An exciting push-your-luck game of exploration into the wilds of South America, Africa and the Far East awaits those willing to play Exploriana. A game designed for 2-5 players, for children aged 14 and up. Plus, the additions of a solo variant and expansions all supplied in one box!
The basics of Exploriana…
You are an explorer from the late 19th century who wants to earn your institution the most renown. To achieve this you must flip over cards to discover new plants, animals, locations and relics from the three different regions of the world. But there are hidden dangers around every turn and the real risk of becoming lost if you run out of luck.
There are three decks of discovery cards, each representing the treasures of the different regions, South America, Africa and the Far East. Initially, each player chooses which regions they want their explorers to visit. You control two explorer pawns, so can visit up to two different regions each round. Once everyone has placed their pawns the fun begins.
On each of your turns, you can flip over UP TO FIVE discovery cards from your chosen region and pick cards to keep for your institute. But wait! It is not that simple. There are three hazards: ‘wrong turn’, ‘animal attack’ and ‘rockfall’. You must avoid finding three different hazards or three identical hazards at all costs. If you do, you have pushed your luck too far. Your explorer becomes lost and you are unable to collect any cards for your institute that turn.
On a very basic level, the game revolves around this process. You continue choosing regions, flipping and collecting cards until one of the discovery card decks eventually runs out. The game then ends. Each player adds up their victory points, renown and individual card points to discover who has become the most successful explorer in Exploriana. A typical game lasting 30-45 minutes.
It sounds straightforward and perhaps appears to be lacking depth and direction as a game. But there is more, much more.
Added guidance and goals of Exploriana
To help direct your card collecting, each player starts off with a selection of Mission cards. With the option of buying more as the game progresses. These are individual goals to achieve and are worth additional points at the end of the game. You might be tasked with collecting three different orchids, one from each region, or finding four or more locations. It will be up to you to decide which missions to focus on and tailor your tactics accordingly.
Perhaps one negative of the game is that, even with this element, player interaction is not really encouraged. You are very much focused on what YOU need to achieve to complete YOUR Mission cards. There is no real time to consider thwarting your opponents. It is you against the cards and what you as an individual player, can achieve.
Though, an expansion of the game does add extra cards, one of which is a Poison Chalice. This can be given to another player and if held at the end of the game losses that player some renown. But this is the extent of any ‘take that’ gameplay.
To help negate some of the push-your-luck of Exploriana you have the option of choosing unique Explorer cards. Each has a different special ability. For example, the Navigator can prevent your explorer from becoming lost by allowing you to re-shuffle an unwanted hazard card back into the deck. The Researcher allows you to sneak a look at the top three cards of your chosen region, whilst the Photographer allows you to immediately take two cards.
Playing these cards costs money. But doing so can guarantee you being able to collect cards that turn. Ultimately the point of the game!
The rulebook and the two-player variant…
When I first tried to play Exploriana, I had trouble with the rulebook. This is perhaps why the game is recommended for children aged 14 and up. It is quite lengthy and the main rules are for a 3-5 player game. Additional rules are highlighted if you want to play with just 2 players, which only adds further to the confusion.
However, once you understand the game the 2 player variant does add something unique. Each player is given control of a third explorer pawn which is used to remove cards from the game.
You could, if so inclined, use tactics to place this pawn on regions where your opponent is going and thus remove cards your opponent might need. If you take the time to observe what your opponent is collecting, that is!
For someone new to board gaming they might find it initially difficult to get to grips with the basics of the game. I would certainly recommend becoming familiar with this first. Only adding in the expansion elements when confident with the base game. Obviously, for experienced gamers, the expansions will add more depth and you might want to combine them straightaway.
The components and theme
The quality and artwork of the game is a real plus point. The box cover certainly screams late 19th-century explorer. When you open up the contents this theme successfully continues.
The three different discovery card decks have easily distinguishable designs. The jungles of South America, the deserts of Africa and the mountains of the Far East. The relics, locations and plants are all colourful and are accompanied by simple symbols representing the hazards and the different points available. Those who hate text lengthy cards will appreciate this!
The Explorer cards have great snapshots of each unique explorer and a short explanation of their ability. The Mission cards are simple and easy to understand with the symbolism crossing over to them, which helps to link the whole game together.
The board itself is sectional, the pawns are basic and the other tokens and pieces are thick cardboard or wood. I would imagine the cardboard pieces might show wear quite easily if the game is played frequently. Overall, however, a well thought out theme and choice of components.
So, my final thoughts on Exploriana
Though I have pointed out a few shortcomings, I actually really enjoy Exploriana. It would be a great game for anyone’s shelf. If you enjoy push-your-luck and want a beautiful theme then this is for you. You can choose to play the game in its simplest form or with its many expansions. A game to suit all sorts of age ranges and abilities. A game highly recommended!