Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s official web site or visit the Kickstarter campaign. You can also preorder the game if you like. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!
- For ages 5 and up
- For 2 to 4 players
- Approximately 60 minutes to complete
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Pattern/Color Matching
- Strategy & Tactics
- Risk vs. Reward
- Hand/Resource Management
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Explore the deep jungle to find priceless relics while simultaneously avoiding the local wildlife
- Gamer Geek rejected!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
For many rational individuals, the idea of being dropped into the middle of a jungle with limited supplies sounds like an idiotic idea. Then again, most individuals don’t know about the treasures to be found. Hidden in the jungle are relics from an ancient and long-lost civilization. Rumors abound of the wealth that is available under the dense green canopy and many seek it. Few return. The jungle awaits the brave and the foolish, luring them with promises of riches.
Relic Expedition, by Foxtrot Games, will reportedly be comprised of 4 Backpack trays (one per player), 66 Supply tokens (includes Advanced game tokens), 1 Supply bag, 36 Relic tokens, 4 extra Trap tokens, 1 standard eight-sided die, 2 custom six-sided dice, 4 Panther pawns, 4 Snake pawns, 4 Boar pawns, 4 Monkey pawns, 4 Player pawns, 1 large Basecamp board, 1 large Mountain Feature board, 1 large River Feature board, 1 large Cave Feature board, and 112 Jungle tiles (includes starting, Standard, and Advanced game tiles). As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the component quality. Nor will we suggest that what we have listed as game components is the end all be all. What we can state with absolute certainty is that all the components we were provided worked beautifully together.
Jungle Fauna and Equipment
The biggest worries for the intrepid explorers (other than the jungle itself) are the mischievous Monkey, the territorial wild Boar, the highly poisonous Snake, and the man-eating Panther. The Monkey is the least dangerous of the jungle fauna, only stealing equipment and making a nuisance of themselves, but the equipment they steal could mean the difference between life or death for the relic hunter. The Boar is built like a little four-legged tank and rushes the relic hunters from the undergrowth of the jungle. Most relic hunters are knocked unconscious and awaken hours later to find that the Boar has tossed their backpack about like a rag doll, scattering their equipment on the jungle floor. The Snake is unseen until it strikes. When it does, the bite is so painful that it will make even the most hardy relic hunter stop in their tracks and be overcome with pain. Finally, the Panther, the great hunter of the jungle, will stalk the relic hunter for miles. When they strike, few relic hunters walk away from the encounter unscathed. In fact, most don’t walk at all and are rushed to the nearest hospital in an attempt to save their lives!
Given this, why would anyone want to go into the jungle in the first place? For the treasure, of course! And not just anyone goes into the jungle. No, these are cunning individuals who have planned, strategized, and researched. They know all the dangers the jungle holds and have packed accordingly. Rafts for traveling down swift rivers safely, flashlights to explore deep and dangerous caves, climbing gear to scale tall peaks, medical kits to heal, traps to ensnare dangerous animals, and if need be, darts full of strong drugs to put the animals to sleep long enough to let the relic hunter make a hasty retreat.
Game Set Up
Note: Relic Expedition can be played three different ways. Game play includes the Training Mission (very basic introduction to the game), the Standard game, and the Advanced game. The Training Mission and the Advanced game are summarized in the Game Variants section of this review. For game set up and game play, only the Standard game is explained here. It is important to note that both the Training Mission and the Advanced game use the Standard game as the base, and either reduce the rules or add more rules. As such, learning how to play the Standard game prepares an individual to easily jump to the Advanced game, or can be a good indicator that the Training Mission is more to the liking of new and inexperienced players. Lastly, the rules to Relic Expedition go into much more detail than what we will summarize here. We highly encourage you to review the full game rules (that might change before the game is released) for further reading and a deeper explanation of game play.
To set up the game, first find and remove the Monkey meeples, the 16 Advanced game Jungle tiles, the banana Equipment tokens, and the Vine Equipment tokens. If only playing with 2 players, also remove the 6 Relic tokens with the circles on them. All of these components can be placed back in the game box and are not used for the duration of the game.
Second, have each player select a Player pawn and take a Backpack tray. Any unclaimed Player pawns and Backpack trays should be removed for the duration of the game.
Third, find and place the Basecamp board in the middle of the playing area. Each player should place their Player pawn on one of the four helicopter pad spaces.
Fourth, take the Jungle tiles and randomly distribute, face-down, into stacks. These stacks should be placed to one side of the playing area and within easy reach of at least one of the players. Several of the Jungle tiles will have a purple back. These are the starting tiles. These tiles should be randomized and then randomly placed adjacent to the 4 helicopter spaces. Adjacent means any spaces that borders a side of the hexagonal board space that is occupied by a Player pawn.
Fifth, place the Equipment in the cloth bag and set aside within easy reach of at least one player. Randomize the Relic tokens, face-down, into a single pile, and set all the animal meeples to one side.
Sixth, randomly take 1 Relic token for every star that is on a space located on the Cave, River, or Mountain Feature boards. For example, if a space has 2 stars, select 2 Relic tokens and place them on that space, face-down. Leave the remaining Relic tokens in a pile and to the side.
Seventh, take the eight-sided die and have each player roll. The player with the highest number goes first. Pass to this player the two custom six-sided dice.
That’s it for game set up! Time to find some relics!
The game is played in rounds with each player taking a single turn per round. During a player’s turn, their opponent’s might have an opportunity to manipulate some or none of the animal meeples already located in the jungle. A player’s turn is summarized here.
Step 1: Roll the Dice
The player takes the 2 custom six-sided dice and rolls them. One die shows nothing but numbers while the other shows the silhouette of a specific jungle animal. The number rolled indicates the number of actions the player is allowed to take on their turn and the animal silhouette identifies what jungle animal will get to be moved during the player’s turn.
Step 2: Move Animals
If the jungle currently contains one or more animal meeples that match the die, they are now moved. The active player gets to move the first animal of the matching type of their choice. When they are done moving the animal, the next player in turn order gets to move an animal, and so on, until each animal of that type has been moved. The following rules must be observed while moving animals in the jungle.
- Each animal can only be moved once per turn and only up to 1 or 2 spaces
- Panthers and Boars cannot be moved onto a Feature tile
- If an animal is moved onto the same space as a Player pawn, it must stop and encounter the Player pawn – if the animal pawn is occupying the same space already, it doesn’t move
- Animals are smart and cannot be moved over or onto a quicksand space, nor are they hindered by dense jungles or poison ivy vines
- Animals get along and can share the same space as other animals, regardless of type
If there are no animals that match the die, this step is ignored.
Step 3: Player Actions
A player has a number of actions equal to the number rolled on the die during step 1. For one action point each, the player can do the following:
- Draw Equipment: the player selects 1 random Equipment token from the bag and places it on their Backpack tray. Only 8 tokens can be held at any time (a mix of Equipment and Relic tokens). Players are welcome to drop one or more Equipment tokens to make room for new ones. Dropped Equipment tokens stay on the space, face-up, and can be picked up by other players.
- Move: the player can normally move from one space to another for 1 action. There are several exceptions.
- Dense jungle: If the jungle is dense on either side of the spaces (or even both), it will cost the player 1 additional action to move through it, unless they have the machete Equipment token that allows them to simply slash through it.
- River: a player cannot move onto or cross the River Feature board unless they have the raft Equipment token
- Cave: a player cannot move onto the Cave Feature board unless they have the flashlight Equipment token
- Mountain: a player cannot move onto the Mountain Feature board unless they have the climbing Equipment token
- Helicopter Clearing: a player can spend 3 action points to travel to any other Helicopter Clearing space currently visible
When moving from one space to another, new Jungle tiles are placed wherever there is a free space adjacent to the space the Player pawn is currently occupying (except for the Cave). When Jungle tiles are drawn (which are drawn randomly), they might reveal an animal, a special jungle space (quicksand, poison ivy, or dense jungle), an entrance to a Feature board, or relics!
- If the silhouette of an animal is revealed, the animal meeple is placed on the tile if any animal meeples of that type have not yet been placed (ignore the Monkey if not playing with it)
- If the space reveals quicksand (which players cannot move through) or poison ivy (which ends a player’s turn and forces the player to lose their next turn), no specific action is taken
- If the space reveals a star, a single Relic token is randomly drawn and placed, face-up, on it (one Relic per star)
- If the space reveals a Mountain, River, or Cave icon, this indicates the matching Feature board should be attached (if Feature board is already attached, the icons are ignored)
When the Player pawn moves onto a space that is also occupied by a Relic token, the player can pick it up without spending an action, but not all Relics in a single spot. Relics are cursed and the player can only pick up a number of Relics on a single spot equal to the number of white stars showing. The same does not go for Equipment (no limit to the number that can be picked up at one time), but there is only so much room in a player’s backpack. If the player picks up a Relic token, that takes up a slot in the player’s backpack, thus reducing the number of Equipment tokens at their disposal! Players must manage what they are carrying at all times to survive and win.
If the Player pawn moves onto a space with an animal (or an animal is moved into the same space as the Player pawn), one of two things are going to happen. Either the Player is going to neutralize the animal threat or the animal is going to have their way with the relic hunter. A relic hunter who is properly equipped should be able to walk away from just about any animal encounter, but they lose the used piece of equipment in the process.
- Medical kit Equipment tokens can be used to neutralize snake bites and poison ivy
- Traps can be used to snare and hinder animals, but only if the trap Equipment token has a silhouette that matches the animal being encountered
- Darts can be used to put animals to sleep, but like the trap Equipment token, only if the dart Equipment token has a silhouette that matches the animal being encountered
Once the player has collected 4 Relic tokens that show the same Relic symbol or they have collected 4 Relic tokens of the same color but with four different Relic symbols, they can attempt to get out of the jungle. This is when the jungle becomes really dangerous, because now the player’s opponents will be going out of their way to hinder them from succeeding. To succeed, the player need only land on one of the helicopter spaces with the necessary Relic tokens and spend 3 action points to leave the jungle. If they do, they win!
The following two game variants are available to use that either make the game very simple and easy to teach, or add a new level of difficulty to the jungle adventure.
The Training Mission game play variant is set up in the same way as the Standard game. The animal die is not used in this version of the game, however. When a Jungle tile reveals an animal meeple, the animal meeple is placed (as normal), but never moves. Players can still encounter the animal if they move onto the same space as the animal meeple
The Advanced game play variant is set up in the same way as the Standard game. Included are the Monkey animal meeple (that steals player equipment), the banana Equipment token (that neutralizes the threat of the Monkey thieves), the vine Equipment token (that allows the player to “swing over” quicksand spaces), and the advanced Jungle tiles.
Relic Expedition is going to be a pretty easy game to teach because the larger majority of players we will be sitting down with have had prior game experience with other titles that share the same game mechanisms. Indeed, there is nothing in Relic Expedition that I can see that will throw off any of our players. But if we were to consider placing the game in front of players who have had no other game playing experience, I still don’t believe Relic Expedition would be a complex game to teach or to grasp. Game play is very straight forward and the game doesn’t rush a player, forcing them into a corner. The jungle slowly opens up and gives the players a chance to view their surrounding before taking an action. This type of game play gives players an opportunity to ask questions and think about their moves, which in turn gives the players confidence while reducing stress.
For the Child and Parent Geeks, I think Relic Expedition will obtain approval all-around. Everything about this game shouts “family fun”. Since reading is really not necessary to play the game, even our youngest little Child Geeks should be able to explore the jungle with ease. For the Gamer Geeks, I’m pretty sure the game will fall short of their expectations. I plan to just play the Advanced game play variant with them right from the start so to give the game a fighting chance against the elitists.
As predicted, teaching the game doesn’t take much effort. Reveal a tile, explain the relics, and make sure everyone around the table understands the Equipment tokens. The game designer did an outstanding job on this point as there are silhouettes of the animal the Equipment can be used for. The only questions we had were follow-ups during the game about what equipment was needed to explore caves, rivers, and mountains. More times than not, the players smacked their head saying “duh” when reminded. Again, the game is very intuitive and easy to grasp. You can’t climb a mountain without climbing gear and you won’t get far in a dark cave without a light source.
And so, after teaching the game to my 5 and 8 year-old, we sat down for our first jungle adventure. While I messed with some of the game bits on the table to make room (and you do need a large space to build your jungle), I asked them their thoughts on Relic Expedition so far.
“I love that we get to explore a jungle AND control the animals that live there!” ~ Liam (age 8)
“I like how I get to play as an adventurer!” ~ Nyhus (age 5)
Looks like my little geeks are ready to find some relics! Time to see if this jungle game is an adventure or a misadventure.
The Child Geeks very much enjoyed their adventure in the jungle. They also highly disliked the animals that kept getting in their way. Oddly enough, and not at all surprising, the most loved animal was the Boar that scattered equipment and relics, making lots of people laugh (except the player tackled by the Boar, of course). What the Child Geeks found the most appealing was the way the jungle opened up before them. As they hacked and slashed through the vines, a mountain would suddenly appear ahead, or a raging river. This kept them going, searching, and wondering what was around every corner. For the younger Child Geeks, finding the relics became something of a secondary concern as they focused more on the exploration. The older Child Geeks knew better and hungrily searched for relics on high mountains and in deep caves, while at the same time going out of their way to harass their opponents with jungle critters. All of the Child Geeks, from ages 5 and up, demonstrated complete understanding of the rules, excellent use of resource management, smart animal plays, and a thirst for adventure. They all agreed to approve Relic Expedition and then went back into the jungle for more fun.
The Parent Geeks also enjoyed Relic Expedition, but thought it would be best positioned as a family game. They found it to be very casual and fun, but it lacked appeal if they weren’t exploring the jungle with their family. According to one Parent Geek, “this is the kind of game I wish I could play with my parents when I was growing up because it always offers something new and visually interesting.” Even the non-gamers thought Relic Expedition was a good time, but the level of fun was noticeably reduced when it was just Parent Geeks playing against Parent Geeks. Despite its poor showing with just adults, the Parent Geeks had no problem approving it for the family gaming table.
The Gamer Geeks liked what Relic Expedition was about, but not how it went about it. All the essential elements are there for what would make the game appealing to a Gamer Geek. Exploration, resource management, discovery, tactics, strategy, and even a healthy dose of passive-aggressive “take that” against other players. Relic Expedition has all this and more. But the game fell flat with the gamer elitists. While none of the Gamer Geeks said they were bored, they weren’t exactly absorbed either. According to one Gamer Geek, “the game is solid, but it’s all old stuff we’ve seen before, and the random number of actions is downright disappointing.” The Gamer Geeks decided to give Relic Expedition an “A” for effort, but not their approval.
Relic Expedition is what I would consider a gaming family’s game. It’s much more than your standard family board game, but is not as intense or competitive as Gamer Geek game. Essentially, this is a race and exploration adventure where the players can see what they are looking for before they bump into it, but only to a point. Players do need to go deeper into the jungle and to find what is necessary to win, but further exploration means a longer trek back to secure victory.
The players are more or less exploring on their own with the animals being easily avoided if given a wide berth. Animals can only be moved once a turn, which does remove the annoyance of having am obstacle jump out-of-the-way only to pop right back to its original position. This also makes it easy for players to know an animal’s moving limits. Since the dice randomize the animal movement and there is a limited number to begin with, players don’t have to put much energy into simply avoiding jungle encounters early on in the game. This makes the need for equipment something of a secondary concern unless the player is a risk taker and wants to engage the jungle in a more aggressive manner as soon as possible. It’s also highly inefficient to be running away from animals all the time, so players will need to “gear up” if they plan to find those relics and be competitive.
I would recommend that the Training Mission game play variant be avoided except when playing with very young Child Geeks. It doesn’t do Relic Expedition any justice and doesn’t provide any challenge. It’s also exceedingly frustrating because there is no way to interact with the other players. The Standard game is solid, but you should avoid that, too. The difference between the Advanced and the Standard game play is a question of “bits”. More animals and jungle terrain provides more diversity and challenge, which is exactly what this game needs to keep everyone at the table engaged and feverishly searching for relics. Without a sense of “danger lurking around every tree”, Relic Expedition won’t stay on the table long.
Overall, I’m pleased with Relic Expedition. The dice determining action points was a bit maddening when you wanted to leave the jungle, but this also made things a bit more tense and fun. For a family game, Relic Expedition is a great one. The Child and Parent Geeks all enjoyed it. Every game gives the players a new jungle to explore and the animals can be darn right pesky if you get too close. For the Gamer Geeks, there wasn’t much in the way of anything new or exciting to keep their interest, but for the families and new players coming up through the gaming ranks, Relic Expedition was a superb adventure.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.