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Pete
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"Hard hitting, beautiful tragedy" is how The Harnish described Montsegur 1244 in his sterling review of that game.

I'm reviewing the official expansion to that game here, with a particular focus on determining the value add of the expansion. Despite the richness of character, situation, and colour packaged in Montsegur 1244 proper, the designer, Frederik J. Jensen, decided to release a supplement to his game that added a slew of new characters, new Story Cards, and new Scene Cards: Are these new elements really worth incorporating into the existing mix, or is the expansion just fluff that's best ignored?

Presentation

Yay! One of the best small-press games of the past few years gets an expansion... and it's free! Unusual in that the expansion was released as a web page containing a few optional rules detailed right there on the page, the page also contains a link to a 3-page PDF containing 4 new characters, 8 new Story Cards, and 8 new Scene Cards. Rather like the downloadable material for Montsegur 1244, the expansion comes in two PDF variants, one full-colour for those blessed with access to full-colour printing, the other black-and-white for the less profligate amongst us. The page also has a link to an updated relationship map featuring the new characters.

New Characters

Happily, the expansion introduces two more Perfects, doubling the number of Perfect characters in the game. Each of the original Perfects, Cecile and Bertrand, are in their twilight years, which lends a certain tone to their choice of whether to burn for their beliefs. Both of the two Perfects introduced in the expansion look to be in their twenties though, and their youth and attendant outlook on life provides an opportunity to explore the Cathar faith in a new light right from the off without first having to establish a character such as Phillipa as a young Perfect. Each of the original Perfects are also equal in terms of status - nothing as written establishes one as having seniority over the other - and the presence of these much younger Perfects brings with it the chance for some sweet status clashes.

Sacrebleu! The wandering bard Joscelin provides the opportunity to play the role of the outsider looking in: Basically, while every other chararacter begins play with existing relationships to at least two other characters, Joscelin begins play with no predefined relationships at all. Rather interestingly, the bard is no Cathar either - at least as written - and the game's central question - "will you burn for your beliefs" - doesn't really seem to apply. One of the few characters that I haven't yet played, Joscelin looks like a tough character to play, and one that I'm glad I didn't have the chance to play for my first few games. Funnyoddweird is how I'd describe the inclusion of this character: I'd happily play the bard now that I have some games under my belt, but he's definitely the odd one of the bunch.

Sadly, in the last new character, that of Guilhelm, we have an old blind veteran of the Fourth Crusade. This warrior is only tied to a couple of the leading fighting men - no ladies for this old geezer, what a shame -, and can fill the role of the wise old soldier who's seen it all before, or perhaps a doddering old catamite half-mad from syphilis who lacks the wherewithal to make an informed decision about whether he will burn for his beliefs. There are plenty of sweet ways to spin this character, and of the new characters he's my pick of the bunch.

New Scene Cards

The expansion provides 8 new Scene Cards: recall that a Scene Card is a pithy slice of colour that can be used to inspire a Scene. Many of the Scene Cards are expressed in terms of one of the five senses - Touch, Taste, Smell, etc. It is A Good & Pleasant Thing to establish Scenes in terms of senses other than "here's what you can see": those Scene Cards that capture a taste sing out to me, 'cos from a taste it's easy to segue seamlessly into the taste of foods and from there into a scene where food is being prepared or guzzled down. Yeah, I do like a good food scene in my games.

The 24 Scene Cards in the basic game could be broken down into the following groups: 2 Taste, 6 Smell, 2 Touch, 10 Sight, 7 Sound. The 8 Scene Cards from the expansion break down like this: 1 Smell, 1 Touch, 2 Sight, 4 Sound. Bah, no new Tastes! Still, I like all of the new Scene Cards - they suggest colour with the very lightest of touches, in contrast to the Story Cards which provide more concrete fare for scenes.

New Story Cards

The expansion provides 8 new Scene Cards: a Story Card is a potted description of some event that can be introduced during play. Story Cards flesh out the setting by adding some colour - even if they don't get introduced into the narrative, as a player you're still reading the card and getting a brief dash of setting; they can also provide the inspiration for an entire scene in a bit more of a concrete fashion than a Scene Card, an aspect that's worth its weight in gold when it's your turn to establish a scene and your mind is blank. (I haven't had that happen in a game of Montsegur 1244, but the safety net is there should I need it, hurrah!)

The original game provided 16 Story Cards: 7 related to the besieging forces, 4 related to the Cathar Faith, and 5 related to the beseiged Cathar forces. The expansion provides a further 2 Story Cards related to the besieging forces, 4 related to the Cathar Faith, and 2 related to the besieged Cathar forces. You don't have to include all of the new Story Cards when playing with the expansion: personally, I dig games with a heavy religious aspect and so I'd shuffle just the four religious Story Cards into the Story Deck, thus weighting the Deck towards the theme that I like.

I do like the card entitled "The Flood - 'It can only be a sign'", because I've found incorporating the weather of changing seasons into the unfolding narrative to be a great little tool for really showcasing the passing of time. (The siege unfolds over a number of years.) The flood also recalls the Biblical flood of Biblical antiquity, and of the new Story Cards it's the one that really stood out.

The Verdict

Earlier in this review I posed the question "are these new elements really worth incorporating into the existing mix, or is the expansion just some nicely presented fluff that's best ignored?"

The answer is "yup, but like wayyyyyyy later sister, 'cos I've got a gravy train of sweet play to do just with the vanilla game."

The basic game has a stack of replayability: there are a huge number of different combinations of characters, and the tone and theme for a single game will be defined by the players at the table (of course) and the mix of primary and secondary characters chosen for that particular session. Goodness, there's just loads of character combos, and different spins to take on characters, that I haven't experienced yet, and this dynamic aspect is something that keeps me coming back to this lovely game.

I reckon that Frederik played an imperial shagton of Montsegur 1244 and really needed to introduce the elements of the expansion to keep the game fresh for him. I could happily play Montsegur 1244 sans expansion for a long time to come, and since I'm not straining at the leash to dig into the expansion, it remains a "nice to have" and not an "essential to have."
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The Harnish
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Great review, especially the quote you opened your review with; very powerful. I was part of the playtest run by Frederik for the expansion at last year's IndieCon and bought the game based on how much fun I had at the game. This year at IndieCon I'll be on the look out for the expansion.
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Karl Larsson
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The title of Pete's reviews, always creeps me out.
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