28 Jan

Expeditions: Conquistador

Filed under: Boardgames No Responses


Turned-based combat with hexes. Been a while since I played a game with this.

This was a game that completely flew under my radar. I didn’t contribute to its Kickstarter and didn’t notice its release at all. Indeed, its Kickstarter campaign seemed barely successful. The amount raised reached the basic goal but didn’t even meet the first stretch goal.  But people started talking about it on Broken Forum. There was enough forum traffic that I listened in and the more I listened, the more interested I became in the game. And so here I find myself:

  • Probably the most intriguing thing about this game is its premise. You’re the leader of a Spanish expedition seeking to explore the New World. This means assembling a company of explorers, toting around the food and supplies needed to support the expedition and traipsing through the jungle to meet Aztecs and Totonacs. There are oodles of flavour and tons of Spanish names I couldn’t hope to pronounce correctly. In short, one of the more unique and remarkable settings I’ve seen.

  • I think it’s also one of best exploration games I’ve seen. As usual, you have a fogged in map that you uncover as you go. But in the main screen, your view is pretty limited. Many have complained about how narrow the field of view is, but I think it’s a feature, not a bug. When you’re in the mountains, the controls allow you to zoom out further, allowing you to see more of the land around you. When you’re in the jungle, you can barely zoom out at all. At the same time, your travelling speed depends on the terrain you’re moving over and the skills of your party.
  • When you run out of moves in a day, you need to set up camp. This brings you to the camp management screen where you need to allocate food to every expedition member and set them on tasks, such as guarding the camp, going hunting for extra food, treating injured party members, repairing equipment and so forth. It adds nicely to the verisimilitude even if it does become somewhat routine and repetitious later. Above all, there is always the sense of time passing even if you’re just travelling and the food and medicine requirements keep pressure on you.


Arriving at Tenochtitlan is a pretty awesome moment.
  • As you might expect, there are hidden secrets everywhere on the map, including El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth. There are also resources to collect, such as wood, metal, etc. which you use to build equipment for use in battles such as barricades and spike traps, herbs which you need to make medicine and valuables, which stands in for cash in this game. I actually found it surprisingly difficult to collect enough valuables in the game, despite going everywhere and doing almost all of the quests. You’ll probably need to do quite a bit of trading to be able to bring 50,000 valuables back to Spain to get the best ending.
  • There aren’t many quests in the game but the ones that exist are all very well done. I was surprised at how much dialogue had been written for them and how different the outcomes of each can be. It is actually possible to fail some quests and keep going with the game, with naturally a different outcome. In fact, you can skip out of the main events entirely and sail back to Spain once you think you’ve explored enough and amassed enough loot. That’s rather refreshing.
  • I enjoyed the turn-based combat too, though there is nothing particularly special about it. There are various classes of party members that you can include in a combat squad and you never control more than six squad members at a time. Each class has different special abilities, so the scout moves quickly and does good melee damage, but has no inherent ranged attack, while the doctor has poor attacks but can heal and so forth. Certain battles have a preparation phase which allow you to place special items such as barricades, traps and even a cannon! Since as many as eighteen enemies may be fighting against you in a battle, you really need all these force multipliers.


Outnumbered? Try hunkering behind some defences and setting everyone else on fire.
  • Unfortunately the classes don’t seem very well balanced at all. Diplomats seem rather useless and while hunters who excel at range are theoretically useful, the fact that ranged attacks have a percentage chance to miss whereas melee attacks automatically succeed make them rather unreliable. The standard soldier turns out to be the most reliable performer, thanks to good melee weapons and armor and a special attack that automatically stuns any enemy for one round. Some of the native party members you can recruit are interesting however. They start out with rather poor equipment compared to Spaniards, but once you level them out, they can get some very powerful abilities.
  • One complaint I have is that the limited options in combat can’t encompass the range of possibilities offered in the text descriptions. For example, the text may offer you a chance to start a battle with you surrounding an enemy, which sound like a good idea. But as in usual in such games, what you really want is local force concentration. Trying to surround enemies of equal or greater number than your own meagre party is an invitation to disaster. Similarly some combat scenarios have the objective of reaching a set of escape hexes within the stipulated time limit, but the combat mechanics are such that I’ve always found it easier to simply kill every enemy within the time limit.
  • Finally, the game does have bugs. For example, I’ve never been able to use the shaman’s curse ability in combat. Many times, I failed to get the appropriate Steam achievement after performing the required actions. I also have problems with the flow of the game. Once you reach the mainland, one key element is restoring the Spanish fortress. I only discovered it very late, when I had already explored most of the area and done almost all of the quests, so I spent almost the entire game doing without its services. I think some better signposting would have helped here, rather than letting you loose on the continent to really go wherever you please.


You’ll probably need to pay these Aztecs a bribe just for the privilege of talking to them.

Overall, I found this to be a surprisingly good game and with decent production values to boot despite its modest budget. I really enjoyed how taking a page from history makes it feel so different from the other games out there and I was especially impressed at how adroitly they handled sensitive issues like racism, colonization, slavery etc. In my case, I chose to help the Totonacs overthrow the Aztecs but I didn’t feel good about then backstabbing them so I went back to Spain after that. The narrative however makes it clear that subsequent Spaniard expeditions following in your wake wouldn’t be so kind, so you still end up being responsible for their demise after all.

I don’t quite agree that it has a lot of replay value. Once you’ve fully explored a map, you already know all its secrets and replaying it is just tedious. But they ever added more maps, I would be onboard. In any case, this game has my seal of approval. It’s unusual to see innovation in a game come in the form of its setting rather its game mechanics.

Written on January 28 2014 and is filed under Boardgames. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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