20 May 2021
Revisiting a true American adventure
On its initial 2013 release, Lewis and Clark stood out as a thoroughly unique race game detailing the famed explorers’ 1804 expedition across the North American frontier to the Pacific. Merging hand and resource management, worker placement, and even hints of deck and engine building, Cedrick Chaboussit crafted an incredibly deep game of strategy that was as rewarding as it was unforgiving. Little has changed since then, as Lewis and Clark still feels as fresh and tantalisingly clever as it ever was.
At the forefront of Lewis and Clark’s design is the unique card play. Players’ cards represent the explorers and their ever-expanding troupe of companions, each with their own actions and strength. To perform a card’s action, it must first be powered by another card, the strength of which determining how many times the action can be done. Furthermore, each played card remains relevant to all players instead of sitting idly in a discard pile, as resource gathering actions take into account every visible resource icon in front of not only the active player but also their neighbours.
Right from the first turn, this approach to action selection forces players to make meaningful decisions, as making a particular choice means throwing away another. Alternatively, cards can be powered by Indian figures, leading us to divisive area of Lewis and Clark’s theme.
Essentially, Indians form one of the seven resources in the game. Whilst undoubtably more valued than fur, the labelling of Native Americans as resource is nonetheless problematic. Despite the ascribed value of the Indian figures by the game, and an inferred thematic mirroring of their immense importance to the expedition, grasping a handful of these little red meeples never sat quite right with me. That said, the rulebook addresses the relations between the explorers and Native Americans, and the general history of the period in a sensitive manner. Furthermore, each of Vincent Dutrait’s stunning character card illustrations is supplemented with a brief description in the rulebook’s index.
One change which is apparent in this latest edition is the inclusion of time tokens over the original game’s camp tokens. Instead of having to manoeuvre the scout figure back down the river track to reach camp, this minor revision sees players accruing time tokens – representing the various burdens to the expedition’s progress. Progressing onwards thus entails spending movement points to remove time tokens before travelling on up the river.
This management and balancing of both time and resources forms the central puzzle of Lewis and Clark. Where many games excite players with the prospect of gathering hoards of resources, Lewis and Clark conversely generates its excitement by not being a game of excess. Particular actions will lure players in with the temptation of mounds of food or furs, but greed will be their downfall. Storage on the expedition’s boats is tight, with even small loads threatening to add dreaded time to the journey. Not many games have imbued resource management with this much tension and theme; an admirable feat given the game’s age.
Lewis and Clark may not be as instantly accessible as other modern Euros, but wrapping your head around its intricacies soon pays off. It can be a tough game to master, and mistakes can be disastrous, but the gratification of a good play is utterly addictive.
PLAY IT? YES
In an industry abound with deluxe new editions of beloved classics, this simple reprint confidently stands out as a simple and modest testament to enduring design.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED TZOLK’IN: THE MAYAN CALENDAR
Their gameplay may differ but both proved that complex and innovative mechanics could still be intuitive and thematic.
Designer: Cedrick Chaboussit
Time: 30-150 minutes
This article originally appeared in issue 47 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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