Expedition: The Role Playing Card Game Review

Expedition is a light-hearted, card-based storytelling game with an open sourced system for user written adventures. It was designed by Scott Martin and Todd Medema, published by Fabricate IO. You can take a look at the content, explore the app, or buy a copy here: https://expeditiongame.com/


 

How to Play Expedition: The Role Playing Card Game

 

Central Appiland doesn’t attract your usual sort of adventurers. Many of the mightiest and most dedicated adventurers spend hours, sometimes days, exploring dungeons and fighting dragons on Appiland’s fabled coastline. Central Appliand, on the other hand, draws misfits, brigands, freebooters, hoodlums, hoi polloi, ne’er-do-wellers, and other riff-raff who only have an hour or so to spare towards earning fame and fortune.

A minotaur in a rusted chain shirt slumps in a gutter outside a local tavern. He gazes wistfully at his empty beer stein, lacking both the strength and desire to go back inside to order another. He was once an Dutiful Soldier in the Queen’s Guard. However, his tribe found his love for puny humans disgusting and cast him out, shaving off his horns to mark his shame for all.

The minotaur is so oblivious, he doesn’t even notice when a dundering, barrel-stomached, probably drunken yet definitely Befuddled Mage trips over him and crashes, face first into a pool of gutter filth.

“You bovine boor!! Watch where you are moping!! Oh… oh… my, you are so big and… muscular! You’ll be perfect!”
“Perfect for what?”
“For adventure, my formerly horned friend! I’m a wizard of great power and fameulosity!”
“Doubtful. In all likelihood, you could not hit darkness with a magic missile. And I have no horns. What could such as us possibly do?”
“Ah, but I know a secret of adventuring here that you don’t.”
“What is that?”
“No matter who adventures here, whether it’s that handsome man over there in full plate or gutter trash like the two of us, we all have a starting deck of six power cards. Then, when we fight, no matter how drunken, incompetent, or lacking in horns we are, we will draw three and play cards one by one! Isn’t that just lovely?”
“I’m in. Let’s go.”

The newly formed party consults the job board on the side of the tavern to see where they will find their first adventure. There are certainly a lot of jobs listed! The minotaur, who clearly stored his imagination in his old horns, gazes at the caravan guard and dungeon de-infestation jobs. The wizard, however, squeaks in delight at the myriad choices – viking hunts, noir heists, time travel to prehistory. There’s even some strangeness about a cannibal named Shia. That one sounds dangerous. Better to skip it…

“Hey, you two, either pick a job and shove off, or don’t pick a job and shove off. Either way, make way for others!”

The intrepid party of two turns around to behold a… Beholding creature! It turns its many eye stalks away from the job board to address the party.

“Waitaminute, what are you doing outside the coast? You’re going to get someone sued!” the wizard bellows.
“Nonsense,” says the Beholding creature. “None of us have any art attached to us. We can claim to be whatever we want. Now stand aside or fight me, puny flesh bags.”
“We face a choice. I hate when I have to make choices”, says the increasingly sheepish-looking minotaur. “I think we should let him look at the board with all of his eyes, not just those five.”
“Poppycock! This is a well-balanced adventure where everything we fight will be properly within our power level. And, look here, I have drawn some of my most powerful spells. Have at thee, knave!”

The Beholding creature bellows and roars, growing in size and malice as it gathers its eye stalks in an offensive posture.

“Tier Four?!?!?! That’s not fair!” exclaims the frightened wizard, letting out a squeal that brings about sobriety at the cost of a soiled jerkin.
“Well, at least we attack first,” mused the minotaur. “Hit him with whatever attack spell you said you drew.”
“But I don’t know if I should fire an Arc Lightning at him, or Imbue you with power so you can hit him better!”
“Decide quickly. You’ve wasted 10 of your allotted 30 seconds.”
“That’s all we have?!?!?!?!? Go into settings and program us more time between attacks!”
“I can do that, but not while we are in combat. And by we, I mean you.”
“Fool! This is a cooperative game. We die together! Now, Beholding creature, eat lightning death!”

Unfortunately for our intrepid wizard, success is not automatic in Central Appiland. The lightning bolt leaps from his hand, but bounces off of the tavern sign and strikes the fetid yet perfectly conductible pool of water at his feet. With a final gasp, the wizard recalls the one thing that this land has imported from the neighboring coastline…

The dreaded d20!

What I liked about Expedition: The Role Playing Card Game

1. It’s not about what the rules say, it’s what they enable.

First of all, I ask anyone reading this to forgive me for indulging my GM side, which I have not done in quite a long time. Really, though, I wanted to make the point that the game rules are so light that they almost don’t matter. You can learn how to work the app and engage in the simple card play in less than five minutes. The system manages to have just enough to it to make sense, while providing a great starting point for players to fill in the blank in “theater of the mind” fashion. Expedition achieves that balance very well.

I *almost* ran into an issue where the game mechanisms got in the way – the timer for players to play their combat cards. I really, really disliked it. Whenever I see a timer for player turns, it feels like a hack intended to limit AP at the table (see Mechs vs. Minions). If you play with a group that doesn’t get AP, then it’s not a problem. Thankfully, Expedition includes an option in Settings to turn the timer off. Phew!

2. The hero cards

Full on “theater of the mind” might be great for some players, but others need at least a little bit of crunch to get them going. Fortunately, the hero cards provide that very well. Most of the decks have cards that deal damage. However, some cards and roles let you buff other players, heal them, or give them extra card play tricks. Along with providing a hint of mechanical interest, the system encourages just enough cooperation to keep everyone engaged throughout.

3. The open sourcing of the adventures

When I first heard about Expediton, my main concern was that most of the adventures were contributed by fans. Crowd sourcing can go right, but it can also go terribly wrong. For example, I personally did not find the satirical adventure “Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf” very fun or funny. To each, their own.

However, for the most part, I found that the adventures were solid and that folks really put a lot of effort into telling fun stories. Further, Expedition has a system of peer reviewing adventures – especially for the older adventures which have gotten plenty of playtime and attention – which I found very helpful in choosing what I wanted to run with my group.

What I think Expedition could add

Usually in this space, I talk about the parts of a game that I found to be wanting. However, Expedition is something of an “it is what it is” game. Either you get a kick out of what it’s doing, or you don’t. I really like what’s going on and am excited to see where else the designers take the system.

For example, “The Horror” expansion adds persona cards which provide an extra layer of background flavor to prompt further roleplaying, along with small ways to affect your dice rolls. I found that the persona cards added a bit of extra fiddliness where it might not have been needed, but others in my group found that they were able to access an extra bit of imaginative help to flesh out their characters.

Other things I would like to see:

1. A replacement for the health tracker clips

Expedition includes clips to keep track of player and enemy health. However, I ditched using them pretty early due to the cards not being very sturdy. Using the clips immediately started to cause damage to my cards.

2. “Official” and “Unofficial” designations for adventures

While I appreciate that the different adventures receive peer review, as it were, I would feel a bit better about a new adventure if I knew that it had the official imprimatur of the design team. When I was DMing, if I wasn’t writing my own adventures, I usually preferred to run an official module rather that something fan made. Perhaps it’s a preference thing and I’m simply not used to open sourced material. Still, I don’t see the harm in adding such a designation.

3. Art

I realize that the minimalist approach allows players to inject their own imaginations into the game experiences a bit better. Also, from a business perspective, art is expensive Expedition is a very inexpensive game, and any art assets would probably drive up the cost. However, from a table immersion perspective, a good set of art pieces helps everyone to build their image of what’s going on from a shared pool of images. Therefore, even as they may imagine the interactions a bit differently, they at least start with a richer experience that everyone at table shares in, at some level.

4. Alternate combat resolution systems.

I get it. Nothing says RPG like rolling a d20. But there’s been sooo much done in the way of combat resolution in the RPG space. The system has room for multiple dice, or a combat card system. Or an official mode (and adventures to match) without any randomized combat resolution – which my group did one time to enjoy the story.

Conclusion

The minotaur stares at the charred remains of his one-time ally. Taking pity on the minotaur’s failed first excursion into adventure, the Beholding creature opens his maw at an impossible angle and belches out a slimy sack to the ground. With nothing to lose, the minotaur reaches into the sack and retrieves… a Shiny Bauble. Hmm, what is this useful for?

Suddenly, the Bauble spins and points directly at a Haunted Mansion down the street. Was that always there? The minotaur then peers back into the tavern, feeling inspiration that he thought he would never feel again. Where before he saw naught but a gaggle of drunken sots, he now sees potential – a Stealthy Recluse slinked into the corner, a Pack Rat with scores of battered equipment spilling from his rucksack, a Wizened Antiquary who might be able to bring all of the fire power but perhaps half of the idiocy of his former ally. Finding steel in his spine that he didn’t know was there before, he bellows:

“Who has an hour or so to spare for adventure?”

Final Verdict: Strong Play, or Buy if you’re really into silly role playing!

(if you were so inclined to buy it, you can order it here: https://expeditiongame.com/)

  • Jason

    I'm a psychotherapist by trade, practicing in CT. I play games to restore my life balance. I like thematic games with lots of narrative and story, usually cooperative but I love good thematic strategy games as well. As a game evangelist, I also like card games and anything else I can easily tote with me.

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