Game Night Verdicts #70 – Expedition

It might not be obvious, but as a critic I do rather enjoy being wrong about something. As was the case with Expedition by Jason Lee. At first glance it seemed to be a children’s game. The parallels to the similarly titled Adventurer’s Kit Expedition from Taiwanese publisher Shepherd Kit Inc seemed quite obvious. In both we are exploring the world, and in both we travel with cute, anthropmorphised animals. But while you draw and discard card from your hand over and over in one game, Jason Lee’s Expedition is a deckbuilder game.

We start the game with a nearly identical set of cards. As we play, we explore the jungle (i.e. game tiles) around us. Symbols on the tiles we uncover can help or hinder us, in recruiting more assistants (cards) to our expedition. Some of them aid us with travelling, others with recruiting more assistants.

Our goal is to find two of the relics hidden in the jungle. Alternatively, once all relics have been recovered, we simply compare points to find out which expedition found the most valuable ones.

Visuals are colorful & approachable

If you find yourself reminded of Knizias “Quest for El Dorado”, you’re quite correct. The similarities are striking. Whether Expedition was a case of parallel development or not, I couldn’t find out. Depending on the type of person you are, you can see one or the other in this game.

Regardless of potential questions of who did what when and how, there are some aspects where Expedition differs from “Quest for El Dorado” in an interesting and appealing way. They give the game a different sense of momentum. Once you’ve depleted your card deck, you don’t get to simply reshuffle it. Instead you have to return your player token to the beginning of the board. Which means in Expedition you first have to explore the board, and then choose the path that is best suited for the deck you’ve build along the way. The game’s focus isn’t about getting to the next chokepoint, but to tune your expedition team to reach and recover relics as efficiently as possible.

It’s a difference that this factual description doesn’t manage to convey sufficiently. While Expedition might share superficial similarities to Knizia’s game, it does feel different and more energetic. In fact, I’d say I even prefer it.

The game’s theme and experience feel much more in tune with each other. At first you explore and familiarize yourself with the board. Then you pick the right assistants to get to the relics. There are some setbacks, when you draw the wrong cards at the wrong time. But smart planning (i.e. use of the various card effects you’ve bought) let you turn things in your favour. Even if it is technically a race, it feels much more like rival groups of researchers and explorers pursuing the same goal. In that context the animal characters on the cards are pretty adapt at muting any suggestions of colonialist grave robbers.

Once found, it still has to be recovered

There are many small reasons, why I prefer to travel with parrots, hippos and monkeys to find treasures in the jungle to rushing to reach the city of gold to enrich myself beyond my wildest dreams. But there is no one obvious, unassailable reason except for the fact that I have Expedition sitting in my shelf, and not “Quest for El Dorado”. If you find yourself in the opposite situation, you’ll probably prefer Knizia’s design, and there are many small reasons for that as well.

Expedition is a game, which surprised me. Its design is a success and it manages to create sense of drama and tension as you approach the final turns. For now the game still has a slight language barrier to it, with player cards and tableaus explaining their functions in Korean. You need to have the manual on hand to help you memorize their effects. If you don’t mind those points, Expedition offers a well-rounded, family-friendly and entertaining deckbuilding experience.

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