Monster Expedition Review: Monster Chucker

Overview

Monster Expedition is a game about capturing rare and majestic monsters for study rather than battle. You accomplish this by rolling an ever-increasing, but always satisfying number of dice.

You can find a video version of this review on YouTube.

Higher numbers win the day. But you must decide on whether or not to push your luck and bring home the rarest species, at the risk of failing a hunt and leaving competing expeditions to catch that valuable quarry anyway.

Monster Expedition is a competitive game where the player with the most points at the end wins. Points are calculated between the monsters they have captured and the cages they have purchased.

Full spread of the Monster Expedition board game.

The game itself is deceptively lightweight and quick to set up. The mechanics more or less boil down to roll and keep in the vein of Yahtzee, but it’s more about obtaining higher numbers than set collection. It’s simple enough that anyone should be able to pick it up within minutes.

Bias & Information

Review Copy Used: Yes                                    Genre: Push Your Luck/Dice Rolling
Number of Plays: 10+                                     Publisher: Amigo Game
Player Counts Played: 1, 2, 3, & 4                       Designer: Alexander Pfister
Fan of Genre: No                                         Player Count: 1-4
Fan of Weight: No                                        Weight: Light/Gateway
Abbee's Thoughts: Meh                                    Price: Around $25

Components

For a dice chucker, Monster Expedition comes with a decent number of nifty components. First, there is, of course, a bunch of custom-made six-sided dice.

You get a nice stack of monster cards which you will notice have fantastic artwork. I discovered Monster Expedition at Origins Game Fair, and it was the monster and box art that made me stop and look at the game. Each card pops with color and creativity from the Vapor Snail to the Omnimorph.

A Vapor Snail card

I particularly enjoy that even though there are duplicate monsters within the cards, they are each tweaked slightly from each other, which is great to see. Monster Expedition comes with a small board to place the deck on. It also lists the different dice values for easy odds calculation. That’s really handy for how the game is played.

Side by side comparison of two Pierigh's cards with different art.

You get four stacks of camp cards and a bunch of little insignia tokens that look really elegant and unique. Monster Expedition is a game bursting with personality with a big table presence despite its relatively small size. It simply looks great on the table.

Monster Expedition is a fairly inexpensive game, and the content is worth the price. You don’t normally get this kind of high-quality artwork in a small box game. It really does allow Monster Expedition to punch up, and that’s pretty cool.

Monster Expedition Gameplay

Monster Expedition is one of those games that subverts your expectations, but somewhat to its detriment. The game itself is simple enough that I’d slot it firmly into the family-friendly and gateway game category. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. At the same time, I don’t feel like its presentation, gorgeous as it is, truly conveys the game’s target audience.

The Omnimorph, Giant Hierdula and Draco Chelonia from Monster Expedition.

It gives off a general vibe of being much deeper or heavier than it is, and I think that probably will catch some folks off guard because it certainly did me. That said, Monster Expedition is a competent and solid dice chucking game.

Players take turns picking a camp to use that dictates the dice they will roll. Each monster has a cost that you have to meet with your dice if you want to catch it. The more expensive the monster, the more points it’s going to be worth.

There are a few tricks to the game beyond simply rolling high. When you roll, you choose a number to bank. You must bank all of the dice that show that number. The catch is, if at any point you can only bank a number you already have banked, that is a misthrow. You then lose your highest banked dice.

The core of the game is all about knowing when to push your luck toward the monsters you have your eye on. You can also buy cages that are worth half the points of the monster but are face down until the end of the game, so you don’t know what they are worth.

Monster Expedition Dice

Banking specific numbers also upgrade your camps, which increases the number of dice you can use on future hunts, and a few camps even upgrade if another player banks a specific number. Whenever a player acquires a cage, they also refill the play area with monsters and places their emblem on them. If those monsters aren’t captured by the end of the game, that player receives them as cages.

There are interesting decisions to make about what camps to use versus what monsters you want. The camp color must match the color of the monster or you can’t buy it in the first place. You have to think about whether or not it’s worth banking a low number to upgrade your camp and when or if you want to refill the available monster display with your emblems.

In addition to points, many monsters have a small ability. Some gain extra dice if you collect a set of them, while others steal a cage from another player. There are quite a few engaging decision points despite Monster Expeditions’ simplicity which makes it particularly great as a gateway game. It gently introduces players to the wider world of board games without being overwhelming.

Monster Expedition Board

I’ve always felt that a lot of gateway games don’t go far enough, they crack the window instead of opening it. Monster Expedition strikes a good balance by being incredibly approachable, but still allowing a potential hobby convert to engage in ways that they couldn’t with something from Hasbro.

On the flipside, Monster Expedition is oozing with theme and potential but never capitalizes on it. All of its beauty is a superficial layer covering a fairly standard dice game and not much more. The unique monsters, setting, and concept are all kind of squandered when it comes to the gameplay.

I don’t really feel like I’m capturing monsters with an expedition party. I’m just rolling dice for higher numbers. The wonderfully illustrated card itself means nothing, only the number on it matters.

There’s no visible connection between the monster’s abilities and the game mechanics. It has no viable explanation as to why this monster steals a cage, and this one improves a camp. It’s very abstract, without being an abstract game and that conflict can be felt at the table.

Solo Mode

Monster Expedition’s solo mode has an interesting design. It tosses away the core principle of the game, yet you play it the same way you normally would.

You still roll dice and capture monsters, but the points are pretty much irrelevant. Instead, you’re given a number of specific challenges that follow a small story about your expedition.

Each challenge has a time limit, usually 8 turns, and can also change a few things about the game or its setup. One might require you to capture monsters from a specific environment, while another makes upgrading your camps more difficult.

Monster Expedition camp card

The mode itself is entertaining and well made. It doesn’t have much replay value, but it’s fun to go through the entire set at least once because you have to think about the game in a different way even though the mechanics don’t change.

If I need 7 monsters from the enchanted forest, suddenly how I upgrade my camps changes, and I have to think about the best way to go about completing the objective. I usually dislike when a game’s solo mode branches away from the core of a game because they usually feel tacked on. That isn’t the case with Monster Expedition. The mode is thought out and fun, even though I can’t see myself playing it a second time.

Verdict

Monster Expedition is a solid but, lightweight roll-and-keep game with a gorgeous presentation that still leaves me admiring it whenever it hits the table. There’s not enough meat on it for more hardcore gamers, but I do think it’s one of the better choices you could make for a gateway game. Thanks to the fact that it marries simplicity to a small tree of interesting, but easy-to-digest decisions.

It’s just a shame that the great theme is squandered by having nothing to do with the game itself. Monster Expedition isn’t an expensive game though, which further cements its place among the shelves for its intended audience. You don’t introduce grandma to the wider world of board gaming with Mage Knight. Okay, maybe I would, but I don’t advise you to. Use Monster Expedition for that instead!

My Perspective On Monster Expedition

Monster Expedition is definitely too light for me, which I didn’t expect given how it looks. I probably shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I can’t deny it felt like biting into a sandwich thinking the mayonnaise was sour cream. Both are good sure, but I’d still gag anyway.

Regardless, Monster Expedition is still a nice little dice chucker with a quick setup that would make a great gateway game. I actually use it to kill time with my gaming group while we’re still waiting on everyone to arrive. It’s quick enough for the purpose and interesting enough for one game before moving on to something meatier.

For another dice-based gateway game, check out my review of Dice Miner.

Pros

  • Gorgeous Artwork
  • Quick Setup & Tear Down
  • Very simple To Learn
  • Plays Great At 1-4 Players
  • A Solid Solo Mode
  • Cheap Price

Cons

  • The Theme & Mechanics Aren’t Connected
  • Solo Mode Lacks Replay Value
  • It Looks Deeper Than It Is

Who Would Like Monster Expedition?

  • If you like push your luck style games, the threat & thrill of misthrows is exciting.
  • If you want a unique game to play with kids or non gamers. Monster Expedition can give them a glimpse of the hobby without drop kicking them in the chest.
  • If you like rolling dice, you get to roll a large number of them at once in Monster Expedition.

Who Wouldn’t Like Monster Expedition?

  • If you enjoy player interaction, it’s sparse.
  • If you aren’t a fan of abstract games, Monster Expedition is far more abstract than it looks.
  • Strategy game fans may dislike the concept of cages, they add a very unpredictable element to the the end game scoring.