The whole idea of board game expansions works counter to the principle that if something ain't broke, you shouldn't try to fix it. If Klaus Teuber, designer of Settlers of Catan, had adhered strictly to this principal, he'd probably still be working with dental prosthetics. So, too, with the designers of El Grande, Puerto Rico, and Dominion, to name just a few, that have added expansions to the basic game over the years. The complete list is exhaustive and exhausting.
Part of this process has to do with taking advantage of a basic game's success, and using the expansion to create interest (and generate cash flow) among those already in possession of the basic game. You can only buy a basic board game once, but with expansions, the company can keep you coming back for more. It's sound market thinking that works beyond the field of board games (think Gillette, who've been adding blades, one at a time, to their safety razors for years). The question becomes, how much is too much of a good thing, and how many expansions does it take before someone decides to just leave a particular game alone and move on to other things?
Puerto Rico's added buildings over the years, Dominion's added card sets, and Settlers of Catan has been pumping out expansions and separate board games at a yearly rate. Stone Age, by the composite designer Michael Tummelhoffer has just started this process with last year's release of Stone Age: Style is the Goal (with design credit going to Bernd Brunnhofer and artwork by Michael Menzel), which introduces a new set of variables in the form of a small board, to be placed atop the existing board, and an additional set of cards and huts.
This struck me, at first, as unnecessary. The game itself is fine the way it is (assuming you like its mechanics, theme, and playability, which I do). I questioned whether the expansion would make for a better game, or whether it might be a distraction from what I perceived of as an elegant formula. I played this game with the expansion for the first time recently, in a two-player game, and while, in general, I'd say my personal jury is still out (though leaning heavily in favor), I'm ready to concede that it's a worthy addition, which adds, rather than detracts from the basic game experience.
What you add, in essence, is the ability to trade for resources (at a trading space on the new board), and a new method of contributing to the varied end-of-game bonuses. The mechanics are unchanged. On your turn, you still make decisions about where you're going to place workers. Only now, you have an added place, and a few huts and cards that affect game play to this new area of the board. It is a significant addition, in terms of end-game bonus points, offering up to 90 points, if you play your cards right.
It appears, as well, to create a tighter game with less distance between the final scores. In the game I played, I was defeated by four points in the 200+ (each) total. I suspect that I didn't utilize the new board space as efficiently as I could have, falling into something of a Stone Age pattern that I'd developed over the years. I think I may have chalked up only 16 of the potential 90 bonus points available, while my opponent, who'd been playing with the expansion for a while, tallied 80.
The new board and its trade space is a meeple eater, requiring two (like the reproductive Love Shack space). You have to be willing and comfortable with committing (especially) your early meeples to this exercise. The new board has an advancement track that begins with 1 and ends with 10, and advances two at a time. Thus, you can commit 10 meeples over five turns to max out your advancement. The rewards include the ability to trade resources at varied rates; in the beginning 2 for 1, later 1 for 1 and finally, 1 for 2. This comes in handy when you're short a resource or two for that hut you've committed yourself to obtaining. Not much help with card purchases, because they're all about resource totals, not types. Like the artifacts, meeple totals, tool totals, and food totals, the number of (new) cards you collect of this new 'jewelry' type of acquisition are multiplied times the number to which you have advanced on the new board's 'point' track. Thus, with 9 new cards, times the maximum 10 points on the new board, you get that potential for 90, end-game bonus points, which my first-time-out opponent used to great effect.
That said, his commitment to the expansion element of the game, left me to concentrate on the basic game elements, and I almost caught and went by him. The expansion, in other words, doesn't really unbalance the game. It folds right into the concepts smoothly and provides an extra and to my mind, welcome addition.
Two-player Stone Age tends to be a high-scoring exercise. You're in competition with only one person for the available huts and cards. The number of cards available doesn't change (and, as noted, expands with the expansion), so you end up collecting a lot of cards, which, when counted for their bonus multiplier, creates a lot of points. Hut options are reduced in two-player games, and it's not just the total number. You only get to look at two, per round of play. This makes competition for that aspect of the game tighter. This doesn't change with the expansion, which is a good thing.
Bottom line from here is that in future games of Stone Age, regardless of the number of players, I'll be looking to include the expansion, rather than leaving it out. It'll likely take me (and you) some time to work into the rhythm of the extra spaces and resources, but it will blend in smoothly with the game that presumably, having read this far, you've come to know and love.
Stone Age: Style is the Goal is published by Rio Grande Games, and unlike its basic game predecessor, can accommodate five players (Stone Age allows only four). It requires the basic game. It's got the same age grouping - 12/13 & up, and does not add a significant amount of time to the basic game. It can be purchased for less than $25 ($22.99 on CoolStuffInc.com) and for less, with some diligent shopping.