Review: Expedite – Not Quite There
This week, we take a look at Expedite, the first offering from Turnham Games. Expedite is all about creating hubs in cities where you will control the imports and exports, then using those hubs to fulfill destination “World Trade” cards for points. If you have to use an opponent’s hub, then they get some of those points. Ultimately, though, this game exists in a strange divide between mass market and hobby game.
The Basics. The board is a map of the world with prominent cities displayed. The bottom has a track to one hundred points and the first player that reaches the 100 point goal is the winner. At the beginning of the game, players may each select an initial hub to be their permanent base throughout the game. They are also dealt three destination cards that they can turn in for points if they connect the route.
The game begins. On each player’s turn they can do one of four things. First, they can draw colored cards. A player can either draw three blindly from the top of the deck or simply take the two face up cards. Second, they can discard sets of colored cards to take ownership of a city’s hub. Cities cost between one and three like colored cards. A player may even purchase a hub owned by another player by paying double the card cost. Of course, another player can buy it again for triple and so on.
The final two actions have to deal with the World Trade cards. Each card shows a starting and an ending destination. A player can play a World Trade card for points if he owns the starting hub and every hub along the route is controlled by a player. If so, he travels the route and any hubs he owns are free. But if must connect to an opponent’s hub, then he must give them a portion of his points.
Finally, if a player feels that a particular World Trade card is far too difficult, they can discard it and draw a new one from the top of the world trade deck. The early game is a race to build as many hubs as possible in the hope of mooching off of other players’ cards. The late game is about strategic hub building and playing cards even if you have to give an opponent a few points.
The Feel. Expedite has some good ideas, and works well enough, but ultimately has some serious flaws that mar the play of the game. When I first read the rules and took a look at the board, I felt that this game would be similar to Ticket to Ride, but with a changing landscape and more of a racing feeling as the players shoot for that 100 point goal. While the game isn’t completely without enjoyment, there are just too many factors that are negative.
The difficulty begins right at the outset as the players select their permanent hubs. The selection choices are highly unequal. New York and London are the clear best choices. Both link to numerous other cities – as opposed to Shanghai, for example, with only two connections. So you are more likely to siphon off points from other players if you control those hubs. Plus, both are major arteries onto their continents. The only way into North America (unless traveling from or through South America) is through New York. Control that, and you get points as people go through. Similarly, London is the major staging point in Europe.
The main problem is that other cities are much more strategically disadvantageous. Mumbai, for example, has a lot of routes, but it is easy to avoid and there are simply less cities in the region. Tokyo has many connections and would be an interesting choice, but it sticks you on the side of the board. For some reason, there is no route from Tokyo to San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Putting that aside, the other major problem is that there is no inherent catch-up mechanism. In fact, as people play cards, they tend to give out points to their opponents. And often that means the leader is getting more points. In Expedite, the rich get richer – and this is especially prevalent in a four player game.
Of course, the counter would be to buy up the leader’s hubs so that he isn’t getting points from them. Unfortunately, the doubling and tripling of the cost makes this plan untenable. Even if the other players did nothing but draw cards in order to afford such a maneuver, the leader can simply continue playing World Trade cards for points. After a few purchases, the board state tends to ossify as it becomes prohibitive to purchase thrice bought hubs.
In a two player game, the board state is a little more fluid, because there is less competition for the hubs. And, with fewer players, there is a little more back and forth with the points. But the game doesn’t really feel like a race to 100 points. It feels like a race to maybe 60 and then being able to more or less ride other players’ cards from there to the victory.
And the Super Card, I think was meant to help with this issue, but it does a poor job. The Super Card can be played to automatically gain ownership of any hub. In effect, it represents an infinite number of wild cards. So theoretically this can be used to buy hubs owned by the leading player and even things out. The problem is that there are only three in the entire deck, which means they are rare enough that only three to six will show up in a game. Plus, since they are drawn entirely randomly, it is just as likely that the leading player will get one as any other player. In fact, in my four player game, one player got four out of the six that we saw.
Total up all of these problems, and the game is sadly not that great. Is there fun to be had? Yes, of course. There are some nice planning elements and the game moves quickly enough that that there isn’t any appreciable downtime, even with four.
In one sense, then, Expedite is like a very good mass market game. I’d take it over Monopoly, Risk, or Parcheesi any day. Players are more in control and can think long term. But it’s not quite where I’d like it to be to call it a gateway game. I don’t think any non-gamer is going to play Expedite and realize that board games can be truly great.
Components: 2.5 of 5. Expedite also has an interesting dichotomy here. On the one hand, the board is heavy and thick, fantastic quality. Starting hubs and scoring pieces are marked with sculpted plastic planes and the cards are high gloss and resilient to grabby hands that want to fold them. On the other hand, though, the hubs are marked with cheap plastic poker chips. And some of the design choices are baffling. The colored cards are so bright and pastel that they aren’t easy on the eyes, and the route cards put all of the city names on a white background. While that works fine for red, blue, and green named cities, yellow cities are hard to read and white cities are very difficult. A brown background would have worked much better.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3.5 of 5. Expedite has a strong strategy core with some unfortunate swingy luck elements. Crafting the routes is only part of the game. The other part is contesting those hubs (which aren’t permanently claimed at game setup) that are connected to a variety of routes in order to siphon off points. That part is interesting and can be tense. But ultimately the random World Trade draw and especially the Super Card really intrudes on the strategy element.
Mechanics: 2 of 5. While Expedite has some strong elements, it breaks down a bit in this area. The ability to permanently claim the best hubs gives a huge first player advantage. The random draw of the Super Card can nullify hard won hubs and eliminate whole turns and tactics from opponents. And I still can’t get over the lack of a wrap-around link from East to West. Ultimately, these drawbacks really keep the game from excelling.
Replayability: 2 of 5. Putting other difficulties aside, I wonder just how much replay value Expedite will ultimately have. The first several moves are fairly scripted. Select the hub with the most connections as your permanent base. Then draw cards and try to claim hubs on your route cards or hubs with lots of connections. And, while the route cards will be different each game, I’m not sure that it does much to sustain repeat play.
Spite: 2 of 5. Expedite is not a high spite “take that” type game. It should be amenable to most family gamers. However, it is not without spite entirely. Taking over other player’s hubs can feel like a direct attack – especially if you use the Super Card after they spent several turns accumulating nine blue cards to own it.
Overall: 1.5 of 5. While there are some interesting aspects, Expedite just isn’t much fun – at least not for hobby gamers and adult enthusiasts. There may be some value there for younger children (say 6-10), and it does a good job of teaching some geography. Plus, the kids get some sense of how economically important the various cities are. But even then, I can think of a few other gateway games that would be more entertaining, less scripted, and more likely to be enjoyed repeatedly. Expedite makes a good effort, and definitely exceeds most mass market games, but the hobby market has already produced games superior to this one.
(A special thanks to Turnham Games for providing a review copy of Expedite)