Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game Review

Theme and What is it?

Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game is a lightweight system for facilitating 20-60 minute roleplaying adventure sessions that feature quick decision-making and d20 skill checks.  Gather 1-6 players, download the app, and set forth into the unknown to face enemies, find loot, and complete your expedition.

Gameplay Mechanics

Expedition is an app-driven roleplaying experience wherein players are primarily using their skills to overcome the combat obstacles presented to them.  One player will need the required app on their phone, available on both iOS and Android.  There are 166 cards are split into 11 separate groups.   There are four skill decks of Magic, Melee, Music, and Ranged skills, four enemy decks of Bandits, Creatures, Fae, and Undead, a Loot deck with three tiers of rewards, a deck of adventurers, and a set of Helper cards which serve as player aids.  The four skill decks are placed left of the middle of the table while the four enemy decks and the loot deck are placed to the right.  The middle area is saved for enemies the players will face during encounters and is also where the phone will be placed during combat.  Players will enter the app, indicate the number of players, and select an adventure.  There is currently a tutorial and three official adventures, with a growing library of user created content also available as the app includes a quest creator for writing your own quests.  The app also includes a combat only mode if one player wants to serve as a gamemaster and run the game for other player characters.  Players can modify difficulty settings within the app before they begin.
 
At the beginning of an expedition, players will select an adventurer card.  These cards feature a name of a character archetype and list which skill decks the players will draw from to form their starting deck.  One of our players was a soldier who drew six melee cards while another was a hunter who drew four ranged cards and two magic cards.  There are multiple adventurers from which to choose and their skill allotments provide unique, if sometimes subtle, differences.  The app will guide the players on the journey in an interactive fiction style, often giving the players a choice between options.  The rules suggest taking turns reading and choosing options while the app indicates when to pass the phone to the next player.
 
When combat begins, the rules for the order of combat are always given to the players via the app.  The adventure will tell the players specifically what they have encountered.  All of the enemies in the various decks are unique, and should more than one of a given specific enemy be present in the fight, the players can simply use the backs of additional cards of the appropriate tier as they all feature a generic health track. This is an elegant solution and prevents taking up space in the box with duplicates of enemies.  Enemies may have resistances or weaknesses to certain skill groups and many feature a surge power.  During the course of combat, the app will sometimes declare that a surge has occurred, at which point all enemies with surge abilities will trigger those abilities. 
 
At the start of a combat round, the players will draw three cards from their skills, after which one player will start a timer in the app.  Players then have a few fleeting seconds to select a skill and place their finger on the phone.  If they take too long, they may receive extra damage at the end of the round.  Players may then resolve their abilities one at a time, in any order they choose and may retroactively apply benefits to ease the pressure of searching for a perfect order in which to resolve.  To resolve a skill, a player makes a skill check with a 20-sided die.  The card indicates the requirements for success.  There are also results which count as either a critical success, almost always a 20 or higher and usually offering an increased benefit from the skill, or a critical failure, which likely turns some amount of damage back onto the player and while usually marked by a 1 or less, can be higher on more difficult skills. 
 
After all players have resolved their skills for that round, the app will clarify the current difficulty of the encounter, indicated by finding the sum of the tiers of all enemies presently involved in combat.  If the sum is zero, indicating the players have defeated all enemies, then the conflict is over and the players may even receive some loot.  If enemies remain, the players receive damage.  All players regain their full health after each encounter and players only lose if they all die during an encounter.  Players will continue making decisions and facing encounters until they either fall in battle, or reach the end of their expedition.

Initial Impressions

I love roleplaying, but I have a hard time facilitating sessions with my game group, despite regularly offering to take on the role of gamemaster.  When it comes to roleplaying, I enjoy both the thrill of the dice as I try to execute daring feats of skill, as well as the opportunity for group storytelling.  As Expedition features an app that guides the story and does not require a gamemaster, I was unsure how much of each of those aspects would be present, and if it would skew towards one or the other.  I was also curious to see the app itself at work and understand its impact on gameplay.

Quality of Components and Insert

Expedition features 166 cards, 15 clips, 1 d20, and 1 rule sheet.  The cards are a little thin, but players exercising care when placing and moving the clips should easily avoid damaging the cards.  I wouldn’t recommend sliding the clips unless you sleeve the cards, though I doubt sleeved cards would fit back into the box.  The d20 is a standard 20-sided die.  Within the box there is a divider to separate the d20 and clips from the cards, and a foam spacer as there is more room than is presently needed, allowing room for future expansions while keeping the cards snug in the box.  The box itself is sturdy and should hold up well, which is good as this game is a perfect size to throw in your game bag and take along with you.

Artistic Direction

The art on the cards is limited to the backs of the various decks of cards, as the front of the cards feature the mechanical text for skill, enemy, and loot description.  The art is a minimalist style that instantly is clearly its own while still having a traditional roleplaying iconagraphic aspect.  It just feels right and it looks great.  The iconography on the skill cards is clear and easy to interpret and there are helper cards that serve as player aids, though it won’t take long before players learn the system as it is pretty intuitive.

Fun Factor

Expedition is a great group experience at the table, but is certainly enjoyable solo.  The aspect of having to select your skills and then touch the phone while racing the timer is unique and adds a nice tactile element.  The skill checks are just straight rolls on a single d20 with the ranges for success and failure clearly indicated on the skill cards.  This offered all of the excitement of rolling dice traditionally found in roleplaying games, but with none of the slowdown that can often occur from cross-referencing character sheets and applying myriad bonuses or detriments to resolve your actions.  This kept the game moving, the players engaged, and definitely lowered the barrier for entry.

Difficulty and age range suggestion

Expedition features timed card play requiring quick decisions.  However, the clear iconography and cooperative nature of the game allow players to help each other determine the best order in which to resolve the players’ skill cards.  The box indicates ages 10 and up and I think you could easily introduce this game to younger gamers.  The only potential barrier is the timed aspect of selecting your skill card within the given timeframe and potentially adventure content if you venture into the ever-growing library of user-generated content.  Thankfully, the creator has included a content setting in the search parameters so players should be able to find content that is age appropriate.  Additionally, a recent update to the app allows for the timer to be adjusted or disabled if desired.   Other than that, Expedition is mechanically very simple.  All skills in the game resolve with a single d20 roll with a target number.  Some of the skills are setups for future turns or offer improvement to other player’s die rolls, but even then the card clearly states what is required for success and the resulting effect of success or failure.

Conclusions

I really enjoyed Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game.  Having missed the original Kickstarter project, I was happy to have stumbled across it at Gen Con 50.  The game is lightweight and plays quickly, both in terms of game length and game speed, though there are some adventures in the user library that are quite long.  Racing the timer to select your skills was just the right level of tension.  Rarely did we find ourselves taking too long, but there was always that pressure to decide.  This allowed the game rounds to get back to the die rolling and skill usage that create the bulk of the excitement.  For scratching the mechanical side of that roleplaying itch, Expedition is a great product.  Its portability makes it a go to for travel and it’s easy to include in your game night bag.  The app functions well and with the user library there is plenty of content.  I also felt the app transcended being a mere gimmick and truly facilitates play and integrates into the experience.  I will say that as the app makes regular use of multi-touch and is on for the duration of play, it will drain the battery, but not before a few hours of play.

For those looking for group storytelling, Expedition requires a little more effort.  The adventures are fun, but are mostly set a set of binary choices to facilitate the combat encounters that the game is built around.  However, using the combat generator in the app tools would allow someone to craft their own story.  While the skill cards in the box are all combat oriented, it would not be out of line with the spirit of Expedition to create a simple stat sheet to allow skill roles in other forms of encounters.  Perhaps the designer could create a support document that could offer guidance on how to manage social encounters and guidelines for dealing damage from enemies for times when the app is not available.  Enterprising gamemasters will certainly be able to use Expedition as a foundation to do more and stretch the limits of the game. 

Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game does a great job at creating opportunities to gather with your friends to go on adventures, roll some dice, and kill things and take their loot.  I really enjoyed my time with it.  I think it is ripe for expansions and at the time of this article’s publication there are 22 days to go on a horror themed expansion on Kickstarter.  The creator also continues to add functionality to the app as of this publication.  Expedition is a great way to introduce people to the dice rolling foundations of roleplaying, but certainly offers value beyond that as it offers quick, simple fun for you and your friends.

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