Review: Artifacts, Inc. by Ryan Laukat and Red Raven Games

  • Designer:  Ryan Laukat
  • Publisher:  Red Raven Games, Iello
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  13 and Up
  • Time:  60 Minutes
  • Times Played:  > 5

Artifacts Inc Cover

I’m generally skeptical of the Kickstarter craze the hobby has experienced in recent years, but I’ve noticed a few small publishers that consistently produce a stellar work product.  Red Raven Games is one of them.  I’ve tried all of their games, and I’ve enjoyed each of them.  As I said in my Gen Con coverage, Ryan Laukat is a renaissance man of board gaming: not only does he design his games, he also illustrates and publishes them. And here’s the thing: he’s amazingly talented at all three.

I expected Artifacts, Inc. to be good, and it didn’t disappoint.  It wasn’t on my radar pre- Gen Con, but it turned out to be one of my favorite titles of the convention, and it has gotten a lot of table time in recent weeks.  I’m not alone in my enthusiasm: the game sold out at Gen Con, and it was fairly high on the BGG Geekbuzz list.  

The Gameplay: Worker Placement with Dice, Plus Area Control

The game is set in New York, 1929, when interest in antiquity is sweeping the nation.  Each player owns and operates a startup archaeology company, seeking to procure relics through great adventures.

Each player starts the game with three dice and an amount of money depending on where they are in turn order, with later players receiving more .  On a player’s turn he rolls the dice and then takes an action for each dice, placing the dice on cards around the board.

Each player has four cards in his individual tableau at the start of the game (pictured below): adventurers (showing three adventurer dice symbols, representing the dice each player has), a canyon expedition (where a player can place any dice but a two to receive a fossil), a desert expedition (where a player can place any dice four or higher to receive a scroll), and a headquarters (where a player can place a dice two or higher to buy or upgrade a card).  A player will frequently take the actions on the cards in his tableau, and through the headquarters, a player can acquire new cards and thus new actions.

There are four types of artifacts in the game (fossils, scrolls, statues, and gems), but at the start of the game the player has no way to buy statutes or gems.  When buying artifacts, a cube is placed on the corresponding card.  Producing and selling artifacts is the primary way to get money — and thus victory points — in the game.

Artifacts Inc Player Components

All of these cards have a reverse side.  When using a buy or upgrade action, a player may pay the cost in the upper right to flip the card.  The reverse gives a victory point and gives an upgraded power.  For example, flipping the adventurers card permits the use of four dice instead of three.

There are also public (i.e. common) actions that a player can take (pictured below).  A player may place any dice on the guide work card to receive a dollar.  A player may place any dice on the private collectors card to sell artifacts for a dollar, receiving a bonus dollar for each additional type of artifact sold.  Lastly, a player may sell as many of one type of good at the museums, receiving that many dollars.  When this happens, a player will receive the bonus at the top left of the card (none for fossils, $1 for scrolls, $2 for statues, etc.) and place one of the cubes on the space denoting how many he sold.  For example, a player selling three scrolls would receive $4 (three scrolls at $1 each, plus a bonus $1) and place one of his cubes on the “3” space.  The rest of his cubes would be removed from his desert expedition card and returned to his supply.

Artifacts Inc Main Area

A player may also dive for sunken treasure.  He must place dice totalling the number on the current sunken treasure card (in the middle of the scoreboard above) to take the card.  All such cards are worth one victory point.  They get hard to acquire as the game goes on, as the next card always requires one additional dice pip.

Players may buy cards using the buy action on their headquarters.  There are three rows of cards to purchase from: each subsequent row is more expensive but has more victory points and better powers.  Like the cards a player starts with, these can be upgraded.  When purchased, they must be placed in a player’s tableau and cannot be moved.  Some cards score bonus points for where they are placed, so arrangement on the table is significant.

Artifacts Inc Card Purhcase

Once a player has placed all of his dice the next player goes.  This proceeds until one player gets 20 or more victory points.  At that point, each player in the current round gets one more turn (i.e. there are equal turns), and then final scoring happens.  The player with the most cubes on each museum receives victory points equal to the number in the top right.  In the event of a tie, the player lowest and to the right receives the points.  The player with the most victory points (called “reputation”) wins.

My thoughts on the game…

As I said at Gen Con, I’d classify Artifacts Inc. as a medium-weight worker-placement Euro with a dash of engine building and a hint of area control.  This is a clever foray into the crowded worker placement genre, and it remains one of the highlights of Gen Con 2015 for me.

I initially said this might be Laukat’s most impressive game.  I’m going to back off that statement and say that title remains with City of Iron, but nonetheless I do love Artifacts, Inc.  The game’s mechanics work exceptionally well together, and all of my games have been tense finishes at the end, with final scoring being quite close.

The gameplay here is streamlined and approachable.  This is easy enough for non-gamers to learn, yet there seems to be enough depth for gamers too.  It took me less than five minutes to learn the rules, and I’ve found all of the different elements to be intuitive.

As is always the case with Red Raven’s games, the art is beautiful.  Laukat is a talented illustrator, and his style always raises the production value of games by a notch.  The artwork works well with the theme here, and the overall presentation is high, particularly for the low price point.

I have two reservations about the game, both of them minor at this point.  Unlike in many worker-placement games, in Artifacts a player takes all of their actions on their turn.  Consequently, in a four player game, there can be three to five minutes between turns.  As a result, I think this game is best with two or three players (or four players if they’ve played the game before).  My second concern is about replayability: after about five plays this is starting to feel like it might become scripted for me, although I’ll need a few more plays to tell.  Nonetheless, I’ve greatly enjoyed my five plays, and I’ve played with five vastly different strategies so far, so maybe I’ll be proven wrong.  [In case you’re curious, here are the five strategies: (1) focusing primarily on diving, along with buying cards that make it easier, (2) focusing primarily on winning the museum bonuses, (3) focusing on arranging my tableau with cards that score adjacent, (4) buying all high-value cards and aiming for the accompanying bonuses, and (5) a combination of diving and buying cards that reward certain diving treasures.  All of them worked well except #2, which is not alone a viable path to victory.]

Overall, this has been a hit with me and the people I play with.  I think this game will be popular at quite a few gaming tables over the next several months.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Dan Blum (1 play): The game works, but I found it to be extremely dull. The downtime is definitely an issue, which for a game this simple I consider a significant design flaw, but even ignoring that there’s just nothing that interesting going on. Unless you just concentrate on getting more dice early on there simply aren’t very many things to do. If you roll low a few turns you might as well give up, as high dice are always better. Etc. It doesn’t help that the rules are poor – for example, when you buy a card, is it replaced? We assumed so as otherwise the game would likely grind to a halt, but the rules don’t say.

I also don’t understand why so many people seem enamored of the art. It’s nicely done but seems pretty dull to me.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris W.
  • I like it.
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me… Dan Blum
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