Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Harry Wu


No. of Players:
2 - 6



The usefulness of expansions always remains a matter of discussions, and with the flood of expansions becoming available in recent years it has become quite obvious that the publishers are using the expansions to generate some kind of collector's feeling in order to boost the sales of the main game. However, despite the fact that the size and quality of available expansions is quite diverse, it is my assessment that expansions broadly can be sorted into two major categories, and these are real-value expansions and merchandise expansions.

Mind you, these categorizations do not simply foreclose the playing value of an expansion, but instead I am making this distinction on the basic assumption that a publisher should have good reasons in order not to include an expansion in the main game. An example for real-value expansions are games like The Pillars of Earth, War of the Ring, Cuba - El Presidente or even the old Ambush-Modules where the expansions contain a good amount of playing materials and at the same time a considerable extension of the scope and complexity of the original game. Merchandise expansions on the other hand also may be beneficial for a game, but usually they contain fewer playing materials, and in some cases even the question arises why the basic game was ever released without the expansions. Leaving convention giveaways and gimmicks aside, some examples for this category are the excellent but absolutely overpriced Kingsburg expansion which contains only a few playing materials, or the Gondor & Mordor expansion for the Lord of the Rings Risk game where HASBRO actually dared to publish the basic game with a map showing only two third of Tolkien's Middle Earth. However, now it is the turn for QUEEN GAMES's excellent strategy game Chicago Express to receive an expansion, and I am eager to see whether my general approach of categorization also remains valid with this addition for an already mature product.


The Narrow Gauge & Erie expansion comes in a small box containing some tokens and markers, a small gameboard overlay which is used as an indicator, two tableaus and a total of 22 new locomotives which belong to two new types of railroads. As a matter of fact, the expansion can be subdivided into two smaller variants, and here we have one additional railroad company (the Erie Railroad Company) and a new type of railroads, the Narrow Gauge Railroads. Both variants can be used separately, but whereas this might be useful for one round in order to learn the impact of each novelty, a major impact on gameplay can be felt if both innovations are used together.

During setup the orange locomotives of the Narrow Gauge Railroads are distributed into several cities in and around the mountain chain on the Eastern part of the gameboard. When one of these cities is first connected by one of the railroad companies the Narrow Gauge locomotive is transferred to the Narrow Gauge repository tableau. These locomotives now are available for building, but it is important to note that they may be built by any player, not just by the player who has made the connection with the city where the locomotive was located.

If a Narrow Gauge locomotive is available on the tableau, a player may perform a Narrow Gauge action during his turn. This new type of action means that the player first is obliged to move one of the indicators on the gameboard one step forwards, and afterwards the player may opt to place one of the Narrow Gauge locomotives from the repository onto an empty, non-city hex adjacent to a locomotive from one of the railroad companies. This optional placement does neither incur building costs nor generates any kind of income, but the Narrow Gauge locomotive nonetheless counts as a normal locomotive so that building costs for companies entering that hex are increased and mountain spaces even can be blocked, Thus, the Narrow Gauge railroads either can be used to hinder the building activities of a railroad company, or the players may use the action without placing a Narrow Gauge locomotive in order to stall the game - an option which sometimes comes quite handy.

As indicated, the Erie Railroad Company operates like one of the five companies from the basic game, but like the Wabash it is not available at the beginning of the game. Instead, a gameboard overlay indicates a row of cities, and when the first of these cities is connected by one of the four starting companies the Erie is activated. Only one share of the Erie is available, and it can be auctioned by any player who nominates it during his auction phase. Quite interestingly, the Erie is based in Buffalo and it is assigned a special, valuable city marker for New York. The Erie is the only company which may build a track into New York, and due to the value of the special marker the owner of the Erie has a strong incentive to orientate his building activities eastwards, against the current of the four big companies heading towards Chicago.

The opening of the Erie effectively puts its owner into a rather lonely, eerie position (sorry, silly pun). The auctioning and buying of the sole Erie share must be well timed and calculated, since the capitalization of the Erie must be thick enough to ensure arrival at New York or Chicago. If the building activities go awry, the investment fails and the player usually has lost his chances to win the game. On the other hand, the old saying "lonely are the braves" may as well pay off, and so a player with moderate investments in the other railroad companies may use the Erie as an effective lever to turn the tide in his favour.

Both variants used together have a rocking impact on Chicago Express, since competition and player interaction receives an additional boost. Keeping an eye on the companies' capitalization, the Narrow Gauge locomotives are a nasty means for hindering the activities of the leaders in the race for Chicago. However, a player still must use an action for this act of hindrance, and so a player focusing his main activities on destructive play will have no chance of winning. The Erie Railroad Company crowds the gameboard even more, and it offers an interesting side-track for a player who feels that he has fallen behind with his investments in the bigger companies.

Despite its somewhat small size the Narrow Gauge & Erie expansion definitely qualifies as a real-value expansion. As you have seen, the rules and gaming components included have a major impact on the game, since the strategic orientation is considerably widened. However, I see some sense in the fact that the expansion was left out of the initial game, since players otherwise would have been tempted to use the expansions directly from the beginning. Keeping in mind that Chicago Express still qualifies as a family game, the strategic angle of the new expansion moves the game much more into the sphere of hobbyist games. Newcomers starting with the full game might easily be frustrated because the implications and possibilities of the elegant but unusual playing mechanisms are not too easy to grasp. Thus, it seems that there was a good degree understanding that the initial product should not be overburdened with too much finetuning, and so it seemed a wise decision to add the full rules through this small but reasonably priced expansion.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany