The king isn’t dead, long live the king! or Board games, and their upgrades.

In the 15th of July episode of Flash Point: Fire Rescue, I mentioned, that for me, Flash Point is an upgrade of Pandemic, and it’s hard for me to review it, without being influenced by the great ancestor (Pandemic). But what it means for me if a board game is only an upgrade of another?

There are lots of games out there, that clearly just upgrades of previous games. For me, Pandemic and Flash Point: Fire Rescue, 7 Wonders, and Among the Stars are such pairs. And I didn’t mention games from the same designers, same publishers yet. One of the greatest masters of upgrading is Uwe Rosenberg; Agricola, Caverna, and A Feast for Odin, or At the Gates of Loyang and Reykholt are such examples. Also, Antoine Bauza upgraded Ghost Stories to Last Bastion, Bruno Cathala did Kingdomino to Queendomino, and the list could go on forever, filling this whole article.

Before continuing, I tell you a secret; in my opinion, these upgraded games (Flash Point, Among the Stars, etc.), can give you a different game experience, and most of the time they are better than the originals. Flash Point is better than Pandemic, and Among the Stars is better than 7 Wonders for me.

Some upgraded games are more popular than the originals, some are completely insignificant. compared to its predecessor. Usually, upgraded games from the same designer have a chance to be more successful, than its predecessor, although there are exceptions. Upgrades from different designers have a very small chance to outshine the original game.

For me, as a board game reviewer, the most important question is, how much my opinion on the upgrade is influenced by the original game? How much can the viewer process this review without knowing the original game? Are these upgrades independent products, or just versions of their predecessors?

Most of the upgraded games share their rules with the originals to a degree. For instance; in Among the Stars, you draft, just as in 7 Wonders. You can do three things with the cards, and two of these actions are the same as in 7 Wonders and the third is pretty similar. Besides those rules, there is only one significant difference; in Among the Stars, the spacial placement of the cards is an important part of the game.

As I already stated before, in my opinion, upgrades are nearly always better than the originals. But if I check BoardGameGeek, I have to realize, I'm in a minority.

Those two games (7 Wonders, Among the Stars) are very similar, both in rules and gameplay experience. Still, 7 Wonders (2011) is 50th, Among the Stars is 569th on BoardGameGeek's list. Pandemic (2008) is 89th, Flash Point: Fire Rescue is 324th.

What’s the reason behind this? Do board gamers think upgrades have less worth, earn less respect, than the originals? Or, those three years between their publishing means so much more esteem for the originals, that the upgrades can’t compete with them? Maybe some gamers think, that upgrades aren’t worth as much, because of the lack of originality?

If somebody likes the original, why doesn’t like the upgrade?

 I never had any problems with upgrades. In my opinion, there is nothing new under the sun. Although there are new ideas, brand new mechanics, but very few. And a new mechanics doesn’t mean the game is good. I rather see a designer use old mechanics and make a good game than just have a new idea. If a designer knows and loves a game so much, that he or she can improve on it, I think that’s the same achievement as making a brand new, original game.

 Make no mistake; there are awful upgrades. Games, that you can only call copies or even theft. There are examples when talentless designers want to steal the fame of successful games for material gains. But these instances highlight the work and love behind good upgrades. And I can appreciate those upgrades as independent intellectual and material products. You have to be a good designer, to figure out that two sentences, or three little rule changes, that changes 7 Wonders, Agricola, or Pandemic into a better game.

I imagine this, like a puzzle, which misses some pieces. First, nobody recognizes it. Then, somebody just figures it out: Hey, there's some missing pieces! And after he or she puts the piece into place, the puzzle looks complete, the board game starts to function even better than before. That's a good upgrade for me. Of course, some games are just versions; in the puzzle example, you want to put some pieces besides the already finished big picture, and call it a day. This is not inherently bad, but not the same as finding the missing piece.

 Although every time I review an upgrade, the original game is in my mind, but the base of my reviews are always the given game, as an independent product.

Dear readers? What’s your opinion about the topic? Do you like upgrade board games? Why so, or why not? Please, share your opinions in comments, and if you have any questions, feel free to contact us.