At the turn of the 20th Century, if your spouse said he was going to map out the unexplored regions of the Amazon, you’d best kiss his ass goodbye. Unless his name was Percy Fawcett. In this case, you would see your husband return time after time from his expeditions, until one day he doesn’t.
The Lost Expedition is a card game for 1-5 players that draws its inspiration directly from the David Grann book, The Lost City of Z. Having read the book, designer Peer Sylvester, said, “It was soon clear to me that I wanted to design a cooperative game that mirrored what expeditions in the Brazilian jungle might encounter… [O]ne important point was to only feature creatures and events which are real.”
Sylvester also made a point to feature many of the tribes Fawcett encountered and adjusted the difficulty of their respective cards to reflect their historical dispositions (kind or unforgiving) as closely as possible.
Into The Jungle
Like Fawcett’s objective, your goal in The Lost Expedition is to find El Dorado, the mythical city of gold, referred to as “Z” by Fawcett. You achieve this by overcoming and surviving a gauntlet of continuous morning and evening turns, each of which features six adventure cards. Some of these cards will provide an opportunity to advance a step closer to El Dorado, which is nine steps away from victory. (Technically eight, because you start at one, but who’s counting?)
You indicate your proximity to El Dorado by simply moving your pawn along this track of cards. These also happen to form a continuous image when lined up properly, which is a nice touch. If you make it to the end, you win! (Good luck with that.)
As any well-prepared adventurer about to risk life and limb for adventure in the Amazon, you will embark with a team of three explorers, each with a 3-4 health points (depending on the mode of play and difficulty) and each with a specialty — Jungle, Navigation and Camping.
These areas of expertise correspond to symbols in the game that sometimes need to be expended, though sometimes you can gain one. For example, if you need to lose one Navigation, you can fulfill that by removing a health from the explorer with the corresponding Navigation symbol.
Collectively, your party also has 3-4 Ammunition and 3-4 Food, again based on the mode of play and difficulty.
The whole game revolves your management of these three critical resources — the Health of your party members, plus your Ammo and Food supply. Note, you can always tweak the difficulty of your game by giving yourself more of each of these resources. Playing the game as written is extremely difficult.
Risking Life, Limb and Everything Else
With six adventure cards laid out during each morning and evening cycle, you must fully address each card from left to right. I won’t bore you with the details, but you do have some influence on how the cards are laid out. Everything is symbol-based, and the colored boxes on each card inform how you must approach these symbols.
For example, to overcome the Anaconda (pictured below), you must choose one of the three boxes on the card. Choosing the first box means you lose one ammo (icons not colored in black indicate a loss), but gain a food. Choosing the second box means you lose an ammo, but gain navigation (meaning you can keep the card and turn it in next time you need to lose a navigation), and the third option is simply to lose two health from among your party.
Another type of card, such as Pounding Rain, requires you to handle each symbol in the box from left to right, one at a time. Finally, some cards feature optional choices that you may choose to ignore, and many adventure cards have one or more of these different types of choices.
Here are all the symbols and their meanings. Take special note of the Advance icon, which is how you move another step closer to El Dorado, often at the expense of losing a resource in return for the privilege. Other icons allow you to skip cards in the line, move them, and even add or remove cards from the end of the line.
When Will You Die?
The Lost Expedition forces you to make tough decisions about what resources to spend and what and when to lose them, but luck looms large as the sequence of cards can really make or break a game. While you have some influence over the placement of the cards during each morning and evening, this advantage is consistently not enough to affect a positive outcome. Over a dozen or more games (many in which I added extra health to ease my pain), I have yet to find the lost city, and so my thematic experience with The Lost Expedition is not dissimilar to Fawcett’s.
When Fawcett and his small team left the last village to ever see them alive, members of that village watched the skies nightly. They were looking for smoke from his campfires. For several evenings the dark puffs curled up against the horizon, until one night there was nothing at all. All signs had been lost, and Fawcett was never seen again.
Don’t expect to find El Dorado, at least not often. This is a tough game with an appealing, historic survival theme with fun mechanics to explore, but the truth is I’m just not cut out for being a famous explorer, i.e., not smart enough for The Lost Expedition.