I seem to enjoy the games released by Portal Games. Several of their games have taken up permanent residence in my collection. Year after year they release quality titles. 2017 is supposed to be the year of First Martians, a title they have admitted to being their biggest release yet.
While anyone can appreciate the design and scope of First Martians, I was more excited to play Alien Artifacts. I needed a new space-themed card game that was not a deck builder. I also like 4x games that play quickly and are not the many hour slogs of a stereotypical 4x game. Finally, I have started to embrace games where turns go quickly and keep every player engaged. Alien Artifacts appeared to cover all three of these points.
So, when will I be able to play this new game? Spoiler: I have, or else this review would not exist… duh.
The game supports up to 5 players with games lasting between 20-30 minutes per player.
Alien Artifacts is card driven 4x game (eXplore, eXploit, eXpand and eXterminate). Players manage their hand of resource cards to build a vast fleet of ships, develop fantastic new technologies, and discover far away worlds (well, they are on the table in front of you, so they aren’t THAT far away, but I am trying to stick to the space theme).
The game is entirely card driven and the turns are VERY quick. You take one of your available actions, determine if you want to discard any of the unspent resource cards in your hand, and then draw back up to your hand limit. Boom. Done. Next.
To grow your empire, you move cards from the left side of your player mat to the right by spending resource cards. When a card is completed, it must be placed on either its logistics side, which provides an ongoing bonus, or on its operational side, which provides scoring opportunities.
A round ends when a player cannot draw a resource card because the draw pile is empty. Simply reshuffle the discard pile and continue the game. The game lasts X rounds, where X is equal to the number of players (and you thought algebra would not help you later in life…).
Players add up their score based on points earned during the game, the bonus scoring for their faction, the number of cards in their empire, and from operational technology end game scoring. The player with the most points… well, you know the drill.
Alien Artifacts is a good card game. The design of the card play is what I enjoyed the most. Both the resource and ship/tech/planet cards are unique.
Resource cards are used to improve and grow your empire and need to be managed because the game imposes a three card hand limit. In addition, the game uses an Assembly Limit, which is fancy talk for the maximum cards that can be played in a turn, the default of which is two. There are ways to increase your Assembly Limit for specific actions, but you can also Prepare Resources by tucking them under the card that is under construction. Prepared resources do NOT count towards the Assembly Limit, so this is one way to build a card that cannot be paid for with only two cards. These are the types of decisions that I enjoyed mulling over while playing Alien Artifacts.
The ship/tech/planet cards, the meat of your empire, are also well designed. They provide one of the game’s quintessential decisions every time they are constructed – do I build this card for an ongoing bonus which will improve my economic engine (logistics) or do I build it to score points (operational). Balancing how to utilize these cards and balancing the strategic vs. tactical decisions every turn is what makes this game so enjoyable for me. It also leads to variety as every game played out differently depending on what cards I have and how my empire is at the time I have those cards.
Finally, I loved the fact that turns are VERY fast. I found myself engaged throughout the game and, just as importantly, with very little downtime. This is especially true with 2 players. After a couple of games, I was completing a thinky card game in 45 minutes or less.
I only have a warning and three qualms about this game.
First, a warning – the scoring during the game is luck based. A resource card is drawn and either the base attack is used for combat or the two type symbols are compared to the Tech/Planet card to see if they match the type of that card. I enjoyed the way scoring is handled, but those that do not enjoy unmitigable luck should be aware.
Second, for a game about alien artifacts, the artifacts themselves are not very powerful. I found most of them to have situational usefulness and because they are taken from their deck face down, you do not know the power of the artifact until you obtain it. It is clearly not a game breaker, but I was disappointed that they did not impact the game more.
Third, the game does not have significant player interaction. I LOVE multiplayer solitaire, but I know that many gamers do not. That being said, there is combat but it is very limited. The results range from damaging/destroying the attacking ship to allowing the attacker to place a blockade on the defender’s card(s), rendering the text of the card useless until it is removed.
That is it. The defender does not have a counter-attack opportunity. Essentially, there is very little eXtermination in Alien Artifacts, which, for me, is the least important part of a 4x. I did not enjoy attacking others and usually found concentrating on my tableau or attacking the Alien Systems to be more enjoyable.
My final issue was with the number of Alien System cards included in the game. The name of the game is Alien Artifacts. The main method for obtaining Alien Artifacts is by attacking Alien Systems. I would have liked more variety than only the five Alien System cards included.
Alien Artifacts is an entertaining card game. I enjoy the game most with two or three players (four players takes a bit too long for my taste). Turns in Alien Artifacts are lightning fast and require a combination of strategy (my bonuses will score me more if I do this…) and tactics (WOW, this card is awesome – I NEED to play it this way this turn). I also enjoyed how the hand limit of three resource cards (unless expanded via technology), combined with the Assembly Limit, force you to maximize the value you get out of your normally suboptimal hand.
I would highly recommend Alien Artifacts to those who are looking for an excellent space-themed card game but do not mind luck impacting their experience.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great scifi themed card game that provides a ton of replay value, as long as you are ok with some luck in your games.
• Unmitigable luck can impact scoring
• Very little interaction between players
• The artifacts themselves can be hit or miss
• Needs more Alien System cards