By: Globus the Elder
" Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt?" - Hudson
As I noted last week, I love a big game, and few games are bigger than 4X. If you’re not aware, 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exterminate, and Exploit. This is a variety of game, often in the sci-fi, space empire genre, that will have you building space fleets, conquering planets, and researching advanced super technologies. It will also have you setting aside a good portion of your day to play and table space to accommodate the map. Alien Artifacts attempts to remove those two obstacles.
Alien Artifacts uses cards in place of the map and ships normally found in 4X games. A common area with various decks is created. They are: Ships, Technology, and Planets (cards you will add to your Under Construction area), Resources (cards you will use to construct and activate other cards), Alien Systems (targets to attack), Alien Artifacts (powerful reward cards), and Defense Plans (cards to be used by players against other player’s attacks).
Each player gets a unique Faction Board, for keeping track of Credits, cards Under Construction, and cards in your Empire, and a Faction Card, with set up details on one side, and a faction ability on the other (there is also a faction specific end game scoring ability). The players choose colored tokens, one each for tracking Credits and Victory Points, and each player also receives three resource cards.
Each player turn is composed of one Action, followed by a Draw step, where any number of cards in hand can be discarded, and the player draws Resource cards until they have three.
The Actions that can be taken are: Buy a Card (buy a Ship, Technology, or Planet and add it to your Under Construction are), Build a Ship (pay five red resources to add a Ship from Under Construction to the Empire side of the board), Develop a Technology (same as Ship but blue resources), Discover a Planet (same as Ship but green resources), Trade Resource (convert Resources to Credits), Remove Blockade tokens (a negative combat effect), Prepare Resources (placing Resource cards under a Ship/Technology/Planet if you have less than five), Start an Offensive (attack with multiple Ships), Gain Revenue (score Victory Points), Mine the Planets (add Resource cards to Planets in your Empire), Faction Actions, and any Action that may appear on your cards.
Some details about the above:
When executing a Buy Action, it costs you five Credits to draw the top card, and for each additional Credit you spend, you draw an additional card. However, you may only keep one, the rest are discarded.
When executing a Build/Develop/Discover Action, the Resource cost is increased by the number of Ships/Technologies/Planets you already have in your Empire, one each as appropriate. You are also limited in the number of Resource cards you can spend to your Assembly Limit, which starts at two and can be increased by other cards.
Each Resource card has two sections, with different colored Resources, and you have to choose one section when using the Resource card. It also has a number, used only in Combat.
Each Ship/Technology/Planet has two sides: Logistic and Operational. The sides each have different effects when added to your Empire.
Usually, I walk you through the entire process of how the game plays. In this game, the interrelated details make that impractical. The effects of each Action become clear as you play.
The art is brilliant. The details of Ship, Technology, and Planet names are excellent. Each Faction Board has a bit of story to get you in the proper mindset, and the combination of card effects gives you an individually crafted Empire. There’s a lot of love in the theme, and it shows.
Alien Artifacts requires players to understand certain card game conventions, and the rule book is not particularly helpful at describing those conventions beforehand. This can create a steep learning curve for people who haven’t played a game like Magic the Gathering or Star Realms before.
This game is also in desperate need of an FAQ, mainly for the Technology cards and Alien Artifact cards. Timing issues came up, and there was one Technology card that we could not understand what it does, and we are veteran gamers.
It’s tough to call this a Buy or a Pass. On one hand, it’s a 4X that can be played in a fraction of the time, has huge expansion potential, has turns that are lightning fast, and drips with theme. On the other, it’s not non-gamer friendly, has the issues stated above, and can be frustrating.
I am glad I have this, and have played it, and do want to play it again. If the publisher creates an FAQ, I would definitely promote this to a Buy for veteran gamers. If they clarify the rule book, I could expand that to everyone.
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