I mentioned in my previous article about my very first Gen Con experience how I had been invited to an event previewing a dozen upcoming Asmodee releases. Some of the games there have been in production for quite some time and are hotly anticipated (such as the new 7 wonders Babel expansion). But there were also several lesser know games including the biggest surprise of the event for me, Artificium. One mistake that I made during the event was not taking more notes and pictures after demoing games in an attempt to be polite. I’m not used to writing about games that don’t already have a wealth of information out there so it usually doesn’t matter. But when I went to look up Artificium I couldn’t find anything about it on BGG or anywhere else on the internet (at the moment) so let me be the first to introduce everyone to this gem.
One of my favorite qualities in a game is when it flows very smoothly and naturally, maybe not on your first play but once you learn the system. The rules and mechanics don’t have to be simple I just want everything to work together in a coherent way. Ginkgopolis and Keyflower are great examples of this for me. Artificium absolutely nailed this idea, it is an incredibly streamlined and clever resource conversion game stripped down to it’s core.
The game is played over four rounds and at the beginning of each round you’ll be given a hand of five cards. These cards come in two different types: production and action. Production cards let you generate basic (tier 1) resources, convert resources to higher tiers, or consume the highest tier resources to hire a powerful wizard of knight. Action cards have varying effects such as returning a played card to your hand or messing with the other players by stealing their cards or goods. Before the round begins a market of six cards is also dealt out face up and players in turn are given the option to swap cards from their hand with the market. This mitigates the result of being dealt a bad hand while providing some interesting interaction as all the players are trading with the same market. Hence cards that you give up will become available to everyone else. The first trade with the market is free but every swap after that costs money so you’ll often only be able to make a couple of trades this way.
Once trading is complete players will proceed to play out their hand one card at a time. Everyone selects a card simultaneously and then all cards are revealed together. Action cards are resolved first then everyone else produces goods based on the card they played. Whenever a production card is successfully used it also grants points associated with the tier being produced, higher tiers provide more points. This is an interesting concept because it’s the action of producing goods that is directly linked with gaining points, not the actual goods themselves. Since you only gain points in Artificium by resolving production card it’s important to be able to use each card in your hand efficiently and produce higher tier goods whenever possible for their higher point values. At the fifth tier are two characters, the knight and wizard, that may be hired by playing their given card and consuming a variety of high level goods along with some money. They provide a lot of points and a special ability, the knight forces another player to lose points and the wizard lets you draw additional cards to use in the current round.
Players are given a board for tracking their resources, each with its own box, which are grouped into horizontal tiers. The board has a very easy to follow flowchart feel to it showing the possible progression of resources into higher tiers. Tokens are placed in the boxes to represent your current resources and then move up the chart as they are refined into higher tiers. If the necessary resources aren’t available to resolve a production card then you can purchase them first, sometimes requiring you to sell other resources for the required funds.
This system is very intuitive, easy to follow, and works remarkably well. Each turn your main objective will be to play out your entire hand so that you can get the full points from each of your production cards. The trick is doing this in the most efficient way possible. You can always buy and sell goods if you don’t have what you need but the cost to buy is much higher than what you get from selling so it’s an option that you’ll only want to take if you need to. The initial market draft provides a clever way for players to build a hand of cards that will work efficiently but you’ll still need to be flexible and work with what’s available. The concept is dead simple: play cards to produce and refine your goods and earn points the higher up in the manufacturing process you are able to go. At the top are characters that consume these goods and then you have to start all over again by producing more of the most basic resources. The flow is intuitive and determining which cards to draft and what order to play out your hand is a very rewarding puzzle.
I’m really looking forward to playing Artificium in the future once it becomes available and you can guarantee I’ll be talking about it a lot more once information about this clever little game starts to trickle in.