Packing For Adventure: A Relic Expedition Q&A

As part of our March Spotlight on Relic Expedition, we strive to inform the readers of little extra tidbits surrounding the game. Games are made by people, and one of those tidbits we enjoy is learning a little bit more about the people behind them. Now, sometimes that isn’t always easy, because the focus is usually on the games themselves. While some designers are very outspoken, others can be quite elusive. In the case of Relic Expedition designer Randy Hoyt, it didn’t take much exploratory power for us to reach his reclusive base camp.

The mission in Relic Expedition requires slightly more effort. In it, players have been tipped off to news of  a trove of lost artifacts in a recently uncovered set of jungle ruins. The race is on to be the first team to succeed at an their mission. Players must traverse the seemingly endless jungle terrain, fend off various random threats, and complete their collections before the others. We’re here to prepare you for the trip. However, we aren’t archaeologists. So instead, we’ve turned to the expert himself for help on your adventures.

Round One Questions

CR: What was your Gateway Game?

relic icon 1I suppose Settlers of Catan is the closest game to a gateway game for me. I played card games and board games a lot as a kid, games like Yahtzee, Clue, and Chess. In college, I played a lot of Axis & Allies, Parcheesi, and the early Project Gipf games. (Playing Dvonn made me want to be a game designer.) I then went through a poker phase: it was so crazy that people would watch a card game on television! But I don’t think I’ve played poker since my poker group discovered Catan years ago; it’s been mostly designer games ever since.


CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Relic Expedition)?

My wife and I recently played a fan expansion for 7 Wonders – the Empires expansion – that has a great two-player variant. Each player plays two hands with two wonder boards that are historically related (like Ephesus and Byzantium). I’ve never tried a print-and-play fan expansion like this before, but it’s been a lot of fun playing it and interacting with the designer on BGG.


CR: How big is your game collection?

relic icon 2I only have about 80 games, a mix of childhood favorites and really great newer games. I try not to buy games that I’ll only play a few times; that’s what a gaming group is for. The last game I bought was Core Worlds with the Galactic Orders expansion, which my son and I have both really been enjoying.


CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?

I like to play individual games many times, to sink my teeth into them and really explore all of their nooks and crannies. Because of that, I tend to prefer shorter games that I can play multiple times in one session. I also don’t mind a lot of luck in games so that anyone can win, as long as the decisions are interesting enough and require enough skill that a better player will win more often in the long run. Carcassonne and 7 Wonders are definitely near the top of my list. I know many players can’t stand the thought of a less-skilled player beating them at all, but I generally have more fun gaming experiences with games like that.


CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?

relic icon 3I actually like Monopoly, with the following disclaimers:

  1. The game is disastrous without auctions, so play with all the rules.
  2. The paper money is too fiddly, so play with pocket calculators or something to keep track of how much money you have. This decreases playtime considerably.

The Lord of the Rings Monopoly has one new rule where the ring starts in the Shire and the game ends when the ring reaches Mount Doom: you don’t have to wait for all the players to be eliminated. I like Monopoly like that, but there are still plenty of games I’d rather play.


On Relic Expedition

CR: First, the game has a fairly unique tile layout system, where no game will look the same. What was the inspiration behind that idea?

relic comic 2From the very beginning, Tyler Segel (the artist) and I wanted the description on the back of the box to sound interesting enough to non-gamers and casual gamers that they’d be willing to give it a shot. We thought a small starting board that grew in completely different ways each game would have that appeal. I really enjoy the “Fog Island” scenario in The Seafarers of Catan; exploration there works in a similar way but on a much smaller scale, with only a handful of tiles revealed one at a time in a predefined shape. I wanted to take that feeling of exploration and crank it up to eleven. We then brainstormed themes that would work well with that mechanic and that would appeal to the same audience: an Indiana Jones-like jungle exploration game seemed perfect.


CR: How often do people mention running out of those tiles? Or is that just us?

In a four-player game, you will often run out of tiles. More players means fewer tiles per player, which also means that players generally get fewer turns before the tiles run out. There is also more competition for the relics, so there’s usually a little bit more maneuvering after everything is explored for someone to get the match they need. I originally tried the game with more tiles so that the tiles would never run out, but keeping the board size relatively constrained gives the four-player game a nice 45-60 minute arc from exploration to focusing in on specific relics. You’ll sometimes run out of tiles with fewer players, but it’s much more common with four.


CR: The monkeys behaves quite differently than the other animals. Were monkeys added later in development, or were they there from the start?

relic comic 1It’s really interesting that you would ask that! The game started with snakes, monkeys, and tigers: the villainous animals in Disney’s Jungle Book. I always thought of them in order of degree of danger: poison, theft, and severe injury. I honestly didn’t realize how different the monkeys were until much later.

My goal was to make a game that I could enjoy with my gaming friends but that I could also teach to non-gamers. When I got the game where I really liked it, I found it was still a little more daunting at first to non-gamers than I wanted. I started to look at what components were the most complex and could be removed, and that’s when I realized just how different the monkeys were. I tested the game a lot without them, and I found that the game worked well as a training expedition for people playing their first time.


CR: Relic Expedition evokes the feeling of a 1930’s adventure serial, and it has a very retro game look. Was that done deliberately?

relic comic 3Tyler and I both grew up when Indiana Jones was popular, so what we know of those serials we mostly get secondhand. But that’s exactly the feeling we aimed to evoke. Tyler loves the art style of 1950s, and when we first settled on the jungle exploration theme he planned to draw on jungle comics of that period. All the components use the halftone dot style of those comic books. The box cover is laid out more like a picture book cover than a typical board game box cover. So, yes, all that was very deliberate.


CR: Just a few months before before Relic Expedition was released, Days of Wonder put out a similarly named and themed game called Relic Runners. Are you familiar with it? Has that had an effect on the release of this game at all?

We raised funding for Relic Expedition on Kickstarter in April, and then Days of Wonder announced Relic Runners in June. I was completely shocked. I could hardly believe the coincidence, and at first I feared it would ruin us. Would anyone buy a jungle adventure game from a tiny publisher instead of from a well-known company? I don’t know how to measure the effect it has had on our release. It might have hurt us, or perhaps it might have even helped us — but my inclination is that it has had little to no effect. The mechanics for the two games are completely different, so I’m not too worried about it now.


CR: Lastly, how often do you hum Indiana Jones while playing? Be honest.

Ha! No, I don’t hum the Indiana Jones theme song when playing. But in every game someone will quote at least one line from one of the movies. “Why did it have to be snakes?” is probably the most popular. My personal favorite is, “He chose poorly.” I do love that the mechanics work together with the theme so well to evoke that atmosphere for players.

Editor’s Note: We’re pretty sure he’s lying. John Williams’ score is just too darn catchy.


Do you think you have what it takes to secure the treasures of a lost people? Do you have a travel bag and research documentation on standby, waiting for the call? We’d go ourselves, but you know, there’s snakes there. (We just went over that!) Is the only thing you need a destination, some instructions for when you get there,  and maybe a little grant money? Well, we’re about to give you that opportunity – in the form of a copy of the game. It’s your ticket to adventure. Are you ready? Then click here to get started.


relic expedition contest cover



Photo Credits: Relic Expedition cover and relic icons by Foxtrot Games.