Asmodee is continuing its plot to slowly overtake the world, not only by buying Days of Wonder, but also by branching out to Russian publishing partners such as Hobby World, and now, Lifestyle Boardgames Ltd. The fruit of this partnership is Artificium from designer (and artist!) Timofey Shargorodskiy, which won a Russian game design contest called KORNI. In Artificium, players are medieval rulers (?) who are, essentially, converting resources to other resources and getting victory points for doing so. That doesn’t sound like anything new, but does Artificium rise above that? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: I was really impressed with the components for this game. First off, there’s very few, which makes me happy – that means quick setup and tear-down. There’s over 100 cards, a player board for each player, the VP track the rulebook (with a nice glossary of the cards on the back), and some multi-purpose coin tokens. That’s it! The cardstock is really good – I don’t know what to call it, but the cards shuffle really well and feel really smooth while being thick, but not too thick. Quite impressive after the terrible cards I just opened for Machi Koro and Evolution. I’m waiting to hear on the MSRP, but really, not much to say here – everything is great! I guess if I had a complaint, it’s that the card wells are too shallow to fit them all, so I had to place some in the central well under the tokens.
Accessibility: This is one of those games that seems like it’s mostly played in your head, because you’re basically just playing cards so that you can move tokens around on your player board and score points for doing it. The player board is essentially a flow chart of what resources convert to what others (given that you have the card to do it), and a buy/sell price for all of the resources. Turns simply involve simultaneously revealing a card that either does a special action, or does some sort of resource conversion and grants victory points when it’s resolved. There are “top” cards (a knight and a wizard) that take tons of resources and don’t give any resources back but instead give a ton of points and a special effect. The game is four rounds of just trying to play cards as efficiently as possible. There are some other things to it, such as exchanging cards in the market, but it’s all really simple. The players I taught it to caught on right away, and my explanation probably wasn’t more than five minutes. I would say this could even be a gateway-level game, except for the amount of abstraction going on.
Depth: This is first and foremost a card game, and there’s a lot of pseudo-simultaneous play – it’s quick, and is probably always 30-45 minutes (rulebook says 20-50). It reminds me of 7 Wonders in that sense. But the gameplay isn’t so much about engine-building or development of a big tableau of cards, as it is walking the tightrope of cashing in your resources as efficiently as possible without getting stuck. The feel of it actually reminds me of the excellent game Targi, even though the games aren’t all that similar.
The game has both direct and indirect interaction. Each turn, you can exchange cards at the market before the card play begins, and you want to keep a close eye both on what you’d like to have and what your opponents take and give. There are also two quite mean action cards that steal resources and cards. These can be recovered from, but they’re quite dangerous if they hit you in the last round. They also become more chaotic and annoying with higher player counts – I actually think the game is best with 2, because it feels more like a proper duel, and I can actually keep an eye on what my opponent is doing, and there’s none of that king-making aspect with the action cards. While I think it gets a little weaker with every player added, it’s still quick and easy while having some interesting decisions regardless of player count.
Although the game is less chaotic at those low player counts, there’s still a healthy dose of luck here with the card draw. There were surely some interesting decisions to be made, and you had to alter your plans if an opponent came around with an action card or snagged something from the market before you. But the times when I lost – for example, I lost one game by being exactly one coin off of triggering a knight on the final turn – I couldn’t think of a moment where I thought back and felt that I’d made a decision that could have been different and it cost me. It felt like I was making the moves that seemed to be clearly the best and then my luck ran out. I suppose that’s the nature of card games – but the cleverest ones at least hide that fact and make you feel like losing is your own fault in some sense.
Theme: The game has a very loose medieval theme, but let’s be honest, this is about moving tokens on a flow chart. I do think the artwork is very nice and clean, although maybe a bit generic. But on the other hand, the iconography is really clear and so is the game flow, so I can’t fault it too much. This is basically a card game for Eurogamers, who are probably okay with the lack of an immersive theme. And the theme that’s there is definitely better than no theme at all, in my book – but it does little to elevate the game.
Fun: I liked my plays of Artificium, and I’ll gladly play it again. But it doesn’t have that ineffable something, that pizzazz that makes you go right back to it. The game is quick enough to play two in a row, but we didn’t really ever want to play a 2nd game straight. This game is quick and easy and fits in that category of things like Splendor or Rise of Augustus, but those games have that potato-chip quality (as W. Eric Martin put it) where you just want to play again and again. Artificium is streamlined, quick, fun, really good – just not amazing.
Eurogamers out there who would love to see a quick card game version of resource management will enjoy Artificium, and it’s definitely worth a look for anyone who thinks it sounds interesting.
3 out of 5