Ah. The 1920s. In some areas, it was a booming time post-war and post-Spanish Flu. Other areas saw the rise in fascism and communism. One thing was true everywhere you looked: mechs. Mechs roamed the land and helped people with farming, excavating, travel, and even war. When I asked my History of European Civilization III professor about it, she denies that ever happened, but I know the truth. I’ve seen the pictures.
Expeditions is a one to five player engine-building card game with action selection and area movement. The game can be played in 60-120 minutes with experienced players, depending on player count.
In Expeditions, players are competing to score the most victory points. Points are scored via completing various goals for glory (stars), collecting money, vanquishing corruption, and upgrading item cards. Once one player has completed 4 stars, players take one more turn before the game ends and scores are calculated.
On most turns, players will move their action marker and complete two of three core actions: move, play, and gather. Move involves moving their player piece (mech) from one tile to a tile up to 3 spaces away. Play is playing a card from their face up “hand” to the active side of their tableau, activating the ability which can be enhanced by playing with a worker. Gather is how players take the action listed on the tile their mech is on.
These tile actions range from picking up cards to gaining new workers and much more. When a player chooses, they may take a refresh turn to bring cards from their active side back to their hand, so they can be used again. The board also contains a market of 5 cards. These are drawn randomly from a deck and include three types: meteorites, items, and quests. All three types of cards have benefits when played, but can also be “tucked” using special actions to gain an ongoing ability or some one-time benefit.
The theme of Expeditions is Scythe without its soul. The same beautiful 1920s Europa imagery is still there, though it’s a bit out of focus at times. Instead of encounters with text to paint a story and create a narrative choice, Expeditions is just clever card/tile names with nice art. The cool new mechs are there in all of their glory, but they don’t carry workers or fight. They travel around and take abstract actions on tiles. In fact, you can’t even occupy the same tiles as other mechs. Incidental blocking can be an annoying consequence, and there’s not really anything you can do about it. Instead of unique player powers that can feel overpowered at times, Expeditions has mech abilities and character abilities that seem largely inconsequential.
The card play in Expeditions is a fun system. Managing which cards to keep in your controlled cards (hand and active areas) versus tucking for passive abilities, glory, and end-game scoring is a clever balancing act. When building out your tableau, you need to be keeping the right types of workers around to gain maximum benefits from each card. Plentiful synergies can be created, and I’ve both owned and witnessed some masterful engines built in this game.
There are cards that do really fun things, like allowing you to move through unexplored tiles without stopping, peeking at unexplored tiles, or refreshing all of your cards. That all sounds good on paper, but there’s a glaring issue. What cards you gain access to are based 100% on luck of the draw. The card type you need may not come out on the market for three plus turns or maybe when it finally does, someone else snatches it up before your turn.
The game has a noticeable arch. The first couple of refresh actions happen pretty early on, and they are much less frequent as the game goes on. As players explore more tiles, the map and action economy grows, creating more opportunities for gaining cards, upgrading, melding, etc. Corruption tiles cover half of the actions available on newly discovered tiles. If players aren’t focused on pumping up their vanquishing engine, it can be a slow process to remove the corruption and actually be able to use these new tiles the way you’d like. Discovering new tiles can create a nice moment of anticipation, but the tile pool is the same in every game.
The boast action is just unnecessary. In most games, completing an objective is enough to complete an objective. In Expeditions, you usually have to use a full turn to accomplish placing a glory (star). That is, if the space is even available. Early on, it will be covered with corruption. Later, you better hope another player isn’t sitting there for a turn or two. There is a card you can get that allows you to take this action without using a tile. There’s a chance that card will not come out during the game and a greater chance that someone else will take it before you even have a shot at it. Overall, this mechanic felt very tacked on.
Playtime is another issue worth mentioning. Once you’ve passed three players, it overstays its welcome easily. While turns can be quick, sometimes there are just lots of new cards to read through or one player’s engine is running on all cylinders and their turns take a while. I have not tried this at five, and I have no desire to nor would I play at four again.
I actually kind of like the card system in this game. If it were just a deck of cards and player boards and this played in 40-60 minutes, I may regularly reach for this. As it stands, there’s a whole map to explore and an over-dependence on luck of the draw. There’s no meaningful interaction except incidentally having a card taken that you wanted or someone sitting on a tile you need to use.
Expeditions had big shoes to fill. It’s not quite even getting the socks on. Scythe comparisons aside, I’m just not sure this offers enough to warrant the play time, table space, cost, etc. I’m sure some will love this, but those people are not in my gaming circle.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – A clever engine building card game with a map and some extra fluff that weigh down the experience.
• Luck of the draw is critical
• Overstays its welcome at higher player counts
• Boast mechanism is not fun or interesting
• This should have just been a card game