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Add-ons for games: What is that?

How many add-ons for board games were published in total? How much is that compared to the total number of board games? What board game has the most number of add-ons and what genre is this game? This is the list of questions that won’t be answered in this article. And most likely no one can answer at least one of these questions. Let’s better think about what an add-on really is and what kinds of add-ons exist. Very often it can happen that some very popular game has one or more add-ons that aren’t being sold well. Why? Let’s see.
To begin with, what are add-ons? No, better this way: what kinds of add-ons exist? Let’s classify them.

Standalone add-ons

Standalone add-ons are not quite add-ons. These are games that usually (but not always) have the same game mechanics as some game that was published before, have the same plot, usually (but not always, again) have similar game kit, and can be played as standalone games as well as be mixed with the basic game. You may play a basic game, you may play standalone add-on, and you can mix both and play two games at the same time.

But add-ons of such kind are rare ones, and usually are used in deckbuilding games and other without any components but cards. Players like these add-ons the most, but these kinds of add-ons are the most rare ones.

More of the same

These kinds of add-ons don’t change the game mechanics, at least not much. They add some elements that were already in the game, but slightly different. New tokens to existing ones, new characters to existing ones, new cards to existing ones or instead of them. These add-ons are often published for «heavy» games. So, buying this add-on you will find what’s in the basic game, but not the same.

These add-ons usually can be met for big serious games that allow to add a lot of knowing that players won’t get crazy because of this. One interesting fact is that there are a few of such games that have only two or three «more of the same» add-ons. If this add-on is published for any single game, then prepare to meet a few more dozens of such. Buyers don’t usually meet such add-ons with a lot of joy, because they don’t get anything new in principle. On the other hand, if a man plays some game a lot and becomes bored with it, these add-ons are a good way to refresh the game and not to fall asleep with it playing another round.


The most horrifying add-ons of all existing. The horrifying thing about them is the fact that they add a whole bunch of new elements to the game. We had a city we had to build in the game? Now we get a city with surroundings that use different game mechanics. We had to fight undead in the game? Now we get ghosts that must be fought differently than before. We may go with this list to forever.

People react differently on each of new expansions. On the one hand, many players want to try out something new; on the other hand, they don’t want their brains to explode while they will be reading expanded rules. But these kinds of add-ons usually show another side of the game, sometimes more interesting. It raises replayability and adds something more. Balance, disbalance, new victory strategy, more fun, analysis paralysis. The result is mostly unpredictable. One or two expansions are usually enough for the game to be changed a lot. And one always doesn’t need more if he doesn’t want to get crazy. Moreover, each of such add-ons need time and efforts for studying, and that means that if you didn’t learn the basic game, new expansions will only confuse you.


What can be told? Despite everything, add-ons will always be less popular than basic games, and that’s pretty obvious. But popularity of some add-ons is so low that the question quite logically arises: why so? Why do people who love the basic game don’t buy add-ons for it, even when the add-on itself is quite good?

And there are several reasons for it:

Price. Everything has its price, that includes new game components. Sometimes add-on price may equal the basic game price, and this raises the question about the expedience of such purchasing. In other words, will the basic game become at least twice better if you pay twice more for it? And if add-ons are not so big, but there are just a lot of them, the total cost may become quite marked.

Efforts. One need to spend time and efforts to buy and learn the game, then to explain the rules to others. The game won’t do it by itself. And if it’s not very easy to learn, and add-on only makes it more difficult? Players’ brains will explode while they will be reading the description on the online store site.

Localizations. Imagine that a basic game is one language, and the add-on for it is another language. Horrible, isn’t it? There are different terms in the basic game and add-on, because it’s translated in the basic game and not in the add-on. It’s good when the terminology is clear. And what if it’s not, or there are a whole bunch of terms in the game? This makes players lose interest in buying the add-on. Quality of components might be important question, when they are good in the add-on and poor in the basic game.

When it gives. Sometimes the total of what the player gets with the add-on cannot make up for all its negative sides. Buying the game, you get all what this game gives. Buying the add-on, you won’t always get what it gives, because it’s already been given by the basic game. For example, if there are new troop cards in the add-on, this add-on won’t give you the new card type, because the troop cards are in the basic game.

Place to keep. That’s it. Each game must be stored somewhere. Sometimes it’s possible to keep an add-on in a single box with a basic game, but sometimes it’s not. The worst thing is when the add-on requires its own place to keep. Some companies are selling organizers for their products to keep it close at hand. Still, you need to buy one to use it.

To sum it all, the player will ask himself a question before he buys the game. Does he really need this all that bad? With all pros and contras the add-on might seem good, but it’s not needed, or it’s too expensive (even if the price is fair).