WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 1-5
Published by: Stonemaier Games
Designed by: Jamey Stegmaier
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here.
Scythe is one of the biggest games in the board game world. Released in 2016, Scythe catapulted Stonemaier Games and Jamey Stegmaier to legendary status within the community. After a raft of expansions, many of which you can read the review for here Stonemaier have now released a sequel. Expeditions is set in the same universe as Scythe. Set in the time after the expansion, Rise of Fenris; Expeditions tells the story of mysterious meteorite crashing into the Tunguska River, awakening ancient corruption. Two expeditions set out to explore the strange goings on have already failed to return and now it is your turn to venture out in search of the previous search parties, glory, and end game points. Let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
How To Set Up Expeditions
Like Scythe, Expeditions looks intimidating to any new player, but is very simple to set up, learn, and play. The setup is shown in the top right of the starting board. Lay out the tiles in the displayed pattern with the six southern tiles face up, and the remaining central and northern tiles face down with map tokens placed on the top. In the gaps between the tiles, place five cards face up. Place your mech on the main board with your chosen player colour base snapped onto the bottom. Take the corresponding player board, then choose one of the characters and companions. Lay the rest of the cards in a face-down pile along with the money, map tokens, various-coloured worker meeples, and the corruption tokens in their own hessian bag, with the 20-point corruption token kept separate. You are now ready to play.
There are a number of different starting characters and companions to choose from. They all offer different abilities and powers and require different worker meeples to fully make use of their powers.
The way the cards work is when you play them, you will immediately gain the benefit shown on the top left. Generally, this simply gives you power or guile. These powers increase as you gain more stars in the game, shown with the smaller icons below next to stars. As well as the main benefit, when you play the card, if you have the required meeple, you can place this on the card and gain the bottom secondary benefit too. This will often be linked to various actions.
Each mech has its own unique player power too. They offer a varied and highly asymmetric starting point for each player. It is certainly worth new players looking at each mech that is in the game and learning every player's own ability. This will help new players learn how the other players may act but also further their own understanding of the right strategy as they come to understand the game more. The asymmetry in this game, as is often the case with Stonemaier and asymmetry, has caused quite a stir within the reviewer community. Well, part of it anyway. It has been suggested that it makes the game unbalanced. I certainly agree that each power is very different, and some seem more powerful than others. But I think each can be utilised to create a winning strategy. Although I do agree, some more easily than others. But this is how is should be for asymmetric games in my opinion. I just feel they should be ranked by ease of use and strength of power so it is clear from the off.
What I would suggest in situations like this is that the publisher ranks the asymmetric powers by ease of use, and also by their effective power. As such, they could then be used for a balancing mechanic to help new players learn the game and equal out more experienced players when they play with newer players.
How To Play Expeditions
Playing Expeditions is as simple as learning the game. On your turn, you must move your player cube from one space to another. You can then enact the actions that are visible. As such on your first turn or after refreshing, you have all three actions available as the action cube will be on the bottom blank box, not covering any spaces. This is in the top right of each player mat, seen above. On any subsequent turn, you will have to move the cube to one of the three action spaces as indicated by the red arrows. This will then leave two remaining visible actions that you can enact. On your subsequent turns, you can move from the action action space you are on to any of the other two spaces, as many times as you wish, always carrying out the other two actions, until you decide to refresh.
The three actions are move, gather, and play. I will explain each in detail now.
Move is as simple as moving your mech one, two, or three spaces. You must move at least one; you cannot remain where you are. You can move through other mechs, but you must finish on an empty space. When you move to a previously unexplored tile, you will flip that tile, take the map token from it, and then place corruption tokens from the bag covering the second benefit space until you have matched or exceeded the corruption level. So, if it has a corruption level of five, for example, and you first draw and place a corruption token of three, you must draw a second token to get to at least five. The second token could be another three, meaning this tile now has a corruption level of six. Five was just the minimum.
On later turns, using certain card powers, players can spend power or guile they have acquired in the game to remove the corruption. Doing so frees up the benefits below and also helps players achieve glory objectives and score end game points.
Gather allows you to take the benefit shown on the tile. The iconography is all very clear and will quickly become very familiar to you. There is an excellent player reference card that you can use for your first game to help with this, and the rule book explains any little quirks or vagueness. Mostly you will be recruiting new workers, gaining new cards, or increasing your power or guile. As you remove corruption from new tiles, you will unlock new powers that allow you to upgrade your mech and eventually place your glory stars onto the main board.
The game plays until one player has placed their fourth glory token. But no one can place any glory stars until the glory star icon is unlocked. It is not enough to achieve the glory's requirements; you also need to go to the specific tile that allows you to then boast about your achievements before you can place the star. With this tile starting the game face down, and then when discovered, the star benefit being immediately covered in corruption, it goes without saying that exploring new tiles, building up your power and guile, and removing corruption is very important in this game.
The final action is Play. This is how you move cards from your hand to your active row. Your hand in this game means the left of your mech board. All cards for all players are face up on the table at all times. Your hand simply means not active yet. When you play cards, you move them from your hand to your active row, on the right of your mech board. You will gain the immediate benefit on the top left, then activate the bottom benefit if you so choose and have the required worker meeple. Cards come in one of three types: Quests, Items, or Meteorites.
When you have played all your cards, run out of workers, or simply want to, you can refresh. This means you move all your cards and workers from your active row back to your hand and mech mat. You miss a turn, but on your next go, will be able to move, gather, and play as all three will be visible, reducing the impact the dead refresh turn has on your progression.
The items can be placed to the right of your mech board for a permanent ability when the appropriate tile is found to do this, and the corruption uncovered to allow this action. Some cards help with this too.
The quests need to be fulfilled by visiting the displayed numbered tile on the quest, and then spending the shown mix of power and guile on the right-hand side of the card in order to then gain the quest's specific benefit. In the case with the above quest to Weaken the Leviathan, and apparently save the Seals, you must spend three power to then rescue one active card and claim one coin. Coins in Expeditions are points, just like Scythe. Rescuing a card simply means you can move it from your active row back to your hand, so it can be played again without having to refresh. Any workers on it are also rescued, meaning they are placed back onto your mech board to be used again. The quest card is then tucked under your mech board on the top row. The number of quests that you fulfil affects the points each glory star is worth. The multiples here are crucial, so you need to aim to solve three quests each game which is the maximum multiple. But if you achieve four quest, that fulfils a glory objective.
The meteorites are another key way to score in this game. Certain tiles and cards will allow you to meld. This means tucking a meteorite card under the bottom of your mech mat. These mostly offer a cascading score bonus, where the more meteorite cards you have melded, the more you score. However, the one above is based on locations adjacent to your mech when you meld this card.
There are eight different categories for the glory stars. You can fulfil one if you have seven or more workers or five or more map tokens, eight cards in your hand or active row (not melded), seven or more corruption tokens, the 20-point corruption token, four upgrades, four melded meteorites, or four solved quests. So, as much as you can only score multiples for your glory stars up to three, completing four quests is worth while if you want to claim this glory star.
Players will continue to take turns moving, gathering, and playing cards until one player places their fourth star. Then each player gets one last turn, before final scoring takes place. You will score any coins gained during the game, as well as points for each glory star placed as a multiple based on how many quests completed; points shown on any upgraded item (the above Deceptor Crystal scores four end game points), and finally two points for any corruption token (including the 20-point token, which scores just the same) you have on your mech mat. Most points win.
Is It Fun? Expeditions Board Game Review
Expeditions is a hard game to review. If this was a new game, from another publisher, and had nothing to do with Scythe, I think... I think I would score it higher. Now, that is an odd thing to say, I know. But I think it is true. Scythe brings a huge expectation. Stonemaier knows this and sold this game off the back of that. It certainly increased the interest in this game and generated more sales, so they certainly do win there. But as such, they have to accept the criticism that comes with the fact that it does not feel like a Scythe game. The mechanics are completely different, and the turn structure is a whole new game. All that is fine, and Expeditions as a stand-alone is good. I am giving it an 8. But as I played it the first few times, I expected more. I wanted more. I hoped for more. And initially scored it lower based on my disappoint which overrode my actual enjoyment. Expeditions doesn't feel like Scythe, a game I have played many, many times and like many other gamers, absolutely adore. I don't want to be promised Scythe and then given something else. As such, the score has to come down.
But, on its own, away from the expectations and unfair hope generated from its way more famous and successful big brother, Expeditions is a good game. The development of your deck, and the various ways to play, score, and aim for victory make this a very interesting and rewarding experience each game. It looks great, the Scythe artwork helps with that. It just doesn't feel like Scythe as the story is not in your face as you play, the thematic ties in the art and card text do not have a linear path and need to be really explored by the player to have any relevance to the game play. It is hard to follow or see any story in your first few games.
Take away the expectation, though, and this is good. And flows deliciously. I have seen some complaints about the game length, and some reviewers have suggested it would be hard to enjoy in higher player counts. This very much depends on your own gaming tastes. But turns are quick and with experienced players it is fine. Generally, you can only do two or three things, and moving and gathering is very quick. Playing cards is fairly quick most of the time, but you will get the odd combination turn that takes a little longer. Thinking time is quick too, but I can see with new players it will take a moment or two. So, perhaps the lesson is, if you want a quick game, don't play this with new players in high player counts. But I would say it only takes a game or two to learn the strategy, and then you can fly through your turns and games in higher player counts. But there is limited player interaction so is this worth it? Players can block each other as you cannot move to a space with another mech, but other than that, increased players doesn't really change the game. So, I can see why an increased game length without an increased game experience can be frustrating for some. As such, I would say this is great as a solo. The Automa, as usual with Stonemaier, is excellent. Fantastic in a two or three, where for me, it shines. And functional in a four or five with players who know what they are doing.
But it is the cards that are the real star of the show. There are loads of them, 123 in total. All unique. With gorgeous art, and they offer some intriguing game play options. The way your hand builds and develops over the game, and your options increase is where the majority of the satisfaction from this game derives from.
The mechs in this game are also incredible. You can buy the icon-clad version with metal mechs for a few quid more, or get these plastic versions in the basic retail edition. If you buy the Ironclad version and want the plastic mechs as well to paint, they are available as a separate standalone purchase. But sadly, you cannot buy the metal mechs separately. But the plastic ones are great, more than good enough quality to play with, I would say, and all you need unless you absolutely must have the metal ones, which you can check out here.
The overall production of this game is incredible but, like all Stonemaier games, also very functional. The box is huge and an awkward shape, but I will take that for this insert. It holds everything so neatly it makes set-up and tear-down a breeze. I will take that with a huge box over the carnage inside the insert-less Scythe and Tapestry box any day. Although, it is a bit of a hassle that you have to put the mechs back in in the right order, otherwise the plastic cover does no fit. Although this is clearly labelled, as is the way with Stonemaier games, on the side of the box.
My only real gripe is the tiles. I am not a massive fan of tiles over boards. I appreciate it allows for a random set up but how much better does that make a game? When they are nudged it moves all the tiles and you get situations like the below, which just winds me up. I spend a lot of time fixing these minor aesthetic blemishes which lessens my enjoyment of the overall experience. There is a play mat available now which I think I will get to keep the tiles a little more secure and still. But the mat seems a little small to fit all the tiles and mech mats on. Essentially you need to put the mech mats off the mat once you start collecting cards. Which is down to the fact that the tiles are probably too big. They take up too much space on the table which does show off the great art they hold, but I feel this is more about allowing for the giant mechs to have space to move, which does increase the overall appeal of the game, but doesn't necessarily make it better or easier to actually play. It feels like a commercial decision over gameplay. Which I appreciate has to be a part of the process, but frustrating when it coms to affecting the enjoyment of actually playing the game. I would be happy with smaller mechs, smaller tiles, a smaller box, and a more convenient experience.
Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of Stonemaier games. Not necessarily Scythe, as the game is not like Scythe mechanically; it just shares the same lore and art. But fans of Stonemaier in terms of their production and style of game will like this. This feels very 'Stonemaier' as you play, and if you like that, you will like this.
The game is essentially a deck-building resource management game. If you like games like that, then you may well enjoy this too. The multi-use cards are the real star for me, being able to use them for various things and in such interesting ways is what makes me come back to this game. Especially as the stack of cards is so big! It will take a good few games to see them all, and many many more to use them all. If that appeals, this could well be a game for you.