The reason I’m here, writing this, is because of roleplaying games. Yes, I love Star Wars, comic book heroes, and fantasy novels, but my geek passion for three decades has been RPGs. I don’t get to play as often as I would like, but adopting a new persona, solving some puzzles, picking up loot, and kicking monster butt still gives me the same buzz it did thirty years ago.
I have a regular playing group; we’ve played for over fifteen years, but now live far apart (by UK standards), and getting together for a session is becoming increasingly problematic. What I need is a roleplaying lite system. One that’s easy to pick up, play for an evening, and put down again. Ideally it would be something I could play with non-RPG people, because, let’s face it, not everybody understands the power of becoming an elf for the weekend.
Dovetailing with this wish is the feeling I’ve had for many years, that RPG combat is just a little bit boring. It can go on and on and on, and the outcome is usually the same. Some peril is required, a couple of close encounters with death, but ultimately the characters come out victorious. I know different people like different levels of combat realism, but for me, brevity is key.
At a glance: Expedition fulfills these two briefs with aplomb. It’s a card-based roleplaying system for 1-6 players that’s very easy to pick up. You can be ready in minutes and combat is fast, furious, and fun. Games can last a little as 30 minutes. Expedition also makes for a great introduction for children into the world of roleplaying games.
Playing Expedition relies on having its (freely available) app that runs all the combat for you. In addition to the app and cards, a twenty-sided die and a method for tracking hit points are also required (the cards are designed to be used with paperclips for HP tracking). Print and Play versions of the cards are available now.
The game’s creators are currently looking for funding on Kickstarter, where a pledge of $20 lets you take home the full game.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
My prototype version contained black and white cards.
- 10 Character Cards
- 80 Ability Cards (in 4 groups of 20)
- 30 Loot Cards
- 40 Monster Cards (These are printed white on black. The rest are all black on white.)
- 6 Double sided Icon Guide/Combat Turn Guide cards
In addition the finished game will bring you a D20, some health trackers (paperclips), and a box to keep it all in.
How to Play:
There are essentially two ways to play Expedition. With a computer Guide or a human Guide. A single computer-guided adventure was available in the beta version of the app. The Guide is the storyteller or, in traditional parlance, the Dungeon Master.
The major difference between the two modes is that computer-guided adventures require no preparation, and all players work together to overcome computer-generated obstacles. Games with a human Guide work better with a little forethought from said human to roughly design an adventure. That said, it’s perfectly possible to play on the fly, as I did when I forgot my notebook for one session. During a human-guided session, as in traditional RPGs, the Guide controls the events to which the rest of the players react.
Other than that the two game types run in the same way.
Character Generation: Arguably the best part of any roleplaying system. For Expedition it’s short and sweet. There are ten character types to choose from, including The Idealist Monk, The Stealthy Recluse, and The Alcoholic Diplomat.
Each character chooses 8 ability cards according to the type of character they picked. Ability types are Magic, Melee, Ranged, and Music. The spread of ability types depends on the character type chosen–e.g. The Deluded Mage has 8 Magic abilities, the Dutiful Soldier 4 Melee and 4 Ranged, and the Magical Minstrel 4 Magic and 4 Music.
The cards also have character hit points (all 12) and some flavor text. The flavor text gives the game a light-hearted feel, and is entertaining. The Pack Rat–“It’s not hoarding, it’s being prepared for anything”–and the Ambitious Noble–“Elegant, expensive, exploitative.”
With characters generated, the game is afoot!
Before you start you have to set up the Expedition tablet app. (iOS and Android are available. I used the web based version on an iPad 3, which worked just fine, but the Android version on my phone is more polished.) This includes telling the game how many players you have and the “Help” level required. This toggles how many rules and descriptive pop-ups appear when playing. It recommends “Full Help” for beginners and I would too. It really does make the game easy to play.
You can also toggle the multi-touch feature, which is one of the game’s best innovations and (except in certain circumstances) I would toggle this to “Yes.”
After character generation, the story begins. The pregenerated tale available on the app is literally a cheesy affair, taking place in the town of Gruyere, but your stories can be set anywhere. In a flash of original thought I started my first story as Guide in an inn.
However you are playing Expedition, it won’t be long before you find yourself in a fight. The game’s main mechanic centers around combat and it’s very simple, with the app doing most of the work.
Enemies are pulled from the monster deck. Each monster card has a tier level from 1-4. The encounter level plugged into the app is the sum of the tier levels of the monsters involved in the combat. So a tier 1 and tier 2 monster together give a tier 3 encounter. Encounters are about equal when the Encounter level equals the number of characters.
Before combat begins, each player shuffles their Ability cards.
Now, here comes the neat bit, especially if you have toggled multi-touch on.
For each combat round a “Set Timer” button appears. Upon pressing the button, each player takes the top three of their Ability cards and chooses one of them, which they play face up on the table.
They then place their finger on the tablet screen upon which the app is running. Once all players are touching the screen the timer will stop. Whilst the timer is ticking, the enemy is beating the living daylights out of your characters. It’s quite the incentive to choose quickly, and adds a panicky sense of urgency that is rarely recreated in roleplaying games. It also means if you’re last to pick, your fellow characters will shout rude things at you.
After everybody has chosen and the timer stopped, the Ability cards are resolved.
Most ability actions are resolved by rolling a D20; some are easy and require only 5+, others more tricky, requiring up to 14+. Picking the correct card out of three, with a time pressure, is surprisingly challenging, particularly when you first start playing the game. Response times come down as players become familiar with their abilities.
The cards and their effects are heavily icon-driven, which can be a little confusing at first, but quickly become intuitive, in part due to the very clear descriptions given on the Icon Guide cards. Examples of the icons include a target for Target and a heart for Health. The icons are clear and simple, but there are quite a few of them (12).
After the abilities have been resolved, the monsters lose any hit points suffered and the app tells you how many hit points each member of the party loses. You then adjust the number of monsters/characters left in the combat and you’re ready for the next round.
Each player shuffles their ability cards back together, starts the timer, draws the top three cards, and off you go again.
This continues until all the monsters or characters are dead.
Assuming at least one of the characters survives, all hit points lost are returned at the end of combat. Afterwards, characters normally gain a boon. This is either an item or two of Loot, drawn randomly from the Loot cards (of which there are three levels), or a new ability, which can be added to your character’s ability deck. Old and not-so-useful abilities can be discarded at this time.
If the characters survive, the story continues. If all the characters are killed? Well, that’s up to the Guide too.
Playing Expedition is a huge amount of fun. Removing the combat mechanic allows the guide to concentrate on building interesting stories. The “Guided Adventure” mode provides an excellent framework on which to build a story, which I think would be invaluable for Games Masters of any system. It has some very useful prompts.
One of the best things about Expedition is that it’s provided a way into roleplaying for my oldest son (10). There’s no complex rule mechanics for him to get bored by. Character generation is simple. He has a few easily understandable powers and they cycle quickly for him to use them all. Combat is fast, without discussion over ranges, initiatives, and relative positions. It’s exciting and immediate.
The only caveat I would mention is that, playing with him, I turned off the multi-touch function. This means only one touch of the tablet is needed to stop the monsters pummeling the characters. It allowed me to stop the combat if he was crippled by indecision, making for a less stressful, happier game.
Expedition is a great way of bring new players to roleplaying. There’s no weighty tomes to scare off the uninitiated. The troublesome mechanics are all done for you. All the players have to do is make quick decisions and, better still, make those decisions as part of a team.
The emphasis on teamwork is where the game becomes clever. Many combat abilities boost other players’ abilities, but only if your fellow team members have picked one that complements your choice. For example, using the ability “Imbue” (allow another player to automatically succeed at a test) will enable another player’s “Careful Aim” ability to succeed on an 8+ (when it’s usually 14+), but if that player used “Crippling Shot” instead (normally 8+), your Imbue is completely wasted.
This means that during combat, players need to discuss tactics whilst also trying play their cards as quickly as possible. Shambolic planning and hilarity inevitably ensue. This linking of ability cards gives the combat system surprising depth.
What happens between combats is slightly hazier. There is reference to non-ability tests, but at the moment, there is little guidance on out-of-combat tests (like scaling a wall). This leaves it very much in the Guide’s hands, which is fine, but might be a bit ”arm wavy” for hardcore rule fanatics.
The success of Expedition may well rest on its community. At the moment, there is only one guided adventure available, but I can see with a keen fanbase writing new adventures and encounters for other players to try, the game could become something very special. With stretch goals to add quest and card creators, the Expedition team clearly has its community in mind.
Customized shareable quests that can be rated by players are something that the team are looking to do in the future, and they could extend the scope of the game exponentially. There is also the promise of new settings, puzzle cards, and new armor and weapons, once they have Expedition off the ground. Like all good RPGs, the opportunities are as limitless as the imagination.
I’ve had several sessions with Expedition now, and I have to say I’ve been surprised by just how much I’ve enjoyed it. The game launches on Kickstarter today, and for those roleplayers amongst you who are short on time or want to bring wary friends into the fantastic fold, it is well worth a look.
Expedition can be found at www.expeditiongame.com, as @expeditionrpg on Twitter, and at facebook.com/expeditionrpg. Today (April 8) they are celebrating the launch of their Kickstarter with a social media mass play-along. Take a look at the Facebook page to see what’s happening.
Disclosure. I was sent a prototype copy of Expedition for review. All images are taken of this prototype version and will look different in the finished product.