- Publisher: Portal Games
- Designers: Marcin Senior Ropka, Viola Kijowska
- Players: 2-4
- Time: 45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on player count.
- Times played: 9 games played so far with review copy from Portal Games
I first came across this game in April 2017 at a convention. I was vaguely aware of it but intrigued to play a game. It was in prototype form and I did not know its stage of completion. Four days later and four games later I had experienced the changes that a developer could make to a game.
Day 1 – the game features several decks of cards, a personal board and the object is to score victory points. The resource deck shows three types of resources blue (for technologies), red (for ships) and green (for planets) and gold (a joker resource). Each card in this deck shows two resources with three of one resource and two of another or as few as two of one resource and one of another. They are displayed on either end of the card so by holding them in your hand you can quickly see how to combine them. Players play two cards from their hand of three to develop one of the technologies/ship/planets from in production to active and added to your empire. Five resource points are needed for each card to become active, which could come from two resource cards or if not, you could deposit resource points from one turn to the next until you had enough to make a card active. The blue and green cards provided discounts for adding more cards, which is useful as the cost increases by one for each card of the same type, and so became the focus of attention in the game. At this stage ships were created for fighting each other player and less interesting. There was also a personal board that contained a bank for recording the cash – used to acquire more cards from the decks – and you had and several ways to upgrade your personal game board such as increasing the number of cards drawn or increasing hand size. All upgrades were interesting, but these two stood out as the ways which you would concentrate your plans as this provided the best game impact. Alien artefact cards provided great benefits but were hard to obtain and unlike the acquisition of new ships, technologies and planets you might get some game changing effect or something mildly interesting, but as these were all new I did not mind.
The game went well and was interesting but one player ran away with the game by concentrating on a specific area of the game. Everybody else was well behind the score. What I liked about the game was that turns were quick, there were plenty of things to do, and the game had a good pace to it. As I like variety in games and this version had tons to explore I was excited to see more of the game.
Day 2 – This was the shock day as the personal development board was cut out completely. It was an aspect of the game I enjoyed but as the obvious areas to develop were areas all players should turn their attention to, I can see and agree that it just delayed the game. Still it was a surprise. The core of the game was still the same and the swings were still present but I thought that so many cards might need to be adjusted to achieve some form of balance this looked like a long-term issue to sort out.
Day 3 – This was a similar experience to the previous day, but the ships had more interest and could score more victory points as well as reducing one person’s victory points. The game was far less swingy so some of the cards had been changed or reduced in impact to make the game feel tighter.
Day 4 – The two-player game was excellent. The player fighting via ships was now geared toward fighting alien cards which were distinctive so you could tell when they would arise in the relevant deck. All the other interesting aspects of the game that drew me in were still present and the game had improved over this short period.
At the end of this experience I was impressed with how a game could change in a short space of time, (for the better) and Ignacy’s development insights were interesting to watch.
Six months later and the published game arrives. I wondered what changes have been made but before I consider this I’ll cover more of the game systems. The published game feels like I missed out on the last but one chapter of a book as changes have taken place between the final prototype version I played and the game today. So my first reading of the rules and first game was to see what had changed, perhaps consider why and whether I liked it better or not.
All the artwork is complete so the decks of cards are looking good as the ships all look different and the rest of the artwork is clear and polished. The resource deck appears unchanged and each player now has a specific faction card with some special goals. All players had slightly different mix of production and active cards which helps to make the start of the game different for all players. All the ship, planet and technology cards are double sided. (This was new.)
I have now played 5 games of the published version and had a variety of experiences with players from the ecstatic to the non-plussed.
What is clear is that with the right group, the gameplay is really fast with turns lasting only a few seconds or perhaps 20 seconds if the text on the cards needs reading. So the pace has been retained from my earlier experiences, which is good. The card play is still very interesting and there are long term and short-term goals to achieve which means that the game has engaging decision practically every game turn. The long-term goals are provided by the set-up card for each faction, which provides a mix of ships, technologies and planets mainly on the in production side of the game. In addition, the faction specific victory point targets are shown. For example, one faction might need to collect operational planets to gain extra victory points, while another might need a specific type of operational technology. These provide some areas to focus on though they won’t really be considered until you have built up your empire with some cards. The starting cards will provide ways in which you develop your empire such as providing a discount on costs of discovering a planet (moving from the production to empire side) and so there is a natural tendency to gain these benefits by playing resource cards to do so.
The changes and developments since I played in April include the double-sided nature of the main three decks of cards. All the face up benefits of making the cards yield a game benefit are still there but the reverse side of the cards now make them operational. Space ships are made operational and then start fighting generic aliens, or other players. Technology cards can be played for victory points by having combination of planets, technologies and ships; while planets when made operational produce more resource cards which can be used to substitute for cards in your hand or used to help build alien technologies. All of these changes have streamlined the options that originally existed, but it does mean that the ship and especially the technology cards that you acquire need to be looked at on both sides so that when you add the cards to your empire you get the desired outcome.
There are also three more default mechanisms. By playing five red resources, you can get all your ships to fight either the aliens whose fights which are represented by a small deck of combat result cards or the other players. There are ways to defend these attack on players but in my games so far this has been the least used option as victories over aliens seem to offer better potential gains than knocking back one player. Five blue resources allow the prospect of your operational technologies to re-score victory points and there about a 50% chance of each card being successful. In one recent game this was used to establish a game winning score. The five green resources cards allow operational planets to produce (acquire) one more resource card each and with several of these planets built you can gather a significant number of resources to use in future turns and increase your options.
Fighting is a simple affair and in keeping with the pace of the game, alien combat options are known as you attack and drawing a card from the resource deck provides the outcome. Whether it is better to have uncertainty of which aliens you are fighting or not must have been considered in testing, so I suspect that this knowing the combat outcomes in advance meant more speed in the game.
The game can engender some player interaction, but mainly you are focussed on generating your own position to achieve your own goals. I am quite happy with this as the turns are so quick and the progression you seek is enough to focus on. But for people who would like much more player interaction I would look elsewhere. Similarly, this is not a full blown 4X space game. The development aspect of the game is present (explore, expand and exploit) but it does not feel like a 4X or even 3X game and this appears to be more marketing to get people drawn into the game. It is a card development game and a very good one.
What I continue to like about the game in its final form is the range of options coupled with the speed of play. This combination allows for a 2 player game to finish in 45 minutes and roughly 20 minutes per player added for games with 3 and 4 players. When a game causes you to want you next turn to come quickly you know the game is good and for me Alien Artifacts is just that game. I do not expect that to change, do not require more expansions to increase my enjoyment and nor do I want this to be a dice game next year. I love it just the way it is.
Thoughts from the Other Opininated Gamers
Jonathan F.: I did not love my one play of Alien Artifacts. This is likely due to my high hopes. The game was fine, but did not ever get exciting. I did try to buy Artifacts, as they are the name of the game, but they did not give me the bump that I was hoping for, rather than the slow and steady approach of some of the others at the table. For most turns, it felt like math about what you could purchase or flip (I have 4 credit, a -1 off the cost of planets,and 4 money, so I can get that 9 planet). Unlike some other games of its type, this game had lots of repeat cards, so there was not much discovery after the first few rounds about what various things did – often they were analogous to things seen in other piles. For me, these games want to be comboriffic, have a dramatic arc, or have a bit more ability to plan ahead. For some reason, this well crafted game did not scratch any of those spots.
Michael W.: Alan and Jonathan have both hit the high and low points I found with the game. It doesn’t take long to grok your options and then turns are generally very quick. The cards are a bit repetitive and it’s very solitaire-ish with the benefits for attacking other players being too small compared with other options. I did like the whole “logistics vs operational” choice for how to use each card. That creates a nice game arc where you have to decide when to stop accumulating discounts and start accumulating victory points. I won’t go looking to play again, but certainly would give it another go if it hit the table in front of me.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Alan H
- I like it.
- Neutral. Jonathan F., Eric E., Michael W.
- Not for me…
I get the feeling that this is a solo game at heart but sold as a multiplayer game. Then I saw a solo variant pop up days after release….