Some of my favorite childhood movies were the Indiana Jones Series. The adventure, history, and action enticed me as a child and made my imagination run wild. When I saw the box art and read the game description that well-known theme music started playing in my head and I was excited to play Artifacts Inc.
Game Set-up / Components
Artifacts Inc. is a small box card game. There are 74 cards, 1 Reputation Board (the score track), and 35 dollar tokens. The 64 wooden cubes, in the four player colors, are used to mark artifacts and reputation during the game. There are also seven small brown dice.
To set up the game, first sort the cards by type. Place the Reputation Board in the center of the table, above this board place the six Public Cards. The Public cards include the four museums, one Private Collectors, and one Guide Work. If there are only two players, you will use the side of the museum card with six boxes, otherwise place the museums with their nine box side face up on the table. Put the dollar tokens and dice within reach of the players.
On the Reputation Board place the “U” or Underwater cards. These cards are easy to distinguish because of their underwater artwork. The U cards are placed face-up in lowest to highest numerical order, this way the two will always be on the top to start the game.
Next, organize the remaining cards into three rows (A, B, C) face up, below the board. The D & E asset cards should be placed “Level 1 side” face-up, to the side of the Reputation Board. For A, B, and C shuffle each stack and lay out three cards face up next to the pile. This way there are four for each row showing. Also, be sure that their Level 1 side is showing.
Each player receives one of each type of card for the “S” starting deck. Players must place these cards in the same row, but they decide the order. Each player also receives the cubes in their player color and places one next to the Reputation Board. The first player receives two dollars, the second and third three dollars, and the fourth four dollars.
The goal of Artifacts Inc. is to have the most Reputation on the Reputation Board. The game ends when one player has reached 20 Reputation. Play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns.
On a players turn, they roll their adventurer dice and perform actions. The number of dice a player has depends on the number of dice symbols on their cards. Each player starts with three and can never have more than seven.
Rolled dice can be placed on an owned Asset Card, a Public Card, or on the Dive action space. To be placed, the die/dice must meet the requirements listed on the card/location. For example, to be placed on a Level 1 Jungle Expedition, the die must show 5 or more pips. Also, most of the actions can only hold one die, but same hold more.
Once a player has placed and used all of their dice, they remove all the dice and play passes to the next player. Play continues until one player reaches the 20 space on the Reputation Board.
Asset Action: Expedition – When a player uses this action they may gain one Artifact represented by a cube placed on the corresponding card. There is no limit to the number of cubes a card may hold.
Asset Action: Buy – When a player uses this action they may buy one Asset card from any row. Or they may upgrade a card they already own by turning it to its Level 2 side. Either way, the player must pay the cost listed on the upper left-hand side of the card. Some cards also require a scroll resource to buy or upgrade. Any newly purchased cards are then placed in front of the player. Players are only allowed to put their cards in two rows and cards must be placed orthogonally adjacent to already owned cards. Be careful when placing your cards as some cards give a bonus depending on which other cards they are adjacent to in a column or row. When a card is upgraded, it is flipped to the Level 2 side, but it must stay in the same place where it was initially placed. Any cubes or dice remain on upgraded cards.
Public Action: Guide Work – When a player uses this action they receive one dollar.
Public Action: Private Collectors – When a player uses this action they may sell any number of Artifacts they own, and they may mix the type. They receive 1 dollar for each cube discarded from a card and one extra dollar for each different type after the first.
Public Action: Museums – When players use this action they may sell artifacts to a museum. Each museum has a number of orders it needs fulfilling. A player may sell only artifacts that match the museum type. They must also sell sets of the artifacts matching the available numbers on the card. Once a player sells a set of artifacts, they place their colored cube over that number. For example, if they sold three artifacts they would place their cube on the three space. That number is now blocked to all players for the rest of the game. To sell artifacts, they discard the needed number from their expedition cards. A player receives one dollar for each artifact sold and may gain a bonus amount of dollars depending on the Artifact type. For example, selling gems give a bonus of three dollars.
Dive Action – When players use this action they gain an underwater card. One or more dice can be placed on the dive action. The sum of these dice must equal or exceed the number on the visible dive card. A player can only gain one underwater card per turn and once acquired the cards are placed to the side of a players Asset Cards.
Once a player has reached 20 Reputation on the Reputation Board and each player plays and an equal number of turns the game ends. At the end of the game, the players are given the Museum majority points. The player with the most cubes gains the Reputation points, and break ties by the player that has the cube in the highest position. Players then check to see who has the most Reputation, and that player is the winner.
Artifacts Inc is a truly beautiful card game that feels unique and fresh. I have come to expect quality from Red Raven games and Artifacts Inc is no exception. The artwork is outstanding and helps to invoke the adventurer theme. I love the pictures and hues chosen for the game. The graphic design is also clear and easy to read. You can quickly see what each card does and requires.
The cards a good quality card stock though they are not handled much during the game. The Reputation Board is a nice thick card stock, and a great size to fit on the table, while not being in the way. I usually prefer larger dice, but the dice are functional and good quality. Bigger dice may not fit on the cards well. We usually play with an extra set of dice so players have their own. In the same fashion, the wooden cubes are nicely painted, small enough to be functional on the cards, but nothing special.
The rules are very easy to read, and the layout makes the game easy to learn. I like the specific examples given when anything may be confusing or require more explanation. The pictures, especially the ones for set-up, are very helpful. Like many of my favorite games the simple rules allow for depth and strategy to come from the game itself. I do have to mention that there is no player aide or rules summary on the back of the rule book, and usually, I would knock a game for this, but it isn’t needed. In fact, I didn’t even notice it until we were discussing the game for this review. Your required information is mostly on the cards, and the straightforward and short rule set make it easy to find the specific rule you may need. The font size for the rule book is small so someone with vision issues may require a magnifying glass, at the same time it keeps the rule book short.
Artifacts Inc is not only a beautiful game in appearance but in mechanisms as well. The game has a polished feel and an excellent pacing that has just the right amount of downtime between plays. With more than two players there may be a bit more downtime, but it may be needed for players to plan their turns. Downtime could be solved by having a set a dice for each player so they can roll between turns.
Many of my favorite games involve dice allocation, so this is another plus. Many people will like that you roll and then decide what to do with your dice and thus will get to use each die during your turn. It almost makes the game feel like a worker placement game as the dice perform different actions that allow you to build up your archeology company. With any dice rolling game there is luck, which can fortunately be mitigated. There are a few cards such as the Digger Team that allow you to raise or lower a die result by one that helps reduce luck. And even if you only roll a 1, the die can still be useful for guide work, or to help get a number needed for the dive action. In this way, the game gives value to both high and low numbered dice. Players can plan out a strategy and obtain cards that will help them achieve the strategy they wish. We did find it crucial to get the extra dice as soon as possible.
There are many paths to victory which add to the replayability as players explore the game and learn its intricacies. Players can choose cards that enhance and enable them to target a particular path or go for a broader focus that spreads out their choices. Each strategy is viable and allowable in the cards, but the game will be more dynamic the more players there are. The fact that the cards also come out in a different order each game, also adds to replayability.
I enjoy upgrading the cards and getting more and more powerful and useful abilities as the game progresses. I also found that is crucial to upgrade my cards. What I did not enjoy was flipping the cards so you could remember what the Level 2 side does. Each upgrade is different as some allow extra dice placement, some allow an entirely new action, and others allow just an upgraded version of the current action. The more you play the game, the more familiar you will become with the upgrades, yet I wish there were some indication on the level 1 side as to what the level 2 side does. Adding what the upgrade does would possibly take away from the clear and concise graphic design of the cards as it would crowd it up with icons or more words and I understand why it is not there. The graphic design of the cards add to the playability of the game
Another enjoyable part of Artifacts Inc is the spacial aspect of card placement. Where you place your cards becomes an important decision as they give extra reputation depending on their placement. This is an interesting factor that adds strategy and critical decision making.
As the rules are written there is not much player interaction as players use all their dice during their turn and remove them at the end of turn. In this manner, players cannot block each other. The only way to prevent another player is to take a space in the museum they were going after or by taking cards that may be useful to them. The lack of player interaction may be a deterrent for some, but luckily the designer has an official variant where players take turns placing their dice and can block each other. This variant can be found here:
- Good Pacing / Play time
- Build-up – as you play and upgrade you get more options and better powers
- Balance – including multiple paths to victory
- Art & Graphic Design
- Having to flip the cards to see the Level 2 upgrade
- Lack of player interaction
Artifacts Inc is visually appealing and fun to play. The multiple paths to victory, dice allocation system and leveling up system create a consistent and fun game. Official designer variants promise more player interaction and less down time. Artifacts Inc is a great game to add to any game collection.
Designer: Ryan Laukat
Artists: Ryan Laukat
Publishers: Red Raven Games, Iello
Game Length: 60 minutes
Ages: 13 and up