Let’s Talk about Expansions, Baby…

Today, Fairway takes a look at Letiman Games’ newest Kickstarter and expansion to the hit game, Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings.

Disclaimer: Let’s get this out of the way up front: Dan is a prolific contributor to The Indie Game Report. As such, I’m not going to review or preview this expansion. But he did send me an early copy of the game to look at, and I think it serves as a great example of how to do an expansion. So this post is broken down into two bits: what is Hatchlings and why it’s a nice example of an expansion.  You’ll probably get the feel for the game, and you should absolutely check out his current Kickstarter, which went live today.

From Dino Dude Ranch to Hatchlings

Before Dan joined us here at TIGR, I reviewed his game Dino Dude Ranch. The game is fantastic, family game that’s simple to teach and fun to play. Players are ranchers trying to collect dinosaurs to show off on their ranch. The rarer the dinosaur or more difficult to capture, the more points their worth.  To capture the dinosaurs, you need to have the right types of food to lure them to your ranch.  Players roll dice, collect the food on the dice and exchange them for one of the dinosaurs in the hunting grounds, if they can.  With a few specialized powers (helping hand cards), obstacles like tar pits, and hidden scoring objectives, the game has just enough going on to make for an engaging game for families.

Check out this related TIGR story

Dino Dude Ranch: Video Review
In episode 47, we go dinosaur wrangling in Dino Dude Ranch! A family friendly 2-5 player [embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cy2YxwGU3FQ[/embedyt] You can pick up Dino Dude Ranch And more information about the game may be found here: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/170477/dino-dude... read more...

Dan Kickstarted that game more than two years ago.  Now he’s returning to Kickstarter to fund it’s expansion: Hatchlings.

Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings

In Hatchlings, much of the base game remains the same.  You’re still a rancher. You’re still trying to collect valuable dinosaurs by rolling custom dice with food on it.  But the game now provides players with a new opportunity: collect dinosaur eggs to try to hatch. In addition, it introduces a new dinosaur, the Oviraptor, that takes an unhatched egg as one of it’s food requirements.

The egg mechanism works this way: you can expend a food resource to take an unhatched egg off the top of a stack of eggs on the incubator. Alternatively, you can spend more resources to get a look at a few of the eggs and keep just one.  On the bottom of the egg tile is a baby dinosaur that matches one of the grown up dinosaurs.  If you take an egg, but it doesn’t match any grown dinosaur in your ranch, you place it face down in an open slot in your ranch.

When your egg matches a dinosaur in your ranch, it hatches, is placed over the matching dinosaur, and provides extra points on the same space in your ranch.

But eggs have two risks. First, unhatched eggs consume space on your board limiting the number of grown dinosaurs you might capture.  Second, if you have the most unhatched eggs at the end of the game, you get minus two points.

The second major concept Hatchlings adds is the oviraptor dinosaur. This dinosaur works like others: it’s drawn from the bag to the hunting ground and is captured when you have the correct food resources.  In this case, the food resources include at least one unhatched egg. This is a slight variation on the T-Rex food requirement (which includes having a triceratops to feed it), so it’s not a new idea.

Outside these two major changes, the game introduces a few other minor ones including new bonus and rancher and helping hand cards to account for the eggs/oviraptor.

Expanding on expansions

There are all sorts of great expansions for board games. After playing Hatchlings, it made me wonder: what makes a good expansion? And, is Hatchlings a good expansion?

What makes an expansion good?

For the first question, it’s definitely subjective. But, in my experience, there are some enumerable things:

The base game stands on its own, the expansions aren’t necessary.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but I dislike games whose expansions are necessary to complete the game. An expansions shouldn’t have seemingly key game concepts or content that should have been there.  When you look at games like Vikings Gone Wild or Machi Koro, the base games barely stand on their own without the extra content.

Compare these to an expansion like Beyond the Black for Tiny Epic Galaxies in which all the “new” elements aren’t necessary to play the original game. The original game is solid, complete and polished in its own right. The expansion isn’t necessary at all.

The expansion makes a good game even better. Related to the first point, and perhaps “obvious,” but the expansion itself has to make a base game better.

The expansions don’t fundamentally change core game concepts.  A good expansion builds upon the base game, but doesn’t fundamentally alter how to play. The expansion can provide new avenues and new strategies, but it still needs to feel familiar. This feature makes learning and playing the game more seamless.

A lot of the great expansions manage to figure out how to do this. A good example of this is 7 Wonders: Leaders. In that expansion, the game plays mostly the same but adds a “new draft” at the start of the game that affects how players will select cards during the remainder of the game. It alters a lot of the strategy of the game without fundamentally changing how the game itself works.

I can easily separate the expansions.  I picked up a copy of Dice City to play at GameHole Con from the game library. It included all of the expansions: By Royal Decree, Crossroads, and All that Glitters. Whoever had it before me, didn’t bother to separate out the expansions. I tried and failed. There was nothing readily apparent about any of the cards or components that said they belonged to one expansion or another. It made trying to learn the game a bit much, especially since you were only supposed to include some of the cards depending on player count. Ugh.

Hatchlings is a good expansion

Which brings me to Hatchlings. Based on my criteria above, Hatchlings is a good expansion. A darn good one at that. The new game elements (eggs, specifically) are new and fresh, but decidedly not necessary to play the game. The underlying game itself is solid. The expansion’s eggs and egg-related options gives players more choices and another path to victory without adding complexity or taking away from the game play experience.

What’s more, the aspects of the original game that my family already enjoy are retained and built upon. It’s a nice example of an expansion building upon the core mechanisms and introducing new more complex options.

Finally, even if I wanted to play the base game, I can easily remove the new components without much trouble. This is helpful for teaching the game to new players and for younger players who are still learning the resource gathering mechanisms.

The Kickstarter

Dan launched the Dino Dude Ranch: Hatchlings campaign this morning. There are tiers to pick up the fantastic base game and the new expansion. If you’re a dino fan and if you’re a family of gamers, this is one to check out.

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