There are quite a few games that have plenty of variability either in the basic set or from expansions (something I like for a game to last in my collection), but you really want to get the basics down first – and because there’s usually at least one new player at the table I end up running the basic mode repeatedly.
There’s an old game called Warriors which is far more fun than it has any right to be. With some excitement I bought the expansion Dragon Hoards and after a few plays removed the expansion material and actually threw it away.
Keyflower I prefer with no expansion material. The promos are often wacky but not better and The Farmers is probably good if everyone at the table has sufficient familiarity to avoid it getting swingy with the new stuff, so as I don’t play Keyflower with the same group weekly it’s base game all the way.
Sushi Go is definitely one of those. I bought the party version only to get this awfully huge box I would like to sell and I might be getting the basic game instead if I ever manage to find takers for the big square cardboard thing.
I know this feeling but I cannot figure out which of my other games fit this pattern well, I may have sold some of those. Here are some games where expansions seem to be in use only sometimes:
Terraforming Mars could be one. Excepting prelude.
Tash Kalar used to be that game. But thanks to the excellent BGA implementation: no more.
We never managed to get to the point in Bärenpark where we included the contracts and now the game resides in another shelf across the city.
Race for the Galaxy? Although admittedly I haven’t played that many games against human opponents. I very much prefer with some expansions (still waiting… for German edition of those… looking at you Pegasus dragging this out for 3 years now)
Seasons—lovely game but we never play enough games in a row to warrant using the more complex cards from the expansions. I actually unfolded them back into their own stacks so we could play the game again at some point.
I have a feeling I will sort Wingspan back into basegame and “the lovely rest that unnecessarily dilutes the good base game? Especially Oceania? Sorry ‘bout that?”
Race for El Dorado? Sadly, we have it all and have barely played with anything but the barebones basic version.
Among the Stars: this could be a reason we haven’t managed to play much… -.-
I need to get better at not buying expansions. Really. This is all expansions. I don’t think I have variability in other games outside Sushi Go that I never use.
I have the opposite problem frequently, where I desperately want to use the shiny expansions but I’m always introducing the game(s) to new players and so we have to play at least once at the default setting, and usually that second game doesn’t come.
Side-effect of a large game collection coupled with the way I used to plan game nights (I have about 15 people on my game list, and I would contact the next 4-5 each time, so I would revolve through the list with variable players each time).
Star Trek Ascendancy. Blackstone Fortress. GKR Heavy Hitters. Gattlestar Balactica. Escape Curse of the Temple. Root. Cry Havoc. Space Alert…
So many expansions. So little time.
As for games I prefer without the expansions, Shogun is the easiest. The expansion is poorly designed, off colour, and adds nothing. I didn’t care for Tokaido with Crossroads, but YMMV.
There’s various stuff (Inis, RftG, Mysterium, Celestia, etc) where I’ll always play with expansions (or at least the 1 expansion I have for RftG) as it doesn’t change the base game much, so “with or without expansions” isn’t a very varied choice.
Resistance: Avalon is definitely one where it could vary but I don’t. If people are new, I’ll start off with just evil + good, then a second round with the assassin and Merlin. But usually I do Merlin/Percival/Morgana/Assassin/everything else. I’ve never even played with the other roles.
Magic Maze - I’ve only played with the first few scenarios, despite also having Maximum Security. Mostly because the games I’ve played have always involved introducing it to new people.
Paperback + Hardback I generally just play with the basics and haven’t felt the need to complicate things further. Again, even though I specifically bought the Paperback expansion.
I have the fancy new version of Citadels with all the expansions. We tried one of the varied setups once and it slowed things to a crawl as everyone had to check their abilities multiple times per round. Though not as bad as playing Coup: Rebellion G54 at UKGE, where the varied setup destroyed your ability to bluff easily.
I’m quite glad the expansion costing as much (or often more) as the base game meant I held off. It led me to question how much I’d ever want to vary such a simple game and realising the answer was “not at all”.