- tobyUnited States
Artifact is one of those games that immediately fell off everyone's radar -- or maybe never even made it TO people's radar, perhaps in part because it didn't get proper U.S. distribution -- and is now perma-burdened by a poor BGG rating. For us, though, it's at least initially proved to be a fun, semi-thinky game that does some cool twists on worker placement (with set-collection scoring) in which players have to decide in advance which actions they will take next turn and in which the cost of taking actions varies based on the outstanding "demand" to take that action.
There will be no rules rundown -- the rule book is available for download. This is an overview designed to give you a feel for what's interesting/unique about gameplay.
NEAT TWISTS ON FAMILIAR MECHANISMS
At the beginning of the game and end of each turn, players will collect action meeples from a common, limited pool, thereby committing to using those action meeples next turn (or not, if you can't afford to). This requires, obviously, planning and makes the game a bit thinkier than more breezy worker placement titles.
Once you've decided on your actions and thus collected your chosen Action Meeples, you proceed to the next turn, take some income, and take actions in turns. Taking an action earlier in a turn (by putting your Action Meeple back into its collective pool) means you pay more for it. So it behooves you, financially, to wait. Often, though, you really want to go first: the most typical situation is when both you and an opponent have a research presence ("huts") in the same region of the world (board) and want to "ship" some of the revealed artifacts (cards) from that region back to the metropole (i.e. your hands), because whoever pulls out first will get first choice AND get to take one card per hut they have, whereas whoever pulls out last will not only have to take the leftovers, but will also get one card fewer than the number of huts they have there.
You don't just take an action each pass around the table, though. You have a choice of taking 1 or 2 actions: taking 2 every time means you're probably paying more for the actions and you're going to run out of action meeples/actions sooner, but getting first crack at shipping artifact cards home, or better prices to sell to the Black Market [see below]. Going slow by taking only 1 action at a time is advantageous because your actions will get cheaper as the other player(s) take their actions and return their Action Meeples to the pools (which set prices), and because whoever runs out of actions LAST gets to go first next turn AND gets to fill up their selection of 6 actions for next turn first. (This can be huge on the last turn of the game, when, for example, everybody might want Museum meeples in order to score their remaining cards).
Another swell deal-y is that two of the three types of Action Meeples you can choose have multiple, very different uses: the "Museum" Action Meeple lets you do a Museum Exhibition (i.e. convert cards you've discovered AND shipped home into tiles which give you points and income) but it can alternately also be used to "Research" in order to start a new dig in a region (to reveal more cards there); the "Ship" Action Meeple lets you "Ship" home cards that have been dug up in a region where you have a presence (i.e. put cards from a region where you have huts into your hand), but it can alternately also be used to sell a card from your hand to one of 3 "Black Market" spaces on the board to or buy a previously sold card from the "Black Market" to your hand.
In this way, opponents can't be certain exactly what you're planning when you select your Action Meeples at the end of the turn; you can make actions more expensive for another player even if you don't want to do the exact same thing they do; and you retain some tactical flexibility should your plans be undercut.
(The other Action Meeple types are the region-specific Worker meeples, which do one thing: add new huts and thus new cards to a region where you've already established a presence and first hut via the "Research" action using a Museum Action Meeple.)
PLAY WITH THE "OPTIONAL" RULES!
We played right away with the "optional" rules, and can't imagine playing without them. The extra cards add a ton of flavor and twists to what would otherwise be a straightforward set-collection mechanism; the research track is extremely simple to implement yet provides a secondary but potentially vital source of points while also helping to promote player interaction; and the Location/Archaeologist special powers you get for mounting exhibitions are absolute musts for reasons analogous to the extra cards, squared.
What was striking regarding said location/archaeologist special powers is that they are ALL useful, just not at the same stages of the game. This wasn't immediately apparent: at the start I thought a few were the obvious best choices that I'd keep coming back to, but this actually wasn't the case at all.
Early in the game, the power giving you an extra $3 for a sale to the black market can be a huge boost, as can the abilities that give you an extra card-in-hand when you ship artifacts home or start new research. Once you have money to burn (albeit not too liberally) and are able to afford to take the full 6 actions per turn, the special powers that give you a 7th free action or allow you to take a double-action every time you hire workers (this can easily be 3+ times on some turns [but you have to pay for it, so it's balanced]) make a huge difference. And the powers that let you use any one card you have in lieu of any one required card when putting on an exhibition or let you pull back one extra card from an exhibition into your hand can be decisive depending on card availability.
WHY IS THIS POORLY RATED?
Besides lacking US distribution, I think this one probably missed with the "mass consciousness" of the board game world because it SEEMS like it's going to be just another worker placement game, but then it twists things up in a way that honestly isn't entirely intuitive. So whereas many people were probably turned off because they guessed it was just another "unoriginal" worker placement game, others who dug a little deeper may have thought "hmmm... this seems weird, I don't quite grok it right away, I think I'll just wander to the next table at Essen where there's something 'slicker'."
(Regarding this last bit: I do admit there is an iota of "clunkiness" to gameplay, BUT it's with a definite purpose and stems directly from what's interesting about the mechanisms, and in any case it fades away after a few rounds. Still, I can see some gamers going "so... wait... I don't draw a card if I'm the first hut down in a region, but I do if I'm any hut BUT the first? Okaaaaay..." and assuming it's some half-baked game of exceptions and fiddliness, but they're missing out.)
Moreover, the rulebook, while it gets the job done, probably could have been organized in a way that did a better job of providing the "feel" of game play.
And finally, the components are a mixed bag. For my 2 player variant (as stated in the title, this is the basis for the review), the worker meeples are a fine size to lay across TWO spaces per the variant, but the board really should have been 25% bigger to more comfortably accommodate them standing up on one space in a 3-5 player game. Were the board larger, the tiles could have also been 25% bigger and thus easier to read. (They're not too bad as is, but people with poor eyesight might have problems reading the little icons showing the number of cards required on the tiles.)
The wooden bits are chunky and colorful, and the museums are flawless, but the worker meeples are apparently supposed to be holding a pick-axe, but the hollow under the blade wasn't cut out so they just have a strange bulge coming out their sides. And the ship meeples, which would be fun and thematic if they looked like their icons in the rulebook, were "squished" by the factory and look like abstract art instead of cartoonish ship silhouettes.
Still, these components all work and if they didn't add to the game, they didn't detract from it either, at least for us.
BUY IT. TRY IT. EVEN WITH JUST 2 PLAYERS. OR DON'T. YOUR LOSS.
I encourage people to seek this one out and give it a shot. If you're wondering about my 2p variant, I can say as someone who plays almost exclusively 2 player games this works FAR better and is MUCH more fun than many, many games published with "2-x players" printed on the box.
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- Jeffrey AllersUnited States
Bernd and I are happy to see Artefact find its audience, even with its detractors!
Naturally, we'd like the game to have broader appeal, but I can also see reasons why people would not like the game. You mentioned the unusual way of planning for actions, which can also cause people to spend too long on their turns (especially with all the options of the full game). If the game lasts much longer than 90 minutes, then its dragging and IMO not fun anymore. And I've experienced this with some groups, so I can completely understand people rating it poorly after an experience like that.
I never thought of the game as "worker placement"--especially since Bernd had the action selection mechanism developed already by 2005 (even before Caylus), but I suppose it could be loosely associated with that. The main idea was a change from paying for an action when you take it, to paying for it when you put it back (with the price determined by how many had not yet been put back). It's still a novel mechanism, but maybe there is a reason why
In any case, it makes us happy to see the game enjoyed. Only 1,000 copies were printed, so there are not many out there. Hopefully, they will all find groups that enjoy playing them as much as we did!
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