Of Ice and Men, A Preview of The Artemis Project

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Space may be the final frontier, but you’re not there to explore and make new friends. Your job is to help bring resources home to Earth, and nothing is going to stop you!

The Artemis Project is the newest game from Grand Gamers Guild. It seats 2-4 players and takes 45-60 minutes. The game is in the Yahtzee inspired, dice chucking, worker placement genre.

In The Artemis Project you and your friends get to play as Stabilizers sent to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons with extremely cold temperatures. Your job is to mine the moon for all it’s worth. The going will be rough, for the oceans beneath Europa’s frozen crust hide unexpected dangers. But if you can survive those and secure better resources, buildings and workers than your rivals, you should be able to gather enough points to emerge victorious.

Game Mechanics and Components

The game consists of a main game board, 4 player boards, a set of 5 dice for each player, an event card deck, an expedition card deck, a set of tiles for both surface and ocean buildings, cubes that represent the colonists you may recruit, markers for energy and minerals, and a handful of other minor components.

The Artemis Project always lasts six rounds. At the beginning of each round, the board will be reset, gaining new resources and colonist cubes, as well as new cards from the building and expedition decks. The number of energy and mineral markers available each round is randomized by rolling dice equal to the number of players, and the new colonist cubes are randomly drawn from a bag.

The players also draw a new event every round. A few of the events benefit the players, but most represent the frozen moon’s hazards. They can alter players’ strategies by making certain locations dangerous for workers, rewarding players who have more colonists of a given type in their employ, encouraging players to complete expeditions, or increasing the costs for certain actions.

After the board reset, you are ready to start the fun part of the game! The placement phase comes next, and this is when players will take turns making choices and building up their game engines. Each player starts by rolling their 5 dice and having them ready at the top of their player board. Then each player takes turns placing one of their dice on one of the board’s 7 regions until all dice are placed. The regions are:

  • The Hangar Bay, where players try to complete expeditions for prestige and rewards that vary from card to card and range from resources to buildings;
  • The Vents, where players collect energy;
  • The Quarry, where players extract minerals;
  • The Gantry, where players spend dice to compete in bidding wars for the right to build structures that will turn their segment of the colony into an efficient machine or provide victory points;
  • The Doorstep, where players spend dice to recruit new colonists to staff their buildings or send on expeditions;
  • The Academy, where players can place a die with one colonist to convert that colonist to another type; and
  • The Outfitter, where players can gain tools that allow them to alter die rolls during critical turns.

After the placement phase ends, the resolution phase begins. During this phase players go through each board region in the order above and determine the rewards their dice provide. It’s important to go in order, as you can use resources from the Hangar, Vents, and Quarry regions to pay for buildings and recruit colonists in the Gantry and the Doorstep. Then each player gets to activate their fully-staffed ocean buildings, which often generate resources or points. If they have any workers outside buildings, they have to spend energy to keep them warm.

Instead of detailing the mechanics for every region, I’ll focus on the ones that I feel are exceptional and help the game stand out from other worker placement games.

Three of the regions (The Vents, the Quarry and the Doorstep) use an interesting mechanic called Exposure. In all three regions, players collect rewards according to the number of pips on each die they place there. But watch out, because someone who spends a lesser die than you will place their die to the left of yours, giving it priority over yours during the resolution phase. Place high value dice too quickly, and you may find that others cut in front of you, denying you the resources and workers needed to execute your plans.

Expeditions are another interesting mechanic. Each expedition card has a number that the players must meet or beat to complete the expedition and claim its two rewards. However, the rewards are divvied up, with the player that contributed the most to the expedition getting first pick of reward. If one player completes the expedition by themselves, they don’t have to share the bounty with anyone and gain both rewards.

Of course, savvy opponents will rarely let someone complete an expedition alone. To stop their competitor from getting two rewards, players can add a die to an expedition that is already completed in order to claim half the bounty. But if they use a die that’s too low, a third player might be able to bump them to third place, meaning they will only get an expedition badge. Expedition badges help the most adventurous players earn points or avoid penalties, but they do nothing on their own. This mechanic, like Exposure, can make reading opponents and timing placements critical.

The engine building within the game is accomplished by collecting colonists and placing them into your buildings. If you want to acquire a building, however, you have to spend a die on that building’s tile. The player with the highest die on that tile wins the bid at round’s end and can build his building as long as he can pay a number of minerals equal to the pips on the die. Because low bids translate to lower costs, it can be advantageous to bid low. But because that makes it easy for opponents to snatch the building away, it is risky.

Impressions

There are a number of Yahtzee styled, dice chucking, worker placement games out there to choose from. I’m a big fan of Alien Frontiers, Troyes, and Roll for the Galaxy, just to name a few. So how does The Artemis Project separate itself from the pack as something special? There are several ways.

First and foremost is the unique Exposure mechanic, which adds a new layer of strategy to the decision making process of placing your die. No longer is your only concern whether you need to jump onto a specific location before others go there and steal it away. Now you also have to be very aware that if you place a die too early on one of the regions that use the Exposure mechanic, another player may bump your die into a position where you will receive none of the valuable resources that region provides. Alternatively, you could decide to be a cold-hearted villain and hold back a lowly die until the last turn of the round and oops! Did you just bump your opponent’s die out into the cold?

The Artemis Project is also unique in using more story elements than its peers, or at least the ones I’ve had the chance to play. The event and expedition cards all contain a short flavor text that tells the story of what you and your team are going through in order to mine this cold and inhospitable moon. I don’t want to ruin these, but believe me, they are fun. In fact, the flavor text gave me the feeling that there was a deep and endearing backstory being teased throughout the game. I was left wanting to know more.

The building tiles do a nice job of helping players transition throughout the game. During the first 3 rounds, you can only bid on buildings that go beneath the ice-crusted surface of the oceans. These initial buildings power your engine. During the last 3 rounds, the new tiles are all above surface buildings that generate victory points. This way the tiles are always relevant to gameplay, and always valuable.

Although The Artemis Project has enough strategy to keep most gamers entertained, it was also surprisingly easy to learn. I taught this game to several friends who have rarely played board games before and they had it figured out in 10 minutes. There were a few moments of analysis paralysis, but those should go away as we play more.

Things I Liked

If you can’t tell by the number of times I’ve mentioned it, I feel like the exposure mechanic is where this game shines the most. That extra layer of strategy made my decisions feel deeper, and the turns were I was holding onto dice to bump my friends out of resource range made me feel like an evil mastermind.

The game has a nice level of “take that,” but at times you may instead find yourself asking a fellow player to help you complete an expedition because you forgot to save enough dice to do so yourself. The give and take was nice and kept the game intriguing.

The flavor text on the event and expedition cards was really nice, but it left me wanting more. Tell me more about the hardships of the miners. Tell me more about this dangerous ocean in which we are mining. Hopefully, this will be addressed in a future expansion.

Summary

The Artemis Project is a nice addition to the dice chucking worker placement genre. It adds several elements I haven’t seen before, and I really liked the way those elements changed the flow of the game. It’s a great game for old and new board gamers alike.

If The Artemis Project sounds fun to you, consider signing up for the Grand Gamers Guild newsletter so you’ll know when the Kickstarter launches.

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By: Cambridge Eaton
Published: 2018-08-23