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Was that a Mech? - An Expeditions review

I'll start this review by pointing out that I am not a big Scythe fan, I think Scythe is fundamentally just okay due to its abrupt ending and general feeling of "just alright". So my expectations for Expeditions are fairly muted, I've heard folks at game night love it and hate it. So destiny awaits!

Expeditions is a sequel to Scythe, although I'd argue apart from the mechs and some familiar resources it doesn't feel like a spiritual successor in the same way that say Ankh does for Blood Rage. It feels more like a standalone game in the Scythe universe. You embark on an expedition to Siberia, to search for the crashed meteorite, and this is encompassed into a tile exploration style game.

Fundamentally Expeditions is an action selection game, in which you'll either be moving, playing or gathering. Although you could probably argue its a card driven engine building style game. On your turn you'll be moving the action cube on your player board between actions and taking the two visible actions. Unless you take a refresh action to reset your played cards and action cube.

Each action feels relatively simple, however, the rulebook doesn't half made a bad job of it! The game introduces to you the three actions you can take, without much of a explaination and it's only later on that the rulebook starts to click. We found ourselves questioning the rulebook on several occasions and that was in part due to a lack of examples or poor layout. That's not saying the rulebook is terrible, and there were examples, it's just not upto the standard I've come to expect from Stonemaier. And once again Stonemaier largely delivers on the component and quality front, although it does mean the game is somewhat of a table hog! Our table is fairly big and it feels like Expeditions consumes most of the table for just a two player game, especially once you start placing out cards in front of you. There's once again a stunning artwork throughout, with every card being unique too, there's a cast array of stunning artwork throughout.

But I genuinely felt a bit perplexed by the rulebook layout and use of certain pharses e.g. cards in hand are cards to the left (but you never hold them in your hand, being one example!) it wasn't terrible but Rodney Smith saved me!

The actions; move, play and Gather are relatively simple. Move allows you to move 1-3 hexes,you can move through opponents but not share a hex. Gather is essentially harvest the hex you're on and play is play a card.

However there's a whole bunch of sub actions, solve (completing quests), vanquish (remove corruption), upgrade (gain a permanent ongoing ability by locking an item), meld (harvest a meteorite for its ongoing bonus), boast (place a victory star). And that's not even covering the icons and follow on bits and pieces. So there's actually more going on here than meets the eye. It's not just move a cube, and take the two actions left in any order. There's a whole thought process to be had about which gather actions do you want and, will it enable you to play a card. But do you need to move first? And those cards well do you want to keep them around to play them, or would you prefer to lock them in as ongoing abilities?

So there's an element of planning required, but also some element of blocking. Although it's never felt intention in our plays, it's been more of a "oh I was gonna go there". Especially when the map isn't fully revealed and if you're the type of person that doesn't want to risk a move and Gather into the unknown. Although there's no risk to exploration, in fact it feels almost dull in a way, there's no sense of peril, just the mildly annoying "oh I didn't want to gather that" although that's hardly a negative. But it can feel restrictive when you get to "boasting" to place a star and the two locations with that action are blocked by an opponent, it becomes mildly annoying as you simply have no other way to place a star.

I'm still torn on whether this is a sequel, and rather a game in the Scythe universe. There's a sense of familiarity from the artwork but also the way the game forces you to try and do a bit of everything to put stars on the board. You can't go all into one category and do well. Fundamentally they are very different games and I don't think enjoying one is an assurance that you'll love the other. Expeditions still has a rather abrupt finish, although players do get one more turn. There's then final scoring and I think that might be my biggest delight, there's no "oh you've placed the 6th Star it's over" there's a chance for everyone to stay in the game and win.

As you know, I rate games on a scale of

- Buy or play

- Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ

- Avoid

My tastes in games have largely evolved into either "a solid game in about an hour or so" or "that's a convention game, and I'll play it once or twice a year" and there's no space in between really. Expeditions falls into the "a solid game in about an hour" and having recently played a whole lot of Loot. I find myself drawing comparisons, Loot feels like a puzzle that's open to you, Expeditions presents you with goals and challenges you to find the way to get there. I was surprised how much I enjoyed Expeditions, but then I didn't. I started to feel like this was just an efficiency puzzle, rather than an exploration game and with that comes a largely solo race without anything sort of peril for exploration and everything starts to feel like its an efficiency of choosing the right benefits rather than the risk or peril of exploration. Fundamentally it's an efficiency puzzle held together by multi-use cards that are all unique, so trying to pursue a particular strategy might prove challenging.

Another example of where I feel Expeditions, just falls short is, map tokens these feel largely meaningless, we did see a couple of cards that said something like "whenever you recieve a map token, do X" but there's so few map tokens and once they're gone they're gone, it doesn't feel worthwhile going out if your way to collect pretty meaningless tokens. Although one of them is a Glory requirement, in a five player game getting 5 is going to be rough! Fundamentally, I don't hate it, but it quickly felt kinda flat and by game 2 or 3 I was somewhat glad to see it boxed up.

Overall Expeditions gets a "Wait for sale or play if you like game XYZ" if you asked me after my first game, I would have said yes its "buy or play" but through my plays, I've felt less wowed and more of a "oh is that it?" And it fits firmly into the Wait for sale, it's hard to say "if you'll like Scythe, you'll like this" but based on the fact I don't love either, you might do too! Really if you're wanting a engine style card game Deus feels like a better recommendation and for tableau like building Deus does pretty well too! There's just a lack of something here for me, that maybe will be fixed by an expansion as the box is clearly designed with expansion content in mind. I think my biggest frustration is the amount of planning you may need, only to have something disrupted unintentionally and when it's a race to placing stars, and you've heavily invested a few turns, seeing your game take a sideways step is just frustrating as that boast spot is taken for maybe a turn or two. Overall, I don't think this is Stonemaier's best game, bit it definitely sits above Libertalia. Whether I'd pick this over Scythe? I'm not sure I think that depends on the context, gaming weekend I'd probably pick Scythe if offered the choice and game might where we have maybe 2-3 hours, I'd pick Expeditions and something else.

Want to buy Expeditions? You can here:

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy to review. I was not paid for this review and all thoughts remain my own.

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