The Lost Expedition is a card-based game by Osprey games that takes you on an expedition through the Brazilian jungle. It is a challenging journey where you may struggle through a swamp or have to face the dangers of a crocodile in order to make it to the lost city with at least one surviving explorer. The game can be played co-operatively, head-to-head or solo. The ease of set up, the component quality, the theming and flow of gameplay are just a small part of the features that make it one of my personal favourite solo games. If solo board gaming is something you may be interested in then this blog may help you to take the leap into the jungle and to learn why it is such a good introductory to solo gameplay.
If you have played the lost expeditions co-operatively then you might be wondering what the differences are with the solo mode and the good news is there is only a few rule adaptions. This means that there is not a lengthy process of learning new rules (which is always a bonus for me!) but more importantly it means that it works just as well and is just as challenging solo as it would be in any other game mode.
Solo Set Up
To set up for a solo game you are provided with three explorers (regardless of player count) which each specialise in a different survival skill of jungle, navigation or camping. There is a collective resource pool of 3 ammunition and 3 food tokens and each explorer has 3 health points. The expedition journey is a series of cards laid out in numerical order. In the co-operative mode there are three difficulty arrangements that you can chose from which affects the length of your journey cards and your starting resources, but in solo mode you always use all nine cards for the expedition. A meeple is placed at the start of your journey and this will represent the position of the explorers throughout the game and is used to track their progress through the jungle. The expedition token is set to ‘morning’ and the leader token is not required in solo mode. Six adventure cards are then dealt to the player and the remaining stacked into a deck. You are now ready to play the lost expedition! A big positive to this game is the quick set up, it makes it so easy to play if you are short on time, especially if you are anything like me and need to reset to try again when you keep letting your explorers die!
Your success in the lost expeditions is based on how well you play your adventure cards and the tactics rely heavily on how you organise and resolve them. As a component the cards are really pleasing, they feel good quality and are relatively big so the artwork to icon ratio works really well. The downfall is that the cards do not provide any narration so, as beautiful as the artwork is, it is the only way of immersing yourself into the theme. It also means that the interpretation of the icons is the only way of understanding what the action is. A common problem I have found when playing this game with new players is that they find the icons overwhelming initially. This can certainly slow down gameplay in the first few rounds as new players try to understand the icons and how they can be used tactically. The basic rules are; if they are black icons, you are gaining a benefit and if the icon is blank then you are losing a benefit. There are three types of actions on each card; Events are highlighted in yellow and they are compulsory. Choices are highlighted in red and there is normally multiple on one card. The red actions are also compulsory but only one is to be selected so you have more control over your destiny. The options are highlighted in blue and are usually positive, but at a price. You can select as many of these as you want or completely ignore them, the choice is yours! The cards will provide food and ammunition along with extra expertise. They can also damage or improve your health and will influence how much progress you make in the expedition.
The Expedition Journey
The adventure cards are a visual representation of the journey you are making through the jungle and the obstacles you encounter. If you drew cards 46, 19 and 24 (see photo) in a hike then the following would be an example of the decisions you would need to make. In the evening hike you stumble through the jungle and discover a deserted outpost, you will need to add an extra encounter at the end of your hike as a compulsory action. You raid the outpost and you will either gain extra ammunition or extra health and camping expertise. Once you leave the outpost you encounter a steep path and are faced with the choice of taking the short route down the path which will cause you to lose two health, skip the next encounter and take a step closer to the lost city. If you avoid the steep path, you will gain a skill in navigation but because it took longer you would use up more of your food supply. Finally, you have a problem with a colony of ants, the issue causes so much distraction that your progress stops and you miss the next two encounters, however, you have a choice to sacrifice some health to gain two food resources. This is an example of the decisions you will make, is it better to play safe or will a bit of risk be worth it in the end?
Co-operative Vs Solo Gameplay
The lost expedition is played over a series of rounds with each round involving a morning and an evening hike. This is the same for all game modes but the gameplay for each hike works slightly differently if you are playing solo. In the co-operative mode the players are dealt a starting hand of cards and they play them in turn. In the solo mode you are interacting with the main deck of cards instead of another player. The first round starts with a morning hike in which two cards are drawn from the deck, the solo player then selects two cards from their hand, A third card is then drawn from the deck and then the player selects a final card from their hand. The six cards are then arranged in numerical order and these will represent the difficult obstacles you encounter in your morning hike. You will then have to move through each card in turn (from lowest to highest), addressing the mandatory actions and choosing whether to take the risk on the optional ones. Once all six cards have been resolved and discarded, a food token is then lost (the explorers need to get their strength up for the next hike!). The expedition token is then flipped to ‘evening’ mode and the game begins again. The evening hike is a bit more unpredictable due to the darkness and this is reflected in the gameplay as the cards are resolved in the order that they are played instead of numerically. In the co-operative mode each player plays a card in turn and places it to the right of the previous card. This a rule that differs slightly in the solo mode and you will begin by playing the first card from your hand into the centre of the table. Each turn from then onwards you can select to play either a card from your hand or from the deck and may place it to the left or to the right of the cards in the centre. The player then keeps playing cards in this way until three cards from the deck and all three cards in your hand have been played. In both modes, once placed they are not allowed to be rearranged and are resolved in that order. Once the evening hike is completed, a food token will be discarded and the player will draw back up to six cards. A new round will then begin and play will then continue this way until the losing or winning conditions are met.
How Do I Win?
To win this game in any game mode you need to get your meeple to progress across the expedition cards until you arrive at the lost city of Z. If you manage to achieve this without dying through starvation, being attacked by predators, falling down a mudslide or losing you life through injury then you win! I know, it sounds impossible right? The truth is just like a real expedition through a jungle it really is not easy but that for me is part of the appeal of this game, the chances are you will probably lose a lot of games but it makes it very satisfying when you finally make it to the end. The good news is only one of your explorers needs to survive to win the overall game, this does however mean you will most likely come across a tough choice of sacrificing a fellow explorer in order to continue your journey. The solo version differs in that you can earn points through how well you have survived the jungle. This will give you an extra challenge in future games as it will mean you are competing against yourself to get a better score.
There are many things to love about this game and the solo version is my personal favourite way of playing the lost expedition. There are benefits and drawbacks to each game mode in The Lost Expedition, but it does make the game re-playable as the different versions provides different challenges. The co-operative mode is a great way to play but it can lend itself to one player taking the lead with all the decisions or lengthy debates can cause rounds to be long. The solo game mode however has a lot more of luck involved with the order in which the cards are drawn from the deck. This means that sometimes losing is inevitable because cards are played from the deck that would never have been drawn in the same circumstances if it was a player’s choice. The player however, has full control of where the cards are played whereas in co-operative mode, you may have a plan of how you want a certain card to end up but this could be ruined by someone else’s card choice.
The lost expedition is stored in a small box, has a quick set up, the gameplay is a great length, the rule book is easy to follow and the game is simple to teach which makes a staple game in my collection and one I always travel with. The theme carries strongly through the artwork and the actions. They are sometimes really tough decisions but if I was risking my life by walking over an unstable looking rope bridge then it certainly wouldn’t be an easy decision! The icons take a bit of getting used to but the player aids are useful as a reminder. It would’ve been useful if they had included the colour coding on the aids but there’s only three different types so are quick to learn. The range of options over 6 cards can be a little overwhelming whist you are still working out the best tactics to make. It makes the game so variable by having the different choices so I personally love that its not just driven by one choice on the card you have played as it makes the decisions you make really vital to your success.
Overall if you are looking to try a new solo game then the lost expedition is definitely a game that I would recommend for you to try. It has the perfect blend of being challenging but not impossible but don’t get too attached to the explorers as an expedition through the Brazilian jungle is not one to be taken lightly!