Expansion Round-up: Dixit Memories, Ticket to Ride: UK/Pennsylvania, Abyss: Kraken

It’s time for a triple-threat of expansion reviews! Let’s get going!

 

dixitmemoriesDixit: Memories

I’m not sure what to say at this point about yet another new pack of Dixit cards, but they do their job: they remind you that the game is out there and convince you to teach it to some new friends. I will say that I really enjoy the new art style in this expansion (which is by yet another new duo of artists for the game); I love it’s psuedo-anime/Disney feel (it reminds me of Lilo & Stitch or a Studio Ghibli film). The last expansion had a pretty weak, repetitive color palette (it was very brown) and this one is a huge improvement. We’ve had some great games already with this expansion, and I’m looking forward to mixing it with everything else and playing it for several years to come. I wouldn’t recommend it over the original set or Dixit Journey, but I’d probably buy it after those if I was starting fresh with Dixit.

 

Abyss: Kraken

eclate-krakenAbyss was one of my favorite games from Gen Con 2014, and previewing its expansion was a highlight this year as well. Due to sharing a designer, it’s been overshadowed by the (admittedly better) Five Tribes which was released at the same time, but Abyss is still an incredibly good, classical Eurogame with fantastic artwork.

The Kraken expansion adds a very cool corruption element to the game, similar to the one found in the Scoundrels of Skullport expansion to Lords of Waterdeep, although this version is much simpler and cleaner. I absolutely love the new “nebulis” (corruption) element and the new Lords, and can’t see myself playing without it if everyone already knows the game. They add a bunch of delicious new decisions, requiring you to balance short-term gains against long-term penalties. On the other hand, the new push-your-luck type Locations make that part of the game even clunkier, which is too bad (I think the Locations are the weakest part of the game).

I’m hoping that around five years from now, they release an Abyss 2.0 with streamlined terminology, Locations removed for something simpler (like just first-come, first-serve VP chips) and the nebulis mechanism built right in. Until that day, I’m still really enjoying Abyss with other hardcore gamers willing to sift through its clunkier parts, and this expansion makes the game far more interesting without adding much time or complexity.

 

Ticket to Ride: UK/Pennsylvania

ttrukcoverI’ve been a huge fan of the Map Pack series since its inception, but I think just about everyone agrees that the single-sided releases of Africa and Nederland were a hard sell after two incredible double-sided releases to start off the collection. Days of Wonder seems to agree, since Map Pack 5 gives us a ton of new cards for two maps, UK and Pennsylvania. The MSRP is $40, the highest of any Map Pack yet, but there’s probably 300 cards in this box.

Before I dive into my thoughts on the two maps (which are quite a contrast), let me tell you about my experience with Ticket to Ride. First off, it is what I would say a gateway+ game, NOT a gateway game. When teaching a group of students, I had no less than 10 rules mistakes I saw and had to correct. However, while it’s an incredibly fun game, it’s already complicated enough for what it is. For our family, what we really want are just new boards to play on, and a minimal amount of new rules. That’s why my favorite map are USA, India, and Legendary Asia. However, Alan Moon has mentioned before that he thinks every new map needs a new rules twist, which I don’t agree with – but it’s his game, not mine. However, India and Legendary Asia have those new rules, but they’re just subtle enough to change the game without confusing anyone.

To that end, the premiere map on this expansion is the UK map, which introduces technology cards that you buy with Locomotives. I’m on board with this – I love engine-building in games, and I was really excited to grab the “Use only 3 cards as a Locomotive” and the “Extra point every time you build” techs right away. However, where this map fails is that there are a ton of techs, but very few are interesting. Around half of them are simply things you used to be able to do in a typical Ticket to Ride map, but now you have to waste time buying the tech first! That feels stifling, and disguises the fact that the techs are more complex but not all that interesting, since there are only 3 or 4 that “feel good” in the way that building a game engine should. I was really looking forward to this map, but it’s a bust for us.

On the other hand (or should I say other side of the board)the Pennsylvania map is fantastic. This is what I meant when rules changes should be simple and intuitive (although this one looks intimidating at first). Now, when you lay track, you can grab a stock of a corresponding railroad company, and there is majority scoring at game end for each stock company (which have a wide variety of values). The tiebreaker for stocks is basically who got there first, making it simple to evaluate and tense during gameplay. I love this addition and could even seeing this be a separate expansion of tokens and cards for other maps.  These rules are a lot like the Mandala bonus from India, in that they’re easy to explain and understand, but very difficult to evaluate and use well. Do you grab short routes early for stocks at the expense of missing long routes or diving for big tickets? To me, this is one of the most strategic Ticket to Ride maps, and what should be on the cover of the Map Pack. It’s certainly worth the $40 MSRP just by itself, and I highly recommend this map pack based on the strength of Pennsylvania alone.

 

 

Three great expansions for three great games – how can you go wrong? This has seemingly been “The Year of the Expansion,” more proof that we’ve got a great slew of board games out there. Time to go play them!

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