Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Roswell Relics:- Alien Artifacts

Game: Alien Artifacts

Publisher: Portal Games

Designer: Marcin Senior Ropka, Viola Kijowska

Year: 2017

Alien Artifacts is an tableau building 4X-themed card game in which you will lead one of 6 unique factions to dominate known space. Along the way you will build spaceships, colonize planets and develop new technologies. Each one of these can be developed in one of two ways giving you a large amount of freedom in how to build strategies. Will you enhance your logistics, making your faction more proficient, or have a more operational focus, aiming for immediate direct benefits at the cost of an inefficient empire?

Gameplay in Alien Artifacts flows quickly most of the time as it works on a 1 action per turn system. There are 7 basic actions, and 3 operational actions to choose from, but while this may seem daunting, 5 of the 7 basic actions are all performed in essentially the same way. Each turn you will have a hand of 3 resource cards, each of these is double sided and shows between 1 and 3 resources in one of 4 colours on each side. in order to do most actions you must discard 5 of the relevant colour of resource. For example to develop a technology you will have to discard 5 blue resources. This cost increases by 1 for each card of that colour you have already built, so your 4th technology card will cost you 5+3 = 8 resources to build.

Alien Artifacts set up ready for a 2 player game. Each player has their cards under construction on the left hand side of their player board, once resources are played they can be moved to the right hand side and become usable.
Naturally, over time this makes it harder and harder to improve your empire, this is where the choice between between logistical and operational cards comes in. Every card you build can be played on the white logistical side or the black operational side. Logistical planets reduce the amount of resources you need to perform actions, while logistical ships increase the number of cards you can play each turn (normally limited at 2), logistical technologies are a bit more variable, but typically give you ways to be more efficient on your turns. Operational planets produce resource cards, essentially increasing your hand limit, and can also produce a small number of victory points. Operational technologies are all about producing victory points, these can be very powerful, but often have difficult requirements in order to score the most points. Operational ships are used to attack other players, allowing you to temporarily disable their cards, or to attack alien systems to acquire the titular artifacts.

Each player is given a unique faction, this affects starting cards, but also affects the end game rewards. Each faction has their own particular goal, from science to conquest, and successfully focusing on that during the game can reward you some large end game points. However, trying to focus on these can make your empire unbalanced, restricting your score during the game. Alien Artifacts presents you with a lot of different strategies to success and so far they all seem to be evenly matched. Focusing on logistics too much means wasting time not earning many victory points, but focus on operational cards and you may find your empire grinding to a halt, unable to meet the requirements of your technologies.

Each faction has a good amount of background to let you know the kind of people you are playing as. On top of this they get unique starting cards and end-game goals to push you towards using new strategies.
The rules for Alien Artifacts can be a little hard to take in on your first game, the rulebook is perfectly adequate, but there are a lot of small exceptions that you could easily miss on your first read through. I'm fairly certain that there could have been a way to combine the 3 actions that involve spending resources in order to build a card into one action to help simplify the rulebook. Perhaps the biggest confusion for us came from the technology cards. You see, planets and ships each come in 4 types matching the 4x categories. Every "explore" ship in the game is the same card with the same abilities on both logistical and operational. However technologies are different, while they are still given one of the 4 categories, each technology has unique abilities. On top of this the categories varies between the operational and logistical sides of the card. This is fine once you know it, but does add confusion to your empire planning.

Overall though that's a pretty minor gripe. I thoroughly enjoy most of what Alien Artifacts presents. The ability to play each game differently from the last keeps the game fresh, building lots of operational ships might give you the ability to shut down your opponents and claim a large number of alien artifacts. In the next game you could build a load of logistical cards allowing you to build a near endless amount of planets, and if you get the right technologies you can use that for big end game points! While the rules may be a little hard to digest, once you actually play a couple of turns it soon becomes a fast paced game that never leaves you bored waiting for your turn to come back. While I do question whether Alien Artifacts is truly a 4X game, it certainly is a great game, one I'd highly recommend picking up.

Alien Artifacts was a review copy kindly provided by Portal Games.

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