Relic Expedition is a board game for 2-4 players that plays in under an hour. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter: it’ll cost you $49 for the base game or $69 for the game and a mini-expansion (with other pledge levels for various other rewards). The rules aren’t too complex and the game is family-friendly, but there’s room in there for some cutthroat play, too.
To back the project, visit the Kickstarter page. Relic Expedition currently has 10 days to go and they’re over halfway funded now.
You can download a draft of the rulebook here, but I’ll give you a quick overview of how the game works. I did find that the gameplay video on the Kickstarter page is pretty good, too, if you like video tutorials.
How to Play
The basic idea is that you’re exploring a jungle, looking for relics and avoiding dangers like quicksand, poison ivy, and wildlife. The board expands as you venture into the jungle, and there are a couple of additional features like a mountain, a cave, and a river which can turn up as you explore. The object of the game is to collect four treasures of the same color or which have the same symbol, and then fly out of the jungle on your helicopter.
You start the game with the large base camp board, and each player on one of the campsite hexes (marked with an H, which also serves as a helicopter landing pad). Whenever a player is on the edge of the map, you’ll lay out more hexes surrounding their location, so the starting setup will have some tiles already revealed.
On each turn, the player will roll two dice: one indicates the number of actions the player gets, and the other indicates which animal type (if any) will move. Your actions can be spent to move (potentially opening up new hexes) or to draw supply tokens from the bag, which can be used to protect you from animals or give you access to the special locations on the map. One thing to note is that some hex edges have trees across them and others don’t: it costs you an extra action to move through trees unless you’re carrying a machete. You can also use 3 actions to move from any helicopter landing pad to another.
As new hexes are added, some will contain treasures, some will have animals, and there are even some more helicopter landing pads. There are three tiles that lead to the “features”: the mountain, the river, and the cave. When those tiles are drawn, the feature is added to the map. These have more treasures concentrated in one location, but require specific supplies: hiking gear, a raft, and a headlamp. You’ll have to decide whether to spend actions trying to get the right tool or whether to just explore other areas looking for scattered relics.
You have a backpack which can hold up to 8 items—that includes both supplies and treasures, so at times you may have to dump items to carry something else. Managing the contents of your backpack is tricky but I really like the tough choices that can arise, particularly when you’ve got the treasures you want but need to protect yourself from all the nearby animals.
Speaking of the animals: whenever an animal is rolled on the die, all of that type of animal on the board will move. Snakes, monkeys, boars, and panthers can each move 2 spaces. The active player gets to move the first animal, but then players take turns moving the rest of them. If you encounter an animal, there are certain tools that keep you safe: tranquilizer darts and traps for the larger animals, first aid kits for snake bits, bananas for the monkeys. But if you don’t have something to protect you, then you’ll suffer the consequences: snakes make you lose a turn, monkeys steal things from your backpack, boars knock you down, spilling your backpack, and panthers send you back to camp (with all your belongings spilled where you were attacked).
The game ends when one player collects the necessary treasures and escapes in the helicopter (which requires 3 actions).
Tyler Segel, the Creative Director and artist for Relic Expedition, is here in Portland, so I was able to meet up with him to play a prototype copy of the game, and then he loaned it to me so I could also try it out with my kids. I’ve played it a few times so far and it’s been pretty fun—my kids love it, too.
The expanding map is a really great mechanic: building out the world as you play (as in Carcassonne, for instance) is a fun way to produce the feeling of exploration. You don’t know what the map will look like until the game is over, and my kids and I both liked flipping over tiles to see what was next: a treasure? or a panther?
I also really liked the backpack: mechanically it’s the same as limiting the number of cards you can have in your hand, but having a little physical tray that holds a certain number of tokens makes it concrete for my kids. And when you have too much stuff? Well, then you just drop it in the jungle wherever you are—and somebody else can come and pick it up later.
It can be tricky knowing when to just explore and when to dig through the bag for supplies. If you’re standing next to the cave entrance, do you try for a headlamp? Or do you just forget about the 6 unknown treasures and turn over some more hex tiles? I found that my kids and I both liked to spend actions trying for supplies, but if one player is running around the board collecting treasures then it may pay off to change strategies. That’s the one thing that is sort of weird thematically: presumably drawing things out of the bag is like getting supplies sent to you from camp. So why are my flunkies bringing me raft after raft when all I need is a machete? But I suppose if you could pick and choose that would make things too easy.
Relic Expedition isn’t a hardcore strategy game; you can strategize to some extent but there’s also a lot of luck in how many actions you get, which animals will attack each turn, and how the tiles turn up as you explore. Still, in the games I’ve played so far things have been pretty close: when somebody wins, the other people are usually not too far behind. That makes for a fun experience that I’m happy to play again.
The game doesn’t have a recommended age range. My kids are 6 and 9 and haven’t had any trouble with it (other than perhaps an imperfect understanding of the odds). There is minimal reading involved on the supply tokens, though they also have pictures so it’s pretty easy to teach. After playing it last week with my kids, I’ve decided to back it for a copy of the game.
If you’re looking for a fun family game that looks great and works for a broad audience, check out Relic Expedition. It’s the first game from Segel and producer/designer Randy Hoyt, but they’ve done a fantastic job and I’d love to see this one succeed.
For more, visit the Relic Expedition Kickstarter page.