Alternate Games

review by Alapai

As I've done for the past few years, my pick for this month isn't about a specific game, but a style of game. In the past, I've covered RPGs, solo games and roll and writes. This year, I've covered alternate versions of games. I tried to cover a variety of ways that games could be implemented differently, although it is not comprehensive.
What is an alternate game? Well, what I covered this year were games that were designed by building off of a different game. So I picked a game like Splendor Duel because it's a two player version of Splendor and I picked Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig because it was a mash-up of Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Between Two Cities. Here's a list of what game I reviewed, what game it's based on and what it iterated differently.
Review Original Change
Splendor Duel Splendor Two Player
7 Wonders Architects 7 Wonders Focused More on Building Wonders
Century Golem Series Century Series Same Resources With Different Ways to Get Victory Points
Twilight Inscription Twilight Imperium Roll and Write
One Night Ultimate Werewolf Werewolf More Variety and Shorter
Mr. Jack Pocket Mr. Jack Smaller
Stack'n Stuff Patchwork Kids Version
Catan Starfarers Catan Increased Complexity
Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig Between Two Cities & Castles of Mad King Ludwig Combine Two Games
TRAILS PARKS Decreased Complexity
Next Station: Tokyo Next Station: London Different Board
As you can see from this list, the versions could be very similar like how Stack'n Stuff and Next Station: Tokyo only mildly change the rules but play out differently based on the change in components or they could be very different like how Twilight Inscription and Catan Starfarers took the original and made a very different game that has only a passing resemblance to the original.
The question to ask is then: When should I buy an alternate game? Should I buy it if I already own the original and like it or should I only buy it if I don't own the original because it's too similar? Should I only consider buying it if I didn't like the original as it's different now?
Well, the answer to that might be a little disappointing to hear, but it will always vary depending on the original, the alternate and you. What do I mean? Well, when Splendor Duel came out, a lot of people were praising it and saying it was a better game than Splendor and to get it. Is that true? Well, it is better at two people than the original Splendor. Since it's focus is the two-player experience, it adds new mechanics that make it a more interesting game for two than the original. But if you don't own either, should you get it over the original? Well, if you are looking for a dedicated two-player game, then sure! It's a great two-player game! But if you're looking for a game that can play at two or more people, then I'd recommend the original as it is still a perfectly fine two-player experience, but can also do more.
So what should you look for when determining if an alternate game is for you? First, do you already know the original? If you don't know the original, then you can just focus on whether the game itself looks good to you. The original isn't much of a factor if you don't have  an opinion on it. If you are looking into TRAILS and haven't played PARKS, it doesn't really matter how PARKS plays then; TRAILS is the game to look into.
Do you know the original, but don't own it? Well, if you like the original, that's a good sign for the alternate. At that point, you want to see how it differs from the original, because now you have two options to look into: the game you already know and like or the alternate game that it inspired. If you have played Catan, but don't own it, Catan Starfarers might be a good choice if you want some aspects of Catan with more options and less blocking people from getting around the board. If you don't like the original, then does the alternate do enough to make you interested in it instead? For example, if you don't like Werewolf or Mafia because of the player elimination, One Night Ultimate Werewolf gets rid of player elimination so it might scratch a similar itch as Werewolf without an aspect you don't like.
Do you both know the original and own it? At that point, you still want to see how it differs, but with a different purpose. If you like and own the original, then does the alternate vary enough from the original that it is worth the additional amount? If you like and own Twilight Imperium, Twilight Inscription is still generally worthwhile as it varies a lot from the original and provides a very different experience. Meanwhile, if you already own Next Station: London, Next Station: Tokyo doesn't differ too much from the original, but it adds in Special Stations that you can use with London (or London's Pencil Powers with Tokyo) and is only $18, so it is still probably worthwhile to have both.
Ultimately, whether or not to get an alternate game is completely dependant on you. It's a bit of a cop-out answer, but when talking about a whole swath of games, there is no easy answer. Do I recommend getting alternate games? Maybe! If you like 7 Wonders and want a game that has similar closed drafting mechanics, I wouldn't recommend 7 Wonders Architects as it uses open drafting to simplify the game. But if you want a more compact Mr. Jack, then Mr. Jack Pocket is a great option!
Alternate Games