REVIEW | The Lost Expedition

Films like Jumanji, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Tomb Raider in romanticise the exploration of deep jungles and lost civilisations. It’s thrilling, exciting and awe-inspiring. Yes, there’s difficulty to overcome… but at the same time you’ll be exploring the world, seeing amazing sights, whilst building camaraderie with your fellow adventurers.

The Lost Expedition (published by Osprey Games) follows the same formula as the films above but depicts the brutality and risks of exploring the Amazon in much more detail. It’s inspired by Percy Fawcett, a British surveyor, who in 1925 embarked on his final expedition into the Amazon in search of the ruins of an ancient city (The Lost City of ‘Z’). Percy, along with his son (Jack) and his son’s friend (Rayleigh) disappeared during the expedition – it’s assumed they lost their lives.

The Lost Expedition is a cooperative game, where players embark on their own adventure into the Amazon in search for the Lost City of Z. Players are confronted with challenge after challenge as they face the dangers of the jungle. Can they find The Lost City of Z and succeed where Percy did not…

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Off the box

  • Players: 1-5
  • Ages: 14 years and up.
  • Playtime: 30-50 minutes
  • Designer: Peer Sylvester
  • Publisher: Osprey Games
  • Key game Mechanics: Cooperative Play*

*Note: The Lost Expedition can also be played solo or head-to-head.

How do you play ‘The Lost Expedition’?

In The Lost Expedition you must reach the Lost City of Z before all of your explorers die or you run out of time. One of the main challenges of the game is deciding how to manage your resources (ammunition, expertise, food and health) and balance this with your progression through the jungle.

The photo shows the set up for The Lost Expedition. The journey through the amazon to the ‘Lost City of Z’ is shown by the nine expedition cards. The meeple shows the location of the players adventures as they make their way to the lost city (the final expedition card on the right hand side.) Above the middle of the game board are three character cards which make up the players party of adventurers. In this game the players have chosen: Roy, a young white male with a specialism in all things jungle, Bessie, a young black female who is a camping specialist, and Candido, a middle aged South American navigator. Each have been set –up with their starting health of 3 tokens. On their right hand side is the rest of the party resources 3 bullets and 4 food.
The Lost Expedition set up for a two player cooperative game.

Your journey is depicted by expedition cards, which represent your path through the jungle. These need to be placed in a row in the middle of the table with the Lost City as the final card. The explorer pawn should be placed on the first jungle card – this represents your team of explorers.

You have three character explorers that will make up your team, each with a different area of expertise: Jungle, Navigation and Camping. Each character starts the game with health tokens representing their starting health. In addition the team has a shared pool of resources containing ammunition (bullets) and food tokens.

The game is played over a number of rounds – the exact number of rounds depends on how long it takes for your explorers to get to the Lost City (or how long it takes for them all to perish in the jungle!). Each round has a morning and evening phase; during each phase the explorers go on a ‘hike’. Both the morning and evening phases have slightly different rules, but in both players take turns to play adventure cards from their hand, forming the path the adventurers will take. The adventure cards depict numerous encounters that the explorers will come across during their journey.

What differs in each phase it the card order. After all adventure cards are played for the morning hike, they are rearranged according to the number shown on the card (low to high). In contrast, during the evening hike the cards stay in the order they are played.

An image showing the six adventure cards laid out in number order as per the rules for the morning phase of the game. The cards in play during this phase are: Number 6 the Jaguar, number 12 the Anaconda, number 13 Bakairí, number 15 Piranhas, number 48 a Vantage Point and, number 49 the Tapirapé. The adventurers must encounter each of these cards during their morning hike the resource costs or in the rare case the benefit is depicted y the coloured banners at the top of the card. Each card is completely covered with the cartoon style artwork of Garen Ewing.
An eventful morning hike. In the morning phase the adventure cards are re-arranged into number order irrespective of the order they were played.

Once six adventure cards are played (and re-arranged, if needed), it’s time to explore! Your team must resolve the cards, in order, using the symbols shown in the coloured captions. These show:

  • Events in yellow, which must be triggered
  • Choices in red, where you must choose one to resolve
  • Options in blue, which are completely optional and can be ignored

The encounters allow adventurers to gain, trade or lose resources and expertise. A solid coloured symbol means that you gain a resources or expertise where as an outline means that you lose that resource or expertise. They may also allow you to skip, add or remove cards to the hike. If you’re lucky, they may give you opportunity to advance your explorer pawn to the next expedition card, moving your team closer to the Lost City.

The adventure cards in the picture below show that the explorers come across a clearing, they Progress and encounter a Bushmaster. This could be resolved as follows: Clearing: Lose an expertise (camping) to gain two food tokens, or one health token, or alternatively as the captions are blue you could choose to do neither or both. Progress: As the captions are red you must decide which one caption to resolve. You could lose an expertise (navigation) to either advance your pawn along the expedition cards, or gain two food tokens. You could lose an expertise (jungle) to gain two food tokens, or just gain one health. Bushmaster: Again the captions are in red so you must decide one of the two options to resolve. The choices are using ammunition to gain a food, or lose two health tokens. Each card is completely covered with the cartoon style artwork of Garen Ewing.
Example encounters with adventure cards.

As an example, the adventure cards in the picture above show the explorers first come across a Clearing, then they Progress and finally encounter a Bushmaster. The options for this hike would be:

  • Clearing: Lose an expertise (Camping) to gain two food tokens. And/or lose camping expertise to gain one health token. As the captions are blue you could choose to do one, both or neither.
  • Progress: As the captions are red, one (and only one) of the captions must be chosen to resolve. You could lose an expertise (Navigation) to either advance your pawn along the expedition cards, or to gain two food tokens. Or you could lose a Jungle expertise to gain two food tokens. Or gain one health.
  • Bushmaster: Again the captions are in red so you must decide one to resolve. The choices are to use one ammunition to gain a food, or to lose two health tokens.

Once all six cards on the hike have been resolved, the phase is complete. The explorers stop to eat between hikes, so you lose one food token from the supply before the new phase begins.

At the each round (i.e. one morning and one night phase), the role of expedition leader is passed to the next player and everyone is dealt a new hand of cards. The game continues in the fashion until either at least one explorer reaches the lost city, all your explorers die, or you run out of time (the explorer deck runs out).

What are your 2 favourite things about ‘The Lost Expedition’?

Gameplay and theme.

Surviving and completing an expedition into the Amazon is at the core of The Lost Expedition. The artwork by Garren Ewing is brilliant and the style really lends itself to the theme. But the theme is more than skin deep and fundamental to the gameplay mechanics.

The photo shows a partial section of the expedition cards. These show an aerial sketch of the environment of the amazon. It shows areas of the amazon rainforest, the river amazon, the cliffs, and clearings. The yellow meeple shows the current location of the remaining explorer Bessie. Unfortunately Roy and Candido her companions have been lost on the journey. This is why the cards are turned over to represent their deaths.
Alone Bessie continues her journey through the jungle despite the loss of her fellow adventurers.

Players have to manage the adventurers’ health as well as their food and ammunition supplies, balancing this with progression through the jungle. As the explorers hike through the jungle, the players decide which adventure cards they will encounter and must decide which resources to lose or gain… even who will live and who will die. Real-life explorers would face similar challenges.

This is so refreshing because The Lost Expedition has been designed in its entirety (mechanics and aesthetic) to embrace the look and feel of an expedition. Every adventure card, every decision, and all the components make perfect sense with the games theme and narrative. This is in contrast to other popular games like Sagrada (published by Floodgate Games) – no doubt a brilliant game but the theme is thinly veiled. It’s almost exclusively held together by the beautiful components. But changes to the design could easily have changed the game to a landscape gardening or a patchwork quilting game without changing the gameplay mechanics.

Telling the story

A deeply thematic narrative runs through The Lost Expedition this is presented to you through the artistic adventure cards and their simple yet effective symbols. The Events, Choices and Options on each card are linked to the cards name and artwork, so the actions your explorers are taking make sense within the narrative. This allows the Expedition Leader to add a pinch of storytelling embellishment to the game, should they feel so inclined. So when presented with the Cougar card you could say:

IMG_5668

‘Ok, so next up is the cougar we can either lose a jungle expertise or we can lose a bullet and gain a navigation expertise. What do you think?’

Or alternatively:

‘We come across a wild cougar. We have to think quickly but we can either use our knowledge of the jungle to outwit the cougar, or we can shoot it and gain navigation experiences by following its footprints deeper into the jungle. What should we do?’

It’s not primarily a story-telling game so this is not a necessity. But it’s a nice touch as by taking your explorers through the situations and encounters presented on the adventure cards you are in fact telling the story of their expedition. As a player you become the author and narrator of their tale deciding the challenges the explorers will face and how they will resolve them… and ultimately deciding their fate.

What do you dislike the most about ‘The Lost Expedition’?

  • Limited Variation:

The Lost Expedition is easy to learn. The limited rules and well thought out use of symbols make it easy to get familiar with once you’ve played it a couple of times. This makes the game great for teaching to new players and the difficulty in winning the game will keep more experienced gamers wanting to play it as well.

However…despite being a game about exploring the vast unknown, once you’ve played The Lost Expedition a few times you’ll know the cards well enough to know what will happen when you enter the jungle. The gameplay feels rather narrow because you’re faced with limited options each turn. You won’t know the order or which adventure cards your explorers will face when, but you know exactly what your game will feel like. It’s easy to draw a comparison to a game like Pandemic (Matt Leacock, ZMAN Games) where you know you will be facing spreading diseases but you don’t know how they will spread in each game. However, due to the breadth of different characters and different actions available Pandemic it is able to withstand game after game without the feeling to repetitive. I’m not so sure The Lost Expedition will.

Randomness:

As with many games, winning The Lost Expedition can be out of the hands of the players. The order in which you draw the cards can mean success or failure… in some cases the players have no chance at all, no matter what order they play their hands. This is true of a lot of games where you draw cards from a deck to represent a challenge to the players: Pandemic published by ZMAN Games, the Forbidden Island published by Gamewright and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle published by USAoply. It really isn’t a unique aspect of The Lost Expedition but it is something to consider if (like me) you find it frustrating when you never had a chance at winning in the first place. Although, this is very in keeping with the theme and as the game is quick to reset you can quickly challenge the jungle again.

How does ‘The Lost Expedition’ adapt to different player counts?

 

With rules for solo, co-operative and head-to-head game play styles, The Lost Expedition provides a gaming experience for a range of different player counts (1, 2-5 and 1v1, respectively). And all are well thought out and offer fun and challenging gameplay. My favourite though has to be the ‘original’ co-operative rule set, so I’m going to focus my discussion around this version.

It’s true that ‘too many chefs ruin the broth’ – I feel that too many players ruin the expedition! Increasing the player count in The Lost Expedition; it just makes it more and more likely that you will lose. With more players it’s more difficult to take advantage of some of the events, choices or options shown on the adventure cards (e.g. skipping the next card) as there are more people choosing what to play and you have less control or ability to plan ahead. This is amplified by the fact you can’t discuss the cards in your hand… only how to resolve them once their down. I prefer The Lost Expedition as a 2- or 3-player game as I feel this is a nice balance in difficulty.

Is ‘The Lost Expedition’ good value for money?

 

I definitely think The Lost Expedition is good value for money.

Osprey Games have done a brilliant job with its production, the artwork and components of the game are high quality and complement the theme well. They made a great choice to use larger cards because they really show off the eye-catching cartoon-style artwork of Garen Ewing, which is a great attribute of the game.

My main concern around the game is that over time the game itself may begin to get a bit repetitive and this will reduce the amount of table time that it gets. But that being said for the price of £20 in my opinion its well worth the investment. There is also an expansion available called The Fountain of Youth which is actually four mini expansions which add different extras to the game.

Summary and Verdict

 

The Lost Expedition is the best example I can think of where a game has been designed in its entirety around a central theme. Through its narrative depth, great artwork and game play it embraces the look and feel of an expedition into the unknown.

The game is definitely best with a lower player count as balances the difficulty nicely. The more people involved the harder it is to manage and take advantage of the ‘skip’ or ‘swap’ abilities on the adventure cards. Although at any play count it offers an interesting challenge of working together as a group.

The narrow and repetitive nature of the gameplay may reduce the replayability of The Lost Expedition in the long run, but I feel at a retail price of £20 you will have easily had your money’s worth before you get bored of playing it.

VERDICT: Recommended for 2/3 players.

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