Expandable games have always been favorites of mine. Every few months we’ll get a new wave of expansions, and more stuff to add to our tabletops! It’s a constant drain on our wallets, but also a constant flow of new gaming goodness, weather it’s tiny spaceships, large capital ships, or little men and aliens! But do these games at some point become saturated?
X-Wing 1st edition is a good example of a game that seemed to try to do too much, too fast. I started playing X-Wing right as Wave 3 came out – and at that point we already had X-Wings, Y-Wings, B-Wings, A-Wings, Millennium Falcons, and almost every highly recognized ship that most casual fans would recognize. Not long after I started playing we began to see a nonstop wave of announcements. Huge ships were coming! Imperial Aces were coming! Wave 4 was Coming! Wave 5 was also announced! All of these things were all coming in almost the same small window of time! X-Wing started digging into Legends! Then the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm happened, and not long after that there was more direction on releasing products that were canon and focused on new products like Episode 7.
With the release of the Force Awakens Core Set – we began to really see what happens when FFG tries too hard to release something too quickly – we got a ton of generic pilots like “Blue Ace” that had no real function other than to simply be filler. We also saw Poe, the greatest pilot in the resistance, only at Pilot Skill 8 – something they later had to fix. We then saw a separate T-70 X-Wing expansion with even more generic pilots – and then once the movie finally came out and more pilots were actually revealed – we got yet ANOTHER T-70 in a Heroes of the Resistance pack, with even MORE pilots. At this point the T-70 was over saturated with too many nameless pilots. I can’t help but think that if they’d just slowed down and waited until AFTER the movie came out – they could have gotten it right the first time! Core set could have had Poe’s Black One – and the T-70 expansion could have been the stock Blue and Grey! But I wonder if they aren’t also running the risk of doing the same thing to Legion?
When Legion came out, FFG said they’d be releasing at least one expansion every month. That’s a tall order for a company that has always had a much slower release pace. The surprising part is that they were largely able to stick to that planned release schedule – minus a few select hiccups from time to time – which has been great for the launch of the game! But is it getting to be too much? Now that the Rebels and the Empire have larger selections of options at every category – do we still need a constant flow of new expansions every single month?
The answer is partly yes, partly no.
While the rebels and empire may not need quite so much to keep them alive, the Clone Wars is also now launching, (And in many peoples hand’s already). Republic and Separatist armies will become very stale if they aren’t given many more options, and soon. Currently they don’t even have a single special forces expansion announced yet, and no operatives either – so it seems reasonable that for the first year at least – these new factions should probably expect a roughly similar release schedule that the original two factions got. I say roughly, because I also expect the occasional rebel and imperial expansion to be thrown in. We’ve already seen Luke and Vader’s new operatives previewed – and rumors of new commanders are spreading like wildfire – so that will also probably happen in 2020. But for staple units? I think we’re good for now. We simply can’t expect a new corps unit type every 3 months for every faction. Once you get your 4th corps, or 4th heavy – I think the well is going to begin to run dry. So I suggest by this time next year, they begin to slow things down a little bit – and maybe stagger releases to every OTHER month. (Unless they have other plans like Sub Factions, etc).
Armada has taken this type of plan to heart, perhaps a bit too much. With an average of one wave per year – many fans begin to fear the game is dead. In a recent Ask me Anything – FFG Head of Studio Andrew Navarro hinted that there were only so many recognizable ships that they could reasonably create for Armada, and expect them to sell well enough. Which is one reason they have slowed the production down so much. We are expecting things to pick back up significantly once the Clone Wars releases in late 2020, but until then it’s likely going to continue to be a slow release schedule for Armada – and personally I’m moderately ok with that.
Armada at least, is in a very good place in terms of ship variety and game mechanics. The game has been extremely well designed compared to other games in it’s class, and balance has been surprisingly good. Many lists are viable, and the meta-game varies tremendously from region to region. Armada isn’t really in a place where it is heavily dependent on new expansions to keep the game going – as it’s able to sustain itself fairly well with a minimum of effort. But it would certainly be comforting if we had a BIT more than 1 ship a year, wouldn’t it?
So what is the magic number? How fast is too fast? How slow is too slow? I’d like to think that a wave of expansions every 3 – 6 months is somewhere in the ballpark – but that really depends on the game and how comfortable the community is with a change to their schedule. One thing is crucial though – Communication is key. If FFG decides to slow down Legion production, for example, they NEED to inform the public that this is planned, so as to not create a panic and “The game is DEAD!” reactions that other games have seen in the past. Reassure us that our games are still supported, and we’ll love you forever!