When I think about explorers a few people come to mind: David Livingston, Francis Drake, and Marco Polo to name only a few. So, to say that the lineup of characters in The Curious Expedition came as a shock to me is a bit of an understatement. Yes, you too can go traipsing through the jungle as Madame Curie, meet the indigenous people of the desert as Amelia Earhart, or run for your life, with dinosaurs in tow, as Nikola Tesla – that last one is actually a believable scenario.
The Curious Expedition sets out to revive the feeling of wonder and discovery that accompanied the expeditions of famous explorers from the early 1900s and much earlier. But as you might have gathered, it isn’t a po-faced, true to life representation that strives for historical accuracy. Oh, lord no! There’s humour, danger and loot aplenty in this difficult turn-based roguelike.
Choosing an expedition leader is no easy task, but there is plenty of choice with 16 different historical figures available – although you’ll need to unlock most of these by completing various tasks throughout the game. Each character has different attributes that will aid you in your travels, such as the ability to see further on the map, increased compass accuracy, or increased sanity – more on that shortly.
I’ve gotten way ahead of myself though. On each expedition you’ll be placed on a procedurally generated hexagon tile map, and your most basic goal is to make it to the golden pyramid hidden somewhere within it. But it wouldn’t be much fun if all you did is fumble around in the dark, searching for the exit. As well as random objectives , such as delivering messages to villages or dropping off missionaries, you’re other goal is to amass fame.
At the end of your five expedition campaign, should you manage to make it that far, your fame level is used as a mark of how well you explored, or how mamy artifacts you’ve stolen. You can gather fame the good old-fashioned way and barter with tribes for priceless knicknacks, or you can raid any and every tomb you come across, taking its golden goods back home with you. Don’t expect to make friends and influence people if you opt for the latter option, by the way. There’s a twist to all this fame malarky though, as it can also be spent on goods before you set out on your next journey. Everything you need for a successful trip is available to you, such as ropes for spelunking in deep caves, torches to see where you are going, explosives to bypass mountains and food to replenish your sanity.
Fighting and moving around the map expends sanity, with different terrains having a different impact on your sanity levels. A successful expedition hinges on your ability to manage the crew’s sanity level and to make sure that it never dips to 0 for too long. In most cases you should be able to eat food or drink some booze to keep you going, but if you find yourself without either you are in for a bumpy ride, with crew members dying off, killing each other, or stealing items then deserting you.
You get the opportunity to assemble a crew, before you set out, to aid you during the expedition. Interestingly, each character has positive traits to help you, but some of them may also have less desirable character traits. That hotshot rifleman might be handy in a combat situation, but you aren’t going to make friends with the natives if he is a raving racist, are you? And while that interpreter is great for communicating with the locals, his kleptomania will probably cause more trouble than he is worth. fortunately, you can refine your crew by recruiting new members, and giving liabilities the boot later on.
The greatest, possibly most life destroying, thing about The Curious Expedition is how well it lends itself to both short bursts of play as well as marathon sessions. A single expedition should take you no more than 20-30 minutes, with a whole campaign taking just over the two-hour mark – if you are good enough to make it that far. I found myself becoming absolutely engrossed in the game, like I was actually leading a group of 19th century explorers to strange new lands. Just like the greatest roguelike games it has this way of drawing me back in for more, as if it has latched on to, and become a part of, me and I simply cannot quit until I have stolen everything and returned home. This affliction is particularly convenient because the game was created using HTML5, meaning I can play in my browser, or on my phone or tablet.
There is far more meat on The Curious Expedition‘s digital bones than it has a right to have at this early alpha stage, and I have merely scratched the surface with this preview. If the developers decided to ship it as a complete product, right now, I would be more than happy to pay the measly $12 they are asking for it. That it is already so enjoyable gives me great hope for its future.
At present you can only play the game in your browser, with plans for a standalone Steam release later down the road, but don’t let that put you off. You’d be robbing yourself of a game worth treasuring if it did.