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|Name||Archaeology: The New Expedition (2016)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|BGG Rank||943 [7.16]|
We like Archaeology: The New Expedition a lot. It got four stars in our review, each of them unilaterally removed from the temple of an ancient sky god in a faraway land. It’s not looting. It’s preservation. They belonged in a museum. Provided that museum had massive amounts of cash it could send my way. I’m the hero here.
Our enjoyment of a game, as sincere as it is, isn’t enough though for a game to escape from our digsite with only its skeletons exposed and its musty old pots uncovered. Nono, we keep on going until we hit the ruins beneath. I’d say that we take our little brushes and painstakingly reveal every last contour of every last coin, but…
Well, we don’t call them teardowns because we’re delicate.
Get the biggest of my smashing hammers. Let’s do some excavation.
Colour blindness is a small issue. Each treasure that you collect has a particular colour to go with it, but is indicated primarily by name, art and value profile. Looking at one card you certainly don’t get confused as to which is which.
The problem is that when you’re holding a lot of cards in hand you’ll almost certainly be viewing them by their edges rather than full on, and in those circumstances it’s going to be difficult to tell a lot of them apart. For example, talismans versus maps for Protanopes and Deuteranopes. Broken cups and talismans for Tritanopes. I say this is a small issue because the necessary information is easily found by just fanning the cards out a little more. It’s an inconvenience though that doesn’t really need to be there. It’s not going to stop anyone playing, but it is going to be noticeable.
Otherwise, there’s no issue with colour in the game. Monument tiles, like the cards, don’t use colour in an inaccessible way and those are the only other real component in the game. Thieves, sandstorms and tents are completely differentiable by art.
We’ll recommend Archaeology in this category.
The cards are well structured, highly contrasted, and of reasonably large fonts. They’re easily visually inspected with an assistive aide, and their contents are possible to memorise because there aren’t all that many different kinds of card in the deck. As far as each individual card goes, there isn’t a lot of reason to complain save for the fact they waste a fair amount of space with the white borders. Full bleed art would have meant that there was even more space to make key information bigger.
The larger issue though is that there’s no hand-limit other than what the sandstorms force on people, and there’s likewise no restriction on how big the marketplace can be. This means a lot of cards to consider at a time even if each individual card is not likely to present itself as a chore.
The largest area where this is going to be an issue is in consideration of alternate options. Cards can be traded in any number, and can be used to buy other cards in any quantity as long as their total cost is less than or equal to the trade in value. That means – a lot of possibilities. Mostly they tend to follow predictable grooves – if you have three coins you probably want to pick up more coins. But occasionally you’ll have a chance to do a really interesting and non-obvious trade and you’ll need to be able to work through the ramifications.
The state of the marketplace is reasonably easy to verbalise and since there are relatively few different kinds of cards to buy it’s not an overwhelming information dump. ‘There is a map, three parchement fragments, two coins and a pharoah’s mask’. Cross referencing that against hand contents is going to add more complexity but your hand only changes without your involvement when a sandstorm or thief hits.
In the case of a thief, a random card is taken from your hand and the person that takes it can indicate to you what they got. That means a full reevaluation of a player’s hand is not required. In a sand storm, cards are chosen to be discarded. There are various in-hand management strategies that might make it easier for someone to track what they have, but the cost of using them is that they’ll reveal important information to other players – particularly with regards to sets and especially valuable items.
It’s not really feasible to play the game with open cards, because collection is an inherently covert activity. If you’re hunting masks, you don’t want clue someone else into it. If they know you have a mask they need, they’ll just cut their losses and sell the smaller set. If they don’t know, you might get lucky with a thief or sandstorm. The tenor of the game would change unrecognisably.
That means that those with total blindness, if they are lacking a support player, are almost certainly out of luck here. The importance of a secret hand of cards is a major barrier.
We can tentatively recommend Archaeology for those for whom the cards will be amendable to close inspection. For those with total blindness, lacking a specific support player, we suspect the game is functionally unplayable and not possible to modify so that it isn’t. We’ll average it out to a D.
There’s a lot of numeracy required to play Archaeology well, and it also needs a good grasp of probability. Each card comes with a note of how many of its type are in a deck, and that’s a great help. Another help is that spent sets are stored face up, but even that has its limits when calculating the odds of cards appearing. At least, while cards are still available. The monument that is the central focus of the maps in the game may hold cards secretly. Memorising the spent cards from a deck then is important, but not so important that it will have a dominant effect on play. It’s easy enough to let players call for a count of spent cards to help balance that a bit. As an example of why it matters… knowing that ten broken tablets have been cashed in changes the value of the two that might still be lingering in the marketplace.
The numeracy in Archaelogy is relatively intense, but mainly in how comparative much of the arithmetic will end up being. Let’s say you trade two broken tablets (worth two points) to the table in exchange for two parchments to bring yourself up to a total of four. That’s spending two points to get ten. That’s an obviously sensible trade. What about trading four coins (twenty points) to get your third mask (thirty points) and your second talisman (ten points)? Is that a good trade? Maybe. It depends. But… what about instead trading your two masks (fifteen points) to get another coin (thirty points) and two talismans (giving you three for a total of twenty points). You can sit down and work out what you actually gain for these trades but it’s not as obvious as ‘go for the biggest set of the most valuable item’. Calculating out the actual return is important.
As is calculating out a predicted return. There are twelve coins in the deck so it’s pretty likely you’ll get a set of five if you really want it. Maybe even two sets. You can have fractional access to the cards and still make out like a bandit. There are though only four masks in the whole deck, and you need all four to get fifty points. Five ancient coins cost ten Egyptian Dollarydoos in the marketplace. Three masks bring twelve dollarydoos your way. Whether you should make a trade like that depends on whether you think the last mask is going to become available to you. Otherwise, if the coins are there, buy them and a couple of pot shards. You end up with 32 points rather than the 30. But you’ll be kicking yourself when that fourth mask appears. It’s important to make those decisions when they actually yield you the best financial return.
Except, not really because the other probability you need to take into account is sandstorms and thieves. If you have only three masks in your hand and someone draws a thief, you’re guaranteed to lose one. If they draw a sandstorm you’re guaranteed to lose one. So you don’t want to hold on to the most valuable sets unless you have a lot of other cards, or you believe your luck is going to hold. So sometimes the value of picking up a card is that it’s something you can discard when tragedy hits. So, is having the ten points from a set of four parchment worth losing the four card buffer that will help shift the odds when a thief or sandstorm hits?
And of course, there are map fragments which have marketplace value and give access to mystery prizes. Assessing their value makes use of all these cognitive faculties.
For a game that’s really just about collecting and cashing in sets of cards, there’s a lot to consider here. So much that we can’t recommend it in our fluid intelligence category, although we can recommend it for players with memory impairments alone thanks to good, accessible design.
The largest issue here is going to be hand limits, which don’t exist. As such, a number of card holders are likely to be needed and cards can’t be stacked on top of each other with the edges showing because those edges are just white. Even if you overlap them with their colours showing, it’s not enough to unambigiously identify the card until you’ve built up a good deal of familiarity with the deck. You’re pretty much stuck, until that happens, with just dealing with a lot of individual holders. Normal techniques for managing this won’t be as useful, because you’ll also want to hide identifying groups. So it would be a bad idea to have one holder for ‘stuff you want to keep’ and another for ‘stuff you can disregard’ because that reveals information about your intentions that you wouldn’t want out there.
For similar reasons, players might have to accept an unreasonable amount of disorder in their card arrangements. When a thief strikes, it’s a good idea to shuffle your hand and then fan them out for the thief player to select one. That’s certainly something that can safely be done on behalf of a physically impaired player – the issue is putting them back in the holder because they’ll be in a shuffled order. Physically grouping sets in hand though is a really useful thing for people to do, but the fixed formality of a card holder means a rigidity that will, as mentioned above, leak gameplay information. So players might simply have to deal with having a set of cards that can’t easily be reordered.
Technically the game is fully verbalizable within these constraints – cards can be spent / discarded based on identification of holder and index. ‘Take my third card from my second holder’. ‘Trade my third card in my first holder for the map fragment in the marketplace’.
We’ll tentatively recommend Archaeology in this category. It’s definitely playable, there are just implications that will have a noticeable impact on players.
Players can easily be knocked out of any ability to seriously accomplish anything on their turn. The luck of the draw is immensely important, and that impacts on everything from how much fun you’re going to have in the market to what chances you have of building up a set. Let’s say you get the first four cards from your initial deal and they’re all low value cards. Someone else might very well get three talismans, or two broken pots, or some other substantive scoring opportunity. It’ll just be handed to them. They cash them in, and then you draw a sandstorm card. They lose nothing and you lose two of the meagre possessions you had. And then they draw a thief card and take another card off you. It’s a bit like watching a trust fund kid with an indulgent parent out partying while you work two jobs trying to make rent.
It feels unfair, and that’s because it is unfair. Archaeology is at its core an almost pure gambling game, and the simple fact is that a game like that has winners and losers. Sometimes you’ll be one and othertimes you’ll be the other.
The result of this is that score differentials can be very high. You might only have a few dozen points to your name while everyone else has a hundred or more. It’s fine if you don’t take that too seriously, but the issue is that almost certainly a good portion of that success will be unearned. That can be galling.
It’s also possible for players to snatch away opportunities before you get a chance to act on them. Player one trades a golden mask to the marketplace for two old coins. You have three masks and the spares in hand to buy that one. The next player trades a talisman and a pot shard for the mask, and it’s just… gone. That was your chance. And then the third player draws a thief card and takes one of your masks away. Archaeology occasionally has the Catan problem of you ending up on your turn not being able to do anything interesting just because everyone took everything away while you were waiting. It’s not as pronounced here because you always draw a card and always have the option of trading… but not everyone is going to be allowed to have the same amount of fun.
Thief cards too are pointedly targeted, and they permit a degree of harassment of an individual player. It’s also possible for players to work together to deprive someone of a resource you think they need, and not only is there no cost for doing it there’s often an incentive. You don’t even have an opportunity cost. You can trade and sell as much as you like during your turn, so it’s not like you have to give up a chance to earn points in order to burn a resource someone else wants. Go ahead and sell that mask for four points if you like. No skin off your nose.
We can’t really recommend Archaeology in this category.
The cover of the box shows a vaguely ‘golden age of adventure’ type ‘explorer’ prominently staring into the middle distance as another ‘explorer’ loots a tomb. Only the temple monument in game shows a human figure, and that too is a man. Thieves and the victims of thievery are men. The manual doesn’t default to masculinity, but everything else does. And, as always, the theme of looting sites of ancient antiquity is one that is problematic for many people. There’s no pretence in the theme here – you’re looting, not preserving.
I picked up my copy of Archaelogy from our Friendly Local Game Shop (Science Fiction Bokhandeln in Gothenburg, drop by if you’re in the neighbourhood!) for 210 SEK, which is approximately £17. It does seem to fluctuate though based on availability, but for that price it’s hard to fault. It supports up to five players, and the learning curve is smooth enough that it’s ideal for using with novices as well as experts.
We’ll only tentatively recommend Archaeology in this category given the erratic availability and the lack of representation.
There’s no real need for literacy except for some of the more complex monuments. Those can be abandoned in favour of the simpler ones. The names of treasures is for flavour only and has little to no real gameplay effect. An understanding of Arabic numerals is needed, but otherwise no formal communication is part of the game.
We’ll recommend it in this category.
Colour blindness intersecting with physical impairments is an unusual thing to consider here, but it matters. Given the amount of compression cards permit within a card holder, relying on the edges to differentiate sets is going to be especially difficult if colour blindness must also be considered. If physical impairments intersect with a communication impairment the game would become more cumbersome to play but it can still be done through exhaustive indication of options. Those seem to be the only intersections that are not already handled by the grade in an individual component category.
Archaeology plays reasonably swiftly, and the game permits a variation to increase the time if a longer session is desired. That’s good, because it means it hasn’t built length into the core mechanisms. Technically it also cleanly supports players dropping out of the game if necessary – they can just discard their cards to the marketplace. Turn order though means that isn’t ideal, but if there are caverns of the monument left to be explored they could be seeded in there instead. In any case, thirty minutes isn’t usually long enough to exacerbate issues of discomfort or distress.
Well, it appears I was right to get the smashing hammer. Archaeology didn’t do well here, although there are a few particularly nice things to note. The clear way in which probabilities are managed for example… playing collected sets face down would perhaps make for a more tense game, but it would have been a big problem for those with memory issues.
Still though, while some of this is just down to the design of the game there are some areas where real improvement could be made. Textures added to colours. Full bleed art. More diversity in representation. Perhaps an attempt to patch over some of the more troublesome aspects of the theme.
We liked Archaeology: The New Expedition enough to give it four stars in a review, and it really is an astonishingly fun and tight little game. It doesn’t do anything particularly innovative, but what it does is handled very well. That is, unless you look at it in terms of accessibility in which case… it’s not something about which we can be overly positive. Sorry. We just need to stand back here and let the sands take it.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.