A fresh take on the sci fi genre David Turczi’s “Excavation Earth” will see you racing around the planet taking what valuables remain, all to sell to the highest bidders, and that’s right, all without conflict. Now that’s not to say this isn’t a competitive game, it is. You’ll be manipulating the market, racing to take valuable artifacts before your opponents – however it is all dome without combat – something that is relatively unique for a game about different alien races vying for control of Earth’s valuables.
So now you know the setting. How does it play??
The game takes place over 3 rounds. During these 3 rounds you’ll be trying to accumulate as many credits as possible, this is primarily by collecting artifacts from the map, and then placing traders at the markets to sell your goods for the highest price. I’m going to go into this one in a bit more detail since it is the way you will make most of your credits, so buckle up class, might be a bumpy ride.
This little board here tells you what goods are in demand, the less meeples of a given color on this board, the more in demand it is.
Each round you will have a hand of cards with a mixture of symbols and colors.
These cards will determine what artifacts you can pick up, and also what markets you can manipulate.
The various markets are displayed at the top of the board, at the beginning of the game random colors are placed in each market. During the game however it is up to the players to manipulate these prices. The image above shows that orange is in demand, now that cutthroat dealing I talked about earlier? That’s where this comes into play, as soon as one player sells to a market, all of that color heads back to the ship. Effectively stopping another sale of that colored artifact being made. So get in, make a quick sale before any one else right? Well…it’s not nearly that simple a decision due to the way combo sales work, if you manage to sell at multiple markets at the same time you’re rewarded not only with extra credits, but also with additional cards. Effectively extended your actions for the round.
So that’s the primary way to score credits. However there is also: samples to take of the artifacts for your own personal museum
Envoys to send to the mothership
Then there is also smuggling things to and from the black market to think about!
So with so many things going on… is this game to random?
Thankfully there has been many little systems added in to minimize the randomness. One such thing is the card forecast, you can see what colored artifacts are coming up in the next round, so you can be moving your explorers and planning ahead for that. The mothership (pictured earlier) also has a bit of a “waiting bay” so that when a sale is made, the used Buyers don’t go straight back to the buyer board (which would immediately kill the value of that color), rather they spend some time in the mothership until another sale is made!
So, how replayable is this game of alien corporate life. Well I’m glad to report very, there is numerous races to choose between (5) each with their own unique abilities which lead to very different play styles. On top of that there is 8 different “command” cards (those special abilities from the envoys we touched on earlier, these are those) so late game strategy will always vary too! Couple all that together with the controlled randomness of the core gameplay and you have a very replayable game.
Components are absolutely top notch, all player boards, market boards and the mothership are all beautifully double layered, tokens all feel premium and the meeples are all uniquely shaped per color to help add to the immersion that these are different races. The artwork on the explorers and the player boards is nothing short of gorgeous either. Definitely nothing to fault in this department.
I know, a Shaymurai review that is only touching on the solo mode now? When playing solo you’ll be playing against a 6th race, that is only used for the AI. This is Zu
He plays pretty similar to a human opponent, with some very detailed charts on how he takes all his actions, these actions come from a deck that is varied each game, and develops randomly each round, so you never know 100% what to expect. Just like a “human” opponent. There is a handful of difficulty suggestions given aswell, although his default difficulty seems to allow for a good game without having to stress over every move you’ve made – I haven’t lost to him, but games have been close.
The one caveat here I will mention. Please go and download the “it belongs in a museum” expansions rulebook, it introduces one big change to Zu’s default big “cheat” as an AI. Just do it, you’ll be glad you did and you really will feel like you’re playing on an even footing.
Add this game to your collection. I say that pretty unreservedly, and usually I do stay on a more “if you like this or that” kind of suggestion. But seriously, just get this one.
My only caveat would be if you don’t have someone in your group who will be able to read through the rules and easily explain them to you, this game has many systems running at once and it can seem initially overwhelming, partially due to the reference cards being all iconography. However I will say, once that’s deciphered they are some of the best reference cards I’ve actually seen to fit that much information on.
I’ve introduced 3 people to this game, all with various level of experience with modern gaming, and they all had a blast and been left wanting to try again.
There’s plenty of replayability, a superb solo AI. A simple yet deep gameplay loop, with just enough moving parts to make you engrossed, but that all pull together just tightly enough that you don’t feel like your flailing in options.
And with one expansion already in retail, and a second on its way it doesn’t appear there is going to be any shortage of support for this anytime soon either.
So I wholeheartedly say, to anyone reading this: Do yourself a favor and grab this artifact of the boardgaming world.