Back in 2007, Australian designer Phil Walker-Harding released Archaeology: The Card Game. I’d seen this game on shelves in board game cafes, for sale at friendly local game stores, but never really heard what it was like to try. Despite my interest in the subject matter (I studied archaeology at University level) and general fondness for Egyptian history (I visit lots of museums), i’d never gotten it to the table. If I can be blunt, the art was always a bit of a turn off – a gaudy Pharaoh’s mask didn’t look like a treasure that would draw me in.
After seeing the cover of Archaeology: The New Expedition, I was immediately impressed with the much more atmospheric style of cover art and the muted colours. Perhaps that dashing adventurer on the cover with his pencil moustache and desert goggles gave off just enough mystery, because I cracked the box to discover what treasures I might find inside.
The overall premise of this card game is that you’re an archaeologist working the dig sites of the Egyptian deserts, aiming to collect as many treasures as you can to sell to museums, while avoiding treacherous sand storms and dangerous thieves. What this means is you’ll be ‘exploring’ the dig site, managing your hand of treasure cards, pushing your luck hoping that the storms and/or thieves won’t strike, and collecting sets of treasures for as much profit as possible.
Each player starts with 4 randomly dealt treasure cards in hand, in order to have a source to either trade at the marketplace, or perhaps unfortunately lose in a sandstorm or to a sneaky thief. On your turn, you “dig” from the deck, and 1 of three things will happen:
Once the dig phase is done, you can then choose to finish your turn in a combination of the following ways: One, discard a required amount of maps to “explore” a chamber of the monument – that is, look at a pile of cards, keep (x) depending on the monument in play; two, trade treasures from your hand for the same trading value of treasures in the marketplace (for instance, a coin – worth 2 – for two parchment scraps, each worth 1); three, sell sets of treasures to a museum, playing those cards down in a tableau in front of you (for instance, two broken cups, worth 12 points at game end).
The two things that grab me most about this game are the push your luck aspect, and the nice variability of different monuments to change things up game to game. First of all, push your luck. With the surprise of sandstorms and thieves popping out throughout the game, you have to hedge your bets as far as the sets of artefacts you’re collecting, and when you’re going to sell them. Should you keep amassing those talismans in hopes of collecting 5 to sell for 45 game end points, or aim for a safe etof selling 3 for 20 points, just in case? Should you just bang away at all the pot shards and parchment scraps you can, knowing there’s more in the deck than most other types of artefacts, and they’ll be easy enough to grab at the market? If you’re like me, it’s hard to avoid the nice shiny things like the Pharaoh’s Masks and nice coins..
While the Great Pyramid monument card still exists – and is recommended for your first game – there’s now 6 monument cards to choose from randomly as part of your game set up. Each still has a pile/piles of treasure cards to explore and requires discarding maps to do so – but there’s a few neat differences between them all. For example, the Sphinx has one large treasure pile, but when you explore, instead of searching through, you shuffle the pile, name 2 types of treasure and then deal 5 cards, keeping whatever comes up of the 2 types you’ve named. Another monument, the Temple, allows you to have a sneak peek at what’s in any given treasure pile whenever you sell to a museum. These little differences between the 6 monument tiles will keep what is otherwise a small and relatively simple game fresh, and it’ll certainly be a draw for me going back for more.
Although, I must say.. all of the archaeologists I know work for museums, don’t sell to them – so you have to let your brain travel to a little Indiana Jones-esque place for this and have a roaring good time. Get the hat and whip ready, Indy!
Archaeology: The New Expedition is available from Z-Man Games, plays from 2-5 players and takes approximately 30 minutes.