Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 60mins
Play Time (Goof): 30-90mins
Producer: Portal Games
Designer/s: Marcin Ropka & Viola Kijowska
I’ve been getting into more realistic science fiction lately. Growing up, my tastes were more about the fantasy in space (like Star Wars) over the dryer more science based fiction.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved shows like Star Trek. They were something I could engross myself in at late hours of the night. But rarely did they get my adrenaline spiked like a really good lightsabre duel.
I’m not going to get into a Trek VS Wars internal struggle here. I can fully appreciate both. But where the spectacle was once the most important aspect of entertainment to me, I guess my more mature self is looking for something with some deep substance to sink my teeth into.
Which leads me to Alien Artifacts (yeah yeah, I’ll get there).
4X games (eXplore, eXpand, eXterminate, eXploit) have always interested me. Not going to lie though, the historical setting a lot of the ones I’ve played previously have bored the shit out of me. I just… I feel like history is written. But science fiction, games like Twilight Imperium, they let me write something new. They let me forge the legend of my people, rather than rewrite someone elses.
The issue I have with getting 4X games to the table is the amount of time it takes to play one of these bad boys (or girls. Or whatever the board game chooses to identify as). The game I mentioned before, Twilight Imerpium, yeah the reason I haven’t been able to review it yet despite having mentioned it in way too many of my reviews for it not to be conspicuously missing, can be as short as most of a day or as long as a weekend.
Alien Artifacts claims to be a card driven 4X game you can play in about an hour. So how did they do?
Okay so where the longwinded into bit in the intro about the realistic science fiction comes in is the setting. The artwork is minimalist but detailed, the technology is stuff you could see in the real world without too much suspension of reality. And honestly I love it. It gives me a very different feel to a lot of other more spectacle based games I have. And at a very happy point in my life where I’m running out of room in my shelves for new games, different is awesome.
I was a little sceptical at first about the whole “I take an action, you take an action” thing. In my experience, I’ve found this feels like I’m not accomplishing much on my turn. Especially if it takes forever for my turn to come back around. Alien Artifacts doesn’t suffer from this issue at all.
And I’ve got a couple reasons I think as to why.
Firstly, although there are actually a fair amount of decisions most come down to which two cards (usually out of three) you’ll play. This maximisation of hand management and the four different types of symbols gives you a huge amount of options without overcomplicating the decision making.
Next, the mathematics of Alien Artifacts is straight forward. In the beginning, pretty much everything revolves around the number 5. Costs you five reds to construct a shit, five blues to discover a technology.. hell even five credits to buy a new card. Then you just add one for each of the type of card you’re trying to build you already have in your empire. So as long as you passed kindergarten, you have the required mathematical skills to play Alien Artifacts.
So by funnelling this decision making process through restricted hand management (and still giving you options not simply allowing you to play every card in your hand) in addition to keeping the mechanics simple and streamlined, it keeps things moving at a quick pace. Seriously, I’ve had to stop and ask my friends who suffer from Analysis Paralysis what they did on their turn because they were so quick I missed it.
As with any review I do, the question comes back to “is Alien Artifacts fun?”. Those of you with a small amount of detective skills will notice I’m asking this question in ‘The Good’ section. So making a long response out of a short answer, without a doubt YES.
So did they do it? Did Portal Games pull off a 4X game which plays in about an hour? Well…no… not really. No.
The problem is, although Alien Artifacts uses the terminology – it’s really a card management game. I know the argument could be made the cards are the resources in a traditional 4X game. But I’d point out a really clear example: eXtermination.
You can’t exterminate your opponents, or really even the npc alien civilisations in the middle of the table. You can attack them, maybe slow your opponent down a little, maybe gain a victory point or an alien artifact. But it’s not a viable strategy to wipe your opponents from the face of the galaxy.
The tactile nature of 4X games is missing as well. While I have nothing against the system and cards in Alien Artifacts, it boasts you can expand and explore… I mean yeah okay. You can play cards with those keywords. But I’d argue the excitement of uncovering new planets isn’t really there. You’re only interested in the discounts they give you. The planets look samey, with just slightly different colours. And in terms of expanding, like…no. There’s technology but it’s not in a tech tree or like you get awesome looking buildings in your empire, nor you can see it sprawled out in front of you as you look at this civilisation you have forged.
I think the biggest issue with Alien Artifacts is they boasted about being a 4X game. I would find it hard to argue with their design decisions if it wasn’t for this marketing decision. Seriously, I thought maybe the game was a tad short so Charlotte and I tried to play a two player game which was set up with the length for three players – yeah don’t do it. It becomes really bogged down and clunky.
I really enjoy Alien Artifacts, and I really encourage you to give it a look. But know what you’re in for (which in case it wasn’t clear, is a really fast fun game which is not really a 4X).
I got my copy through Tabletop Wonderland
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