There and Back Again with Expedition: Northwest Passage
Set sail to explore the uncharted waters of the north Atlantic as winter threatens in Expedition: Northwest Passage.
Many of my favorite solo games don’t need to hit the table all the time to retain the strong memories and enjoyment I associate with them. Expedition: Northwest Passage might appear to be pretty standard, yet it remains excellent! Still, it seemed like the right time to bring it back to my table to explore even more of the different strategies. Sail on!
The goal is to lay tiles and explore to connect to the Northwest Passage, then turn around and make it back home before time runs out. A solar disc marks the seasons and which regions are frozen over, and it’s certainly a journey that will put any crew to the ultimate test!
January 26, 2018
September 28, 2023
26" x 24"
Tracking the Weather
So many possibilities when starting out! My ship is the sturdiest one around, particularly since I push it to the breaking point with every play. Ha ha! Love this ship.
Exploration happens by placing new tiles that connect to the ice and water, then traveling further west.
It might sound simple, yet the solar disc changes the landscape quite a bit. The ship might get frozen in place, or the sled crew could end up stuck on an island.
The race to make it back home adds to the urgency of plotting the best route, yet I absolutely love this puzzle!
Relying on the Crew
Nearly everything that’s needed is included on the player mat, save for the main solo action. This involves using a crew member to place the next large tile from the market.
I’ve often played to fill in as much of the map as possible, so I don’t necessarily look at the point values. Not a lot of these tokens often make it into my play area!
However, there are many ways to play, so it’s nice to have all of this information available at a glance.
Usually, I only need to check the rulebook for the negative victory points for failing to return home. Because…
So Close to Safety
My map looked pretty filled in, the crew discovered the Northwest Passage, and the return journey was pretty open. Alas, everyone was stranded on the way back!
This was an agonizing way to lose since I needed 3 more actions, and probably could have made it had I turned everyone around just a little sooner. Bad planning.
I always hate losing any members of the crew, and this was a total loss. Blame it on my rusty cartography skills.
Despite the loss and a mediocre map, playing again brought back lots of great memories. I still love this game!
Headed for Home
Without much effort, I reset and decided to give this another attempt. I made sure there was a quick way back home through the middle of the map. Split those islands!
I also put nearly all of the crew on the sled, which I rarely do. It seems like there’s an interesting strategy there, and I hope to keep exploring some more ways to play.
Fortunately, I planned better! The ship picked up the sled crew and sailed home before winter swallowed them up.
However, this meant no one actually made it to the Northwest Passage. Still, at least everyone survived!
The Emotional Side: Keeping the Crew Alive
I absolutely feel bad when I don’t bring the crew home safely. It’s very much implied that they don’t have enough provisions and can’t survive through the winter. Terrible! However, I think this is part of the reason why I have such a strong connection to the game. It’s not just a matter of moving pieces around and hoping for the best.
Granted, I’m fully aware it’s all for fun and entirely fictional. Yet I think it would be a very different story if it was presented as a game about spending resources, not assigning crew members. In that scenario, losing the ship would still be bad, but would feel less personal. It’s interesting to see how games can generate these sorts of emotions.
There is a plan for some posts in the near future about how I’ve looked at emotions and board games. I’ll say it many times: It’s not academic, scientific, or professional in any way! But to consider how I determine my favorite solo games, it’s been very useful for me to understand what I love and feel strongly about. More on that coming up relatively soon!
Play Number: 55 and 56
Solo Mode: Official Solo Variant
Outcome: -9, 3 (2 Losses)
It was interesting to finally start picking up tokens in this second play. Maximizing my score and exploring more in terms of these locations might be my next challenge! Still, I think I’m just trained to try to fill in the map as much as possible. Ha ha! There is something special about this one in terms of the combination of tile-laying and discovery. I haven’t tired of it yet, and will forever remember that year when I hunted for my first complete map! Memories…
Price & Value
Challenges & Mechanics
Design & Theme
Components & Rules
Achievement & Enjoyment
Distinctness & Randomness
+ Pros (Positives)
- The way the tiles come out mean that every map is a little different with the formation of the islands.
- Deciding how to split the crew between the ship and sled is an interesting decision that can change gameplay a lot.
- Plotting a course with the solar disc is a fun part of the challenge to ensure that no one gets locked in or stranded.
- It seems like there is always just one less crew member than what’s needed, which makes decisions meaningful.
- Gameplay can be tailored to various strategies that focus on filling in the map or collecting a boatload of tokens.
- Appreciating the play space at the very end is very fun, as it highlights the choices about mapping the area.
– Cons (Negatives)
- The tiles can slide around very easily on the board without any way to anchor them, which is a little annoying.
- Although there is a lot of variety in the artwork, it all boils down to a pretty uniform visual of ice and water.
- Sometimes, bad luck requires using extra crew members to clear out the tiles and find some that can be placed.
- Being able to see the best routes for exploration and a return route isn’t an easy skill and can result in lost crew.
Find the Passage and Return
- Overall Goal Progress 100% 100%
Goals and Milestones
Complete the map in at least 1 game.
Use only the ship to explore and win in at least 1 game.
Continue the Conversation
What do you think of Expedition: Northwest Passage? Are there other solo exploration games about creating a map that you enjoy? I haven’t tired of this one yet, and I just love how it’s about documenting a journey into the unknown. There are a lot of very interesting decisions to make. I’m excited to keep on exploring and finding my way between the ice!