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Board Game Review: Expeditions

Expeditions is my favorite game in the Stonemaier Games portfolio to date. The game is a sequel to Scythe, and continues the narrative years in the future. It has taken everything I loved in Scythe and expanded on it, while chucking out everything I didn’t care for (the combat).

Designed by Jamey Stegmaier, Expeditions brings us into an age when a meteorite has crash landed into Siberia and things begin to go sideways for all who encounter it. One team after another sets out to investigate the crash site and they are never heard from again. No one knows what happened to them. Now it’s our turn to find out what’s really going on, each of us leading a competing expedition team into Siberia to bring back desperately needed answers.

During a game of Expeditions, all players are seated around the game board, which is made up of individually placed hex tiles laid out as shown above. At the bottom of the game board is an insert affectionately known as the base camp. The base camp holds the glory scoring track, some reminders for end game scoring, and serves as the physical start point for player mechs. Each player also has a small board – their faction board – in front of them, featuring both a guile (turquoise) and power (orange) marker as well as a track for these markers to move up and down during the game. A player keeps their hand of cards face up to the left of their faction board and plays cards from their hand to their tableau on the right side of their faction board.

All players perform their expedition work using mechs and meeples. The mechs are used to venture out from the basecamp, traveling from hex to hex (the move action) to gain access to the benefits printed on the tiles (the gather action). Mechs also provide asymmetrical powers for each player.  The meeples are used in conjunction with laying down cards in your tableau (the play action); most cards have a special ability that can be activated by placing a meeple of the matching color on the card when it is played. As with Scythe, players must select a different group of actions (choosing from move, gather, play, and refresh) to complete each turn. For example, if you moved and gathered last turn you cannot do so again this turn, but you could move and play, or gather and play, or refresh (this is where you pull all your cards from your tableau back into your hand and all your meeples back onto your player mat). A nice bonus is that on the turn after each refresh turn, you may do three actions instead of two.

The play action is the most complex action in Expeditions as it involves so many different abilities. You play a card from your hand to your tableau, gain the card’s core value (bump up your power and/or guile by moving your token up the track), and then optionally activate the card’s ability using a corresponding meeple from your available pool. Both the core value and the ability of a card may be enhanced if you meet certain conditions as specified on the card. As detailed in the rulebook, the card abilities can be instant or ongoing and include:

Rescue: take a card from your tableau and put it back into your hand and return any meeple to your available pool.

Gain: take a card from the indicated location (either one of the faceup cards between the hexes or the draw pile) and place it in your tableau; do not gain the core value or activate its abilities.

Discard: discard a card from your hand to your tableau; do not gain the core value or activate its abilities.

Trash: return the indicated component (card or token) from your player area to the box; it is out of the game.

Activate: activate another card’s ability without placing a worker on it.

Solve: pay the indicated solve cost on the card, gain the benefit shown below the solve cost on the card, and tuck the card under the top of your mat in the solved quests area; you must be on the indicated numbered hex to do this action and you can only solve 4 quests during the game unless otherwise indicated. The number of quests you complete is a factor in your end game scoring.

Vanquish: spend your power or guile (moving your token down the track on your faction board) to take the topmost corruption tile on the hex your mech is on; spend power to vanquish power corruption tiles (orange) and guile to to vanquish guile corruption tiles (turquoise). These corruption tiles are drawn blind from a bag and placed when the hex tile is first flipped.

The move action is pretty straightforward and most of the spicy adventure here is moving onto unexplored hex tiles to flip them over and see what benefits they offer and how much corruption someone will need to vanquish in order for everyone to gain access to all the benefits on the hex tile.   Because most of the game tiles are shuffled randomly and placed facedown, there is always variability in the layout and you never know what is going to be on the other side of an unflipped tile you’ve moved onto. Maybe the hex tile has the benefits you’ve been searching for, or maybe it’s no help to you at all right now.

The gather action is also pretty straightforward. You simply collect the benefits visible on the hex tile where your mech is located. These benefits are varied and include options like gaining more cards into your hand, gaining new meeples, and playing cards from your hand.  There are three special benefits that can be gathered: upgrade, meld, and boast, but these benefits only become available once all corruption on the tile is vanquished. Upgrading a card lets you pull an item card from your hand or tableau and tuck it under your player mat so that only the ongoing ability is visible. Now the item’s ability is permanently activated for you and at the end of the game each upgraded card is also worth victory points (coins). Melding a card is almost the same as upgrading one except you meld meteorites instead of items and when you tuck them under your mat you get a meld bonus as specified on the card, plus you receive all your previous meld bonuses again. Boasting is the action of putting one of your scoring stars on the basecamp boasting track, selecting one of the glory categories for which you have met or exceeded the goal. Once a player puts down their 4th scoring star, the end game is triggered and each player gets just one more turn. If you’ve played Scythe, or other Stegmaier designed games, this end game triggering mechanism and scoring is very familiar to you.

It’s easy to outline and teach the basics of how to play Expeditions, as I’ve done above, but solving the puzzle aspect of the game more efficiently than your opponents is hard to master and the answer to winning the game. It’s also what makes the game so enjoyable. The artwork is pleasant, the components are well made (as with all Stonemaier games), but the reason to buy this game is for the logic puzzle at the heart of it. You’ve got to take into consideration your mech special ability and how to leverage that to improve the efficiency of your process flow. You’ve got to time your refreshes just right in order to extract maximum value from your play, move, and gather activities. You’ve got to balance your work toward solving quests, upgrading items, and melding meteorites so that you’re in a position to place glory tokens for meeting the goals in these areas. And the unique aspect of this game wherein your hand is always laid down in front of you on the left of your player board means your possible play action choices are laid out for all to see, so you’ve got to keep a close eye on what your opponents are doing and how close they are to meeting the glory token goals and ending the game before you can complete everything you want to. And unlike in Scythe, nobody is coming to steal your resources, so it’s all thinking and no fighting.

I’ve a half dozen or more games of Expeditions under my belt, and some very close to winning scores, but I’ve yet to win a game. Still, I keep coming back for more, and I know that someday I might finally crack the puzzle wide open and figure out how to make every step of the process work together for my win.

Please note, for all you solo players out there, Expeditions comes with a robust automa mode.


Publisher: Stonemaier
Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Artist: Jakub Rozalski
Players: 1-5 (We played with 3, 4, and 5)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes per game
Game type: worker placement, hand management
Retail Price: varies; direct from the publisher



Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.


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