Expanding a Game
Last time, I took a look at my Game of the Year, and its runners up. This time, I’ll be talking expansions.
The expansions I acquired this past year are: The Grizzled At your Orders, Elder Sign Omens of Ice, Elder Sign Grave Consequences, Descent: Road to Legend App, King of New York Power Up, Mistfall: Heart of the Mists.
What makes this a tough decision is: these are all games I previously enjoyed, and all of the expansions have merits.
Should I base my decision on refinement of existing gameplay, or setting off in a new direction with a game? Let’s take a look at my expansion of the year.
The Expansion of the Year: The Grizzled At Your Orders
At Your Orders takes what was already a poignant experience, successfully bringing a band of brothers through WW1 (or not) and helping them survive the perils and traumas along the way, and lends it direction and depth in the form of mission cards.
On a Mission
The mission cards replace the less-inspired notion of simply selecting a number of cards players must draw and play each round. Instead, players must choose to go on one of two missions, and face any additional obstacles–or enjoy the occasional reprieve–encountered on the mission.
This expansion adds to the theme by simulating situations beyond the soldiers’ control to which they must respond. The game does not ease up on the challenge of victory, nor should it. But, it does offer more customization.
There are easy, normal, and hard missions (see the image below for examples of each) that can be combined in various pre-determined ratios to calibrate the challenge level. My wife and I even generated our own, unsanctioned ratio of cards to suit our tastes in difficulty.
In addition, players can choose neither of the missions they draw, which triggers a final mission whose success or failure will determine the outcome of the game.
In this way, there is a nice arc of rising tension: players will eventually face a choice between two missions with harsh consequences, and must decide whether to endure those consequences or press their luck and hope they can empty the deck.
The Art and Components
For a game that thrives off of empathy with the plight of its characters, The Grizzled At Your Orders manages to evoke a connection with comparatively little in terms of story: a few words on cards or tokens and vivid, if somewhat abstracted, images.
Yet, the components are almost over-produced for a small-box game. The character standees that you place in the center of the table to indicate you are “on mission” and subsequently withdraw are visually appealing, but the same effect could have been achieved with a chit like in Elder Sign. This isn’t a complaint, though. Far from it.
Since the game is all about forging a connection between the players and the soldiers, having a standee helps by giving players an avatar in the world of the game.
As far as the other components, the aid tokens, speech tokens, and cards are all top-notch. However, if you’re into sleeving as I am, the cards are an odd size that no sleeve I’ve found matches.
Regarding the cartoon nature of the art, it is an interesting juxtaposition: the theme is quite serious, yet the art borders on bathos, almost undercutting the seriousness of the theme.
It’s a difficult line to walk in a game, navigating between the enjoyment of playing a game and being weighed down under heavy theming. Personally, I think the art works well; I can imagine the struggles that the soldiers face, without having graphic images of people suffering the effects of mustard gas, bullet wounds, and fatigue.
The Grizzled: At Your Orders is an expansion firing on all cylinders. It is not afraid to introduce changes to the game play, and also further explores the WWI theme via the mission cards, that evoke different wartime situations. The inclusion of a solo variant and a two-player variant sweetens the deal for those of us who have a harder time gathering lots of players, and thus does what expansions do best: offers new play opportunities and ways of approaching the game.
On that note, I can heartily recommend At Your Orders as my pick for expansion of 2016. I hope you’ll check it out.