Friday, December 31, 2010

Card Game Review - Irondale Expands

This review covers the expansion for Irondale, and not the game itself. If you want to understand what in the burning blue blazes I'm talking about here, you may want to go back and read the original review.

Technically, Irondale Expands is not a card game. Technically, it is an expansion for Irondale (which explains the name). But when you add Irondale Expands to the base game, what you wind up playing is a completely new game. It works with the same rules, but the additional parts will have you wondering why you ever bothered to play Irondale without them (that's assuming you've played Irondale before, and considering how head-spinning it is to play, you may have missed it in favor of something less complex, like air traffic control).

Irondale Expands is a modular expansion. You can decide exactly how much extra game you want, and then just add the parts you dig. I'll go through them one at a time, as if I was a dead-boring hack reviewer at some hugely popular gaming website, and then save my opinion for the very end of the review, at which point you will have wondered why in Hell I didn't just tell you if I liked it at the beginning and save you all that reading. But let's face it, half the time, you're only reading this retarded website to see if I make a really witty joke about one-legged crossdressing prostitutes, so you'll probably read it all, anyway. I would hate to disappoint, so I'll do my best to be funny. Wish me luck (which won't really be necessary, because by the time you're reading this, I will have finished writing, and you'll be the one who needs luck, not me).

The first new addition to Irondale is the City Sprawl. These are 54 new building cards, probably the most predictable addition to a game about creating a city, one building at a time. Fortunately, every new card adds something cool that you haven't seen before. My favorites are the monuments, which act like wild cards when you're trying to decide if you can pull off a master plan and grab a few extra cards. My least favorite new card is the Seat of Judges, because not only does it sound like a very uncomfortable toilet, but it can make someone lose a turn, and in this game, missing a turn means you're going to be bored for a long time, and probably lose the game. It's just too damned mean. In the future, I will be removing Judge's Seat from the deck before I play. I also won't have one in my bathroom.

The City Sprawl also includes the Rector's Spire. This card earns an honorable mention, but not because of what the card does. I don't really care what it does. It just makes me giggle inside every time I see it. It reminds me of when I was a dumb kid (as opposed to a dumb adult, which I am now), and we used to say, 'Rectum, darn near killed 'em!' And it's not just the rector part that's funny - this building is a rector's spire. It's like an all-purpose crotch joke.

An interesting new twist is the New Start cards, which are four cards with no special powers, representing each of the four building types you can make in Irondale. These are not very cool. They don't really add anything to the game, to be honest, and I'm not sure why I would bother with them. But as an upside, they do finally clear up for me what the four building types actually are. Based on the pictures in the original, I previously thought the types were windmill, church, tower and Little Mexico. So it's nice to get that cleared up.

Two new building types make Irondale much more interesting, and by themselves are a great reason to buy the expansion. The first is the Banking Institution. Each player gets one of these, and puts it off to the side. When you complete a master plan, you can store the card, and then redeem it later for awesome bonuses that will make you plan even farther ahead than you were before. While I may not really care about the New Start cards, the Banking Institution is a great way to make Irondale a much better game. It gives you a great reason to work harder at getting those master plans working, and gives you a way to pull off some incredibly impressive turns that will make the other people at the table throw their cards down and stalk angrily away. Which means you win.

The Architect's Guild, by comparison, is not as cool. I didn't like it as much, but you might, so feel free to give it a shot. It just lets you put a card up for sale, and might earn you some points. Me, I generally want to keep my cards in my hand, because the trickiest task in Irondale is keeping up a healthy hand of cards, and most cards require you to have other stuff in your hand. Dumping a card to earn one point means you just have to spend a point later to get another card. Seems pointless to me, and aggravatingly worthless when we played.

So far, my opinions on Irondale Expands are sort of mixed. Some of the new stuff really makes Irondale a much better game, and some just bother me. But to push my opinion from 'somewhere in the middle of the cool zone' to 'you need this, right now, stop reading and go order', the expansion includes the City Square. This totally changes the way you play Irondale, and basically turns it into a whole new game. In fact, it's so cool that the explanation of the card merits an entire new paragraph.

If you're using the City Square, each player gets one. It counts as a sort of wild card, so you can build anything you want next to it and score the maximum points. You don't build just one city any more. Now each player has a city, and you can build on any city you want. You don't score for how your city develops, so you're not screwing anyone by building in their town, but now you have a nearly limitless number of places you could build. You're no longer stuck trying to wedge your buildings into the corners. Now there are corners everywhere, and open spots, and just a whole ton of new things you can do on your turn.

Of course, if Irondale confused you before, the cards in Irondale Expands are going to make you feel like a short-bus-riding potato-head. If you didn't have the mental agility to keep up with the original game, you're totally screwed now. But if you do like Irondale, and you can play it even reasonably well, Irondale Expands makes it a whole new game - and a much better one.

Irondale Expands does exactly what an expansion should do. It doesn't just add a few new cards or a couple additional rules. It takes the entire game, reinvents it, and provides you with lots of options that you can apply to fine-tune it into exactly what you want to play. I could play the original, but I rarely found myself wanting to. Now that I have Irondale Expands, I look forward to getting this one on the table a lot more often.


2-4 players

Many new options
Add what you want, and ignore what you don't
City Square makes this a whole new game that's better than it was before
A great reason to own the original

Some of the options suck (but you might like them)

If you haven't bought into Small Box Games yet, you're missing out. Get over there and put in a preorder now. You won't be sorry, unless you don't like them, and then you might be sorry, but that's really not my problem, is it?

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