While NASA may have recently annouced the discovery of another dozen moons of Jupiter, Europa remains the most tantalizing. It’s vast ice-covered oceans may or may not contain life, but even if they don’t, the likelihood of them containing exploitable resources remains. And this is ultimately the story behind The Artemis Project, a new boardgame currently seeking funding on Kickstarter.
What Is The Artemis Project?
The Artemis Project is an abstract resource management and worker placement game from The Gamers Guild., which is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game. A $55 pledge will get you a copy of the game once it is published.
The game is for 2-4 players and takes about an hour to play. The inclusion of small pieces means that it is rated 12+, but there’s no content in the game anyone might find offensive (except perhaps a few pieces of implied violence in flavor text), so younger kids who are comfortable with fairly deep, abstract strategy won’t have a problem with the game.
The Artemis Project Components
The game includes the following components:
- 1 highly detailed game board
- 4 player mats
- 44 building tiles, split equally between ocean and surface buildings
- 20 dice, 5 of each color
- 8 player markers, 2 of each color
- 20 expedition cards
- 10 event cards
- 4 resource cards
- 60 mineral markers
- 60 energy markers
- 66 colonist cubes, divided betweeen 24 pioneers, 20 engineers, 11 marines and 11 stewards
- 1 draw bag
- 1 event marker
- 1 phase marker
- 35 tool markers
- 35 expedition markers
Note: Components shown are the prototype. Final components may look quite different.
Overall, I was extremely impressed by the quality of the components in the game. The cardboard is what I expect from a prototype–much thinner than what I assume will be in the final game. But the parts are all very well conceived, and most important, the artwork is downright gorgeous. I’ve played best-selling games with worse art than what I’ve seen in The Artemis Project.
Another thing that impressed me about the design of the game is that all relevant information needed to play is printed directly on the board, cards, or player mats. For example, the steps for each player to complete at the end of the round, along with the instructions on how to reset the board for a new round, are printed on each player mat. This saves the time of having to dig through the rules, as well as making sure every player knows eactly what they need to do.
A trap a lot of game designers fall into is an overreliance on icons. The problem of couse becomes that the time you might have saved from not having to look up steps in the rules is lost looking up what the icons mean. While there are some things Artemis uses icons for, such as scoring, most of the more complex instructions are just written in English.
How to Play The Artemis Project
Place the board in the middle of the table. Put the Phase Marker on event spot A (on the right side of the board). Put the minerals, energy cubes, tools, and expedition badges in separate piles near the board.
Take 4 each of the engineers, stewards, and marines from the supply of colonists and place them near the Academy at the top of the board. Reserve 1 pioneer per player, then put the remaining colonists in the draw bag.
Individually shuffle the two stacks of buildings and place them in separated face-down stacks near the Gantry on the left side of the board.
Shuffle the Event cards and draw 6. Put the rest back in the box. Shuffle the expeditions deck and place it near the Hangers. Place the resource die near the Vents and Quarry.
Give each player a player mat. Each player then picks a color and gets the five die of that color. Give each player 3 energy cubes and 3 minerals, along with one of the reserved pioneer cubes. The energy and minerals are placed on their respective spots on the board, while the pioneer goes in the Shelter spot.
Place one marker per player on the Scoring Track in the middle of the board, and the other on the Relief Track.
Draw Expedition cards equal to one less than the number of players and place them face-up near the Hangers. If any show awards such as enegy cubes, minerals, or tools, place those on the cards. If a reward is for a building, draw an Ocean building and place it next to the card. If a reward is for one or more colonists, randomly draw them from the bag and place them on the card.
Roll the resource die–again, one less than the number of players–and place energy cubes equal to the total amount rolled on the Vents. Repeat this process to place minerals on the Quarry. In both cases, if the roll is less than 2 per player, place 2 per player instead.
Draw Ocean buildings equal to one more than the number of players and place them face-up near the Gantry.
Draw colonists equal to the number of players plus 2 and place them in the Doorstep.
No additional setup is necessary for the Academy or the Outfitters.
Draw the top Event card and place the Event marker on the spot on the board indicated on the card.
Choose a starting player at random. All players roll all five die to create a dice pool and place the die on their player mat.
Each round is divided into three phases: Placement, Resolution, and Upkeep.
In the Placement phase, each player places one of her die on a spot on the board to try to claim it.
For the Expeditions, players place die to attempt to win the award. Each Expedition has a number indicating its difficulty. At the end of the Placement phase, the total amount on all of the die on the card needs to meet or exceed this difficulty, at which point players win rewards.
In the example of the card shown above, it has a difficulty of 8. (All Expedtions have a difficuly above 6, making it impossible for anyone to accomplish the expedition with only a single, unassisted die.) Should that expedition succeed, the players would be able to choose either a building (which would have been drawn and placed alongside this card) or a colonist (which likewise would have been drawn and placed on the card.)
The first player to place a die on the card puts it at the bottom of the card, and subsequent die are placed above it. This is because ties go to the earliest player.
You can also sent colonists on expeditions to increase your odds of success. By spending one energy each, players can send Pioneers with their die, which have the effect of increasing the die’s value. In other words, if a player plays a die showing a 5, and sends one Pioneer, that die counts as a 6, both when totalling the die to determine success and for determining the winner. Players can send as many Pioneers as they wish or can afford, based on the amount of available energy.
Players can also send a single Engineer. If the expedition succeeds, the player would receive any 2 resources in addition to whatever award they get. When we played, no one ever did this, so I’m not sure what the advantage is.
Instead, you can also send a single Marine. When you do this, you can take another player’s die on that same expedition and reduce its value by 1 or 2. We never did this, either, but at least I get the strategy involved here.
Finally, you can send a single Steward, but only with a die of value 1 or 2. If you do this, and the expedition succeeds and you end up with the highest total on the card, you gain an additional victory point. Again, this is something that no one us took advantage of, but in retrospect I realized that I left a lot of points on the table by failing to remember to do this.
The next two options of where to play are essentially the same: the Vents and the Quarry. In both cases, you place one of your die in the same indicated, and in the Resolution phase, you may be able to gain either energy cubes (at the Vents) or minerals ( at the Quarry) equal to the value of your die.
The catch here is that in each round, there are a limited number of resources available. So, the game uses a mechanic is refers to as “exposure”. When you play your die, you place it to the right or any existing die that are less than or equal to die already placed. For example, say two prior players had placed die showing a 1 and a 4 on the Vents. If you placed a 3 die, it would go between the two existing die. If another player then also wanted to play a 3, it would go to the right of your 3. So, if you place a die showing a value of 1, you are certain to get resources … but only 1. If you instead place a higher die value, you should get more resources, but you might not get any if they run out based on earlier die.
The Gantry allows you to bid on the right to build one of the available buildings. To do this, you place one of your die directly on the building. In so doing, you are offering to build that building for the amount of minerals shown on the die. So, if you play a 3 die, you are saying that you want to build the building for 3 minerals. However, another player may decide they want the building more, and thus play a higher value die. You could then add additional die to outbid them if you wish. It’s important to note that you do not need to have enough minerals on hand to match your bid when you place it. The Quarry is resolved before the Gantry, so any minerals you gain in that step can be used to pay for buildings.
The Doorstep using the same “exposure” method as the Vents and the Quarry, but this time, you are trying to gain colonists.
The Academy allows you to trade a colonist for a different type. Only two players can play at the Academy. To do this, you place one of your die and the colonist you are trading in on the board. There is no bidding here–whichever two players play here first will get the trade they want.
The final spot on the board you can play into is the Outfitter. This is the only spot on the board that is resolved immediately. You can play a 1, 2, 3 or 4-value die to immediately gain one tool, or a 5 or 6-value die to immediately gain 2 tools.
Tools can be used anywhere else to change the value of any die before you place it. So, if you had a 6 die left, but wanted to bid on a building at 4, you could pay two tools to change the die to a 4 before playing it. You can use tools to change die values up or down, and there’s no limit to the number of tools you can play at once, other than the rule that you cannot change a die so that its value is less and 1 or greater than 6. There are several other ways to gain tools as well, so we found that this was a faily under-utilized aspect of the game.
Once all players have placed all of their dice, you begin the Resolution Phase, starting with the Expeditions. Each card is evaluted to determine success–if the total value of the die (plus any pioneers) exceeds the difficulty, it succeeds. In this case, whichever player had the highest contribution to the success chooses one of the two rewards. The second highest contributor then gets the other reward. If only one player placed die on the card, they get both rewards. Ties are resolved in the order the dice were played, with the earlier player gaining the reward. All players who played on the card do recieve an Expedition Badge, which will count towards victory points at games’ end.
Should the expedition fail, any players who placed dice on the card move their player marker up one on the Relief track.
Dice used on the cards are returned to the player mats. Any colonists who were used for the expedition are retunred to shelters.
Once all expeditions are resolved, you move the Phase Marker to the Vents. Whomever has the left-most die (the lowest value die placed earliest), receives energy cubes equal to the die’s value. Then, the player with the second-place die receives energy equal to that die’s value, and so forth. It’s possible (and times probable) that the energy cubes available will run out before all die are resolved. Should a die be able to be partially resolved, it will be, so if a 5 die is next in line but only 2 cubes remain, that played receives 2 cubes. However, if any die cannot be resolved at all–the player gets zero cubes because they have all been taken–then that player (and any subsequent players) move their marker up one on the Relief track.
The Quarry is resolved next, and in the exact same way as the Vents.
At any point, and for free, players may “cash in” energy cubes or minerals by placing one on the 5x spot on their mat and discarding the rest, so that one cube/token now represents 5. This is partially to make space and keep the general supply from running out, but also, stored energy/minerals count as victory points at game’s end.
Once the Phase marker is moved to the Gantry, players can purchase buildings. The player with the highest-value die on a building may pay minerals in the amount shown on the die to purchase the building. This is optional–if a player bid on too many buildings, or if they failed to gain enough minerals at the Quarry, they can choose to not pay for a building. Should a player pass on paying for a building, but a lower bid exists for it, the lower-bidding player then has the option to build for the amount they bid. Should a player be unable to pay for a building, they simply do not build it.
Once gained, buildings are placed next to the player’s mat, and that player may place colonists on the building right away, up to its capacity. Each building has a number of spots on it to “staff” the building. Players place colonists on the squares on the building. In some cases, such as the Crystal Foundry shown above, the building may be staffed by any type of colonist, although note that the building above offers a bonus award if it is staffed by engineers. However, certain other buildings require certain staffers. The “Shuttle Bay”, shown in the lower right of the above image, by only be staffed by a single engineer.
Any players who were outbid for a building may move their marker up one on the Relief track.
Once anyone who wished to build has done so, the Phase marker is moved to the Doorstep. This is resolved just as the Vents and Quarry were, but this time each player may choose to pay to acquire one or more new colonists. Each new colonist costs 2 energy, and if a player cannot pay that they are skipped. Players who placed a 1 or 2 die may select and pay for one colonist from those available. Players who placed a 3 or 4 die may select and pay for one or two colonists, and those who placed a 5 or 6 die may select and pay for one, two, or three colonists. Players may always choose which colonists they want, but only from those still available. As with the Vents and the Quarry, should a player end up being unable to select any colonists because they were all gone, they move their marker up on the Relief track. However, they do not move up on the Relief track if they cannot gain a colonist because they were unable to pay for them.
Colonists gained here may either be placed in the player’s shelter or in any of the player’s buildings, assuming there is space for them.
The next and final spot to resolve is the Academy. Whomever played here puts the colonist they placed with their die back in the draw bag, and then takes the appropriate alternate type of colonist from the supply. You can swap any type of colonist for an engineer by playing a 1 or 2 die here, a marine by playing a 3 or 4 die, and a steward by playing a 5 or 6 die. However, at game setup, only 4 of each of those colonists are placed here, and once they run out they are gone.
Finally, anyone who played dice in the Outfitters receive their dice back (remember, the Outfitters is resolved during the Placement phase.)
Once all dice have been resolved, all players have the option of moving one colonist or swapping two. So, you can move a single colonist between the shelter and a building or vice-versa, or from one building to another. Or, you may swap two colonists between buildings or the shelter.
Next, any full staffed Ocean buildings are activated. These generally result in some kind of reward, so players may gain resources or tools or be able to acquire more colonists at this point.
Then, all players must pay one energy per colonist they still have in their shelters. If they are unable to pay, they must discard (return to the bag) any colonists they cannot pay for.
Finally, the game board is refreshed, following the same procedures as for the initial setup: any unclaimed Expedition cards are discarded and replaced by new ones; any remaining energy cubes and minerals are likewise discarded, and the Vents and Quarry are restocked by rolling the resource die; new buildings are drawn (although unclaimed ones remain in place), up to a maximum of 8 buildings; and new colonists are drawn from the bag (again, unclaimed colonists remain from prior rounds).
Then, whomever has the fewest resources on their mat chooses the starting player for the next round. Play continues for a total of 6 rounds. At the end of round 6, points are tallied, and whomever has the most wins.
Why You Should Play The Artemis Project
This game is unquestionably complex. Almost all of the gameplay takes place during the Placement phase, and with each die, you have at least 6 options of where to play it. But of course those options constantly change based on what the other players either are doing or might do.
This isn’t a game with a lot of direct player interaction–playing a Marine with a die on an expedition is the only time you can directly change what another player has done, and directly outbidding someone on a building is the only way you can play something that definitely screws another player. But, you have to constantly assess what everyone else is doing in making your decisions. And, sometimes, you get lucky.
In the game we played, in the final round, I really needed to draw three colonists to fully staff a couple of buildings, which was going to generate a ton of points for me. However, I only have a 5-value die left, and my son, who was playing after me, had both a 4 and a 6. (I had just played another die on the Vent, since I’d need a bunch of energy to pay for these colonists.) I really needed him to play that 4, since he knew what I was trying to do and if I played the 5 on the Doorstep first, he was certain to drop the 4 in there. Since the Doorstep using the “exposure” resolution, he’d get to play that 4 before I could play the 5, and given the other die already there, I knew there wouldn’t be enough left for me. But then, the other friend we were playing with, totally unaware of what I needed, outbid my son on a building. He didn’t have enough minerals to pay for the building if he used the 6 to win it, so he only choice was to play the 4 on the building, thus allowing me to play the 5 on the Doorstep and get the colonists I so desparately needed.
So much going on there, which is what makes this game so incredibly deep. That entire sequence turns out differently if, at the start of the round, my son hadn’t had the lowest number of resources and so go to pick the turn order, with him going last. If I had be able to pick, I would have had myself go last (I’m pretty sure that going first is an advantage in the early game, and last in the late game, but I’d have to play the game a bunch more to be sure), and I wouldn’t have had to do all of that strategizing.
The game also does a nice job of adding some twists to the normal resource management/worker placement mechanic. That fact that each of the six spots on the board play slightly differently makes things interesting. The “exposure” mechanic for deciding the Vents, Quarry, and Doorstep introduce a lot of tactics. And of course the added piece that it’s all based on die rolls, so elements of luck apply along the way.
I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth noting again: the artwork in the game is fantastic, even at this early prototype stage. I genuinely look forward to seeing the final components, but honestly hope that the board, cards, and building tiles don’t get changed too much. They beautifully add to the flavor of the game without being so overdone as to become a distraction.
I plan to back the game, and would highly recommend it to anyone who likes deep, complex abstract strategy.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.