TRIPLE ACE GAMES: EXPLORIANA 2-5 player game by Miles Ratcliffe
We have been playing EXPLORIANA regularly since picking up a copy from Triple Ace Games (aka TAG) at UKGE, but until a short while ago we had played almost every game introducing it to new players, and thus the components for the variations of play had remained safely in the box. Therefore I shall began this review speaking about the basic game, which to be honest is as much, maybe more, game in itself, as found in many boxed board games aimed at lasting around an hour.
The chrome/theme is that the players are world renown explorers seeking treasures in regions of three of the world's continents; South America, Africa and the mystical Far East. Although they are intrepid and famous explorers, none of these archaeological types have more than a few shillings between them. Discovering lost antiques and ancient artifacts can bring with it fame, but fortune is unlikely. One of the 'side' Missions a player may have is to be holding coins to the value of at least 14, but that is something that none of us have, in the many games played, managed to succeed at; money is a resource that slips through one's fingers like the fine sand on the banks of the Nile.
The two photos below were found on Boardgamegeek.com - they had no visible copyright notice but I wish to give credit to the owner/s
The three Continent cards are designed to be slotted together like a long jigsaw but may be sat side by side should the table space be not enough to allow for the lengthy board, especially when the Renown Track is tacked on to one end. As long as there is room for cards to be placed either side of each board you can set up the game as suits you. It is best if you can to use the lengthened board, if just for the ease of comfortably positioning the Discovery cards for each Region. Apart fom the Renown Track the three Region boards are double-sided for use by 2-3 players and 4-5 players, the latter having a few more spaces to accommodate the extra player/s. Both sides of these boards show an outline of the continent to which they represent along with three or four exploration spaces - both sides of all cards have 4 spaces for Explorer Tokens (these being randomly placed on these spaces during the game and having a VP score on their flip sides).
As I mentioned money I should say that each player begins with the princely sum of 6 coins; their intrinsic value as Dollars, Pounds or Pesos in denominations of 10's, 100's, 1000's etc being of no import. Money is mainly required to send out an Exploring Guide (cost of 3) or to employ a Specialist Explorer (various costs), both of which are very useful throughout play from the beginning.
The three decks of Discovery cards are separated and shuffled and placed to one side of the Regions in the sections associated with them by their flip-side colouring. Generally you place these to the right of the long board, taking 2 or 3 cards from the top, keeping them face down, and placing them on the left side of the board (as a reserve), again in the cut-out section for each continent, then two more cards from each deck are flipped face up alongside each of the remaining decks offering the players a choice of cards, starting with the two and continuing up to five cards as each player, in turn, plays personal games of 'pushing their luck'; three of the same or three different hazards showing on the cards turned over ends an explorer's search fruitless.
For the first round one of the players is randomly chosen to start and for the placing of the Explorers a clockwise order is taken. Once all of these pawns are placed on the explorer spaces of the continents, each player placing one then the next player places one etc until all are in place, the player order is determined according to where the explorers (pawns) are from top of the long board down. This means that it is entirely possible for the player who places first not to actually play first turn or that one, or more, players may have two turns on the trot.
Player turns are simple, just one action, possibly two for each player's two explorers, but there is thought, judgement, and luck to consider. One action is to take one of the cards turned over face up in the region where their explorer is or, if there is a Lost Explorer token in place on the continent they can take it to collect the renown or coin from the space on which it sat, and of course have its VP value to add into your total at the end of the game. If you push the envelope and manage to turn over cards so that the maximum of five cards is reached, without displaying 3 of the same or one of each (of the 3) hazards; to have the three unwanted hazards on show means an end to the turn and no reward. If a player has reached the five card maximum safely then they have 2 actions. This can be taking two cards from those available or taking one card and one Lost Explorer (never saving more than one Lost Explorer in a turn). Players have a Guide Token which can be used at a cost of 3 coins to cover one of the hazards showing on the cards but only before the third, turn-ending, hazard is flipped over - the Guide is an action not a reaction, though it is not an Action, action - this could get complicated very soon.
The cards may give immediate reward in either coin or renown, may have a specified number of VPs or have a sliding scale upward depending on the number of same-type card you hold. Each card is recognised by its Discovery type, the icon in the top left corner. If this is a paw-print then the type is 'animal' and as animals often herd together the action of taking one card is extended to taking all animal cards as just one action; another thing for players to take into mind on their turn.
Some of the items players begin with are 2 Missions and an Explorer card and each round are given (allowed to choose from a display) another one each round for free. These can be used in the player's turn as an Action as long as the cost for it (top left) is paid. The cards have been extremely well designed so that the icons and symbols on them are all totally clear, no possiblities for mistaken identity. In fact all the information on every card makes the game flow swiftly, only players making decisions holding up proceedings.
Regions are explored, cards are collected, Missions are accomplished, Renown is gained and points are scored. The Renown track shows at a glance which player is first to place their pawns each turn and also adds a varying number of VPs to the players at the end of the game, not the number your marker sits on but a specified amount depending on how many players there are. This is not an enormous amount of VPs but it can be enough to separate end positions, in fact the last game we played, (on 18th July 2019) Fran and I drew on points until we added the bonus from the Renown track, thus giving me a comfortable win. The scoring is usually quite close and last night was no difference; a four-player game ended 46, 42, 39, 38 only a 7-point spread.
For players who like to pigeon-hole games by type, I am thinking hard as to which genre to place EXPLORIANA in so it would please them. It utilises card gathering, card playing, people placing, money and resource balancing, with additional complexities introduced by the Explorers, the Card's specifics and the Guides etc. The basic game is a pleasant past-time over which social chatter is easily conversed. It does however also have opportunities for players to make attempts at preventing other players from collecting the cards they require even though this would possibly be at a cost of gaining a card or cards useful to themselves.
This is a game all of us at GGO thoroughly enjoy playing regularly and in all honesty we prefer to just play the basic game most of the time. What we do like about the variants is that they are not specified into modules or scenarios they are actually all optional add-ons that can be cherry picked and included whenever the players agree to a slight change or several slight changes. One of these variants we especially like to include when playing with players new to board gaming that doesn't consist of roll-a-die-move-a-dobber.
The variant I speak of is 'Life Insurance' which compensates explorers who get lost with 2 coins; this gives an extra incentive for players to push for the fifth card when exploring a region. There are two other variants we often add in. One of these is 'expansion cards' that are added into each Region's card deck. These are acted upon immediately they join the game and then they are removed from play (except the 'Red Herring' which covers another card and remains in play for one round). Instead of having a Hazard symbol in their bottom left corner they have a smaller silhouette icon in a gold coloured background, these new actions bringing quite strong experiences to the game. The other variant added in regularly by us is 'Relics'. There are three stand-ups, one for each continent, and in the associated colours, that are worth 5 VPs each and can be obtained by players who collect the required number of cards from the region from where they are gaining the Relic. It can be more rewarding, and often easier, to gain a Relic than it can be to complete a Mission. To remember what cards need to be collected there are Tokens that are placed next to the continents as reminders.
Other variants we occasionally use are:
Certificates: which are basically 3 VPs for each achievement on the Certificates table; most coins, most Lost Explorer tokens etc etc. GGO: This adds another option that is akin to Missions.
Rescue Team: Hope for a lucky die roll. GGO: Adds nothing of import to the game, in my opinion.
Novice Guide: A cheaper and lesser version of the Player's Guide (token). GGO: One die-roll determines the effect of having a Novice.
Explorer's Draft: Deal out a number of Explorer cards to the players and cancel the Explorer selection phase of the round. GGO: We prefer the Explorer draft each round for a number of reasons.
Our overall opinion is that EXPLORIANA offers players a good, entertaining hour with friends. It is light in mechanics but quite full in player action and strong in production of all components. However at the moment of typing this I cannot find it on sale at any online or bricks & mortar store and thus I have no idea of how much you should be looking at paying for it. I wouldn't even like to hazard a guess at a retail price, but as long as it isn't ridiculously high it is a game I can thoroughly recommend as we, as I said earlier, truly enjoy it. Okay, there is a 'but' (isn't there always?) and that is despite it having 2-player rules clearly defined it really isn't a great game to play with just the two of you, in our opinion.