Posted by: gschloesser | July 14, 2011

Archaeology

Design by: Phil Harding
Published by:  Adventureland Games
2 – 4 Players, 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

 

Who isn’t fascinated by the uncovering of precious artifacts from ancient civilizations?  Many people are captivated by such discoveries, and find the field of archaeology to be intriguing.  I’m one of those folks, and a bit of a history buff, so enjoy reading articles and viewing television specials on archaeological expeditions and the antiquities they uncover.  As such, games that utilize an archaeological theme generally pique my interest.  I have enjoyed such titles as Troia and Thebes, and was eager to play Archaeology, the new card game from Phil Harding and Adventure Games.  

The deck consists primarily of treasure cards, with seven different types of precious artifacts depicted.  The object is to collect these artifacts in sets, which facilitates their reconstruction and thereby increases their value when sold.  Along the way, however, players must deal with a steady stream of sneaky thieves and scouring sandstorms.  Fortunate players may discover maps, which will lead to hidden treasures inside secret chambers of the great pyramid.  Ultimately, the objective is to reap the greatest financial rewards from selling the artifacts.  

Players receive an initial hand of four artifacts, and five more are dealt face-up to the marketplace.   The central pyramid cards depict three chambers, by which stacks containing 3, 5 and 7 cards are placed.  Players must collect maps in order to discover these secret chambers and claim the rich treasures within. 

A player’s turn consists of several steps: 

Digging for Treasure.  The active player takes the top card from the deck.  If it is an artifact card, he keeps it.  If it is a thief, however, he discards the card and steals a card at random from an opponent’s hand.  A sandstorm card is generally dreaded, as it forces ALL players to discard half of the cards in their hands.  There are a total of fourteen sandstorm and thief cards in the deck, so they appear frequently.  

Trade at the Marketplace.  The player may trade cards from his hand for cards present in the marketplace.  The value of the cards surrendered must be at least equal to the value of artifacts taken from the marketplace.  The surrendered cards are then placed into the marketplace and are available for other players to take.  The objective, of course, is to gather sets of artifacts to increase their sale value. 

Explore the pyramid.  If a player has collected one or more maps, he may claim the treasures in the appropriate chamber.  Only one map is required to claim the treasures in the small chamber, while three maps are needed to claim the seven treasures hidden in the great chamber.  There are only six total maps available in the deck, so attempting to collect all three may result in failure. 

Sell to the Museum.  Players can sell artifacts to lock-in their value.  These cards are placed face-up in front of the player and are safe from thieves or sandstorms.  However, a player cannot subsequently add more matching artifact shards to those previously sold, so a decision must be made whether to sell the artifact or hold onto the cards in hopes of obtaining even more, thereby increasing its value.  Holding onto them, however, means they are still subject to thieves and sandstorms. 

Play continues until the dig site is empty and all players have sold all of their artifacts.  The player with the greatest value of sold artifacts is victorious.  The endgame condition is a bit problematic, as players may play a waiting game, hoping their opponents will trade cards with the market that they desire.  So, we instituted a house rule giving all players one more turn after the dig site was emptied.  

Archaeology does a nice job marrying the theme to the mechanics.  No, it isn’t as closely connected as Thebes, but it still fits.  Artifacts are broken in several pieces, and as multiple pieces are collected, the value naturally increases.  Nice touch.  There are the dig pile, marketplace, sandstorms and, of course, a pyramid with secret chambers.  Yes, all of these are handled with cards, so the archaeology atmosphere isn’t overly strong, but it is present enough to work.  

The game itself is light, and serves well as a filler.  There are some not particularly taxing decisions to make, but still those decisions do impact one’s fate during the game.  The proliferation of sandstorms does prevent players from hording cards, but their frequent appearance can be a bit frustrating, hampering long-term strategies.  Thieves are bothersome, but generally don’t have the significant impact of those frustrating sandstorms. 

Archaeology is a fun game that is perfectly suited for families, and as a light filler for folks who take their gaming a bit more seriously.  It also plays well with two players, but I personally prefer the multi-player version. The mechanisms are easy to learn and grasp, but there are just enough decisions to help prevent the game from succumbing to the “luck of the draw” kiss of death.  For those of us who still enjoy digging in dirt, Archeology allows us to do just that without getting our hands dirty.

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