Saturday Morning Gaming: Alien Artifacts
We sat down to play Alien Artifacts and I’m still chewing on it. It’s one of those games that, after the fact, doesn’t have you say “I made this move wrong” as much as “I should have played like THIS instead of playing like THAT.” You’re not critiquing a move. You’re critiquing how you screwed up how you were thinking about the entire game.
Here’s the basic gist. You (and your fellow players) pick one of the six available factions to play. The factions are societal archetypes that you’ll recognize. “Oh, this is the Military Society. That is the Theocracy. Oh, the Heinleinian Engineer-types.” And then you go on to play a 4X kinda game.
(4X, if you don’t know, stands for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate”. Think “Civilization”.)
(This game is really complicated to explain so I apologize in advance.) Now, there are 3 different branches of tech to explore/develop: spaceship technology, science/engineering, and planets. Each of these comes from a deck and each card in the deck has two sides: an operational benefit or a logistical benefit (and picking one precludes the other). For example, if you decide to discover a new planet, you draw from the deck and pick whether you’d want the operational benefit of the planet (essentially a world from which you can extract resources that you can use to build/buy new things) or a logistical benefit (a bonus that reduces the cost of future purchases). If you are developing technology, you can pick an operational one that will give you a payoff Right Now for having met some particular goal (if you have a certain amount of planets, say) OR you can get a bonus to future things (your operational planets no longer produce only 3 resources, but 4, maybe). If you are building spaceships, you can get a bonus to play OR a ship that you can use to attack your opponents and throw spanners into their machinery.
You purchase things with gold and resources. You always have 3 resource cards in your hand (the second your turn ends, draw back up to 3) and these are pretty much the driver for your turn. Each resource card has two resource areas with each area having 1-3 resources on it, one for planets, one for tech, one for ships (and, sometimes, wild symbols that can be used for any… but those tend to always have but one or two). You can spend the resources to buy whatever the resource is for OR you can trade all of a particular type in for Galactic Credits (which can be spent to kick off research).
The fun part is that each turn allows you to do ONE thing. Do you want to research a tech? You can use gold to research it (move it from the deck to “in work”) or spend your resource cards (from your hand or from your operational planets) for your turn. Then that’s it. It’s the next guy’s turn. But they only get to do one thing, then around the table until it’s your turn again… where you can only do ONE thing.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the alien artifacts themselves. These are one-shot cards that give you a serious one-time bonus. Like, draw two ship cards and pick one and build it immediately. Or move operational tech from the “built” pile to the “in work” pile (remember how some of these gave a payoff Right Now? Get that payoff again!). Or some other bonus that, seriously, is pretty good and would seriously be worth going for if, of course, you weren’t limited to just one thing a turn and getting one of these artifacts will take several turns of setup.
If you’re wondering “well, how does the game end?”, the timer is the resource deck. You go through it a certain number of times and then you finish the round and then you count up your points.
Each faction has different things that give extra points. The faction that I was playing gave extra points for logistical (as opposed to operational) planets. Other people got points for operational tech or operational space ships. At the end of everything, I found myself kicking myself for not playing differently. Sure, I had 6 logistical planets, but maybe I could have gotten more points if I put more effort into tech. As such, I want to play again.
Which, I suppose, is as high a recommendation that I can give for any tabletop game. (My description above didn’t do the game justice and I am sure I left stuff out. But if you’re looking for a game for an established gaming group that will never play the same way twice, this game will do that for you.)
So… what are you playing?