Archaeology is a calling. It must be to make the long hours of globetrotting, dusty digging, Nazi-dodging, curse-avoiding, dangerous snake-ridden treasure hunting worth it! And all of that just to get published in some stodgy scholarly journal read by hundreds of professors. Cause it sure ain’t for fortune and glory, kid. Okay, so maybe there are no Nazis – but a mummy or four aren’t out of the question. Do you have what it takes to be…um, how does one say it? An obtainer of rare antiquities.
How To Play
You’re an archaeologist meticulously combing through dig sites to uncover temples and artifacts. The more of these you access from your base camp, the more daring and famous you become. Because those (well, This) Belongs in a Museum!
Players create a common landscape during gameplay by laying dig tiles. Each archaeologist starts with his/her personal base camp and three random tiles in hand. These depict airstrips, mountains, water and/or dig sites of temples and artifacts corresponding to one or two player colors. Each player begins their turn by placing a tile adjacent to one already in play, as in Carcassonne but without any edge matching requirements. Your goal is to connect the dig sites of your color to your base camp – either directly, via water, by airstrip or over land, but never through another archaeologist’s dig sites.
After placing a dig tile you may optionally receive/take up to three actions. If the tile you played has an ability icon, you may resolve that – such as rotating, swapping or replacing unlocked tiles already on the table. Or instead of benefiting from the action, you may instead move a mummy. Mummies are a curse, impeding your movement and stealing your points. Unless it’s the walking dead of your own color, in which case you can use the animated Pharaoh to steal a rival’s hard work. Academic integrity be tossed!
You can also move your archaeologist. He/she enters play when you decide to lay your base camp. These pawns may travel up to three spaces, but the definition of “space” depends on the terrain. Tiles are segmented in 4×4 squares. Individual dig sites of temples or artifacts are one space. An airstrip takes up an entire tile, but is considered only one space. Plus these are connected to other airstrips and your base camp so that you can fly between them for one movement point. And any number of squares contiguously comprising a mountain range or body of water is also counted as just one space, no matter how many squares it may technically include, which can involve multiple tiles.
The final action is to collect an artifact. You are secretly assigned five random relics at the beginning of your expedition, because obviously those belong in museums! If you can reach a dig site matching any of your assignments, reveal the corresponding artifact token. For each unearthed object you earn three bonus points.
Most points are scored by connecting dig sites of your color to your base camp. Sites are worth an amount of points equal to the number of temples (+1) and artifacts (+3) that you can reach from camp. This can be directly adjacent to your base or across the water and over mountains and via airstrips. As long as you can trace an uninterrupted path to the site without going through another archaeologist’s work, you score them. To score a site isolated from your camp, you must move your archaeologist there to ensure he/she physically occupies that site by the end of the game. Finally, if an opposing mummy is present in any square of one of your areas, then a competitor steals all of the points contiguously adjacent to it which comprise that entire site. Then again, you may always resort to the same tactic and maneuver your colored mummy to another’s work. Using the undead is devious and underhanded, I know. But that’s how important tenure is.
‘X’ Never, Ever Marks the Spot
This Belongs in a Museum belongs in the publisher’s Drawn & Quartered line along with sister titles Pirates, Ninjas, Robots & Zombies and Graveyards, Ghosts & Haunted Houses. The trio of designs share many basic principles, as well as very long names that are difficult to say really fast. They are all tile-laying games in which players add one tile each turn, can manipulate the board with special actions, mess with each other in some way and endeavor to group similar symbols together for points. This Belongs in a Museum ups the complexity in that the previous two iterations only allow points for your largest groupings at the end of the game. With this series’ new release, you can now score all of your groupings, as long as you can trace them back to your base. It adds more meat to the game while still retaining its broad accessibility.
Tile-laying designs are largely a surefire hit with family gaming and This Belongs in a Museum proves once again the mechanism is attractively suited to that demographic. Interestingly, while you are not required to match terrain or site edges when placing tiles, that is still the goal. At least when in grouping your color’s digging sites or creating terrain spaces that both connect them to your camp and/or offer quick mobility. So even without the placement restrictions, the game has that Dominoes vibe, which is the heart of tile-laying’s appeal. The freedom from a lack of strict location rules creates intuitively serviceable gameplay.
Puzzling out how best to order your scoring positions complements that accessibility. Grouping icons and terrain feels very Tetris-like as you manipulate single bars, L-shapes and solid dig site tiles. Sure, there’s no real-time element. It replaces the pressure of that aspect with a satisfying charm that legions of non-gamers are accustomed to in puzzle and Match-3 style games. The pattern recognition approach of those popular and simple games transports very well in concept to this family friendly design.
This Belongs in a Museum succeeds at delivering smart decisions out of that simplicity and familiarity. While the primary target audiences are casual and family gamers, its puzzle-nature will also gratify serious players. While the title won’t likely see large circulation amongst hardcore hobbyists and heavy gamers, it’s an ideal option for groups comprising people of wildly varying experiences in the hobby. Newcomers can grasp it quickly, social gamers will enjoy the relaxed feel, hobbyists should find its decision points satisfactory and everyone will feel smarter afterward. Especially at the end when you gleefully trace all of the routes between your dig sites and camps. Some are straightforward. Others are inventive. Still some can get dizzyingly intricate as you go from site by water, then between two airports, and finally over land to camp. Look carefully so as not to miss any connections. The landscape’s end result can wind up a confusingly milieu of colors, patterns and icons.
While its weight and complexity are ideal to suit the design’s purpose, it is definitely abstract. There’s no driving theme and its setting is cartoonishly faux Indiana Jones. That helps to attract eyeballs and pique interest, reinforcing its possible reach to the masses. Feel free to quote your favorite lines while playing (I have) and imagine red lines scrawling across the map as you trek overland and fly from airport to airport. It’s not engaging mentally, but does help to give a little life to what otherwise might be a mere pallete of grids and icons.
This Belongs in a Museum gets a little more mileage out of its player interaction than other family titles of its nature. At first blush, mummies seem like minor nuisances. If one resides in a group of adjacently connected dig sites, movement through that entire contiguous site is blocked to archaeologists – which incidentally sometimes prove tricky parsing out what’s impassable. So that seems a natural purpose for messing with other players. And it works in the beginning. But airstrips very soon become numerous enough to broaden travel options, allowing players to detour around the undead roadblocks. So they just kind of sit there. Until you realize their most frustrating use is to sit on artifacts. If you can correctly deduce that an archaeologist is heading towards one, arranging for a mummy to curse the collection is rewarding. And if you’re on the receiving end of the ploy, it’s not permanent. This is the only way to frustrate artifact mining, which isn’t a difficult task without those sabotaging efforts. Plus the tactic forces the playing of tiles that one might not otherwise choose, just in order to benefit from the action icons to oust offending mummies.
The greater reward in using mummies is stealing points at the end of the game. That element informs play in two interesting ways. First, you may think creating a really large dig site comprising a dozen or more temples and artifacts across multiple tiles is awesome. But as you gloat over your massively well-crafted point bomb, it becomes all the more a glaring target. Those thirteen points you engineered through meticulously clever board manipulation are now attracting mummies like flies to rotting corpses. Hedging your options and spreading your points-producing digs across multiple spots may prove smarter.
Two, preparing for that endgame means positioning your archaeologist and retaining a tile with an action icon in case you need to activate a mummy in the waning moments. Your pawn can lock down a site by occupying it, protecting those points from prying mummies. Or you can move it to a non-connected location to secure it for scoring. Your only other shield is to make sure you have some insurance in the final round. Saving back a tile with an action icon to activate a mummy at the end can help remove an offending fiend from one of your sites or plonking down your own mummy on another’s. Unfortunately, this mechanism gives the last player a distinct advantage. If someone has corralled a large enough site for that final action to benefit from, it can swing the game instantly at the last second. So prepare for it and diversify!
Aside from that potential swing, the scope of player interaction is appropriate to the design’s weight. It’s not prevalent throughout the game because you have to balance the ability to activate a mummy with the loss of the tile’s action. Still it’s impactful and interesting enough that the game is a better experience with three or four players to intensify that interaction.
With the familiar sense of both Dominoes and Tetris, This Belongs in a Museum combines ease of play with smart decisions and a puzzle nature that will attract family and casual players. It has just enough depth to please serious gamers – primarily as a bridge to non-hobbyists and families, though it likely won’t retain staying power just amongst hardcore players. The third installment in the Drawn & Quartered line is a solid, light- to medium-weight experience that leaves you puzzling out patterns and contemplating mischief. You may not call that archaeology, but it’s a fun little game…and without the snakes.
Rather Dashing Games provided a review copy of This Belongs in a Museum for this review.