Before Dinosaur Table Battles was published – before I had even finished development – I knew there would be an expansion. It's not because I knew the game would sell well enough to merit an expansion, though I had a good feeling about it of course. And it's not because I felt like I had a lot more to say, or that I had some content I had reserved for that purpose. No, I knew there would be an expansion because Mary told me there would be one.
So it shall be written, so it shall be done. Just not right away. The fundamental appeal of designing an expansion is that you're preaching to the converted. Anyone who is going to buy an expansion not only already has the base game, but already digs it, so you can build the expansion to emphasize, expound upon, or subvert the things folks liked about the base game, while minimizing or correcting the things they disliked. And in order to do that, I needed to find out what folks liked and disliked – needed to give folks time to play the game and talk about it.
One complaint I heard consistently is that the often attritional, "down to the last hit token or card" endgame didn't feel "thematic". Now, I feel differently – a savage, desperate struggle for survival, both sides battered and barely standing?, that feels very much like what I want out of a dinosaur combat game – but I heard it often enough that it felt like something worth addressing. So I knew going in that I'd have at least a couple of dinosaurs whose presence could make combat less attritional – that were capable of delivering heavier, more lopsided blows earlier in the game.
There were also the usual complaints about the cycles of mandatory reactions, which comes with the Table Battles territory. In a way, learning how to manage that, learning which reactions to set up, and which ones to goad your opponent into provoking, is a key to good play. But the base game does have dinos which give you some tools to make that easier. Might as well add a couple more. The base game also has dinos that made it harder for your opponent to manage their reactions; well, I better put in more of that, and also some ways to neutralize those abilities.
Those weren't the only things on my to-do list for the expansion. I also wanted to add some new concept or mechanism that would give the expansion a unique identity beyond "hey, here are some more dinosaurs". The base game only had one flying combatant, and one amphibious one, so I thought that adding some more of each would work a charm so long as I could come up with something that made that distinction matter.
And while I was populating my to-do list, Mary and I were also trying to figure out the physical parameters of the expansion. This would be determined by the art budget, which would in turn be determined by expected sales for the expansion, which would in turn be determined by the sales of the base game. A traditional publisher of my acquaintance told me that the expected conversion rate for an expansion is about thirty to thirty-five percent – that is, for every ten copies of the base game, he'll sell three or four copies of the expansion. Our conversion rate is usually a little closer to fifty percent – a function I think of our niche appeal, and of us having lower sales numbers to begin with.
So, then we did some math. We divided the base game's sales by half. We looked at a few different price points, and the number of cards folks would reasonably expect to be provided for those price points, the production cost for each number, and the art costs that would be associated with it, to figure out how many of those copies we'd need to sell before we hit our break-even point. If this sounds boring and suspiciously like us trying to make responsible business decisions (yuk!), that's because it was, but the long and short of it is that we decided we'd be adding six new dinosaurs.
Two of these would be fliers, two marine, and two landlubbers. I'd also be maintaining the original game's ratio of two small dinosaurs for every large one. Obviously the next step would be figuring out which dinos to use. Some of these were obvious. Probably the most famous prehistoric flier after Pteranodon (who was in the base game) was the massive Quetzalcoatlus. The four-winged Microraptor snagged a spot on virtue of its weirdness. And the internet's favorite marine dinosaur, the Liopleurodon, was also a gimme.
Finding my final marine dino, and my two land ones, was more challenging, but luckily, I had help. I don't know if you were aware of this, but it turns out Mary likes dinosaurs an awful lot. With her help, I added the Shonisaurus, Gallimimus, and Herrerasaurus to the list. While I worked on the attacks, reactions, and special abilities for each dinosaur, we sent the list off to artist Wil Alambre so that he could work his magic.
In figuring out the abilities of my new air and water dinos, as well as the thing that made them distinct as a class, I built on the previous game's air and water dinos, each of which will have a new set of cards in the expansion. The Pteranodon had two special abilities – it ignored blocks, and inflicted an extra hit against targets with a flipped card. These two things were distinct enough that the base game spent some verbiage explaining that the two were not related; it felt a little clunky.
Well, now that Pteranodon was classified as an Air Dino, I could spin off the "ignore blocks" rule as something distinct for that class – all Air Dinos would ignore blocks, except opposing Air Dinos could, but were not required to, throw a block. That's right, baby, it's a voluntary reaction.
This left Pteranodon with the "does an extra hit" passive ability, and this seemed a natural template for the passives for the other two. The Microraptors would let all dinos on its side do an extra hit if they had fewer hit tokens left than their opponent, while the Quetzalcoatlus would let them do that if they had more hit tokens. Each of these dinos themselves would do two extra hits if those conditions applied. This led me to beef up the Pteranodon: now, all friendly dinosaurs inflict an extra hit against a target with a flipped card, and the Pteranodon itself inflicts two hits.
Speaking of flipping cards, I also wanted an ability that would prevent your opponent from flipping, and decided to give that to Quetzalcoatlus as well, though it would only work on behalf of other dinosaurs, not itself. Rather than cram all this into a single box, I decided to give it two passive cards and one action card. This particular and quite powerful passive ability would only be in effect when you had committed a massive three dice to its single action card – dice that would be hard to come by given its bracketed six. But if you make that commitment, and maintain the momentum, you could land the kind of dramatic knock-out punch that would upset the attritional status quo.
While the base game Pteranodon's passive ability got a substantial upgrade, the base game Spinosaurus is largely identical to its expansion replacement, keeping its original passive ability, which was a targeting restriction. I gave the two new marine dinos targeting restriction abilities as well, and the class feature for all of these submersible scalies would be that they would be able to themselves ignore the targeting restrictions of their bubbly brethren.
So, for example, the Liopleurodon's targeting restriction ("Shunnnnnnnn") is that it chooses the target of an enemy's attack, overriding other targeting restrictions. I might want to attack this dino over here, but the minute I announce that my whatever is going to attack your what-not, Liopleurodon steps in and is like, no, you're gonna attack this guy instead. But if I have another water dino on my team, or a dinosaur that can ignore targeting restrictions, Liopleurodon doesn't get a say in the matter.
Liopleurodon's ability, like the "no flips" of Quetzalcoatlus, depends on there being a certain number of dice (in this case, two) on its action card. The ability of the Shonisaurus – which protects a specific dinosaur from being targeted – has a similar requirement, in this case needing dice on both of its action cards. Because one of its action cards takes doubles, this means a commitment of at least three dice – which might be worth it, depending on which dinosaur you're trying to protect!
As usual, the key consideration when drafting your team is how these dinosaurs work together – building and exploiting synergies – and how they counter the team your opponent is putting together. The addition of these air/water classes adds a new layer to that, as dinos within a class provide natural counters to others in its class. In addition, I've built in an interaction between these two specialized classes: air dinos inflict one less hit when attacking their undersea counterparts, and vice-versa. This makes both classes most effective against the classless land dinos.These types and their interactions also suggest further lines for development. I have been watching a lot of Showa-era Godzilla lately, and Kaiju Table Battles has a certain ring to it…