(2014 – Foxtrot Games)
The mixture of an exploration mechanic and a modular, ever-expanding board has been a popular combination within the hobby for years, from games such as DungeonQuest in the 80’s, to more contemporary releases such as Eclipse, Lost Valley, The Cave, and Mage Knight, just to name a few. The unpredictability of how the board reveals itself from game to game is both intriguing and exciting, and adds a level of replayability not seen with many other game designs. First time designer Randy Hoyt successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign in Spring of 2013 for a board game that captures this particular combination, incorporating a theme in which relic hunters explore an uncharted jungle, in search of ancient artifacts and treasures, entitled Relic Expedition.
Relic Expedition is a tile-laying exploration game in which players delve into a vast jungle full of obstacles and wild animals, attempting to uncover various lost relics and artifacts. Players must use a number of supplies in their backpack to assist them on their expedition, including vines to swing over quicksand, tranquilizers to defend against the many creatures of the wild, and specific equipment needed to explore special locations, such as climbing gear for traversing the cliff face of a mountain, and a head lamp needed to survey the inside of a cave. The first explorer to collect 4 relics that match either by color or symbol, and can make it back to a Helicopter Clearing space, wins the game.
– Base Camp Tile
– Feature Tiles (Cave, Mountain, and River)
– Starting Jungle Tiles (red backing)
– Regular Jungle Tiles (tan backing)
Relic hunters will start their expedition at the base camp. The Base Camp tile is placed in the middle of the play area, and includes four Helicopter Clearing spaces, noted by the various “H’s” on the tile. Since sections of the jungle are explored and expanded out from this Base Camp, make sure it is placed in the center of the play area with enough space in all directions to place newly discovered tiles during the game. New tiles can not be placed if the room available on the table in that direction has run out.
Players will each receive a relic hunter Player marker, a set of Curse markers, and a Backpack Tray, all matching that player’s color. Each player chooses one of the Helicopter Clearing spaces on the Base Camp tile and places their Player marker on this space to begin the game.
Jungle tiles are separated into a Starting tile stack (red backing) and a set of Regular tile stacks (tan backing). Any time that a player moves to a tile that has unexplored (or empty) tile spaces that could be connected to it, the player will draw from the stacks of Jungle tiles to open up these new areas. Since players begin the game at the Base Camp, the Starting tiles are used for the initial areas that surround the Base Camp.
Each player will take turns drawing and placing tiles from the Starting tile stack to reveal the three jungle areas that connect to the Helicopter Clearing space that they are beginning on. After then setup step has been completed, all remaining tiles in the Starting tile stack are removed from the game. Only the regular Jungle tile stack will be used for the rest of the game.
All Bag Supply markers (First Aid, Machetes, Sedate Animals, Trap Animals, Climbing Gear, Rafts, and Head Lamps) are placed inside the cloth bag. During the game, players can take actions to draw supplies from the bag and add them to their backpack. The remaining Supply markers (Bananas, Vines, and Panther Traps) are placed near the play area. These will be available to players when they travel to particular areas of the jungle that include either banana trees or include trees with a vine. In the case of Panther Traps, players will receive these if they are attacked by a Panther on a previous turn. They essentially are evacuated from the jungle to heal their wounds, then return with a trap to capture the animal (I’ll explain more on this later). All Relic markers are placed face down in a pile near the board as well.
During the relic hunters exploration through the jungle, it is possible for them to come across special locations that include a Cave, a Mountain, and a River. These location boards are set to the side until they come into play. Relic markers are randomly selected and placed on these boards on their corresponding “relic table” spaces (markers are kept face down). The relic table on the space will note how many Relic markers are to be placed there. Finally, the Animal markers and Dice are placed near the play area for all players to use during the game. At the end of the setup, the play area should look something like this:
During the game, players will take turns completing a certain number of actions that will allow their relic hunter to explore the vast areas of the jungle and collect supplies. The number of actions available to a player on any given turn is noted on the numbered 6-sided Dice.
This die’s facings include two facing of “2”, three facings of “3”, and one facing of “4”. So players will always have between two and four actions each turn. Players will also use the other 6-sided Dice, referencing types of animals, in order to move various animals amongst the areas of the board. At the beginning of the game, the 8-sided Dice is used to go see which player goes first (this Dice will also be used during the game when resolving the monkey’s special attack ability). Players will resolve their turn in the following way:
1.) Animal Movement:
On a player’s turn, he will roll both the numbered and animal dice. Before taking his own actions, the player will first resolve the animal die. If an animal available on the board matches the facing on the animal die, the player moves this animal either 1 or 2 spaces. After that player has finished the selected animal’s movement, each other player beginning clockwise will move another animal of the same type. This means that the same animal marker can not be moved twice during this process. If at any point during these movements, an animal lands on the same space as one of the relic hunters, the animal will attack that player. Let’s take a look at how each animal resolves its attack, as each one is quite different:
– When a Snake attacks a player, it causes the player to lose a turn. The player’s marker is simple placed on its side. When it would normally be that player’s next turn, the player marker is placed face up again, and the player only rolls the animal die to resolve new animal movement. When it becomes the player’s turn again, he can then proceed with rolling both dice, thus moving animals and taking his actions again. A Snake’s attack can be avoided if a player discards a First Aid marker from his backpack.
– Boars are a bit more dangerous than Snakes in that when they attack, they not only cause a player to lose his turn, but also knocks the relic hunter unconscious. Therefore, all of the player’s supplies from his backpack are placed onto the space with the player’s marker. These items are free for the taking if another player can reach their space before the player can take a turn again. A Boar’s attack can be avoided if a player discards a Sedate or Trap marker with a Boar icon on it. A Sedate token will simply knock the animal out (by placing it on its side). He will not “wake up” again until the player moves from the space. A Trap token will remove the animal from the board, thus from the game.
– Panthers are the most fearful and ruthless predator of the jungle. When a Panther attacks, it will not only cause the player to lose a turn and all of his supplies, but that player marker is removed from the board. Basically, this relic hunter needs medical treatment and has been flown out of the jungle to the nearest emergency room. After losing a turn, when the player returns, his relic hunter is returned to a Helicopter space of his choice and he adds a Panther Trap to his backpack. This trap will allow him to recover the supplies off of the space if the Panther still remains there. But since it may take some time for him to return to this area, all of his supplies are available to the other relic hunters for a longer period of time than if he had been attacked by a Boar instead. A Panther’s attack can be avoided if a player discards a Sedate or Trap marker with a Panther icon on it.
– While Monkeys will not force a relic hunter to lose a turn, they can become quite a nuisance. These monkeys are similar to the one found in the Pirates of the Caribbean series in their love of stealing treasure. When a Monkey attacks a player, the 8-sided Die is rolled. Each Backpack Tray has numbers along the bottom that correspond to each item on the tray. If the number rolled matches one of the items in the backpack, then that item is stolen from the Monkey and removed from the game. If the item is a Relic, then the Monkey is also removed from the game, since he has found his treasure. A Monkey’s attack can be avoided if a player discards a banana from his backpack, or uses a Sedate marker with a Monkey on it.
It is the Blue player’s turn to move a Monkey one or two spaces on the board. He chooses to move the Monkey so that it will attack the Yellow player. The Yellow player does not have a Banana in his backpack to give to the Monkey, therefore he will have to resolve the Monkey’s attack. He rolls the 8-sided Die and rolls a 6.
Taking a look at his backpack, he currently has a First Aid Kit in his #6 slot, therefore he would have to discard this item from his backpack and remove it from the game. Because the Monkey did not steal a Relic, that Monkey is left on the board. Had the player rolled a 1, 2, or 3, the Monkey would have stolen one of his Relics and then the Monkey would have been removed from the game along with the Relic he stole from the player.
2.) Player Movement:
After players have resolved all animal movement on a turn, the current player can now choose to move his relic hunter according to the number of actions he received on the numbered Dice. Each number on the Die equals 1 point of movement available to that player. Some obstacles on the board will require the player to use multiple points of movement from the Die to complete. Basic movement from one tile to the next can be characterized by either a clear path, or thick jungle. A clear path is where neither of the connected jungle tiles show dense jungle. Moving from one tile to another tile connected by a clear path will cost a player 1 action point. If either of these tiles included dense jungle on the connected space between the two, it would cost a player 2 action points to move from one to the other. However, if a player has a Machete in his backpack, then he can treat dense jungle as a regular clear path. Supplies such as the Machete are kept in a backpack, it is not required to discard them when they are used.
The Blue player rolled a 3 and has 3 action points to use on his turn. He wants to move from his current space in the jungle, to the space northeast of him, containing a tree with a Vine. Since there is no dense jungle between these two spaces, it would only cost him 1 action point to move there. He would then still have 2 more action points to use.
After picking up the Vine and placing it in his backpack, he would then like to move to the space directly east of this one (to make his way towards the blue Relic). He would need to spend his final 2 action points, since these two connecting tiles contain a dense jungle. If he had a Machete in his backpack, he would show it to the other players and this movement would instead only cost him 1 action point. This final use of action points would then end his turn.
There are various special tiles that will require specific types of supplies to encounter. Quicksand tiles can not be entered unless a player has a Vine in his backpack. If a player does have a Vine, then moving onto a Quicksand tile will cost 1 less action point than normal. Note however, that players can not finalize their movement on a Quicksand tile. Essentially, the relic hunter is swinging from one tile over the Quicksand tile, and onto the next tile.
The Purple player would like to move from his current location and using his Vine, swing across the Quicksand and onto the location to the direct west of the banana tree. Since there is a clear path to the Quicksand tile, and using the Vine costs one less action point, it will cost him no actions to move onto the Quicksand tile.
The connecting tile of his final destination does however contain a dense jungle on its border. Therefore, it would normally cost him 2 actions to move from the Quicksand tile to this tile. However, the Purple player has a Machete in his backpack, thus limiting this movement to only 1 action. Therefore, the entire movement from the beginning tile, over the Quicksand tile, and onto the current tile, would only costs the Yellow player 1 action point.
As with Quicksand, Poison Ivy is another tile that limits how a player can move throughout the jungle. If a player encounters a Poison Ivy tile, his turn immediately ends and he also loses his next turn. Poison Ivy however can be avoided by using a First Aid kit. When entering the tile, the player will simply discard the First Aid kit, then continue his movement, ignoring the Poison Ivy effect.
Let’s take a look at the next three tiles above and cover what all they entail. The 1st pictured tile contains a Helicopter Clearing, similar to those found at the Base Camp. When players encounter this space, they can spend 3 action points and move to any other location in the jungle that also contains a Helicopter Clearing icon. This is especially helpful towards the middle to later parts of the game when the jungle has become largely expanded, and players are racing to grab the last of their needed Relics. Remember that even though a player may have all of their 4 Relics needed to win the game, they can not win until they have successfully completed an action at a Helicopter Clearing space, removing them from the jungle with their 4 Relics in tow.
The 2nd pictured tile contains a Relic table. When these tiles are revealed, a Relic marker is randomly drawn from the pile near the board and placed face up on top of the tile. Players will discover numerous relics throughout the jungle in this manner.
The final pictured tile contains a silhouette of one of the four animals inhabiting the jungle. When one of these tiles is revealed, the animal depicted is placed onto the tile. This is how animals will enter the play area throughout the game.
Tiles containing Banana Trees and Trees with Vines will produce items (Bananas and Vines respectively) when they are revealed. As with Relics, these items remain on the space until a player landing on the location chooses to place the item in their backpack.
When a player enters a space that contains undiscovered locations beside it (empty hexes that could connect to it), new tiles are immediately drawn and placed next to the one currently containing the relic hunter. This will then give that player an option for his next action to move in any direction. The only time that new tiles are not drawn is if the player is inside the cave, or a tile would be drawn that would no longer fit on the table.
3.) Receiving Supplies:
Other than movement, players may also spend action points in order to gain new supplies and add them to their backpack. A player may use 1 action point to draw 1 Supply marker from the cloth bag. A backpack can only carry 8 items at a time (this includes any Relic markers picked up by a player), so if a player wanted to place an item in a backpack that was already full, they would need to discard an item onto their relic hunter’s current location to make room. Note that items such as Relics, Vines, and Bananas (or any dropped supplies from other players) that are located on a space on the board, do not cost an action point to pick up. They can simply be added to a backpack when the relic hunter lands on that space.
Each large feature board (Cave, Mountain, and River) contains one start tile that is mixed in with the regular jungle tile stacks. When one of these single tiles is revealed, the larger feature board is automatically connected to this space. Players must have special items in their backpack in order to enter these locations.
Entering the Cave requires a Head Lamp, entering the Mountain requires Climbing Gear, and entering the River requires a Raft. These items can be obtained by using actions to draw supplies from the bag. The Mountain and River locations can be entered from a connected tile, anywhere along these locations, and exited on any connected tile. The Cave however (since it is essentially underground), only has one entrance and one exit.
Remember that these locations had Relics placed on them face-down during the setup process. When a relic hunter is placed in a space that is adjacent to a space with Relics, these Relics are turned face-up. When a relic hunter lands on a space with multiple Relics, he can choose to take half of the available Relics. For example, on the River the player can land on a space and take 1 of the 2 available tiles, while on the Mountain space, he could take 2 of the 4 available Relics. The Relic that the player decided not to take is now considered cursed for that player. He will place one of his Curse markers on this Relic as a reference that he will no longer be allowed to remove it from the board.
The Purple player has ascended the cliff face of the Mountain using his Climbing Gear and made it to the summit, where 4 Relics are available to him. He can only take half of what is available, therefore he decides to take the white Fish relic and the red Fish relic, while leaving the other two behind.
These two Relics are now considered cursed for the Purple player, and he is required to place a Curse marker on each to show that he could not return to the Mountain later and grab another one. Now that there are 2 available Relics on the Mountain, the next player visiting here would be able to take both of the remaining relics, since there were originally 4 there.
When a relic hunter has collected 4 Relics in his backpack that all either match by color or symbol, that player must make it to a Helicopter Clearing space and use 3 action points to remove their relic hunter from the jungle. The first player to successfully complete these steps has won the game.
Relic Expedition is an accessible and unique design that mixes a set collection element with an ever-changing modular board. The mechanics used in the game are done in an intuitive way that both develop and strengthens an ingrained theme of exploration. The game uses are certain “fog of war” element, in that players have no knowledge of the jungle’s layout before first setting off in a particular direction. The more Relics a player adds to their backpack, the less room they’ll have for other essential supplies. Items such as Vines and Machetes will allow players to move with more ease around the jungle than they normally would. Because elements such as these have been so well woven within the theme, the rule set is not only straightforward and intuitive, but also easy to remember for all types of players.
While players do not have direct interaction with one another, there is certainly a high element of confrontation by way of controlling animal movement around the jungle. Since you can’t keep a player from attempting to attack you with an animal (save from mere groveling and begging), players must prepare for these encounters by stocking up on supplies, such as First Aid Kits, Bananas, Tranquilizers, and Traps. Loading up on a lot of these may mean a player has less room for obtaining Relics and less actions in which to move freely around the board. So, there is a sense of risk/reward going on here. Also, almost half of the Relics are found on the Mountain, River, and Cave feature boards. Therefore obtaining the Climbing Gear, Rafts, and Head Lamps needed to access these is almost essential to a successful victory.
Relic Expedition is a family-style game, albeit with slight confrontational characteristics. Exploring and discovering the various locations of the jungle, while collecting the numerous Relics available within its borders is both engaging and fulfilling. With over 100 individual jungle tiles, not including the feature boards, the final layout of the play area is grand, impressive, and completely diverse from game to game. Some may associate the game with injecting too much randomness, from the unbalanced number of actions per player each turn, to the fortuitous luck of drawing multiple Relic tiles beside your character, as well as which supplies are drawn out of the bag. However, I feel for a game themed around the unknown exploration of a jungle, full of unforeseen events and treacherous animals, this unpredictability is all part of the charm and adventure.