Discoveries is published by Ludonaute games and designed by Cédrick Chaboussit who previously designed (you may have guessed) Lewis & Clark: The Expedition. As a result of the theme and the beautiful artwork, by Vincent Dutrait, that features on both, when reviewing it and playing it, it cannot be helped but to compare the two. In spite of the comparisons which will inevitably be drawn the games are very different, but that’s a good thing, owning Lewis & Clark doesn’t need to prevent you from owning Discoveries, the game and the goal feature different play styles and it isn’t just “Lewis & Clark the dice game”.
On the expedition from East to West America Merryweather Lewis, William Clark, Patrick Gass and John Ordway kept journals of their discoveries, drawing maps of unexplored areas and noting flora and fauna that was previously undiscovered. Players are one of these four men and the player who makes the most discoveries wins.
Discoveries is a dice rolling, worker placement, set collecting, and deck building game. That seems like there is going to be a lot going on, and there is, but once you get into the game there isn’t too much going on, it feels like the right amount. On their turn a player has two options, either to play dice that represent the men in their service (all of which must have the same symbol on) or to recall dice, either all of your own colour or all from a certain side of the board which have been spent. This means a player can use other players dice workers or neutral dice as well as their own.
Unlike Lewis and Clark this is not a race game, the objective is to score the most points through collecting cards. You do this by spending your dice rolls on the appropriate actions, everyone starts with the same actions but other actions will be added and thus “travelling” the route of rivers and mountains on these cards.
Each player has one card at a time to fulfil, three more cards are on display that when a player’s card is fulfilled they choose one of. Some cards are worth straight points, some have symbols on for set collection, and points are also scored for most and second most tepee symbols on cards. Most of these tepee symbols feature on the other side of cards, which are tribe and character cards that add more actions to place dice on. The cards are double sided, journey on one side and tribes on the other, some will only be available as journeys and others as tribes, on top of this there are always some cards taken out as well, five when playing four player, fifteen when playing three and twenty five when playing two. This means every game is different as different resources and opportunities will be available.
The crux of success: Firstly it is essential to purchase tribes to fulfil the larger scoring cards. Another key part of succeeding at the game, is that when fulfilling a journey card if the player can also fulfil another one that is available from the set of three, upon doing so both go into their points for the end scoring and that player gets to take another turn immediately. There’s a whole lot of other minor rules that it would take me ages to get into, it’s actual a simple to play game that hides behind a complicated amount of information.
The artwork again is absolutely of the highest order, this and Lewis & Clark are my favourite game artwork thus far. The theme is not pasted on, it feels completely essential to the game and although you could repurpose it to another setting it works really well with gameplay. The custom dice are brilliant and the iconography of symbols is excellent once you get used to it and the game features no necessary text. As much work has gone into this as you may expect if you know Lewis & Clark.
The cards for set collection feature animals, birds, fish, and plants all of which were actually discovered on the expedition and the characters and tribes featured are real. A game saving inclusion of an action space that means the player can change their dice to a different face prevents someone being frozen out of the game because of rolling terrible dice.
The rulebook is somewhat hard to follow at times, this resulted in my first two plays missing a rule about splitting river and mountain actions across two different sections of river or mountain. It’s hard to explain so maybe that’s why the rules struggle with it but it makes the game harder and is necessary. The rulebook is full of flavour text describing events and characters if you don’t enjoy that it could be a problem, I love it personally. The only potential turn off other than that is that although it seems simple it’s actually a bit of a brain burner much like Lewis & Clark (last comparison I promise), it’s not an easy intro for non-gamers.
Discoveries is one of the more interesting dice rolling games to come out in 2015, chances are if you like Lewis & Clark (whoops) for the theme and artwork you’ll like Discoveries. I can’t think of many games it’s similar to on gameplay, I’m told it’s similar to the very popular Roll for the Galaxy (I haven’t yet played it). It’s very replay-able and scales well with different player counts, the cost is around £20 in the UK which I consider a bit of a bargain.
Member of The BoardRoom Gaming Group in Cheltenham