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Excavation Earth Preview


Quick Look:


Excavation Earth is a commodity game with elements of market manipulation, variable player powers, set collection, and multi-use card-drafting. There is a lot of moving around to dig stuff up and sell at various markets. It has multiple dependencies for just about everything you do.

Cards are drafted at the beginning of each round. You get six, and each one has a color and a symbol on it. You’re going to be using the colors and symbols to do various things involved with the excavation and sale of the artifacts. You’re also going to be building a personal collection using this little bingo grid sort of thing on the bottom of your player board. Every item has a color and a symbol on it. Each time you gain an artifact for the first time, you’ll place one of the cubes from your supply onto the applicable square on that grid. At the end, you’re going to score a whole bunch of points based on which columns and rows have how many cubes. You’ll also be trying to manipulate the mothership to gain the area dominance and each of the three little rooms on there. That’s going to be worth another 5, 10, or 15 points each round.

Designer: David Turczi, Gordon Calleja, and Wai Yee
Artist: Philipp Kruse
Publisher: Mighty Boards 
Year Published: 2020
No. of Players: 4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 120 min

Find more info on Boardgamegeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Excavation Earth. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

Review:

Rules and Setup:
The rules are clear and have plenty of pictures and examples. It takes about 20 minutes to read and digest. I taught it in under 15.

Setup isn’t terribly involved. It takes about 7 minutes, and a lot of that is trying to line the meeples up neatly on the popularity track. You’ll put the boards on the table.



Deal 6 colored cards, 3 fuel cards to each player. Everyone also gets 8 credits, a faction board, 3 explorers, and a bunch of cubes.



The board is seeded with artifacts depending on the number of players. Forecast cards are flipped. Cards are drawn to determine which buyers are placed on the markets. Two of your explorers start on specific markets, but you choose where to put the third. Now you’re ready to play.

Theme and Mechanics:

Long ago, in a galaxy over that-a-way, there once lived a marginally intelligent species whose primary business was gathering up large heaps of plastic and covering them over with dirt. This curious species has stolen the imaginations of the universe. Who were they? Where did they go? Why did they need so many boxes of small colored cubes? More importantly, how much of their stuff can you dig up and sell before the masses lose interest? Earth is literally full of free junk. Get you some before it’s gone!

In Excavation Earth, you will draft multipurpose cards and use them to travel around, dig up or sell artifacts, manipulate demand, and even gain influence in the mothership. Money is your victory points, and there is a lot of money to be made. My first score was 227.

The game is split into three rounds. Each round has three phases (Preparation, action, and dominance scoring). Preparation is when you draft cards, change initiative, seed artifacts, and reset the number of buyers in the markets to three. Phase three is simply scoring points based on area majority in each of the mothership’s three sections. The other ninety-five percent is the action phase. This is when you play cards to move around and run your business.

There are four ways to get points:
1. Sell artifacts at the black market for face value (the little number in the corner).
2. Sell artifacts at the regular markets, which is a bit more complicated but can generate a lot more points. There are 6 markets, each with up to 4 buyers. You gain points for the number of buyers who match the color of the item (2 per). Also, you may gain a popularity bonus based on the number of buyers of that color on the popularity board. If you sell to 2 markets, also gain an action card. Sell to 3 markets, and you will gain 3 more points and draw two action cards to choose from.
3. Build up your collection. There’s a little bingo grid on your faction board that you’re going to want to fill in for oodles of endgame points. Each item has a color and a symbol that corresponds to one spot on your grid. Whenever you gain an artifact, you can put one of your cubes in the corresponding place on the grid. At the end of the game, each row and column score points based on the number of cubes in it.
4. In phase three, whoever has the most cubes in each area of the mothership will gain points based on the round number. The number of points increases every round.

Basic concepts:

Each round, you must play 2 cards. If you are out of cards, pass, and you can’t do anything else this round. Play continues until everyone has passed.



Cards: You will start the round with 9 cards (3 movement and 6 that have colors and symbols on them). You can use cards in many different ways. Colors correspond to regions (excavation). Symbols correspond to markets (where you can manipulate demand and ultimately sell stuff). There are five colors and four symbols.



Regions: Region refers to the 4 same-colored spaces where artifacts spawn. Regions have one space for each of the unique artifact types.

This is the black market.


Artifact tokens: Each token has a color, a number, a symbol, and a picture. The number is the face value and corresponds to the black market. The symbol tells you where to put it on the board and which space on your bingo grid you can place a cube once it’s obtained.

Top- star-thingy market
Bottom- dual black market space.


Markets: There are six regular markets, and three dual black market spaces (all connect to the same black market.)



Popularity board: This is the area where buyers come from. The number of buyers in the row determines the popularity (ie. which bonus you get for selling an artifact of that color at the market.)



Mothership: After selling an item the seller (cube) is moved to the room of the mothership that corresponds to the market where it sold. This is an area control function with a twist. Sellers stay there until you spend them to use the room's action.

Actions:

Movement: Any card can be played to move three spaces along the lines connecting the various markets, black markets, and dig sites. The three fuel cards have various ranges. They can only be spent to move or initiate a sale. The colored cards have a lot more options.

Excavate: To excavate an artifact, you must have an explorer on a spot with a tile and play a card that matches the tile’s color. The tile is moved to a storage slot on your player board until you sell it.

Market manipulation: This is a 2-part action. If you have an explorer in a market, you can play a card with a matching symbol to place a seller (cube) on that market, then manipulate the demand by moving buyers (1 white and/or 1 of any color) from the popularity track to that market. Buyers are always added to the top of the market. There are only 4 buyer slots per market. If a fifth is added, the bottom buyer is pushed out and returns to the popularity track.

Sell: If you have a cube on a market where there are buyers who match the color of an artifact in your inventory, discard any card to initiate a sale. You can only sell one item to each market, but you can do this as many times as you meet the conditions (seller cube is present, you have an artifact to sell there that matches both the previous artifact’s color and the buyer on the secondary market.) The artifacts go out of the game. Cubes move to the area of the mothership that corresponds to the market it came from. Any buyers that were in the mothership move back to the popularity board. Happy buyers go to the mothership to arrange their trinkets.

Command: This action is a 2-parter with an option that changes every round. Your explorer doesn’t have to be anywhere specific to do this. Discard a symbol that matches a market and place one seller there. Then either place another cube in the mothership area corresponding to that market or take a cube that is already there back and do the action on the associated tile.
Round one doesn’t have tiles. They are put out at the beginning of round 2. At the beginning of round 3, they flip and become more powerful. These do all sorts of things like give you a bunch of points or refresh your fuel cards. Just be sure you are getting more than you’re giving up.

Smuggle: Have an explorer on a black market space and discard a symbol that matches that space. Then you can buy 1 or 2 tiles from the top of their stacks. The cost is face value +1. You can’t buy 2 of the same color. These tiles can go in any slot in your hold, but only these can go in your hidden compartments. Alternately, you can sell 2 differently colored tiles at their face value.

Survey: The survey is the group of cards that tell you which artifacts are going to turn up in the next prep phase. This action lets you replace one of those cards with one from your hand. Now, draw two tiles of that color and place one on its region space. You can buy the other for double market value, or discard it. Finally, take the lowest remaining initiative marker. 

Pass: Once you pass, you can’t do anything else until the next action phase.

Game Play:

This moves along faster than you would expect from a game with so much going on. The drafting phase is a little tense because the cards you choose determine what you will be able to do for a third of the game. It would be hard to get more than 2 extra cards in a round, and there’s not an effective way to get what you want. You have to plan very carefully. Still, your plans are likely to be interrupted by another player, so you also need to consider backup options. A lot of games like that can be frustrating, but this only made it more engaging.
I love the way the popularity track works. It keeps the value of each commodity in a state of semi-predictable flux. It adds a little press-your-luck and makes for some tough decisions.

Artwork and Components:
This is a prototype, but everything is very pretty. The color scheme is excellent. The aliens have a lot of personality. The boards are laid out well. My only complaint is that the player aids only have symbols. The symbols are clear once you know what they mean, but once you’re familiar enough to know the symbols, you probably don’t need an aid.

The Good:
It’s fun. There’s a lot of depth to the planning and execution of various schemes. There’s a lot of player interaction. It’s heavy but plays fast (90-120). The theme is fantastic and implemented well. The factions each have an incredibly powerful ability, and they are all great. The balance is right. I like everything about this game. 

The Other:
Since most things have multiple conditions and every action works a little differently, this will have you referencing the rulebook semi-frequently in your first game. The basics are easy to learn and remember, but the details are a bit trickier. The more often you play, the more fun you will have. I always think I remember Turczi rules until we get it on the table. Then I have to verify everything I do for the first few rounds. There’s a ton of little finagly stuff going on, but that’s why they’re so much fun.
It could be more elegant. They probably will smooth some things out before it’s finalized. That’s usually how Kickstarter prototypes work. As it is now, it’s tons of fun and a steal at $50.

All I have from the expansion is the faction boards, but they are a fantastic addition.

Final Thoughts:
Excavation Earth dangles a lot of carrots and gives you exponential rewards for greater efficiency. If you sell three items and everything lined up perfectly, you can gain 36 points with one action. On the other hand, if you successfully sold the same three items over three actions and got the first-place popularity bonus every time you’d get 51 points. However, every time you sold, you’d be reducing the popularity of that color of item, so you probably wouldn’t want to sell them successively. You can also hang around the black market and sell rare items for their face value. What you do is very dependent on what all the other players are doing. Every decision you make needs to consider what’s on the mothership, and what’s in the black market, what’s available on the map, what’s coming out next round, which colors are most in-demand, which item types you need for your personal collection, how many cubes do you have left, what other players have to sell, what cards are in your hand, if there are any rare items around to snag, and how your faction power can be used to your greatest advantage. While that sounds like it should break your head, it’s not that hard to do.

This is an excellent medium-heavy commodity game with a lot of options. Market manipulation adds an element of medium-heavy aggression. You don’t have to kneecap your opponents, but you can. Even if someone destroys your plans, the multipurpose cards make you able to work toward something useful. 

For Players Who Like:
Mid-heavy strategy games with a lot of interdependent mechanics, commodity trading, set collection, card drafting, multi-use cards, area control, indirect agro gameplay, market manipulation, and sci-fi.



Check out Excavation Earth on:

                 




Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Excavation Earth Preview Excavation Earth Preview Reviewed by S T Gulik on April 22, 2020 Rating: 5

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