Originally created back in 1954, Explore Europe has a significantly longer history than I would have initially expected. Produced from 1954 to 1992 Explore Europe has actually been sold under several different names including Europareise and Journey Through Europe. While the game seems to be quite a bit more popular in Europe than the United States, I was curious why a game that had been published for over 38 years suddenly stopped being produced in 1992. My suspicion was that the game just didn’t stay relevant in the changing board game industry of the 1990s. For a game that is over 60 years old Explore Europe actually has some interesting ideas for a roll and move game but it ultimately fails to be anything more than another very average roll and move game.
How to Play Explore Europe
- Choose which side of the board you want to use (the only difference is visual).
- Shuffle the instruction cards and place them face down next to the board.
- The town cards are sorted by color and shuffled separately.
- Each player chooses a color and takes the playing piece and the flag of that color.
- The starting city for each player is determined as follows. Each player clockwise will take the top town card from a different color. If there are more than three players, two players will take a card of the same color. The town on the card is where the player will start and end their journey. The player puts both their flag and playing piece on the corresponding city.
- Each player is also dealt two town cards from each color. These are the towns that the player will have to visit throughout the game. Players keep these cards in their hand until they visit the city.
- The youngest player starts the game.
Playing the Game
The objective of Explore Europe is to visit the six towns corresponding to the cards you received at the beginning of the game. You then have to return to your starting town. Players can visit their towns in any order.
A player begins their turn by rolling the die. The number rolled will determine how many spaces they will get to move. The player can move in any direction but they can not use the same path twice in the same turn.
A player can move through a town occupied by another player’s pawn or flag but they cannot end their turn on a town that contains either. If a player would land on a town that features another player’s flag or playing piece, they stop short of the town.
If a player rolls a one they can choose to either move one space or they can take the top instruction card. If they draw an instruction card they must follow its instructions immediately.
When a player lands on or moves through one of the towns from one of their cards, they reveal the card and leave it face up on the table.
While traveling players can move in three different ways.
To travel by land players will follow the solid lines on the board. Each line traveled between two towns counts as one space.
If a player visits a harbor town (a city that has dotted lines coming out from it) they can choose to end their turn. On their next turn they can take one of the dotted routes that connects to that city instead of rolling the dice.
Towns with a red dot contain an airport. To travel by airplane players will use some of the movement from their die roll. The map is divided into six different sections as shown on the flight plan cards. A player can only take one flight per turn and they cannot fly to a city that contains another player’s pawn or flag.
To travel within the zone that they currently are in, the player has to use two of their movement points.
To travel to a neighboring zone (not diagonal) from their current location, the player has to use four of their movement points.
End of Game
The first player to visit all of their town cards and return to their starting city wins the game.
My Thoughts on Explore Europe
Heading into Explore Europe the game reminded me a lot of the 10 Days series of games (10 Days in Africa, 10 Days in the USA). Both games are travel based games where players have to travel around the map visiting different cities/countries. It quickly became apparent that outside of the travel theme and the fact that you had to plan a route to visit your destinations, the two games share very little in common. The 10 Days series is focused on drawing tiles and placing them in a route that follows certain rules. Meanwhile Explore Europe is mostly a roll and move game with a travel theme pasted on. After playing Explore Europe I actually would say that it shares a lot more in common with Boundary Waters.
While Explore Europe is mostly just another roll and move game, I have to say that it actually has quite a bit more strategy than your typical roll and move game. This comes from the game having three different modes of transportation. Land travel is basically your typical roll and move game where you move as many spaces as the number you rolled. Water travel is nothing special either as you basically just waste two turns to move to another city. I would highly recommend avoiding it whenever possible. The one interesting mechanic in Explore Europe is air travel.
While the air travel mechanics are far from complex or original, they are actually really interesting to see in a roll and move game. Traveling by air gives the players many more options for travel as it lets you move long distances in one turn. For short distances it is usually easier to just travel by land. The air travel mechanic is interesting as the airports are separated into six different zones. You can either travel to an airport in the same zone or you can travel to a neighboring zone but you have to use more movement points. This decision can become interesting when you are near the border between two zones as it might be better to travel to an airport across the zone’s border by ground and then take an airplane once you have moved into the new zone.
The other strategy in Explore Europe comes from planning out your route. Planning out your route actually plays a pretty big role in determining who will win the game. If you just wing your route you will waste a bunch of time backtracking which likely will lose you the game. Planning your route is important to your success but it is not particularly deep. Coming up with your best route is pretty easy since you just group nearby cities and then travel from one group to another as you make your way around the gameboard. If you set up your route in the beginning of the game you can mostly follow it for the rest of the game. You probably will only have to slightly deviate from it from time to time due to your die rolls or instruction cards you draw.
Other than the potential strategy I think Explore Europe’s greatest strength is that it could work pretty well as a teaching tool. Due to having to plan out your route I can actually see Explore Europe working well teaching younger children basic planning skills. The game will force children to come up with a plan for how they are going to visit all of their cities. Explore Europe could also be used as a tool to teach children about cities in Europe. Every card includes quite a bit of information about the corresponding city. If you wanted a board game to teach children about cities in Europe I could see Explore Europe working pretty well.
The one catch is that Explore Europe is pretty outdated at this point. The oldest versions of the game date back to 1954 with the newest English version being released in 1992. That means that the game is at least 26 years old at this point. While I am guessing quite a bit of the information might still be accurate, there are going to be inaccuracies in the information presented by the game. While this doesn’t ruin the educational aspect of the game, you have to take it into consideration when looking at the facts presented by the game.
If I wrapped up the review at this point I would actually consider Explore Europe to be one of the better pure roll and move games that I have ever played. Unfortunately there are three things that prevent Explore Europe from being anything more than just another very average roll and move game.
First while Explore Europe has more strategy than most roll and move games, this doesn’t seem to reduce any of the luck in the game. A player could end up making bad decisions which will hurt their chances of winning the game. I don’t really see players making moves that are going to help them win the game though. Generally your strategy is only going to make a small difference in the outcome of the game. Luck is going to play a much larger role. The most obvious way that luck impacts the game is with rolling the die. A player that rolls better is going to do better in the game as they will be able to move more.
I actually was going to give Explore Europe some credit in this area due to the instruction cards since I thought they would offset some of the bad luck from rolling a one. In some cases that is actually true as you can get a card that might be even better than rolling a high number. The problem is that half of the cards end up making things even worse. Most of the bad cards only make you lose a turn. The worst cards send you to random places on the gameboard. If you were heading that ways anyway it will actually help you but in most cases it will just mess up your strategy.
Most of Explore Europe’s luck though comes from what cards you end up being dealt at the beginning of the game. This plays such a big role in the game that you could lose the game before it even begins. Basically you want to be dealt cards that are near one another. The more compact your route is the less you will have to move which means you don’t have to roll as well. A player whose cities are on all corners of the board are going to have a very hard time winning the game.
This can be even worse because all of the cities in the game are not equal. Specifically you want to be dealt the least number of islands possible. The problem with islands is that you have to waste several turns to visit them. While some of the islands have airports, many of them don’t. Without an airport you have to waste at least three turns to visit an island. You have to stop in a harbor city and wait there for a turn. You then need to spend a turn traveling across the water to the island. On your next turn you will sail back to the mainland. Wasting three turns just to visit one of your destinations will set you way back. If a player is dealt two or more islands they have next to no chance of winning the game.
I think the biggest problem with Explore Europe though is the simple fact that it just isn’t that interesting. While I appreciate the attempt at strategy, Explore Europe is just not that fun of a roll and move game. I like the idea of traveling and yet it is not that compelling of a game. I honestly would say that it kind of feels like you are stuck in Geography class. I have played games that were more boring but the fact that the game is boring is still not a good sign.
As far as the components I would say that they are a little hit or miss. The artwork on the cards and the gameboard is fine. I appreciate that the gameboard is double sided even though both sides are just different designs for the same map. I will say that the gameboard doesn’t like to stay flat though. The game does come with quite a few cards and they actually have some interesting fact on them (if they are still accurate). I also liked the tokens and flags except for the fact that they are quite a bit bigger than the dots on the gameboard. This can sometimes be a problem when your flag or pawn gets pushed off a space because it might be hard to remember what space it was on.
Since I started by talking about the 10 Days series I want to wrap up by comparing that series with Explore Europe. Honestly there isn’t a lot to compare the two games with. Explore Europe is a generic roll and move game and 10 Days is a tile laying style game. Of the two games I would confidently say that I prefer the 10 Days series. It plays quite a bit quicker, has more strategy and is just a much more enjoyable experience. Unless you are really looking for a roll and move travel themed game I don’t really see a reason to choose Explore Europe over 10 Days.
Should You Buy Explore Europe?
Heading into Explore Europe I admit that I didn’t have high expectations. It just looked like another average roll and move game that pasted on a travel theme. After reading the rules though I actually had some hope for the game. Explore Europe actually has a decent amount of strategy for a roll and move game. The three different modes of transportation along with having to plan your route actually adds some decent strategy for a roll and move game. Explore Europe also works pretty well as an educational tool. The problem is that while the game has a little strategy it still ends up mostly relying on luck. How well you roll and what cards you are dealt are likely going to decide how well you do. At the end of the day Explore Europe is just a boring game.
If you don’t like roll and move games, Explore Europe is not going to be for you. If you are looking for a travel themed game I would recommend checking out the 10 Days series instead of Explore Europe. If you like roll and move games though Explore Europe does have some interesting mechanics. If you can get past the reliance on luck you could have some fun with Explore Europe.