You crack the cellophane wrapping off your latest board game acquisition and dive into the bits with an immeasurable amount of exuberance. The fresh smell of new plastic and cardboard envelopes you as you unpack each tiny package within the box. Like a child on Christmas, a smile is plastered on your face as you feast your eyes over your new prized possession. Without any hesitation and several dropped bits, you fanatically race to the table to set it up and get the thing played before this feeling dissipates. You start, play, and then finish with the same excitement going in as you had going out. You’ve attained nirvana.
You then pick up your phone to start searching for expansions…?
Why would you do this? A game that you just became familiar with is now of need of an expansion? This may be a foreign concept to some but is all too familiar to me as this very description embodies me very often. I’ll be fresh off the first play of my new favorite board game and I’ll still need the expansion regardless of my lack of exploration within the game’s vast play space – I always seem to need more.
We have touched upon the topic of expansions in the past with A Place at the Table by Kate but I now want to dive in a little further and ask some deeper questions. I’m always drawn to the whys of board gaming: conceptually, mechanically, and everything else in between. Questions as to what motivates a player to become a hobbyist. This pertains to the topic of expansions as well which is why I’m pontificating today. What drives us to expand upon the games that we play?
To explore this topic, I believe it is relevant to first dissect the concept of an expansion. I’m assuming that you, dear reader, are familiar with what a board game expansion is but for you that may not be familiar, let me explain. A board game expansion is almost exactly what the title implies – taking the existing gameplay of a board game and expanding it a bit further. An expansion may contain a new mechanic that introduces new rules, components, and gameplay. Some expansions don’t add a new mechanic but simply add additional components to explore within the existing ruleset: adding additional bits, cards, and/or boards.
The intent of these expansions, which could be debatable, is to further one’s enjoyment of the board game. I’m using rather broad strokes here on purpose as the individual acquiring the expansion may define it differently. It really depends on that particular gamer’s motivation within the hobby.
There is the motivation of the collector. We have written some pieces on the concept of FOMO which is at the core of what drives a collector. It is the thrill of acquisition and the hunt that excites this hobbyist. Playing is still a major aspect but not exactly what pushes them to purchase. They have a desire for completion that motivates them and why they may purchase the expansion.
There is the motivation of the master. They desire these expansions because of their drive of mastery. They are interested in becoming deeply connected to the game that they are playing and all of its intricacies. It goes farther than just appreciating the mechanics of the game. They enjoy knowing every small detail within these mechanics. They would be the players that potentially need this expansion for more depth and prolong their path to mastery.
There is the motivation of the explorer. The path of discovery and “cult of the new” is what drove them to the hobby in the first place. They have their favorite games that they play on occasion but their time is mostly spent playing the new hotness. This includes the new, shiny expansions that come out for these games. They may see this as an opportunity to explore new avenues of play with a game they enjoyed playing that one time. What new riches will they unearth this time? Will it reinvigorate their desires for the game again? Probably not, but it doesn’t stop the explorer from forking over the dough.
I’m of the opinion that each gamer is different. We are all subject to our own bias, personality, or, as psychoanalysis my put it, our ego. I do have an opinion on why we should be getting these expansions. We should be having fun so do whatever make you a happy gamer. If you like collecting, then collect. If you like to become the master of your game, then be masterful. If you like to explore new options, then explore. There really isn’t a reason anyone should be critical of your fun.
I, personally, fall into the category of all three of these from time to time. Sometimes, I have a desire to be that completionist and acquire everything possible that for the game that I love. I may never even play the expansion material for some reason, but that doesn’t stop my enjoyment of that expansion. I, at times, love to beat down a game with thirty plays just to solve the puzzle. The expansion gives me that jolt of enthusiasm needed to enjoy the game even more. I’m looking at you, Splendor. Sometimes, I need an expansion to further the reach of the world that the game has carefully crafted. I want to experience everything of this world: the characters, places, and things.
Why do you get expansions? I’m sure your experience with expansions is just as elaborate as my own. The reasons vary depending on the time of day. The important fact of the matter is this: Are you having fun with it? If the answer to this is yes, then I think the expansion has done its job regardless of how you use it. Just remember that when that critical person asks just why you needed this new thing.