing gamers, or hobby miniatures gamers, expansion products come as no surprise whatsoever.

Let’s start out by looking at traditional board games, card games, and role-playing games where expanding the product line typically comes in discrete expansion products. A game expansion is certainly a way to reinvigorate a game experience, enhancing the game’s replayability in a big way.

Smash Up makes a great case study for the way an expansion creates new options for players. For those who aren’t familiar, Smash Up is a card game in which you choose two fantasy things (Aliens, Wizards, Dinosaurs, Zombies, etc.) and mix them together to make your deck. This allows you to play fun combinations like Ninja Pirates or Robot Princesses. Straight out of the box, you can create 28 different crazy combinations from the eight core factions. Each expansion adds another four factions, but that increases the number of combinations impressively. One expansion takes you up to 66 combinations, and just one more takes that up to 120. That’s a lot of new potential from a small box of cards!

Expansion content has several great “pros” for a game company. Expansions usually require less time than core games since a lot of the game development, graphic design, production cost analysis, etc. already has a firm foundation from last time. Additionally, the company knows how well the previous game sold, so they’ve got a better idea than usual of how many copies to order from the manufacturer.

On the “con” side, though, each expansion will typically have fewer customers than the last. There are exceptions, of course, but the trend is for expansion sales to taper off over time due to saturation. Game companies can mix things up by introducing big new mechanics or popular licensed properties, but eventually, the well runs dry.

One of the interesting trends for board game expansions in particular is the “expanshalone.” Not exactly an expansion, not exactly a stand-alone game, the expanshalone gives existing players more game content and gives new players a gateway into the game regardless of whether they own the previous game or not. Zombicide is one board game series to use the expanshalone system highly effectively, but it’s popularity is easy to understand. Expanshalones get most of the “pros” while eliminating some of the “cons” of game expansions.

For collectible card games, living card games, and miniatures games, each new card or miniature is essentially a mini-expansion for the game. Some games, like X-Wing, embrace that nature. Each new ship miniature introduces new pilots, equipment, and sometimes whole new game mechanics. More commonly, however, each new card or mini simply provides one more option for players.

In the early days of these types of games, every new card or miniature brings lots of new possibilities to the table. Once you’ve hit hundreds (or even thousands) of options, however, the game begins to creak under its own weight. Getting into the game becomes daunting to prospective players from a gameplay standpoint as well as a financial standpoint.

One method for dealing with this issue is introducing limited formats of some kind like we discussed in Your Turn Next Ep 14. Another method I’ll address in the next blog brings us right back around to our “keeping things fresh” options – edition change. I hope that you’ll stop by again then for the conclusion to the series. Thanks!

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