Humanity has carved out a tenuous foothold on a harsh new world! Teams of ‘stabilisers’ have begun the process of making the frozen wasteland of Europa, the Galilean moon, habitable for man. Quite why I have no idea! But hey, “theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die”.
In The Artemis Project it’s the players job to take control of these stabilisers and build the most productive colony. We’ll do this by placing our workers, which are dice, to do various actions.
Let’s check out how this 1-5 player game from the Grand Gamers Guild plays.
The 7 action spots on the main board are split between the surface and ‘the pocket’. The surface is where you’ll get new building and colonists. The pocket is an underwater cavern where much of the colony’s infrastructure exists, here you’ll gather resources and organise missions. The game takes place over 6 rounds. Each round is punctuated by an event which will occur at some point during the resolution phase. Speaking of phases, there’s 3. The placement phase, the resolution phase and the upkeep phase.
At the beginning of the placement phase all players will roll their 5 dice. They’ll then take it in turns to place a die on 1 of the action regions. This is where it gets really interesting! The Artemis Projects uniqueness revolves around the way different players dice interact at various locations.
- The Basecamp. Each round sees new mission cards. Each mission has two reward tiers and a completion requirement which is a set number of dice pips allocated to the mission. If a mission doesn’t reach its requirement by phase end it fails and players who allocated dice get nothing. If the mission succeeds then the player with highest value of dice on the mission chooses their reward. The second highest gets the next reward and any other dice net their players nothing!
- The vents. Here stabilisers can harvest energy. Do this by placing a die on the left most spot, all subsequent placements are dictated by the exposure mechanism! Dramatic eh? Basically the lowest value die will resolve first so if you place a 1, even after someone’s placed a two or higher, your die will push everyone’s up the track and take first place. All subsequent dice placement follows this exposure rule.
- The Quarry. Minerals are gained here rather than energy, but in every other respect it works like the Vents.
- The Gantry. Buildings are available to players from the Gantry. In the first 3 rounds only underwater buildings are available, these aid in engine building. In the final 3 rounds surface buildings become available, these solely give VP at endgame. Players bid for a building by placing a die on it. The pips on the die indicate how much mineral you will pay for that building. Placing a 1 could net you a bargain but beware you may get outbid and come away empty handed. You can always bid again but any subsequent die must be higher in value than the highest die currently there.
- The Doorstep. New colonists are available here. You can take a certain amount of teeny weeny little colonist dudes based upon the die value placed. Each colonist will cost you 2 energy. Beware, the Doorstep uses the Exposure mechanism too. By the way, colonists are used for activating buildings or augmenting mission dice at Basecamp, useful fellows!
- The Academy. You can train colonists to fulfil different specialties at the Academy. Simply send a useless colonist with a die that matches a value of your desired specialist and, voila! You have a brand spanking new marine, or engineer, or whatever. Spaces here are very limited. One spot in a 2 player game, 2 in a 3 or 4 player game.
- The Outfitter. There’s no limit to the dice that can be assigned to the outfitter, and uniquely amongst the action zones it resolves immediately. Toolkits are the reward gained from this region. Toolkits can be used to increase or decrease the value of a die. Very handy!
When all dice are placed it’s time for the resolution phase. The locations resolve in a clockwise fashion starting with the Basecamp. The Event card for that round will trigger at some point in this process, the exact time will be clearly marked on the card. Knowing the event in advance though players can plan accordingly to try and mitigate as much as possible it’s negative effects.
Now remember when I kept saying ‘the player will get nothing’ every time some annoying little... ‘stabiliser’ shoves your dice out the way or outbids you? Well, turns out even over this inhospitable tundra clouds still have silver linings. Every time you would get nothing you can increase your marker on the ‘relief track’. You can then choose the reward you just moved to on the aforementioned track or any that you’ve previously passed. A little something for your trouble kind of deal.
After all dice have been resolved we have a nice tidy Upkeep Phase. First all players get to move a colonist between their buildings or indeed swap two colonists in different buildings.
Next you can activate your ocean buildings, these will give you sweet little perks or abilities.
In the age old tradition of worker placement, you now have the privilege of being fleeced of your hard earned energy to pay for your lazy layabout colonists hanging around your shelters.
Refresh the game board with new missions, resources, buildings and colonists. Flip over your new event and the player with least resources begins the next Placement Phase. Rinse and repeat for 6 rounds and then tot up all those lovely VP to see who won!
What I loved
The artwork is what drew me to this game. It is absolutely phenomenal and would be at home in any modern Sci Fi comic book. Along with the graphic design it really lifts the game off the table. In fact the mechanisms themselves really don’t feel that thematic, maybe it’s the difference between placing workers and placing dice. But the art is the saving grace for the theme here, as the mission cards, events and even buildings do a super job of reminding you of the overarching story behind The Artemis Project.
Components wise the Grand Gamers Guild have produced a really deluxe feeling game. The cards are excellent stock, the resources nice and chunky, the colonist Meeples are tiny but highly detailed. Even the player boards are dual layer cardboard and the building tiles are suitably substantial. Yes the production values are insane on this one.
Now, mechanics. What the Artemis Project manages to do is take a recognisable and simple worker placement model, think something like Stone Age for example. Then it chops away at our safe and expected strategies and breathes new and novel life into the format. In many worker placement games the only player interaction is blocking action spots with your workers. By introducing dice as workers, this game delivers a much more varied and constant interaction factor. There’s bidding and brute force and subtlety and even a little cooperation in there too.
I’m still trying to work out if it’s better to have high or low value dice. To be honest I don’t think it’s better to have either, you take what you roll and the skill is making it work for you whatever it is. The key to getting the most out of those dice though is always watching what your opponents are up to. This one is built around player interaction and it thrives on it. The exposure mechanism, like the building bidding wars, can be the most annoying thing in the world. When you get it right though, reaping the rewards feels supremely satisfying.
Now when I say reap the rewards, don’t expect an avalanche of resources or a torrent of VP. Everything in this game is tight, as tight as you’d expect scraping a living on a Jovian moon to be. So when you see an opportunity to nab an extra VP or a couple more minerals you jump at it, it could be the difference between winning and losing after all. The Artemis Project rewards efficiency. So if squeezing every drop out of what’s available to you is your jam, then this little puppy’s got your name on it!
I really like the way the rounds work with the events triggering at certain stages of resolution. The fact that the buildings available to players change at the half way point too helps to funnel you into that end game points focus that can sneak up on you in some games.
What I loved less
As I mentioned earlier the theme doesn’t really make it past skin deep in the Artemis Project. That skin is of course the stunning artwork by Dominik Mayer and for me it’s enough. If however you need your theme to penetrate the very mechanics of a game, then this one may feel a little light for you.
The player interaction in this game is predominantly and regularly negative, sometimes frustratingly so. Watching your carefully laid plans shoved aside by someone else’s die can be heart-breaking. Some people will like that and some won’t. Just be warned, if you like your multiplayer solitaire this game will mess you up!
The only part of the gameplay I personally found disappointing was the engine building element. That’s not to say it’s bad, quite the opposite. The ocean buildings are great and shifting your colonists around to make them work is really engaging and strategic. The thing is it feels kind of under-utilised as you can only get them for the first 3 rounds and often are blocked from getting the building you’d like. Sometimes the buildings that are available just don’t do much for you, or you find yourself unable to afford them as resources are so flaming tight. The result is the bones of a brilliant engine building mechanism. Unfortunately these bones rarely have enough meat on them to get your teeth stuck into!
The aesthetically stunning Artemis Project delivers an interesting step up from classic worker placement gateway games. If you’ve enjoyed Stone Age or similar, then the Artemis Project offers an excellent twist on those much loved but well-trodden mechanisms.
The bidding style of the placement phase offers constant player interaction and keeps all players engaged throughout the process. As with any dice rolling game luck is an ever present factor, as are the negative effects of your opponent’s actions. The game offers plenty of mitigation however and no roll is a bad roll on Europa! Different die values simply require different uses and strategies. Working out how best to use what you get lumped with is a really unique and challenging puzzle every round.
Along with the Exposure mechanism everything combines to offer some really nuanced and surprisingly tactical gameplay. I would of loved to have seen the engine building element developed a little more. As it is though The Artemis Project is a solid mid weight dice placement game. Playing in 60-90 minutes, it comfortably and deftly mixes strategy, player interaction and resource management. I highly recommend you check it out.