Tigers And Bears And Mechs…Oh My!
2016’s Scythe, designed by Jamey Stegmaier with art by Jakob Rozalski, was Stonemairer’s best selling game for years until it was put into the shadow of tabletop behemoth Wingspan in 2019. However, that was mainly due to the weight (difficulty) difference in the games, with Elizabeth Hargrave’s debut game being much more accessible for a mainstream audience. However, Scythe has continued to be a firm favourite in the board game world with those wanting a slightly heavier experience. It has so much to offer. Gorgeous, immersive artwork from Rozalski. Beautiful production with detailed miniatures of characters and mechs that call out to be painted. And finally, crunchy and interesting variable gameplay with lots of asynchronous player abilities. And with lots of expansions including miniature airships to move around the board like you are in Churchill’s war home and a fantastic campaign that leaves you with lots of modular additions to add into any game thereafter, it is certainly sticking around in my top five games of all time. However, it was common knowledge that Scythe as a game was ‘complete’. A big box was released along with a fancy, bound, complete rule book and that was it. But the forums are filled with players still wanting more. So when Expeditions was announced earlier in 2023 it came as a huge shock that we would be getting more in the world of Europa. This wasn’t completely out of character as there was already a child-friendly version of the game, My Little Scythe, which simplified the gameplay and made it accessible for young players but it went after a very different demographic with a new, more fluffy aesthetic. Expeditions is different. It is, once again, for the heavier gamer, however, it was made perfectly clear that this was a spiritual sequel and not anything like the original game in its gameplay. So how does it differ?
The first big change is, thematically, we are set after the campaign, Rise of Fenris and a meteor has landed in Europa’s fictionalised Siberia causing strange, mystical corruption across the land. Whilst researching these reports, a scientist, Dr Tarkovsky, has gone missing. You are explorers, in a giant mech, out to find Tarkovsky and whilst doing so, help the communities you find defeat strange monsters and help get rid of the corruption in the land. This new addition to Rozalski’s art is just beautiful. The strange glowing colour palette added to the original art along with Lovecraft inspired creature design adds a really interesting angle into the previously drab and downtrodden look of Europa.
Let’s Talk About Hex
The world is made up of a series of hexagonal tiles that are face up or down depending on whether they are in the south, central or northern part of the map. As you explore you will flip the tiles and so as the game progresses, more of the land is revealed for everyone playing. Although tiles will only ever be placed in specific sections of the map, there is still a lot of unknown and offers a nice variability from game to game. Each player will pick a player board, each with their own slightly asymmetric power and a mech, they will then chose their Expeditions character and their companion represented in card form. This is, at its heart, a deck-building game and you will be collecting cards of three different types as you go along, but all cards will be able to be played for their basic power or with an additional power if played with a worker. There are item cards which can also be crafted to create ongoing abilities, meteor cards which can be melded to your mech giving you additional goodies every time you do so and there are quest cards which can be traded in for popularity if you manage to complete them.
On your starting turn you have three options, move, play (a card) or gain the reward on the tile that you’re on. The move and play are fairly straightforward forward but the gain action opens up many more actions. Some include gaining guile or power (a resource managed on your player board) or vanquish corruption. Each time you reveal a tile, you will draw corruption tiles up to a designated total and then to defeat them, have to either use your guile or your physical power. There is a lot of iconography in this game but you are provided with really handy and well laid out cards that tell you what everything means, so although it may feel overwhelming to begin with, it quickly becomes easy to follow.
The most interesting mechanism in the game, however, is its action selection. After your first turn, you must choose to cover up one of the three actions. Then, for the following turn, you are down to two actions. Each turn you must move the cube to cover a different action and so you really need to plan ahead. At any point you can skip your turn to refresh which gets all your played cards back and will reset your cube allowing you to take three actions again but skipping a turn is big in this game. This certainly feels a little like Scythe!
It’s All About Those Stars!
So how do you win? Those who have played Scythe will recognise the triumph track in Expeditions. As you achieve certain goals, such as having played four quests or collected eight cards, you will need to find a space that allows you to ‘boast’ about your achievements and place a star. Once someone has placed all their stars, the game ends. Unlike Scythe who’s triumphs are instantly achieved, here you need to actively go and get them, meaning that those eagle-eyed opponents might see you make a move and block your way to slow you down. You can also only boast about one triumph at a time so timing is everything.
However, there is so much to love about Expeditions. It is as exactly as gorgeous a production as you would expect from Stonemaier games and if you really want to splash out there is an Ironclad edition which offers metal mechs too! Beware though, this is a huge table hog and will take more space than you might expect. If you liked the world-building of Scythe and the interesting action selection mechanisms but didn’t like the direct player conflict then Expeditions is definitely for you and if you are a Scythe devoutee then more fun in Europa is certainly worth the expedition!