A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The editors of ARCHAEOLOGY recently sat down over lunch to test out the new board game Artifact (Outset Media; $29.99), in which priceless objects are supposed to be repatriated. We found it fun but slow going at first.
Taking the fight against the illegal antiquities trade as a starting point, Artifact makes players agents for Interpol's Artifacts Recovery Team (ARTeam) assigned to return artifacts to their countries of origin, which allows players to move forward around the board. The first player to return enough artifacts to make it all the way around wins.
It's a simple goal, but there's a lot more to the game. Artifact borrows elements from old favorites: quizzes on facts from Trivial Pursuit; negotiation and international trade from Risk; mild, card-driven sabotage from Uno; and even Go Fish gets a nod. (When you find yourself asking another player, "Do you have the Bronze Trophy Head from Nigeria?" you'll see what we mean.) A lot can happen in a single play: It's possible to create an ARTeam in Israel, negotiate the trade of a Maya whistle figurine from Guatemala for a Thai sculpture of Buddha, and then roll the dice for an Italian bronze griffin--all in one turn.
The board itself is prettily faux aged, with wheat-colored stones marking the path around the board and a map of the world drawn with soft colored pencils in the center. Player pieces, money, and three different types of cards make it a thingy sort of game (keep away from young children). Though the "artifact" cards feature authentically inspired objects, their design tends to make players seeking a trade call out the country name rather than the artifact, which undermines the educational potential.
It's difficult to understand the rules of Artifact until you start playing, which makes progress initially slow. It took nearly an hour before the pace of our game picked up, and even then the end wasn't in sight--two nimbler players had made it halfway around the board, while the rest us lingered on the first stretch. That's less of a criticism than it seems, because a lot of the more interesting action needs time to develop. More problematic is that some areas of game play aren't addressed in the directions, so you may find yourself making up your own rules.
Still, once the pace of the game picked up, it stayed there. And after three hours, when the game finally ended, we didn't want to stop playing.
Jennifer Pinkowski is reviews editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.