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Subject: Star Trek Expeditions Review - 9/10 rss

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Bryce Journey
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Star Trek Expeditions Review

Overall Score – (9/10)

Introduction – Star Trek is no stranger to games. Board games, card games, video games…but with rare exceptions, these games rarely turn out well. The reason is plain – most of these games revolve around the starships of Star Trek. Star Trek ships are cool and all but as any real fan will tell you, the thing that makes Star Trek great is its cast of engaging characters. Why game companies have never figured that out is beyond me. But at this year’s Gen Con, I heard that Wiz Kids was demoing their new Star Trek clix game. Knowing exactly what I’d find, I wandered over to their booth and there, sure enough, was Star Trek: Fleet Captains, a starship based miniatures game. I demoed it and it was actually pretty fun but it was missing the same thing that most other Star Trek games miss – the personality of the characters. Then, at the conclusion of that demo, I noticed something at another nearby demo table – Star Trek character figures on a clix base. “What’s that?” I asked the company guy. “That,” he said, “is our other Star Trek clix game: Expeditions.” “I’ve got to demo that too,” I told my wife, and she dutifully accompanied her cool husband to do so. We were joined by another random couple and we sat down to our first game of Expeditions. Calling Expeditions a character-based miniatures game wouldn’t be exactly accurate. It’s so much more than that. It’s a board game that just happens to use clix-based miniatures as a the principle playing pieces. It’s a brilliant idea and leave it to Reiner Knizia to be the one to finally figure out how to make a Star Trek character-based game successful. Rarely does anyone at GenCon actually play a complete game for a demo but we did. We couldn’t stop. We were caught up in the gameplay and couldn’t finish until we’d met the cooperative victory conditions. WizKids were selling both Star Trek clix games at marked-up convention prices but my brother owed me a birthday present, so I had him get me Expeditions for $50. It appears that the actual retail price is closer to $40 and you can get it for as cheap as $30 on Amazon which, in my opinion, is a real deal.

Concept (9/10) – Players take the role of main Star Trek characters in a cooperative clix board game that plays out like an episode of the original series of Star Trek. Using teamwork amongst their various characters, players must explore the planet of Nibia, persuade it to join the Federation, find a way to deal with a band of rebels that threaten civil war, and try to save the planet’s endangered ecology – all while combating a Klingon battlecruiser! Surprisingly, for a clix game, combat plays a relatively minor role in the game. Instead, the exploration aspect takes center stage. I’m a big fan of this focus. It would have been real easy to just design a Star Trek clix-based combat miniatures game. Instead, Knizia has crafted a deep and multi-level board game that successfully incorporates all the game’s concepts in a fun and engaging way.

Components (10/10) – The base game features an exceptionally high quality and thick board representing the planet Nibia. The board has some nice space artwork, including the planet itself and the starship Enterprise. The artwork is also functional in the game, though – the planet is divided into various regions on which a random assortment of Captain’s Log Supplemental Cards are placed to be explored. The Enterprise acts as a space from which characters can beam to and from and perform various actions. Randomly placed Discovery tokens represent important items that the crew finds during the course of the game and joins the CLSC on the planet portion of the board. A time track on the right side of the board enforces a time limit in which the crew must successfully complete their mission. Clix-based minis of the Enterprise and the Klingon battlecruiser face off against each other on the combat track on the top of the board. Besides the main board, a smaller Mission board tracks the crew’s progress in dealing with the political, rebel, and ecological problems facing them. 21 thick cardboard Captain’s Log Cards determine how these three missions play out. A deck of Energize cards features generic crew cards that can assist in the missions and Action cards that modify battle and mission rolls. 1 special Klingon die (with the battlecruiser replacing the “1) is rolled to represent the Klingon reaction to the Federation investigations. 2 special Federation die (with a “7-1” replacing the “6” side) counter the Klingon aggression. A deck of 14 Stardate Cards displays how many actions a character can take on their turn, Klingon actions, and any other special rules for the turn; these cards are divided into three rows of complexity. All the cards are of the highest textured card stock. The character miniatures themselves are of a higher-quality plastic and more detailed than the typical clix mini, and feature a special easy-turning base. All the components are of exemplary quality. If I’d paid $50 for the game myself, I would think I’d have gotten my money’s worth.

Gameplay (9/10) – Before the game starts, each player must choose which character they would like to play: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, or Uhura. The game can accommodate any number of players between 1 and 4 playing any number of characters. All four characters don’t have to be played but each one brings various skills, specialties, and abilities to the table. I’ve briefly outlined how the game is set-up in the components sections, so this portion of the review chiefly describe how a typical turn works and analyze how that figures into the larger experience of the game. After the game is set-up, play begins with the Kirk player, followed by Spock, McCoy, then finally Uhura. On any given turn, first a player turns over the top Stardate card. If the stardate card has one or more stardate symbols on it, the time track advances the appropriate number of steps. If the time track marker ever reaches the end of the track, the Klingon Armada arrives, the Enterprise abandons the planet, and the players lose. The stardate card may also list special rules that are in effect for the player’s turn, such as no beaming. Finally, the stardate card may initiate an attack by the Klingon battlecruiser facing off against the Enterprise in orbit over the planet. The Klingon’s attack first, roll their die, add their current clix attack strength and, if the total is greater than the Enterprise’s current clix shield value, the Enterprise takes a click of damage. Then the Enterprise returns fire, only rolling their special die instead of the Klingon one, and damage is also recorded if made. The Klingon battlecruiser is significantly more powerful than the Enterprise and will usually deal more damage than it takes. If the Enterprise ever takes enough clicks of damage to be destroyed, the player’s immediately lose. If the Enterprise manages to destroy the Klingon battlecruiser, however, the game continues with one less threat to worry about. More special restriction rules occur and the frequency of Klingon attacks increases the greater the challenge difficulty the players have selected for themselves. Most importantly, the stardate card reveals how many actions the player who flipped it gets to take this turn. These vary between 2 and 4. The various actions are as follows and may be performed as often during a turn as able and in any order, which certain limitations (like you can’t beam to and from the Enterprise in the same turn). Actions that can be performed on the Enterprise are: visit sickbay (to heal characters), attack the Klingon Battlecruiser, and beam down to the planet. Actions that can be performed on the planet are: move one space, pick up a discovery token, attempt a challenge, and beam up to the Enterprise. Actions that can performed either place are: use a character’s special action, draw 1 energize card, and transfer 1 crew member amongst players. The heart of the game lies in attempting challenges, which either make progress in the various missions or win you useful rewards. Each challenge has a skill level target on it which a character must match or surpass, using their skill value modified by crew cards, discovery tokens, the presence of other characters, specific skill bonuses, and the roll of the 2 Federation die. The reward, how much mission progress, and/or which mission track you attempt next depends on how much you surpass the skill level target number. And that’s how the game works. Each player continues taking turns as outlined until the Enterprise crew meets one of the defeat conditions or the victory condition of completing all three missions. There are various strata of accomplishment for each tier of mission completed. For example, accumulating a score over 15 in the Politics mission means Nibia joins the Federation. But accumulating a negative score means the planet declares war on the Federation. I recommend players keep a tally of each game completed, how many players participated, the difficulty level attempted, and how many points were scored in each game so you can compare your achievement from one game to the next.

Complexity (9/10) – A 24-page rulebook may be daunting but most of the space is occupied by very helpful illustrations, diagrams, and examples. The rules are laid out in a logical order and new players will get quickly get a handle for how the game works after a read-through. The game is not a difficult one to pick up, learn, or teach others. For my demo, I only received a five-minute tutorial and was able to get through a game without questions. The cooperative nature of the gameplay ensures that all players have a role in formulating strategy and making progress towards meeting the victory conditions. Often, I find in cooperative games the risk that one player just tells everyone else what to do, but that’s not the case in Star Trek: Expeditions. Players will find that they quickly become experts on their chosen character and are able to independently determine how best to maneuver them on the board and what to choose for them to do. Similarly, in the formulation of group strategy, each player will find themselves contributing in a positive way suggestions for how the group might best proceed. The chief element of strategy lies in determining how to approach a challenge and the best order in which to accomplish it. Players will find that there are several worthwhile methods to do this and relish the complexity of trying out various avenues of procedure.

Fun Factor (9/10) – Star Trek: Expeditions is an enjoyable experience both for Star Trek fans and for those who might not be. Players will find it’s a lot more fun to take control of a personable character than a piece of hardware. Knizia and WizKids have done a terrific job in differentiating each character and making the gameplay experience with each one uniquely enjoyable. Players will find themselves participating in a valuable role no matter which character they select. But best of all, players will become enamored with the episode-like flow of the gameplay. The gameplay is brilliantly designed and the various options and skill levels players can challenge themselves with will ensure there is lots of fun to be had in repeat visits to Nibia.

Replay Value (8/10) – The random board set-up of missions, the various options of strategic procedure, the choice of different characters, and the customized challenge of different difficulty levels ensures fresh and exciting replay value for many gaming experiences to come. It should be expected that the Nibia experience in particular, however, may eventually become somewhat repetitive. With that in mind, it should be noted that clearly WizKids plans on expansions for this game to keep it fresh and new. Already, the first character expansion is planned. But I think everyone expects and WizKids plans on released new missions on new planets with new dangers and threats. For the purpose of this review, however, my replay value score will reflect the current Nibia experience and not any future promises of expansive replay value.
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Jeremy Olson
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Did we play different games?? Just kidding, thanks for sharing your thoughts!
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Geoffrey Ulman
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Thanks for the review!

The one thing I definitely disagree with is the 10/10 score for components (I'd rate a number of other areas significantly lower as well, but many of those are more a matter of taste):

While the Captain's Log cards are very nice thick cardboard, the Energize cards and Stardate cards are the flimsiest thinnest cards I have ever seen in a game. They're not much better than rectangles cut out of mid-weight paper.

Also the board is about as bland as they could have possibly made it. I guess they were trying to be general to leave open the possibility of expansions, but still...

Anyway, my two cents about components. It has some amazing components (like the painted figures) but it also has some real problem areas.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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radagast14 wrote:
It’s a brilliant idea and leave it to Reiner Knizia to be the one to finally figure out how to make a Star Trek character-based game successful.

He was 26 years late for that, witness Star Trek: The Adventure Game and Star Trek: The Enterprise^4 Encounter.
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P.D. Magnus
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Sphere wrote:
radagast14 wrote:
It’s a brilliant idea and leave it to Reiner Knizia to be the one to finally figure out how to make a Star Trek character-based game successful.

He was 26 years late for that, witness Star Trek: The Adventure Game and Star Trek: The Enterprise^4 Encounter.


The nifty thing about the new game is that the progress of it has the feel of an episode. There are several parallel problems brewing, and the crew has to solve them. The games you mention don't have that same narrative structure - the first of those is at the level of the galaxy (Klingons vs. Federation) and the second has a gimmick that gives each player their own Enterprise.
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Diz Hooper
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Great review! I'm looking forward to receiving my copy of this game next week.
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pmagnus wrote:
The nifty thing about the new game is that the progress of it has the feel of an episode. There are several parallel problems brewing, and the crew has to solve them. The games you mention don't have that same narrative structure - the first of those is at the level of the galaxy (Klingons vs. Federation) and the second has a gimmick that gives each player their own Enterprise.

The first game I mentioned, Star Trek: The Adventure Game is very much like ST:E. It gives you the individual characters - Kirk, Spock, etc. - and you can beam them down, together or separately, to various planets on which you attempt to resolve missions. You have generic crew members to help them. Your main characters have specific attributes that provide bonuses for specific types of missions, e.g. Kirk has the Command, Seduction, Charisma and Personal Combat abilities. Sound familiar?

The second game I mentioned, Star Trek: The Enterprise^4 Encounter is more like a single episode than either of the other two games. It deals with a plot by Trelane, introduced in the original Star Trek episode The Squire of Gothos, who has captured the crew of the Enterprise and forces them to play a diabolical game. Yes, that's gimmicky - exactly the sort of gimmicry that you found in most of the Star Trek episodes. There's even a story treatment of the episode you're playing included in the game. The Enterprise Encounter is the name of the episode you're playing.

Have you played all three games? I have.
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Sphere, which of the three did you like the best (and why)?
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aaxiom wrote:
Tumulorum Fossor wrote:
Sphere, which of the three did you like the best (and why)?

Awesome question, and one I was going to ask.

I'd call it a tough question. I've already argued how all three are similar in the way they put you into Star Trek episodes, but when looked at from a game mechanics perspective, they are from different families, which renders any comparison highly subjective.

Star Trek: Expeditions is one of Knizia's better themed games, but I've never seen dealing with theme as one of his strengths. For games in that category, I'd say Lord of the Rings is at least as good, and Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation delivers more fun in less time with less clutter (admittedly I'm a sucker for hidden info and the bluffing element).

Star Trek: The Adventure Game is a paragraph game, and consequently has the inherent weakness of that genre: once you've been through the story lines, subsequent play loses its freshness. Another good game, but in this genre I would rank it roughly with Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders & Other Cases, but probably behind Ambush! and The Wreck of the B.S.M. Pandora.

Star Trek: The Enterprise^4 Encounter was designed by the Eon team, which is its own category and one which I respect. In that group, I think it's as good a game as Cosmic Encounter, but it's no match for Dune.

In sum, I think all three are good, but none of them is indispensable unless you're either a Star Trek addict or a gameaholic (I'm the latter). Gamers who want to play the iconic Star Trek characters are going to gravitate towards Star Trek: Expeditions, which makes sense based on availability and component quality. As a pure game, though, I don't think it's any better than the others, just different.
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i own but i'm still on the fence on this game,
i will like to pull it down solo now an again couple of months between plays, i doubt i try it multiplayer again... might even nudge to the for sale pile,

i feel to win the game with a good score, the team need to group together too much and some players just support one dice roller and one crew collector,
after quite a few games i'm not seeing much diversity on the pool of moves or tactics.
the variety isn't that great, almost depends on luck on where the game specific items fall and if the random encounters are good or bad and when you played a few times this novelty wears off.

most times "the exploration" that kills the game, you just dont fine the next or even the start card of one of the story trees, even with spock scouting.
and choice of moves, when some one gets 2 moves and some ones gets 4 its hard to plan and then some one gets 9 move due to the command card it came just fall to them and the others watch and just explore
but in defense its a quick game to set up and try again,

i've fears "elder sign" might be similar, as its roll for a target system,

for me its a little bit to much fandom carrying this game along and keeping it high scoring, with out the star trek theme i would lower it to a 6 or 7 and pass over, and the little men and ships are so lovely..

I didn't mean to sound so detrimental, i think my 1st few sessions reports i couldn't bring my self to review where more glowing,, try before you buy.
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Decent game, but came across as much more of an exercise in dry mathematics rather than a game of adventure and exploration.

Knizia should stay away from adventure games, I think.

I wish the ship minis were available separately, they are lovely.
 
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Dave James

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Anybody have any idea as to the number of games you would play before you start repeating missions?
 
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