Calvin’s Commentaries: Expedition

Some games head into new areas in terms of mechanics and even in terms of the player niche they hope to attract.

Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game from designers Scott Martin (III), and Todd Medema head into new territory on both counts.

I have been in role playing games for 25-plus years, but a different way. Gone are thick play handbooks, and pages of player character stat sheets.

To get away from all the paper Expedition relies on two things, cards, and an app for your cellphone, although the latter is not strictly required.

“The Expedition app includes choose-your-own-adventure quests, with more being written by the community every day,” explains the rules. “Quests start with player’s roleplaying as characters exploring the world, interacting with the environment and making decisions about how to proceed. Each quest has its own objectives and goals.

“Sometimes, you will engage in combat. During each round of combat, players have a limited amount of time to use abilities to defeat their enemies (represented by encounter cards), or accomplish their goal (presented by the app). If you take too long, enemies will deal additional damage. Your party will deal more damage with a diverse set of skills and by coordinating during combat. You are defeated if all players reach zero health.”

Now this game falls into an interesting niche for me. I rather enjoyed the simplicity of a quick dungeon crawl, although I suspect many seasoned RPGers will see Expedition as a bit thin in terms of roleplaying and balk at it a bit.

On the other hand the game is an easily learned entry point to what the flavour of an RPG is, so you may well entice non-role players to give this a whirl, where they would resist a full-blown RPG.

Co-creator Todd Medema said creating a sort of filler game for RPGers was one of the driving forces with Expedition.

“We started working on Expedition several years ago, when our D&D (Dungeons & Dragons), DM, (dungeon master) said that he no longer had time to run a campaign. He was spending hours a week preparing, and we were spending hours per week to play – often only getting through a fight or two in an entire evening given how slow D&D combat is,” he said in an interview via email. “So when he dropped out, we had some extra time on our hands to think about how you could speed up – perhaps even improve – the D&D roleplaying experience. We knew that we wanted to incorporate technology, but that we still wanted the social aspect of board games. After many experiments with different formats and technologies, we settled on the cards-plus app combination. The rest, as they say, is history.”

But, the game also has the feel of an entry game for non-role players to try an RPG-esque game.

“Our original designs had been focused purely on speeding up the roleplaying experience, but we quickly discovered through playtests that fewer rules also meant it was easier to learn and less intimidating – opening up the fun of roleplaying to entire groups that had never played RPGs before,” said Medema. “We’re thrilled that such a large portion of our player base use Expedition to introduce their friends and family to the creativity and storytelling of the genre – from parents introducing their kids, to couples introducing their better halves, to friends bringing it on camping trips.”

So what does Medema, as one of the game’s creators, think is its best aspect?

“I’ve seen so many good board games and RPG concepts ruined by too many rules – games that would have been amazing to play for an hour, but are so bogged down by thick rulebooks that they take two, three or even four hours,” he said. “The best aspect of Expedition in my mind is that it’s designed with the roleplaying and storytelling experience first, and we mercilessly removed rules that we felt didn’t contribute to that.

“For example, ‘equipment’ is a common trope in RPGs, where throughout your adventure you acquire more and more powerful gear. But here’s the thing – you still want to challenge the players, so you have to make the enemies get more powerful too. So you end up running in circles making numbers bigger without actually contributing to the story – so we got rid of that.

“That move has been controversial with some players, especially those who are used to more traditional RPGs – but it worked. Nobody complains about Expedition being too slow.”

But what about the use of apps when many like to board game to get away from tech for a bit?

“When we first started working on the idea years ago, there was a lot of resistance,” admitted Medema. “We were one of the first board games to do it, and people – rightfully — didn’t trust it.

“So, we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time addressing their concerns – making sure the app is available on as many platforms as possible (Android, iOS, mobile web and desktop web), making the app and its underlying code fully open source, and continuing to invest in and support the app for many years. We even made a lightweight set of offline rules to bolster confidence in the system further.

“This, and the fact that more and more board games are exploring this hybrid digital / physical space means that we’ve seen a rapid increase in player acceptance.”

The incorporation of an online aspect has allowed players around the world to write and publish adventures for Expedition, which certainly adds a different element to the game in terms of community creation.

“We’re so grateful to all of those early fans who took a risk and wrote the first stories in an unproven board game,” said Medema. “Now, just two years later, we hold monthly writing contests and have over 100 quests in five languages.

“Waking up every morning to see what new things the community has created is honestly my favorite part of working on Expedition. Past writing winners have included everyone from D&D veterans to folks who’ve never written a story before. Expedition has truly become a gateway not just to playing roleplaying games, but to writing and interactive storytelling.”

So what is next for Expedition?

“Next up is a Sci-Fi expansion launching on Kickstarter on Oct 2, which adds a new character class, terrifying mechanical enemies and skills for your adventurer to learn,” said Medema. “We’ll also be releasing a deluxe edition of the game, which will include the base game and both expansions, superior components, and a larger box to fit whatever comes next.”

This is a game that really scratches an itch for a RPGer who role plays too little these days. The online adventures are short, many are humorous, the action is fast, and the experience generally satisfying.

For a small box of cards there is a lot to be liked here, check it out at

Thanks to fellow gamers Jeff Chasse, Trevor Lyons and Adam Daniels for their help in running through this game for review.

About Author