Expedition: The Role Playing Card Game is an interesting card-game/choose-your-own-adventure app that allows 1-6 players to play what is essentially the core of an RPG without all that lame role-playing stuff.
Players take on roles by choosing an adventurer or drawing randomly and going through a choose-your-own-adventure style story with randomly chosen monsters and loot. Its Fighting Fantasy but with people and no “my finger was still on the last page” cheats.
Expedition is clean and simple when it comes to gameplay. Players choose an adventurer to play which determines their six starting abilities that are drawn randomly from the ability decks (magic/ranged/melee/musical) depending on what the adventurer is allowed. Combat is fast and allows no time for communication as each round ticks down a 10-second timer. Once each player has chosen a card, they have to touch the phone/tablet to show that they’re ready. If the game doesn’t detect enough fingers, the enemy can “surge”.
After the mad dash to play your best card and hope your teammates have your back comes the frustrating part. Rolling. Each card has a target value that needs to be rolled for the ability to be successful. Not tremendously high numbers but on a 20 sided die with little in the way of modifiers it’s just luck. Some cards give bonuses but even they have to be rolled for and suffer the usual issue wherein it’s better to just attack as often as possible rather than waste time trying to hedge the bets.
After all player damage has been inflicted, the app informs the players how much damage they take (all characters take the same damage in combat) and all characters have 12 hit points. Players then tell the app if they’ve killed any monsters or have lost any players and continue.
The only difference between this and a bad game of D&D are the “surges”. As combat is played out the surge meter fills unseen until it interrupts combat in some horrible way. The Lich spawns another undead, the Vampire deals damage and heals that much back, etc. The surge mechanics are… alright. They break up the combat and make it a bit more than just card, roll, repeat.
Insofar as we’ve seen, Expedition’s stories don’t allow for a great deal of role-playing beyond in-character discussions about which option to choose which rarely take more than a few seconds. This isn’t to say that the stories are lacking in any way. Of the stories we played most were well written and conveyed themselves well, built the world in a few short paragraphs, and took us into the action quickly after justifying and explaining our role in the world. But the difficulties of writing for a game like this are not to be overlooked. Imagine writing a film where you don’t know who you’re main characters are or what they are capable of. Its similar to writing for traditional RPGs but at least in those you have an actual human being acting as your interpreter, adjusting and tailoring the content to their needs.
The closest parallel would be an open-world sandbox RPG like Skyrim in which the player can equip themselves with a wide assortment of powers and items. Only you have to guess what the players are going to do/have as the app has no way of knowing what powers the players are using.
In a way, the most hindering aspect of Expedition’s role-playing mechanics are the adventurer cards. Unfortunately, as they are short descriptors: The Befuddled Mage, The Dutiful Soldier, The Drunken Diplomat, players are given their roles and restricted to a character that may not fit the story. Some of these stories are great but don’t take into account the different adventurers! It’s exactly like using a tabletop module with supplement classes. They’re a rectangle block to a square hole; they fit but it doesn’t feel right.
Expedition is bold, it tries something that we’ve never seen before and really pushes for it with expansions and contests for quest creators but to a fan of conventional RPGs, it may feel shallow and lacking. The site suggests fans create their own cards, modify the mechanics and make their own game modes which may lead to some interesting developments but for the time being, we’ll stick to the what we know.
The first expansion pack, The Horror, was Kickstarted recently and backer copies were shipped last month.