Location: Your Home!
Players: We recommend 1-3
Everybody do the dinosaur!
From the Space Cowboys website:
A young woman knocks at the door of your PI agency. “My name is Gladys Ungerton. My friend, Ned Malone, has gone missing. You probably heard about him: he is one of the members of Prof. Challenger’s expedition! They recently returned from the Lost Valley full of strange creatures. I just received this notebook and this odd message. I don’t understand a word of any of it. Can you please go to the offices of Prof. Challenger? If you are true to your reputation, you will bring Ned back to me!”
Unlock’s Exotic Adventures has, so far, been pretty disappointing compared to the previous sets, but generally, the final entries of each Unlock set have been the most exciting, with the best mechanics overall, so I was hopeful that this game would deliver! I mean how can you mess up dinosaurs?
Expedition: Challenger has some overall good ideas, inserting an interesting twist on the timer once a particular stage of the game is reached, and though it comes along with some strange arbitrariness, with a little iteration, this method of keeping time could be very entertaining. There are a few really great puzzles involved during the solving of this box, some of which implement flawed ideas from Scheherazade’s Last Tale in a much smoother way, one of which really wowed us when we figured it out. Most of the puzzles are fun, if basic, and when the box works, it tends to work pretty well. A somewhat non-linear approach to the game is a good step forward, but unfortunately, the set up doesn’t allow for the game flow to take full advantage of the non-linearity.
Expedition Challenger frequently feels as though it is part of a beta test. Connections between multiple parts of the game flow are weak, and are in major need of better cluing in order to remove the leaps of logic required. One particular “machine” card in the app requires aimless searching that forces the flow of the game into a screeching halt, as the clue meant to assist with this interaction is ultimately useless. An early game puzzle requires outside knowledge, which has never been required for an Unlock game. The storyline is strong at the start, but the execution leaves much to be desired during the course of the game. The ending is ultimately anticlimactic, ultimately just ending with little to no fanfare, and although we had completed everything the game had to offer, we were left wondering if there was something we had missed. One of the main goals of the game is saving all the characters who were lost on the expedition, and a key member of the expedition remains mysteriously lost, which may be an attempt at leaving the game open for a sequel, but as this glaring omission is never explained, it ends the story on a bewildering note.
Though some puzzles are well implemented and clever, much like the story, many had us scratching our heads long after they had been completed. One of the main puzzles can be easily hacked using guess and check, and seems to encourage this, but is part of a clever puzzle that we missed out on due to the weird presentation of this interaction. The new map mechanic is full of some extremely arbitrary movement rules, contributing to a lot of confusion when the game instills a fair amount of learned helplessness in players. Overall, Expedition: Challenger would be a great first draft, but as a finished product for sale, it disappoints on multiple levels.
Expedition: Challenger tries it’s best, but ultimately, the clever puzzles are overshadowed by illogical interactions and a poor game flow. These issues are exacerbated by strangely arbitrary choices in the game design that serve only to punish the player, an ongoing frustration of the Exotic Adventures set. Give this one a skip, as it feels much too rushed to be a final product. Earlier sets are definitely worth a try, however, so if you’re looking to try an Unlock game, I’d suggest one of these! We buy ours at the ever excellent Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!