Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game
I sat down this week to try a new card/ app based RPG, Expedition.
Challenge level: myself, who first played D&D in '77 and who still occasionally uses the AD&D DMG for reference, and four players likewise decidedly of the old school, were now going to play an app based game. My crew was willing to try it, but I could tell they were skeptical.
Are we just be too old for a phone game? Could we ever be On Fleek? And am I using On Fleek right? Is On Fleek even still a thing?
Turns out Expedition is fast and fun, and we got the basics down in our first attempt.
We downloaded the app, learned enough to get started, and played our first adventure through to its conclusion in less than an hour. It wasn't very much like the traditional role-playing experiences I have had playing table-top games, BUT it did feel a lot like the first time I had tried out new RPGs without someone there to teach us how to play - that session when everyone is a little tentative because you don't know the system well enough to be bold yet.
We organized cards, shuffled, and picked characters. I drew a Pack Rat, and I started calling him Hotdog after the "bag of tricks" guy from childhood favorite Kill and Kill Again. The Pack Rat let me draw cards from multiple decks - Magic, Melee, and Ranged. I pictured my Pack Rat as having a big bag of weapons, magical doo-dads, and conventional gear that I had hoarded over time.
You take turns reading the narration, passing the phone to the next player between read-aloud bits and decisions (germaphobes bring your alcohol wipes!). We had some basic decisions to make, and we even got into character a bit while discussing what our first move should be. That part felt extremely familiar to an old RPG guy.
We decided to go stop some fey types from raising hell at the market. A stern talking to failed, and we realized that our only option was violence. Thank Crom.
The app is ingenious. When combat starts, you hit the button on the app and the countdown begins. You turn over the cards in your hand, choose one action, and then play it and every player must put their finger on the phone screen to stop the timer.
The cards tell you what you need to roll to successfully perform your action. Its good that they preserved the d20 roll for combat - that much feels familiar.
The timer ratchets up the tension and forces you to move things along, making it at least in one way a little closer to a real combat simulation than most games. When the guy playing your warrior can take five minutes if to decide what his next move should be, it's like time on the battlefield has politely stood still for him. Not so in Expedition.
(I just got the title! The app literally expedites game play! File under slow but I get there).
Fail to beat the timer and face additional damage . . . or worse . . .
Combat has options. I spent a round healing a wounded companion. Then at one point I drew a Desperate Shot card - and if I rolled a 1 my character would die. I made it, but wow! Sudden death, no save. Somewhere, Gary Gygax is giving a thumbs up.
Ultimately, we had a fight, we took damage, we won, we found treasure. We stoped two fey creatures from making a public nuisance at the market. Total time: one hour from unboxing to high-fives, including learning the basic rules. How's that for fast game play?
Monster Cards: Read 'Em And Weep
We played one game and my group of old-timers were all clearly into it, talking about how the app may or may not work and what you could do with the format. It is both randomizer and narrative platform, and however strange that is to see written down on the page it works.
I stand by the title of this review: Expedition could be your life.
If your group has a chronic lack of a willing GM, Expedition could be the cure. Likewise if you need to curb a group tendency for devolved stories and don't have any patience for "off the rails" gaming, this might help a group with focus issues stay on track and finish something up.
Even better - the code is open source and relatively easy. You can log on, create and upload your own content as Community Quests that other player's using the app can share, and even put out a tip jar so folks can show some appreciation for your home-brew work. That's a game with a heck of a lot of room to grow, and I salute the designers for having this much foresight out of the gate.
I can totally see one learning to create really good content for a game like this and being consumed by it. Bigger dungeons, more dialogue, puzzles, clues, subtlety . . . there are designers out there who are going to take this to places that even designer Todd Medema has not yet foreseen. This is a platform.
Expedition is NOT a standard RPG, and not a substitute for playing one. I love table top, and I would never put the games I love aside for a game like this - fun as it was, its not what I do for five hours on a Wednesday night, or in a convention slot.
But as an alternative game? For those nights when somebody can't make it and you won't/ can't go on without them? Expedition is perfect for that kind of action.
One major advantage Expedition has is solo play. If you have that gaming jones and but can't get together with a group, this just might scratch your itch.
The game has expansions - extra cards and downloadable content. What Expedition really is is a new format, a blend of cards and dice and computer app that gives players another gaming option, and one that that won't be perfect for every player on every night, but that can be a lot of fun for the right group in the right mood.
I could see pulling this out and getting a quick quest in while you wait for folks to arrive, or as an after game when player's are still buzzing but the GM has shouted himself hoarse. I can see playing this at a high-top bar table (where everyone can reach the phone, natch), for a quick convention pick up game.
Out Of Game
PS - I hadn't seen Kill and Kill Again since I was a kid, and after the game I wondered if it was available for streaming.
It is, and if you have fond memories of this movie from childhood but have not seen it since, perhaps leave it be and just remember it fondly.