Phil Walker-Harding is one of my favourite game designers of the last 10 years and his games appear very highly in my top games of all time. Classics such as Imhotep, Barenpark, Sushi Go Party and Silver & Gold are always in rotation on games nights in our house.
Archaeology The New Expedition from Z-Man Games is sometimes referred to as a filler game (a smaller game to play in-between 2 very long games) but I prefer to look at this as a perfect game to introduce new players to 'gaming' mechanisms such as push your luck and set collection.
In this game for 2 to 5 players you play an archaeologist digging for treasure which you hope to sell to the museum for a maximum profit before it is either stolen by a thief working for another player or lost to a sandstorm. It is a simple theme that actually works really well for the gameplay.
Getting The Site Ready For Some Serious Archaeology
Before you are able to dig for treasure you need to set up the site. You have to separate out the treasure cards from the map, thief, sandstorm and tent cards. In addition, if you are playing a 2 to 3 player game you also have to take out 2 types of treasure cards.
Once this is done shuffle the treasure cards and deal 4 to each player face down in addition to a tent card. Then place 5 treasure cards into the middle of the table face up which forms the market.
You then choose one of the six monument tiles and place treasure cards according to the monument's instructions. Finally, you shuffle in the map cards and the required number of thief and sandstorm cards into the treasure deck and place it in the middle of the table to form the dig site.
Let's Get Digging
The gameplay is very simple and easy to teach. On your turn, you take into your hand the top card from the dig site and hopefully, you have discovered a treasure or map card rather than a thief or sandstorm.
Each treasure card has a name, a trading value as noted on the top of the card, how many of this particular treasure card is in the deck is noted just below the picture, and the value of this treasure card if you sell it to the museum.
You will note that the more copies of a treasure card you sell to the museum at the same time will provide a better outcome. For example, if you only sell 1 coin you would receive a value of 2, however, if you sold 5 at the same time you would receive 30.
Going To Market
Once you have dug up a card you can go to the market in the middle of the table and trade any of the cards in your hand for those on the table as long as the trade value of the cards you take is equal to or less than the cards you traded. This way you can exchange treasures you don't want for more than you do.
However, you have to keep in mind you may be placing cards in the market that your competitors may need.
Making My Money
When you sell to the museum you place the treasure cards in front of you face up, overlapping each other, and declare what you are selling. This way all players are aware of the value and number of treasure cards you have sold and also how many are now not available at the dig site, market and monument.
You can sell as many sets as you like on your go, but you are not allowed to add further cards to the sold sets at a later round. For example, if I sold 2 talismans this round for a value of 10 and then on the next round I found another talisman, I would be able to sell it but only as a single card with a value of 3 which would be placed in front of me separated from the other talisman treasures.
This is where the push your luck element comes in because you have to decide if you want to wait until you have more cards of the same set before you are hit by a sandstorm, or a thief steals one of your valuable cards.
Oi, Give That Back!
If, when you are digging, you reveal a thief card you immediately place it on the table overlapping the other thief cards so that all players can see how many remain in the dig site. Then you choose one other player and you steal one of their cards at random and then add it to your hand.
There is no way of combatting the thief card and it can be frustrating for a player if everyone has just witnessed them trading lots of cards for a particular valuable treasure to then have it immediately stolen on the next player's turn.
There's A Storm Coming
If you reveal a sandstorm card at the dig site this affects all players. First, you place the sandstorm card overlapping the other sandstorm cards on the table so that all players can see how many are still in the dig site.
Then all players must lose half of their cards rounded down which are placed in the market face up. Before losing your cards, you may play your tent card which enables you to ignore the sandstorm and you do not lose any cards.
However, this can only be played once. The player who revealed the sandstorm card then goes back to the dig site for another go. Only when a sandstorm card is revealed do you get another chance at the dig site.
The game comes with 6 different monuments which all have slightly different rules about when you can take treasure cards from the monument but all of them work in conjunction with the map cards. The maps cards also count as a treasure that can only be sold individually for a value of 3. As each monument is different it adds a nice variety to the game.
Keep On Digging
When a player has finished going to market, selling to the museum and/or visiting a monument the next player, in clockwise order, starts their go by taking a card from the dig site. This continues until there are no more cards at the dig site, at this point players can still continue to go to the market, visit the monument, and sell to the museum or they can pass.
Once all players have passed in sequence the first player who passed must sell at least 1 of their cards to the museum. This continues until all players have no cards in their hand at which point the game ends. You then calculate your score and the player with the highest score wins.
In the event of a draw, the player who has sold the fewest cards to the museum (and therefore the most efficient) is the winner.
This is a great push your luck, set collection game that plays well for all player counts in less than 30 minutes. It remains exciting all the way to the end of the game and there is a great feeling of relief when you manage to sell a really valuable set of cards to the museum before one or more cards is lost to a thief or sandstorm.
The six different monuments add a nice level of variety to the game and in addition, there are some variants printed on the back of the rule book. This game can be taught to anyone and I have had real success with seasoned gamers as well as newbies. Some people may find the thief cards annoying but the fact you know how many are in the game and how many are still left to be played helps.
My only gripe with the game is the set up and tear down is a little long for a card game and for ease of play in future I always separate the cards when we've finished playing, this enables a much quicker start to a game in the future.