top of page

Expeditions - Review

Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Artist: Jakub Rozalski
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Player Count: 1 to 5 Players
Play Time: 60 to 90 Minutes

Where other expeditions have failed, will you be the one to find glory uncovering the secrets of a curious meteorite in the Siberian wilderness? In this review of Expeditions, I explain the importance of a mean automa and consider if I am playing my favorite game of the year.

Grey box with title expeditions on hexagonal location game tiles
Expeditions box cover, location tiles, and other components.

The Gist: Scythe Continued

Fans of Scythe (and good strategy games, generally) rejoice! Expeditions is the stand-alone sequel to the popular modern classic from Jamey Stegmaier and Stonemaier games. And gamers who enjoyed the rich alternate history, retrofuturistic theme, and intricate engine-building gameplay of the original are likely to enjoy the follow-up.

In Expeditions, players are explorers in search of a lost research excursion that went looking for a crashed meteorite in the Siberian wilderness. Exploring curious locations in the deep outback of the North, players will encounter remnants of those who passed through before them, and rely on might and cunning to vanquish the corruption spreading from the meteorite crash site. On their journey, players will earn notoriety and a substantial amount of money.

This is an engine-building game. While exploring the map, players will collect and activate resources to generate the power and guile required to dispel the corruption, taking more complex actions the more cards and workers they can add to their team. Over the course of a game, players will find items and mysterious elements from the meteorite, solve quests, earn cash, and upgrade their mech all in the pursuit of renown. The objective of the game is to achieve four glory by pursuing seven separate glory conditions, like acquiring seven corruption tokens or melding four meteorite cards, for instance. So players will have to do a little bit of everything to lead the most remarkable expedition into the Siberian outback.

Mech Junkyard, Isolated SettlementHex tiles showing quaint farming labeled Mech Junkyard, Isolated Settlement
Mech Junkyard, Isolated Settlement, and other location tiles

Gameplay: Move, Gather, Play, Refresh

The game board consists of an arrangement of connected location hex tiles separated into three distinct regions—South, Central, and North. These three horizons also loosely correspond to three basic stages of gameplay: players will begin building their game engine in the Southern tiles, recruiting workers and gaining cards. In the mid-game, players are moving into and beyond the Central tiles, accelerating their resource production and vanquishing corruption in newly discovered locations. In the late game in the far North, players are completing quests, upgrading their mechs, and boasting about their achievements to place glory tokens towards victory. In this way, progress in the game is more or less played out geographically across the board.

Players begin with a unique character-companion duo and mech mat. Each of these elements can perform similar but distinct actions, adding some asymmetry to the strategic landscape. For instance, every companion will be able to perform the vanquish corruption action when played, but the worker color required to activate it will be different. On their turns, players choose two of the following three actions to take in any order—Move, Gather, and Play—and a sliding dial helps players track which actions they are taking, and prevents them from taking the same two actions in subsequent turns.

cards and square board with wooden square and humanoid tokens on top of them.
Player area including hand, mech board, and active area

Mechs move around the board, but do not interact with one another. Despite frequent depictions of weaponry—one of the mechs is outfitted with chainsaw hands!—this is not a game of combat. Each location tile provides a unique benefit when the player Gathers on that tile. Gather benefits cover a range of actions like gaining workers and new cards, upgrading and melding items and meteorite parts onto the player’s mech, or rescuing played cards from the active area back to hand so they can be used again. Gathering is the primary method for acquiring new components to ramp up resource generation, so it is important for players to be mobile, frequently visiting new locations to access the benefits on the different tiles.

The Gather action allows the player to assemble their game engine, but the Play action is what makes that engine roar. Playing item, meteorite, quest, and character and companion cards from hand into the active area will generate power and guile. These supplies are required to vanquish corruption on tiles and solve quests. Every card also has an ability that can be activated by placing an available worker of the matching color on the card when it is Played. Like Gather benefits, card abilities cover the spectrum of actions in the game, so having many and diverse cards in hand is a huge benefit as it makes a variety of helpful actions available to the player.

Instead of the actions above, players can also elect to Refresh, returning all played cards to their hand and workers to their mech mat to be utilized again. This ends their current turn, but they may take all three actions—Move, Gather, and Play—the following turn. Refreshing is a smart option for a player who may be running low or out of cards in their hand to Play and is not necessarily in a propitious location to Gather.

By strategically moving around the board, Gathering and Playing cards, players are generating escalating amounts of power and guile, adding more components to their expedition, progressing towards completing the seven glory conditions that need to be met in order to end the game. The end of the game is triggered by the first player to place all four of their glory tokens—after completing four glory conditions and taking the boast action four times. However, the victor is the player with the most money earned from their expedition. Corruption tiles, melded meteorite parts, mech upgrades, solved quests and Glory tokens placed all contribute in one way or another towards a player’s spoils. In this way, it is not necessarily the player who triggers the end of the game by meeting their fourth glory condition that is the winner; players are rewarded for doing a little bit of everything: solving quests, melding and upgrading their mech, and vanquishing a lot of corruption. The most notable expedition will be the one that can actually cash in on their venture, not just boast about it.

Solo: From Maszynette to Ultimaszyna

Expeditions features a solo play variant developed by Morten Monrad Pedersen and crew from the Automa Factory. In the solo variant, the player is up against a capable opponent controlling two mechs that patrol the Central and North regions of the board respectively, performing some of the same actions as the player towards the goal of removing its eight glory tokens from their progress tracker.

The actions the mechs take on each automa turn are determined by the draw of a card from the decision deck. Most decision cards will first advance the automa’s progress tracker. When the tracker reaches a glory token symbol, one of the automa’s eight glory tokens is removed from its pool and placed onto the Basecamp. The further the tracker progresses, the more glory tokens are placed and the closer the automa is to triggering the end of the game.

expeditions game cards with wooden colored tokens on them
Automa player area including decision deck, level 3: Automaszyna glory tracker, references, and collected components

And the more glory that the automa places on the Basecamp tile, the more actions they will be able to perform. Each decision card instructs what movement and actions—like exploring a tile or vanquishing corruption—the mechs will perform that turn. Some actions can only be performed if a certain number of glory have already been removed from the tracker and placed on the Basecamp tile. This cleverly paces the automa’s capability to perform actions that would reasonably be available only in later game stages to the human player.

Expeditions features five difficulty levels, from Maszynette (easiest) to Ultimaszyna (hardest). The difficulty of the automa is determined on the progress tracker. More challenging settings will have the glory token symbols earlier on the progress trackers. Essentially this means it will take fewer turns for the automa to perform higher glory-requiring actions. In this way, the solo option for Expeditions is largely a race: to acquire resources, to take important actions, and achieve glory before the automa.

Thoughts: Ironclad Production

I am not normally someone who goes in for deluxe versions of games, or splurges on upgraded components. I would much rather spend that extra cash on more games! But one day I stood in my friendly local game store in front of the “New Arrivals” aisle with a dilemma. Do I spend an extra $30 for the deluxe edition of a game that I did not know how often I would be able to get to the table? Are the metal mechs that much better? I ended up walking out with a heavier box and a lighter wallet, Ironclad Edition of Expeditions in hand. If you are reading this, and like me, wondering, “is it worth it?” allow me to relieve any doubt: the Ironclad Edition of Expeditions is worth it. The only addition is the metal—versus plastic—mechs and the player-colored silicon mech bases. These models boast an incredible weight feel in hand and look brilliant on the rich and vibrant location tiles.

cardboard hex tiles with artwork depicting quaint farming towns and others with nighttime zombie attacks. cards in the middle
Game board including location tiles, Basecamp, and faceup cards

Beyond the upgrade, the production of this game is noteworthy through and through. The components are cleverly-designed and useful. Different worker meeples are not just distinctly colored, but also feature unique poses to aid low-vision players in identifying components. Other low-vision aids like dots to distinguish color on the corruption tiles and numerical marks on the location tiles are excellent additions that more production designers would do well to consider for their games. With similar thoughtfulness, sticky pads are included in the box as risers to slightly elevate the mech board off the table so players can more easily slide cards underneath.

The lore and theme is as crisp as the components. And that is to be expected from a Stonemaier game. With Scythe and its expansions, the designers not only built a robust game system, but created a lore-rich setting with fitting narratives and artwork that match the tone and tenor. Expeditions builds on that world, but in and of itself is a masterpiece of thematic strategy. Card abilities are reflected in the artwork depicted on them. Location names from South to North echo the escalating perilous hazards players witness on their excursion. And players are invited to imagine the deep narratives beneath the cursory glance they get at the characters, quests, and items they encounter. Components to chronicle, Expeditions delivers a refined and lucid experience.

Thoughts: Epic Strategy

But this is not just a game that looks and feels nice. It is an epic strategy adventure that plays well too. The plight of a lot of engine-building games is rote gameplay, memorized optimization that leads to repetition. In other words, everyone at the table knows where the game is going, and they all know the fastest way to get there. The way to combat this is to introduce some paucity of what is available to players during the game, and have diversified channels to pursue victory. There are seven glory conditions in Expeditions. Some are achieved by gaining a quantity of a particular component, like vanquishing and collecting seven corruption tiles, or controlling eight cards. Others are achieved by adding cards to the mech board, melding four meteorite cards or solving four quests. And each of these conditions, though ultimately tied into the same action economy that connects all the moving parts of the game, are independent pursuits of one another that players can focus on accomplishing based on their current circumstances in the game. But which of these avenues towards victory is actually available to players is based on a scarcity of cards faceup on the board. Only five of the 90 cards are going to be seen at any given time, and other players are going to have just as ready a claim to them. The player who plans a strict strategy in pursuit of one particular glory condition is likely to miss the forest for the trees.

Expeditions box cover in the background with a metealic mech mini standing on game tiles in front of the box
Box cover and mech

Instead, Expeditions highly favors the player who will do a little bit of everything. They will upgrade their mech with items; they will explore a lot of new locations and collect map tokens; they will vanquish corruption and ultimately finagle their way into fulfilling some of the glory condition. Although my multiplayer play sample size is still growing, more often than not the player who places their fourth glory token triggering the end of the game is not the player who ends up winning (remember, the winner is determined by calculating the value of their entire expedition). Rather, more often than not, the winner is the player who was the jack of all trades, master of none.

My favorite games are ones that offer tough choices to players. It raises the stakes and makes decisive actions all the more exciting for everyone at the table. In Expeditions, this choice is whether to Play cards or take an action to meld, upgrade, or solve them onto the mech board. Generally, the more cards in a player’s control, the more power and guile resources they will be able to generate in order to vanquish corruption. More cards also means more special card abilities available when a player takes the Play action. But these same cards are also the ones that are added to the mech board in fulfillment of several different glory conditions, by melding meteorites, upgrading items, and solving quests. However, once they are added to the mech board, they cannot be Played anymore. The decision of whether to hold on to a card to Play it on a future turn and gain its benefits, or take an available action and inch another half step towards victory is onerous and consequential for the game. It boils down to a push-your-luck kind of choice: do I keep Playing and refreshing this card to gain a ton of resources? Or do I have a go at a glory condition?

five wooden tokens each made differently to look like people, each in different pose.
The five colored worker meeples

Thoughts: A Formidable Automa

I have played Expeditions at one, two, and three players, and each is as enjoyable as the others. Through more plays some optimal or favorite player counts may emerge, but I am pleased to not notice any significant enjoyability differences between some of the player counts, especially solitaire. The solo variant is no less of a challenge, a nail biter as sitting around the table with other players.

The difficulty of solo Expeditions varies greatly depending on which of the five automa tracks was chosen for the game. This selective variability, granting players the agency to determine how hard of an opponent they want to face, is a tremendous thing for solo gamers. It means the experience they want out of the game is in their own hands. The easiest of the automas (Maszynette) is a walk in the park, a good starting place for the player who wants a practice run through solo gameplay. Victory is almost assured due to how little value the automa’s components score at the end of the game, while the automa’s mechs still have a fairly active board presence. It almost gives the impression that it is doing better than it is. The middle difficulty ranges scale fairly well. I beat level 2 (Maszyna) in a close game, both lost a game to and beat level 3 (Automaszyna), lost to level 4 (Nightmaszyna), and was handedly shown the door and kicked in the rear by Level 5 (Ultimaszyna).

This breakdown, with readily beatable, mixed, and preposterously intimidating automas, is just how clockwork opponents should operate. Sometimes you need to play a game against a weak opponent who barely shows up in order to understand the rules. Then, you need to test how good you really are, playing games against increasingly skilled opponents, tracking your progress on the way up. And at the end of it is a nearly impossible-to-beat champion that requires a truly astonishing combination of expert tactical play and sheer luck to overcome. The five-tiered breakdown appears mathematically fine-tuned, and refined to offer the solo player an escalating challenge.

metal mech ship hybrid mini on a game tile in front of shadowed expeditions box cover
Mech and box cover

For a game with a lot of open-ended decision-making with numerous actions available to players, Automa Factory expertly scaled down the handling of the automa to the bare basics. It is easy for games with big component engines to end up with ruthlessly fiddly solo variants, where players spend as much time worrying where to place tokens and move dials on the automa board as they do playing their own turns. But the automa turn in Expeditions can be boiled down to a few simple commands. Flip card. Does the mech have enough glory to complete the stated action? No? Movement. Yes? Take action. This way the player can focus on their own moves, and ensure their own component manipulation is accurate.

Final Thoughts

Right off the bat, I recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed Scythe, either for its shining gameplay or rich narrative. Bits and pieces will appear familiar in Expeditions but is far from a mere reskinning of the game. It has been a while since Scythe has come off the shelf, so maybe I need a refresher, but dare I say, I think I am enjoying Expeditions more. This game is all about the players’ actions. No dice, no battling, and the randomization elements (which cards are flipped up and where each tile is) is more a strategic point than it is a mechanical one. Gamers who look for strategy titles where their agency and skill are put to the test will also take to Expeditions.

This may not fit on everyone’s game shelf (physically and figuratively). It is on the heavier side and gameplay will take far more than the top end 90 minutes suggested on the box, at least until everyone at the table is intimately familiar with the full action economy. But don’t let the complexity of the engine-building mechanics scare you away. At the end of the day, turns are comprised of a simple slate of actions—Move, Gather, Play your way to glory.

Recent Posts

See All



Enjoy what you read?

Subscribe to the blog to get notifications about new posts right to your electronic mailbox.

Thanks for submitting!

Buy me a coffee.

In lieu of a subscription service, I accept tips on Ko-Fi. Your generosity supports the maintenance and growth of this site.

bottom of page