In The Lost Expedition, 1-5 players cooperate or compete to survive a trek through the Amazon in search of El Dorado, managing precious resources and navigating a series of difficult and deathly decisions.

Last year we briefly owned, played, despaired at then sold Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island. We’re all for challenging gameplay with a dash of luck, but Crusoe was frequently punishing, infrequently fun, and we decided to sell it after only four plays to make way for something more to our tastes.

Enter The Lost Expedition.

The Lost Expedition in play

Similar to Crusoe, the theme of survival looms ominously over Osprey Games’ The Lost Expedition. It’s clear from the first moment you rifle through the deck, that these cards beautifully depict a number of sinister scenarios, in a way that flavour text or lesser artwork might struggle to invoke the same sense of danger and tension.

In its main co-operative mode, The Lost Expedition sees 2-5 players navigate their way through various events on their trek to the lost city. A simple resource system is the backbone of this game – characters individually hold health tokens, while food and ammunition tokens are shared by all as a group.

The Lost Expedition - tokens and cards

Players place their cards down in a sequence, with each card offering a series of actions. Some of these actions are compulsory while others are optional, offering their own benefits or complications.

Most actions are a simple combination of spend a resource to gain another (for example, spend one ammunition for two food), but the most dangerous cards will force to you spend one or more of your explorer’s health.

Some cards manipulate the path itself, adding, removing or skipping cards that are in the queue, while others provide opportunities for the team to ‘advance’ to the next stage of their journey and move closer still to El Dorado. The exact order of the cards is determined in two ways – each player plays one or more cards from their hand, and the cards either remain in the order they are played or instead placed in ascending order.

A hand of cards in The Lost Expedition

Playing – or attempting to play – cards in an order beneficial to the team is the meat of the game, as there is barely any randomisation once the cards are set.

Say the first card on the table is an encounter with a native tribe – on this card are three red boxes, meaning the group must choose one option to resolve. The options are to lose four health, lose two ammunition, or kill a player character in order to advance up the path to El Dorado. Neither option looks great, but as the encounters are not resolved until the whole path of cards is complete, there are chances to make this better. The next card played is an Abandoned Camp – in this event, players could gain two health, three food or two ammunition. Suddenly the encounter with the tribe could come at no cost – it could be resolved by losing two ammunition, and the team could get three back the next encounter when they find it at the camp!

Meeple in The Lost Expedition

With such a simple system in play, Osprey has got a great sense of theme and narrative to come through. Look at the example of the native tribe again – resolving it by spending four health is likely you choosing to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the tribe. Spending two ammunition is a much darker resolution, while killing a player a player character to advance one space would perhaps be, narratively, providing the tribe with a sacrifice or captive in order for their assistance. Depending on how close you are to El Dorado, what encounters lie before and after the tribe, and what resources you have in your pool all affect how your team would resolve it.

As well as a co-op game (with three suggested levels of difficulty), Expedition also includes a competitive and solo mode. In competitive, you’ll be creating multiple paths of encounters, trying to force your opponent down a slower or more dangerous route while trying to avoid them doing the same to you. Solo is similar to co-op, with one player making all the decisions. These just add to a great, flexible and replayable package, a game that feels like it translated effortlessly from designer Peer Sylvester’s mind.

Although The Lost Expedition isn’t a hugely deep and strategic game, it is highly tactical, offering nuanced short-term decision making and resource management. With a playtime of no more than an hour (if that, depending on player count), it packs an awful lot into that time, asking players to make interesting choices several times a round. Added to that the wonderful art on display and the intricate narrative the game eventually weaves together, The Lost Expedition is a fun adventure and highly recommended addition to the shelves of any competitive couple.