Oh dear, I’m sorry. I’ve come into your room and I’ve brought sand everywhere. Sorry, sorry, this happens ALL the time after I get back from treasure hunting in Egypt. The good news is, I’ve sold all the treasure I found for a lot of gold and I can afford to buy you a Roomba! The bad news is, this is just a metaphor for me to introduce my review of Archaeology: The New Expedition and I actually don’t have any money to buy you a Roomba. The sand is still real, though, all too real.
Ignore the sand, let’s talk Archaeology: The New Expedition. Archaeology is a filler card game that just got reprinted by Z-Man Games, after a long absence off the market. Funnily enough, the original game was a reprint as well, as the game used to be simply called Archaeology: The Card Game. The New Expedition included new art and a couple of gameplay tweaks not seen in the original. This reprint is just a straight reprint of that one which can be confusing but I suppose The NEW New Expedition just doesn’t have a good ring to it.
The game is designed by Phil Walker-Harding who has been gaining a lot of popularity with recent hits like Barenpark, Gizmos, and Gingerbread House. My main experiences with him have been with the adorable drafting game Sushi Go and the tile laying game Cacao (a game that has flown under a lot of people’s radars despite being very, very good). So I was quite interested in trying Archaeology since I enjoy PWH’s work and because I’ve heard a lot of good things about it as a filler card game, a genre of game that I’ve really started to love lately. Does it live up to its praise? Let’s find out.
At its core, Archaeology is a set collection card game that incorporates some trading and push your luck. You and your opponents are digging at a dig site (what else would you do?), trying to find treasure and wrangle up enough of the same types so that you can sell them for maximum profit. Gameplay is simple: draw a card and then either trade cards from your hand with a central market and/or sell sets of like cards for points at the end of the game. This elegance is one of my favorite things about the game. I mentioned in my last review (for the wonderful Vegas Dice Game , check it out) that I really love gateway games because I find them to be great tools for getting others into the hobby. Plus, I enjoy games where I don’t have to shave freshly grown five o’clock shadow after I complete it (looking at you, Eldritch Horror). In this sense, Archaeology sings. I can teach this game in less than five minutes and its ease of play creates an incredibly breezy experience which flies by.
To be fair, though, just because something is simple and easy doesn’t mean it’s good. Goodnight Moon is one of the easiest books on the planet to read, but I didn’t see that win any Pulitzer Prizes. So Archaeology is simple, but is it good? Short answer: yes. Long answer: yyyyeeeeeeessss.
The core gameplay loop is quite fun in the game. As you draw cards, you start to get a feeling for what types of treasure you want to go for, especially when you look out and see what’s in the market, where everyone at the table is doing their trading. Maybe you wanna go for the parchments, which don’t net a ton of points but are so common that you often accidentally procure a whole set of them without even trying. Then there are the rarer treasures that provide bigger payouts, but are obviously tougher to get. Trading with the market to get the goods you want is simple on paper, but tough in practice: you just trade equal value for equal value (so you could trade three cards with a one gold value for one card with a three gold value, for example) but you never want to give up something that your opponents can snatch up on their next turn. Deciding when to actually sell your artifacts is another tough decision. The game incorporates a scale similar to Bohnanza‘s ‘beanometer’ (I’m assuming that genius name is trademarked, so hopefully I don’t get sued by Uwe Rosenberg’s lawyers for mentioning it) where you can speedily sell small sets to get quick bursts of points or wait till you have a full set to get a whole bucket of them. This is made even tougher by the most diabolical mechanism in Archaeology: the sandstorms.
No, not the song “Sandstorm” by Darude. I’m talking about actual sandstorms. One is an unstoppable force of nature that wreaks havoc wherever it goes, and the other is a mechanism in this game. In the deck of cards that you’re drawing from every turn, there’s a set number of sandstorms. When drawn, they force everyone at the table to discard HALF your hand. Oh, you thought you could safely hoard all those Pharaoh heads, broken cups and talismans like the world’s messiest museum curator? Heh, cute. Nope, you have to get rid of half of them and they allll go into the market. Luckily, you choose what you lose but occasionally the sandstorms come at a really bad time and you may lose something you really need. And the moment you lose something valuable, everyone’s eyes light up as you begrudgingly put it in the market. Suddenly, this easy, light card game becomes a tense race against time, where you’ll be gripping your cards so tight you’ll practically squeeze the linen finish out of them. You’ll dread every draw from the deck, pleading for just one more turn to trade for that last card in the set you need.
The game does offer a counter to the sandstorms in the form of a tent card. Everyone starts the game with one tent card. If a sandstorm appears and you just aren’t in the mood to deal with that crap, you can flip over said tent card and gain immunity from its negative effects. BUT it’s a one time use, creating yet ANOTHER difficult choice. Do you use your tent early, trying to preserve a hand but knowing your chances of hitting another sandstorm are still relatively high? Or do you save it for later, but risk losing so many cards in the process that by the time the last sandstorm hits you have nothing left to protect? I’ve hit both situations and cursed Past Kyle for his decisions which is always the sign of a good game. I certainly don’t have enough opportunities for self loathing in my life.
The last thing to mention are the monuments. In the game is a monument set to the side which can be explored using map cards. Rather than selling those map cards in for a small amount of points at the end, you can spend sets of them to activate the monument and gain extra cards through that avenue. There are even six monuments in the game, each one behaving differently and creating a uniquely different flavor for each game. Enjoy the plain but classic taste of vanilla? Try the Pyramid, which has three stacks of cards, each one getting bigger than the last. Trade in bigger sets of maps, and you get the bigger stacks which gives you a TON of cards to work with. Prefer your monument with a bit of spice in it, like a habanero based hot sauce? May I suggest the Mines, which lets you play a mini game of Blackjack, drawing cards one at a time and hoping you don’t go over a certain gold value which would result in a bust. These monuments don’t just add another decision to keep in mind, but help freshen each game of Archaeology. This is particularly useful since, at a brisk 15-20 minutes, this is a game that you’ll like play two or three times per session. It’s a small addition (one that actually wasn’t in the original Archaeology: The Card Game) and a welcome one.
Now’s the part of the review when I tell what isn’t great about Archaeology. Luckily, there’s not much to dislike there, but there are a few things worth mentioning. For an otherwise peaceful game of trading artifacts and selling them for gold, this game can be mean. The sandstorms can really wreck your day if the timing is bad for you, even with the immunity granted from a tent. Having a great set of treasure sliced in half because of a sandstorm will have you creating new curse words to say. People out there might smugly slide their glasses up their noses and proclaim, “Well, sell your treasures before the sandstorm and get gud lol”. To that I say, easier said than done. It’s impossible to tell when a sandstorm will hit till the deck starts to hit its second half and the odds start to become clearer, and up till then it’s a crap shoot as to when to sell and when to hold on for juuust a bit longer. I’ve played with a player who detested having their hand constantly under attack by random pulls of the deck and they didn’t have a fun time with the game.
And did you think the sandstorms were mean? Then allow me to finally introduce the thief card to you. In addition to sandstorms, there are sneaky thieves lying in wait, which, when drawn, allow you to take a card from another player’s hand and add it to your own. This is doubly frustrating because not only do you lose the card, but your opponent gains it. When you see that player immediately sell it as part of a large set on their following turn? The curse words you make up here will make the curse words you made up during the sandstorm look like they belong in a Berenstain Bear’s book.
The last possible hang up people might have is how swingy the game can be in terms of luck. You can get useless cards all day while your opponents are drawing all the high priced treasure and maps and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can adjust and try to go for selling tons of cheap treasure but I’ve yet to see that pan out.
Ultimately, if you get annoyed with luck deciding a game, this might not be for you. I personally don’t mind it since it’s just a short 20 minute filler that can be quickly played again, but I’ve heard some people grumble about how lucky the game can be.
Ultimately, if you don’t mind luck heavy gameplay that will occasionally bully you, then Archaeology: The New Expedition is a great filler to add to your collection. It combines tense push your luck with trade based set collection in a tidy little package that will keep you entertained even several plays later.