Review: Expansions for Kingsburg and Race for the Galaxy

This month I thought I’d post a short review of a few expansions for some of the games I’ve reviewed. Normally I’m not keen on expansions. I’d rather put the money towards a new game. However occasionally I do make the effort to pick up one.

‘Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm’ is from Fantasy Flight and expands on the base game. What I particularly liked is this is a set of mini-expansions rather than one product, allowing you to pick and choose options to add to the game. A while back I reviewed Kingsburg and found it an excellent worker placement game. However one nagging bit with me after several plays with two people was that you could slip into familiar strategies with buildings. The game seemed to thrive more with at least a third person, where you had to be a little more flexible in your overall strategy due to spots on the king’s court being scooped up from other players.

This expansion throws that nagging bit out the window. KB:To Forge a Realm adds new playmats with two additional building rows. Another option is a set of random building rows that throw in small variations over existing ones. When playing with this mini-expansion, you have the option of taking 1, 2, or none, with these building rows entirely replacing ones on your player mat. Between the expanded player mats and the random building rows, you get a lot of variation with the core game.

This variety in play is further expanded with the governor and destiny cards. Players randomly draw a single governor card at the beginning of the game which provide a unique power. Like the random building roles, there are options to allow players to choose a governor (or building rows) by a draft system where victory points are offered as a penalty to their final score. The destiny cards are a new event that takes place every year, which can be a boon or a bane to everyone. These cards are the least enjoyable mini-expansion for me, but definitely adds some randomness to the game.

The last mini-expansion in the box are soldier tokens. All players are awarded 6 tokens with values ranging from 0 to 4 in an unequal distribution. Instead of rolling for reinforcements provided by the king, each player secretly chooses a token representing the reinforcements they get that year. Each player ends the game with one token left over and gets victory points based on its number value.

I have mixed views on this. I like it as it makes for some strategic planning. I can either try to build up my own military and not rely on reinforcements from the king, or push for resources in a few seasons to get victory points (hoping my choices of reinforcements are enough for the coming monsters). It can be a little tense as each player shows what reinforcement tokens they’ve picked (and likely what their victory point bonus will be at the end). However, some people I’ve played with really enjoy the swingy results from the die roll instead. While you always know you can count on at least one set of troops with the die roll, everyone might get a ton, adding some spice in deciding who has the largest standing army at the end of the year.

The Verdict – KB:To Forge a Realm is a tad pricey as an expansion. However it adds a lot and helps expand the variation of gameplay tremendously. The expanded building mats along with random building rows will likely be your new standard for the game. The other expansion parts also add some game variety. What I like is that each part is entirely optional and you can pick and choose which ones to play with. Further, many also allow for a drafting procedure, so that your choices can be even more strategic if you don’t like relying on random draws.

The second expansion I’ll talk about is ‘The Gathering Storm,’ an expansion for Race for the Galaxy from Rio Grande Games. RftG is a a favorite of mine however I felt at times having a limit of just 4 players could put a kink in my gaming plans on some evenings.

This is the primary reason why I picked this up, as it has action cards for a 5th player. However there are some other goodies in the expansion to add a few wrinkles to your typical game. There are new starting homeworlds with a few introducing some interesting properties, and handful of new development and planet cards. In this sense, the expansion is a tad lacking. While the new cards provide some different options and strategies, it’s not quite a mother load of new cards you’d expect in an expansion.

The other optional part of the expansion introduces special victory point conditions. Players randomly draw two 5 victory point tiles and four 3 victory point tiles. The 5 VP tiles are for players that have the ‘most’ for different game conditions (such as players with the greatest military, or the most developments). The other 3 VP tiles are for the first player that achieves that condition (like the first to get 5 VP, or build the first 6 point development). There are a few extra tiles, each being unique conditions, so there is a decent amount of variability with the point tiles where you aren’t always seeing the same bonus VP conditions. However the number of included tiles is not huge (6 of the 5 VP ones and 8 of the 3 VP ones) so you can expect to see similar tiles crop up with repeated play.

I see this part of the mini-expansion as mixed bag. Some might enjoy it while others may think it takes too much away from the core game mechanics. I like the victory point tokens, especially with 4-5 players. You can get a little muddled with your initial plans. As so many cards can get drawn and discarded by other players, you might find that specific card needed for a combo quickly lost in the discard pile. Having other smaller goals out there to give a boost to VP is a nice option. Even better, I like the ‘first player tiles’ as they can provide an incentive to quickly chose a direction for developments and planets to scoop them up. While the VP bonus is small, it does add up and can help repair a sagging 6 point development that isn’t getting the optimal synergies of other cards in your play space.

The last part of the expansion is likely the best reason to buy Gathering Storm, solitaire rules. I will admit the rules are a bit rough to wrap your head around as there are additional icons to decipher and the mechanics are not very intuitive. I had tried a few times and continually threw in the towel as I felt the mat icons and turn procedure could not be readily understood. Fortunately I stumbled upon this wonderful tutorial that really helped me grasp the concepts of the solitaire rules.

You pair off against an automated system where the ‘opponent’ chooses actions based on rolling special dice. You choose your actions and play normally, and the artificial opponent will play out its turn using specified actions based on a special playmat. Like the original game, you each have a tableau and starting homeworld. What is interesting is that based on the homeworld chosen, particular action options are altered to improve the play of the artificial opponent.

You get this semi-reactive play going. Where you settle a planet or place a development, and the artificial opponent likely does the same. As you are producing and consuming goods, the artificial opponent also racks up VP. You are in this constant race to maximize your actions as the clock to end the game is constantly ticking. The only complaint I have is that action selection is not as nuanced as in a regular game. While particular options are more likely to be selected by the artificial opponent, and some results will even mimic your choices, essentially it’s choosing its actions based on a die roll. Nonetheless, I found the solitaire rules very enjoyable and challenging.

The Verdict – I cannot recommend this expansion as a must have. The additional cards and homeworlds are nice (especially the new homeworlds which almost double the options in the base game). I like the VP tiles, but it’s very optional and does alter the theme of the core play somewhat. If you found yourself really needing a set of cards for adding a 5th player, this might nudge the expansion a bit more into the must buy column. This is nowhere near the value of KB: To Forge a Realm where I simply cannot see playing the base game without it. The Gathering Storm is very much a take it or leave it expansion.

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