The Curious Expedition has players heading up a party of adventurers as they seek fame and fortune in foreign lands. The goals of each individual expedition vary, although they always share the same end goal: locate a golden pyramid, and report your findings back to the Explorer’s Society. Sounds pretty simple, right? You’d be right on the concept, but dead wrong on the execution.
Players will choose a lead character from a selection of 16, although a good number of those will need to be unlocked during gameplay. Each character has their own special ability that they start with, along with a fixed set of support characters to accompany them, as well as some fixed gear (each of these sets is unique to each lead). Each lead comes straight from the annals for history (such as Charles Darwin or Harriet Tubman), although the list comes with a number of characters you might not be immediately familiar with. After choosing your lead, 4 of the remaining leads will be chosen at random to lead competing expeditions.
Competing expeditions, you say? How does one have a “competing expedition”? Well, the venerated Explorers Society is building a new statute on their grounds, and the explorer who has accumulated the most Fame after six expeditions will have the honor of having the statue constructed in their image. Fame is secured in a number of ways, including but not limited to how quickly you finish each expedition, research discoveries made abroad, and what items you bring back for donation to the Society (“It belongs in a museum!”).
Players begin their expedition by choosing a map location to go to. Sometimes the player will have multiple choices, and sometimes you will be left trek to the last option left by the other explorers. These locations have descriptions which can help you determine what type of area to expect, as well as how difficult the area is expected to be. Biomes included thus far include jungles, grasslands, and deserts, and each will have an effect on gameplay once you arrive.
Destination determined, you will have a few items to clear up before you board your boat and set sail for adventure. Apparently, news of your journey is widely spread, as you will often be met by individuals at the dock requesting that you complete certain tasks for them, or even requesting to join your trek. Tasks range from delivering mail, escorting missionaries, hunting exotic and legendary beasts, and returning native relics. These tasks vary greatly in difficulty; you would do well to ensure that your party is up to a task prior to accepting. I have found out, for instance, that hunting down a renowned hyena is quite difficult when your party consists of a priest, a Persian translator, and a pack mule. Consider your strengths when accepting these requests. After you field these requests, you will occasionally have individuals ask to join your retinue from a number of work backgrounds, including soldiers, sailors, artists, missionaries, and occultists, just to name a few. You can take any of these individuals you’d like, bearing in mind that your maximum party size is 5, including your pack mule.
The final step prior to departing is to make sure your gear is in order. As stated above, each expedition lead initially has a set of gear that should work to their advantage. You will need to replenish these supplies between trips (particularly items like whiskey and chocolate, as they increase sanity, more on that later). You may also wish to add new items, such as shovels for digging up treasure, or canvas and an easel, if you end up having an artist join your crew. Bear in mind that your amount of slots for carried gear is limited; you normally get 1-2 slots per person in your expedition, with mules beating the average at 3 slots. Be careful here, as the merchant will absolutely let you buy more than you can carry, resulting in a terrible decision upon disembarking from your ship, as you decide how much funding you are going to throw away (expedition cannot move while you have too much gear).
So, you’ve landed in the heart of darkness. Its time to begin exploring. You will be presented with a hex based procedurally-generated overland map. Each hex has a type that determines a number of qualities. Movement is often the main concern; you’ll move much faster across a grassland plain than a foreboding jungle, for instance. Some of these movement penalties can be mitigated by gear; using our previous example, you’ll move much better through a jungle if you have a machete. Movement items are used automatically as you move through hexes that use them. There are also special squares that will allow you to explore them if you are on or adjacent to them. This will give you a number of different outcomes, depending on the type of square. Villages will let you trade, rest, or recruit natives to your group, while a stone circle could potentially reveal a portion of the map for you (or drive you or your party insane).
We’ve landed, checked our gear, and are ready to begin travel overland to find our golden temple. But how should we proceed? Well, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, take note of the compass in the upper right hand area. The pointer on the compass will sway back and forth; the area it covers is a rough indication of where you should go to find your temple. This area grows more focused as you travel throughout the region more. Don’t rely on this in its totality, however; there are magnetic mountains that could be present in the area that skew results. If you compass indicator is laser straight, its a pretty safe bet that you are being misled. You can also get tips in some villages on where to go to (assuming your relation with the natives is good). The golden temple is fairly easy to spot once revealed. As you continue to explore, hexes of special interest will be marked as question marks until you get close enough for the fog of war to be pushed back; keep after these hexes and you should eventually find your temple.
Sounds easy, right? Well, you’d think so, but its not. Your party has a Sanity statistic represented by a bar at the top of the screen. This bar depletes as you move about the map. Tougher terrain makes it go down quicker. There is also a base cost each time you plan a movement. This encourages you to plan longer treks, as the base cost must be paid before even moving. Some events that occur throughout your trip can also modify your sanity. Eating chocolate, drinking whiskey, resting, and even collecting butterflies (with the right leader or perk, of course) will increase your sanity. Hearing war drums in the night, witnessing atrocities during random events (either while exploring special hexes or traveling), or being wounded can all lower sanity. So, what happens when all your sanity is gone? Well, initially, nothing. No immediate game over or anything of that nature. However, as you continue to travel or otherwise do things that might cost sanity, checks are made behind the scenes, and encounters regarding sanity will start to happen. If you are lucky, a member of your party will just run screaming into the jungle… if you are unlucky? Well… I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
Combat also has a role throughout your expeditions. Whether its because you ticked off the natives, found a predator in the jungle, or whatever else, you will likely find yourself in combat at some point. Combat is turn-based a quite unique. Each member of your party adds a number of dice to a pool based on their experience, with type determined by their occupation. Dice can be red for combat types (most leaders and all soldiers have this type), green for defensive (scouts and sailors have this type), or blue for mind aptitudes (shamans and missionaries normally have these). Guns also add purple dice to the pool. Initially, each dice usually has 3 different faces: 2 each of 2 different abilities, and 2 blank. Number of dice per character, as well as the number of usable faces improves as that character levels up. Once the pool is formed, you roll it. You can take results and use them to do moves against targets you select. Moves can be done with as little as 1 die, or as many as 4. Moves with multiple dice have significantly better returns than single dice moves. You can also save dice results and then reroll what is left in the pool, allowing you to build up to better moves. You get a total of 3 rolls per turn, with every die in the pool that is not being saved or already used being rolled. Once you finish, the enemy does the same thing, but with only 1 die pool roll. This is a very unique system and certainly has its own flavor. I’m not entirely sure its balanced (red and purple dice are significantly better than green and blue in my experience), but its still pretty fun. Bear in mind, if someone in your party is reduced to zero health, they don’t die on the spot, but their dice are removed from the pool for the remainder of combat. Combat ends when one side is out of health, or when the player decides to flee (which often costs sanity, and could cause you to lose some gear).
And here we are. You’ve sailed across the ocean, explored a foreign land, looted what you could, and discovered your golden pyramid. What happens next? Well, you return home triumphant, and have your “fame” totaled for you. This number is modified by how long you took to find the temple (this number is subtracted from the base amount you get for finding the temple), as well as what you brought back with you (as far as relics and other items of academic value, which you can gift to the museum for fame, or sell at auction for funds), and how many butterflies you caught (lepidoptery is a big deal, apparently). These all come together to modify your fame. Having a higher fame allows you an earlier pick of where you want to send your expedition, and if you want to have the explorer statue to bear your likeness, you’ll need to have the most fame after 6 expeditions when compared to your fellow explorers.
The Curious Expedition is still in Early Access, but is quite fun all the same. The game shows a fair amount of polish, and continues to get better with each new version. There are some bugs, however. I have had instances where I have trapped myself in a single hex, unable to move due to changes in landscape. With no wait option, this effectively ends the game (this has been fixed in a recent update). The game is still quit enjoyable in its current form, despite the occasional bug. Having said that, I have not come anywhere close to reaching the sixth expedition. The game itself starts out fairly difficult, and escalates quickly after your first outing. Expedition 3 has become a hard wall for me, and despite some 60 odd games, I have yet to conquer it. Make sure you consider the difficulty when deciding to purchase. I’m also of the mindset that the computer expeditions are savage cheaters, as I have seen them sport ridiculous fame ratings following the first expedition, to the point where I am not even sure how you might catch up. While the game does have a tutorial, it is not all inclusive. However, if you are still here, and unperturbed by the great unknown before you, I would heartily recommend donning your safari hat, grabbing you bug net and a native guide, and checking out The Curious Expedition.
You can purchase the Curious Expedition on Steam Early Access here.