Boardgame Reviews

Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game Review – Roleplaying, But Not The Kinky Kind

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Designed by: Scott Martin (III), Todd Medema
Published by: Fabricate.IO
Players: 1-6
Playtime: 15-90 Minutes

Review copy supplied free of charge by the publisher.

If you’ve ever played a table-top RPG with a talented gamemaster who has spent many laborious hours crafting an adventure for the whole group to enjoy then you’ll know just how absorbing it can be. Who can count the time you spent forging your character? And all those cool moments where you do something awesome, or some silly plan works out? A good RPG session can be fantastic. It is, however, also a hard thing to get people into. Many of the systems have complex rules, it takes a lot of time to play through, you need the right group of people and so much more.

Basically, Expedition aims to condense the vast pen and paper RPG into something small and manageable; a few decks of cards, a single 20-sided die, and stories that get told via an app that you download to your mobile or tablet for free. So far, including the Horror expansion, there are two small tutorial missions, and then three complete scenarios to play through. There are more, but they’re muddled into the community section where it’s frustratingly impossible to search for only developer designed quests to go on. In total, the community section lists 23 available quests at the time of writing, and of course, quality does vary with stuff like spelling mistakes slipping through the quality checks. The few quests from the designers themselves is disappointing, but hopefully more are coming to help flesh out the game, and of course there’s always the allure of the community crafting epic, lengthy stories.

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Of course, the problem with packing everything into some cards and basic decisions via the app you lose a lot of the nuance that makes the big pen and paper RPGs fun. The author of the adventure can’t account for all of the little things that a player might want to do like a Gamesmaster could. It’s a much stricter system that doesn’t let you do something like make a smell check in order to sense an ambush, for example. A real Gamesmaster could let a player do something like that on the fly, but a tablet just can’t.

However, those pen and paper RPGs can take a lot of time, and are typically challenging to get people into due to their dependence on complex rules or mountains of lore. There’s still a stigma of sorts about them, too, so Expedition can potentially act as a stepping stone, a nice quick game that doesn’t have a rulebook heavy enough to act as the foundation for entire buildings.

Everyone gets given a simple character card representing someone like the Dutiful Soldier to act as their avatar. There’s no descriptive text or anything, rather the card is left deliberately blank so that you can roleplay the character if you so wish, mentally deciding what little quirks they might have. All that it lists are six skill cards that you get to draw at random from the appropriate skill decks, including melee, ranged and music. These skill cards form your starting deck, but throughout quests you’ll be given the chance to add new skills to your repertoire by drawing three new cards and keeping one of them.

With characters sorted out you can leap into the quests. They vary in their quality but I enjoyed the consistently light-hearted tone, though the writing itself doesn’t exactly manage to build compelling worlds or characters as it never takes the time to describe things in detail. Perhaps some artwork would have helped.

The app will guide you through the story, and even includes some backing music. It’s easy to navigate and you can quickly remove or add expansions through the settings. It works quite well on a phone, though I’d personally recommend a tablet.

When it comes down to fighting the various baddies you draw three random cards from your stack of skills, and then hit the timer on the app. Everyone has to pick one card to play in the allotted time and then place their finger on the screen, or a penalty is suffered in the form of extra damage to everyone. It’s a fun little thematic touch in the sense that if everyone argued about what to do in front of savage brigand they’d just get stabbed, and it also brings interesting bursts of discussion as everyone tries to decide who to target.

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However, the rules themselves also state that when it comes time to resolve these cards players are free to do so in any order, a design decision made to make things more forgiving. For example, one skill will dish out three damage, but will also hit the person who played it for two damage every time the target enemy is hit, so obviously, you want to play that last.

Resolution of the chosen skills is handled through the roll of a single D20 die. Roll higher than the indicated number and it’s a success. If you manage to roll a 20 then you get a powerful bonus, while rolling 1 means taking a penalty. Simple stuff. Of course, this means luck does play a large role in whether you win or lose, but considering this is meant to be an easy game to pick up and play I have no problem with that.

Some card variety helps mix it up. Sure, a lot of stuff boils down to doing damage to the enemies, but many others heal allies or increase someone else’s die roll next round, so there is room for teamwork. Cards from the Music offer a lot of support, while ones taken from the Magic deck are more mixed. Importantly, though, cards you use during a round are added to your discard pile, while those that you didn’t use get mixed back into your deck of skills for the next round.

As you resolve abilities you’ll also be inputting simple information into the app, telling it the total tiers of enemy left and whether any players have gotten knocked out in the fight. In return, the app will remind you of how to go about playing your skills, as well as also dishing out damage to players and activating enemy Surge abilities which are written on their cards. These Surges take priority over anything else and are not good news for the players, sometimes summoning new enemies to the fight or making your rolls harder.

The Horror expansion which got sent along with the base game adds a whole new concept in the form of Persona cards, a way of giving your chosen character some extra personality thanks to verbs describing them. Basically, there is a little track on these cards, and when you hit the bottom of it you must immediately resolve the effect which is always bad. Contrary, if you hit the top of the track you get a positive effect that you can trigger when you like. Whichever one you do you reset back to the middle of the track. I quite like this new mechanic, and the Horror expansion comes with new Influence cards that specialize in playing with the Persona track as well as new characters who start with some of those new cards. The rules also get updated so that every character gets to draw an Influence card at the start of the game so that everyone gets to use them.

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These Persona cards also help give characters a bit of personality for players to build on. For example, I played a game as the Deceptive Gambler and was given a Persona card that had courageous, optimistic and overconfident. From there it was easy to imagine what my character was like, his overconfidence getting the better of him due to his skill at deceiving others, but still capable of bravery in dire situations despite his shady nature.

Visually, it’s all decidedly boring. The cards are white and grey with black text and symbols, which does make them very easy to read, but without any artwork it’s very dull to look at, and doesn’t help spark the imagination of people sitting around the table. However, I don’t think this is a major issue as it’s down to the scenario text and the players to conjure up the adventure. Part of this design simplicity may also be because there’s a print and play version available, too.

I’m also not a fan of how health is tracked by using little clips on the side of the cards. Moving these quickly began to chew up the outside of the cards, so me and my group quickly decided to just lay the clips on the card to track health rather than risk completely ruining the cards.

Overall Expedition left me feeling mostly just lukewarm. It’s attempting to straddle a line which leads to it having few true strengths. The quests are fun but not memorably written, though somebody acting as a gamesmaster-lite could help with that, and everything boils down to either straightforward choices or fighting. There’s no room for sneaking, talking around certain problems, lockpicking or anything else at the moment. It doesn’t have the flexibility of a good RPG system because it traded that for simplicity and ease of play, which it does succeed at but by removing those things it also loses what makes a good RPG fun; creativity. In the place of creativity, we’ve got an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable experience that needs more designer-created quests and an expansion or two more to bring in some more room for that roleplaying to happen. Right now it’s arguably a better tool than a game as you can write your own quests and even use the app as a combat generator, which is a nice touch.

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