During these hard economic times, it’s nice to be able to find a good little game for less than £10 and that’s exactly what Archaeology is. For just £6 you can pick this little card game up and be playing within 5 minutes, but what’s it about?
You are Howard Carter or perhaps Rick O’Connell from the Mummy… Regardless, you are digging up the Egyptian desert looking for treasure, or perhaps the ancient maps of the Great Pyramids which will reveal untold fortunes to the lucky few who can find them.
Unfortunately the desert is prone to sand storms and thievery so you’d better sell what you find to the museum without delay or you may just end up with nothing.
In this little box you will find:
72 treasure cards:
18 pot shards
16 parchment scraps
6 broken cups
4 pharaoh’s masks
15 other cards:
8 thief cards
6 sandstorm cards
1 pyramid card
Rules of play sheet
Everything, including the box, is finished in linen and it all looks pretty nice. The art on the cards is good, although the Thief and Sandstorm cards are a little unimaginative.
The rules are well written and easy to follow and at this price point I really have no complaints about the game. The box is very small and will easily fit in a bag or a pocket to make this game very portable.
Playing the Game
To set the game up each player is dealt 4 cards, cards are then dealt 3 to the right of the pyramid, 5 to the top and 7 to the left (this is shown on the pyramid card.). Finally 5 cards are dealt face up to the table to form the market.
The Maps, Thieves and Sandstorms are then shuffled into the deck and the game can begin. On your turn you draw a card from the deck, this is called Digging for Treasure.
If the card is a treasure card (i.e. not a map, thief or sandstorm) then you simply add it your hand. If it is a map you add it to your hand, although 1 map can be exchanged for the 3 card pile to the right of the pyramid, 2 maps for the 5 card pile and 3 maps for the 7 card pile.
If the card was a Sandstorm, all players discard half their hand, rounding down, to the market and you draw again.
If the card was a Thief you may steal one card from any other player’s hand.
Once Digging for Treasure is resolved, you may trade at the market place, explore the pyramid (discard map cards) and/or sell to the museum.
To trade with the market place you simply exchange cards for other cards based on the value in the top left and right corners. For example you could swap a 3 Talisman for three 1 Parchments or a 1 Pot Shard and a 2 Coin.
Once you have finished trading you can play sets of the cards to the table, this is referred to as Selling to the Museum. Complete sets are worth more than incomplete ones, for example Parchment can be sold for $1 for 1 card, $2 for 2 Cards, $3 for 3 or $10 for 4. Where as the Pharaoh's Masks can be sold 1 for $4, 2 for $12, 3 for $26 and 4 for $50.
Once you have traded and played any cards to the table play passes to the left. The game continues like this until the deck runs out and all players have played all remaining cards from their hand to the table. The winner is the person with the most money.
Archaeology is a variant of games like Rummy and as a light filler game it is pretty fun. However, the deck of treasures is only 66 cards deep, after you deal up to 16 of those to the players, another 15 to the pyramid and 5 to the market there are only 30 left, into which you shuffle 18 thieves, sandstorms and maps.
That means, on average every second card will be one of the three special cards. So in a four player game after you end your turn there is a pretty good chance that you will either loose half your cards to the Sandstorm or be stolen from twice before it’s your turn again.
If you have the good fortune to draw a lot of maps you will score a lot of, effectively, “free” cards, although the potential is there that you will loose out by trading the maps (which are worth 3 each) it’s not likely.
So my point? If you hate luck, this is not your game. If you have players in your group who don’t like backstabbing or who always pick on the same player despite who is winning, this is not your game.
However, if you want something that is cheap and fun and familiar enough to draw in non-gamers and family members, with good production values and nice art then this is a good game to get. It’s certainly not going to be a full evenings entertainment, but a couple of rounds over lunch at work, or at the end of the night is a good way to round out an evening.
In my own personal opinion I think the game would have benefited from fewer thief cards so that the odds of you keeping your hand from turn to turn is higher. I also think that there is very little point in trying to accumulate large treasures such as Talismans or Masks because their trade in value is too low unless you can buy the full set, but with so many sandstorms and thieves accumulating enough treasure to do so is practically impossible.
Archaeology is fun, but it’s luck driven and there is no real way to plan ahead or protect yourself from the hazards of the game. So while I enjoy it, it wont be my first choice for a small box game on game night.
This review is based on the first edition of the game produced by Z-Man. The newer edition plays almost identically but has more options and some slight card changes.