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Alien Artifacts GDJ - I've been here.

Ignacy Trzewiczek
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Back then in 2011, I wrote an article about the struggle with direct interaction and combat mechanism in 51st State. For long months I had no clue how to approach the problem - every single rule I designed was ruining the game. Engine building games, in general, are very delicate - one player builds an engine, the other player sends a nuke, destroys few cogs and the whole engine stops working.

The feeling of achievement, a pride that you built something cool is gone. That's not fun.

Alien Artifacts is an engine building game. An engine building game with cool space ships flying around and shooting nukes. When I sat to the prototype, I felt like Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow. I've been here, I thought. I've been here...


The prototype we got from Trefl had very simple combat rules - player buys warships for $. Each warship you buy adds to your Attack Strenght. Then, if you drew Attack Opportunity card you may attack a player with lower Strenght, and steal 1 of his VP tokens. If he or she has no VP tokens, nothing happens.

The lamest combat ever.

The work began.

1st change:
If he or she has no VP tokens, get 1 VP from the reserve. Still lame but at least you always score if you attack.

2nd change:
You can attack at any time you want. There was no need to draw Attack Opportunity card. Less lame. Very powerful though. Combat strategy brings a lot of VP now.

3rd change:
Ships no longer add to the Attack Strenght. You buy ships for $ and then you arm ships with torpedos (red resource). Each ship has a different number of slots for torpedos. Torpedos add to Attack Strenght. Very thematic. Very powerful. Everybody wants to attack and gains a lot of VP for that.

4th change:
Torpedos are one use only. When you attack, you discard them. Very thematic. Less powerful. When one player shoots his torpedos, he is defenseless and others attack him. People no longer want to attack.

20th change:
When you successfully attack, instead of VP, you block one of the opponents cards. Attacks are no longer lame. They are a real threat. The frustration of defender begins.

33rd change:
You can attack Aliens to get Victory Points and Alien Artifact cards. Players have a chance to gain alien powers - they are happy.

37th change:
There is no longer Torpedos. You no longer buy ships. You build them from the red resource. Rules are much simpler. Good.

49th change:
You can send a ship to attack Aliens or players. If you attack a player you put blockade tokens on their card. Less frustration for defenders. More options for the attacker. It looks like we are home...


The interaction between players is always a mess. It's merging fire and water. It is looking for a ruleset that will make attacking others fulfilling and rewarding and at the same time ruleset that will not make defender just flip the table after the attack.

Especially in engine building games, it is a challenge. Attacking strategy must be strong enough to be valid and interesting. And yet, must be subtle enough to not ruin the fun of building engines. Seeing your cool engine destroyed over and over by a jerk on the other side of the table is not fun.

We struggled with Alien Artifacts rules for combat for long months. This was the most often changed part of the game.

What's the final ruling?

You can go after Aliens. You will get VP and Alien Artifacts cards. This is a valid strategy to gain Victory Points. We encourage combat oriented players to kick aliens.

You can go after other players. You will put blockade tokens on their cards. This will slow them down, slow their combo, they will have to pay $ each time they want to use the combo. It's not the end of the world for them, but the precise attack can be very effective. We encourage players to hit once or twice with precisely planned attacks.

Want VP? Attack aliens.
Have a runaway leader at the table? Throw some sand into cogs.
Did we merge fire and water?
I hope.


What's your point of view? What are in your opinion good examples of games that are engine building and yet managed to create good combat rules?
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