June 17, 2024

#UnboxingDay ~ A wargamer explores Expeditions by Jamie Stegmaier (Stonemaier Games, 2023)

RockyMountainNavy, 17 August 2023

In 2017 I returned to hobby boardgaming thanks in part to discovering games like Scythe (Jamie Stegmaier, Stonemaier Games, 2016) with the incredible artwork of Jakub Rozalski. Scythe remains a RockyMountainNavy family favorite even today so there was no hesitation to thrown down my dollars when I saw Stonemaier games offer a new game in the Scythe universe, Expeditions, for preorder. On the surface, Expeditions is about as un-wargame a game one can get. What can this game deliver to a wargamer? Good question, but for now let’s take a look together at Expeditions: A Sequel to Scythe.

My first surprise from Expeditions was when the shipping box landed (with a heavy thump) on my doorstep. For some reason I had imagined Expeditions was a regular bookshelf-sized game. The arrival of a 17″ x 14″ x 8″ box weighing in at nearly 8 pounds immediately cast doubts on my assumptions. I haven’t had a box this size land on my doorstep since I started limiting my GMT Games P500 pledges several years ago…

ExpeditionsShip
That’s a big box…(photo by RMN)

click images to enlarge

Once unpacked I found that Expeditions really is a “top-shelf” game because that’s where this 15.5″ x 12.5″ x 3.5″ box is going to have to be stored. Which is a bit of a shame since the artwork by Jakub Rozalski is beautiful and it deserves to be displayed. That said, I wonder how many people are going to complain about the “aged” box edges that will cover up shelf wear.

ExpeditionsCover1
Big box for beautiful art (photo by RMN)

 

The back of the box of Expeditions doesn’t actually give a good sense of the size of the game, likely part of the reason I misjudged it before arrival. I think it has to do with the fact the mechs in Expeditions are much larger than those in Scythe; my predisposition was to imagine small mechs leading to a small board. I also like the subtle Scythe references in the graphics, like the “P” in Expeditions.

ExpeditionsBack
Back of the box (photo by RMN)

 

Expeditions is designed for play by 1-5 players and is supposed to be playable in 60-90 minutes. The 14+ age rating is likely driven but the need to read the cards (more on that later).

ExpeditionsSpine
Sounds ambitious (photo by RMN)

 

Opening Expeditions for the first time reveals packing to the brim. Overall component quality is very high which is standard from Stonemaier Games. Of note, I did not get the “Ironclad Edition” which comes with metal Mechs.

ExpeditionsUnbox1
Open the box…(photo by RMN)

 

ExpeditionsUnbox2
Cover up(photo by RMN)

 

Stonemaier games appears to have used bio-degradable plastic baggies in Expeditions. Yes, safer for the environment but I’m not sold on the opaqueness…

ExpeditionsUnbox3
Environmentally friendly (photo by RMN)

 

The scale of Expeditions and the sheer number of components becomes very apparent once you set it up on a table. Shown here is a three-player set-up on a small 3’x5′ gaming table. This is probably too tight for play. Note also the orientation of the game board…one way that makes playing to the side or above a bit challenging.

ExpeditionsSetup
Tight fit for three (photo by RMN)

 

Part of the reason players will need space for Expeditions is the player tableaus. Shown here is a player board very early in game; later you will need space to the left of the board for your “hand” and to the right of the board for the “active area.”

ExpeditionsPlayer
Player tableau (photo by RMN)

 

Like most every Stonemaier game, there are also interesting bits in Expeditions. Again, I don’t have the deluxe metal coins edition. The different colored meeples are your workers and the different colors are for different types.

ExpeditionsBits
Can you see the red “soldier” workers? (photo by RMN)

 

The cards in Expeditions all feature fabulous artwork by Jakub Rozalski. Alas, I fear the desire to showcase the artwork led to decisions to reduce text size making them difficult to read across the table. There are nearly 100 Item, Meteorite, or Quest cards in Expeditions and each is different with unique artwork and text.

ExpeditionsCards
Expedition cards…bring your glasses (photo by RMN)

 

Location tiles in Expeditions are hexes but the size balance between art and iconography is better than the cards. Shown below, this tile has been “explored” and flipped face-up with corruption tokens placed. Of note, Expeditions uses a very light Cthulhu-like theme. I say “Cthulhu-like” because it never really goes as far to call itself Cthulhu but the influence is clearly apparent in the artwork and theme. The corruption tokens, however, are in my opinion a real miss by Stonemaier. Corruption tokens came in two types (Guile and Brawn) representing the power needed to “vanquish” them—removing the corruption and exposing a beneficial action at that location. Others have (rightly in my opinion) complained that it is so un-thematic to be removing a numbered tile. Instead, they argue the tiles should at least had artwork of different creatures related to the “power” of the tile. For a game with so much thematic artwork this seems like a glaring omission.

ExpeditionsLocatin
Remove the evil…tokens? (photo by RMN)

 

While it appears Stonemaier didn’t invest in thematic corruption tokens, nobody should be complaining about the (very chunky) mechs in Expeditions. Three of the mechs shown here have color click-bases added. There are five different colors and players get to decide what color they want to play.

ExpeditionsMechs
No need to paint, eh? (photo by RMN)

 

The rule book for Expeditions is done in the same graphical style as the other art. The 16-pages are full of information with good graphical support.

ExpeditionsRulebook
Rule book (photo by RMN)

 

ExpeditionsRules
Plenty of interior art (photo by RMN)

 

Expeditions also comes with an Automa, or solo play module. Early plays with this Automa has shown me it may be the easiest of almost any solo bot to play, yet still make for a worthy opponent. Solo bot wargame designers should take note…

ExpeditionsAutoma
Automa (photo by RMN)

 

Getting all the components of Expeditions back into the box can be challenging…if you don’t follow the helpful directions.

ExpeditionsPack
Not intuitively obvious placement (photo by RMN)

 

Expeditions certainly looks like Scythe, but this is very clearly a different game. Stonemaier Games has leveraged the artwork of Jakub Rozalski to make a very visually appealing game, but even a simple unboxing exposes some design decisions (small text on cards, Cthulhu-lite theming) that is a bit disappointing. I am sure that myself and the RockyMountainNavy Boys will enjoy playing Expeditions, but I for one will forever wonder if a few small changes could make this beautiful-looking game positively gorgeous.

I am also presently enjoying discussions amongst hobby boardgaming nomenklatura arguing over the theming and gameplay of Expeditions. As I already alluded to in the discussion on corruption tokens some feel the game is not thematic enough. Others scream that a game that started with such rich theme in the artwork fails to deliver a worthy game. The core argument seems to center on connecting theme to gameplay. As a grognard wargamer I am used to a game design starting with heavy thematics and then gameplay being layered on. This “theme then gameplay approach” game design approach is what some self-proclaimed progressive wargamers campaign for. I personally look forward to hearing how Expeditions is seen by other wargamers because Expeditions has many elements progressive wargamers seemingly crave—strong theme but no hex & counter game mechanisms, wooden bits, 3D plastic sculpts, and a majority (three out of five) characters identifying as female.

Truth be told, none of that really matters to me because; like the little ditty below says, this wargamer is simply going to play, enjoy, and explore with Expeditions.

 


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In gaming halls where grognards debate,
They argue about what’s deemed first-rate.
“True wargame!” they declare,
With a passionate glare,
Their opinions, they’ll never abate.
Some seek hexes and counters galore,
Claiming purism, nothing they’ll ignore.
Yet the heart of the matter,
Is the fun we all gather,
So let’s play and enjoy, let’s explore!

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