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Dig Out Your Wallet for 3 Games of Excavation

Hands up if at some point in your life you loved dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist! 

Ok, that’s on me. Clearly a bad choice for the medium. But poorly-conceived survey format aside, I’m guessing that quite a few hands went up. 

Or maybe it wasn’t dinosaurs. Maybe after seeing Indiana Jones, you decided that archaeology and Nazi punching was more your thing.

Regardless of what form your dreams of ancient excavation took, I am also guessing that most of you probably gave up on that dream and went into some other, more exciting, field. Project management, perhaps? 

Well, if you still find yourself dreaming about discovering fossilized bones from colossal beasts or ancient artifacts in exotic locales, then today’s selection of games will let you revisit your childhood fantasy!

Holotype – Kickstarter

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

In this new game of dino-digging from first time publisher Brexwerk, you’re going to have to play dirty. Literally. That’s because this worker placement game for 2 to 5 players will have you competing for the best fossil dig sites, research facilities, and access to scientific journals as you race to dig up the best fossil evidence and advance the science of paleontology. 

Anyone familiar with the worker placement genre will feel right at home with this game. Players start with 2 workers, a paleontologist and a field assistant, which you will send out to excavate, research, and report on your dinosaur finds. As new species are discovered and published as holotypes, a single specimen used to describe a new species, the Holotype Tracker will move up the Field Advancement track. Once it reaches the end of the track, or a pre-determined number of Global Objectives have been met, the game will end and the player with the most Victory Points will win.

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

Like any good worker placement worth its salt (harvested from its sweaty workers), Holotype offers many ways to earn those VP. Unsurprisingly, they all revolve around paleontology. Players will collect Specimen cards from the Specimen Lab which can be completed for points using Fossil and Research cubes. These are gathered by your workers at the Field Expedition and University Library respectively, and of course, space is limited. Once you’ve gathered the necessary resources, send a worker to the Publishing Journal to publish your Specimen card as a holotype and cash in the points. And after your third holotype is published, a grad student joins your worker team to give you an additional action. But pay attention! Every holotype published can be used to advance the Global Objectives and score points for other players. And of course, everyone has their own Personal Objective they’re trying to score, so keep a close eye on the competition.

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

One of the most enjoyable things about this game, other than the many gorgeous dinosaur illustrations, is its worker hierarchy system. Unlike most worker placement games, Holotype allows workers of higher rank to bump lower ranking workers out of their place, meaning you won’t be waiting on resources. Doing so comes at a cost though, allowing your opponent to place their worker at another location and thereby gain another action. This makes for a speedier game that still retains really interesting choices. I also loved the educational aspect. Each specimen card comes with so many interesting facts that even the most passionate dino-phile will learn something new. 

The Adventures of Tennessee James – Kickstarter

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

This latest game from Variable Outcomes is exactly like its cinematic counterpart: a two-fisted, fast-paced adventure where your brain can relax and just enjoy the ride. 

That’s because the rules revolve around a very simple action-economy mechanic. Each of the 1 to 4 players chooses an archaeologist and 3 team members to bravely plunder 1 of 4 mysterious archaeological sites. All of the classics are represented here: desert pyramid, jungle temple, mountain shrine, and everyone’s favorite, the lava filled lair.

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

While your team is intact, you have 5 actions with which to draw an Adventure card or move 1 space through the gridded game board. Each space on the board has a face down tile which you must flip over as soon as you land on it. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a Treasure which you can keep for scoring at the end of the game. More likely, though, you’ll find a trap! And traps mean adventure! Well, Adventure cards at least. Many adventure cards, such as “Bullwhip”, “Lucky Hat”, and “Revolver”, will be instantly recognizable to most players and come with a printed value. Play Adventure cards whose combined value equals or exceeds that of the trap, and you’re safe. But are these things ever that simple? Of course not. Your conniving rivals can play Modifier cards to increase a trap’s value, making it tougher to defeat. Overcome it and you will earn points equal to its strength. Come up short and one of your team members dies, becoming just another discovery for the next team of explorers. And losing a team member means losing an action, so a headlong sprint across the board is not advised. Sometimes, though, instead of finding danger, it comes looking for you.

If the traps aren’t killing off your team fast enough for your rivals’ tastes, they can always try to kill you themselves. Player-on-player combat is as simple as fighting a trap, with players hurling cards at each other until someone runs out or gives up. The player with the highest card total takes a treasure from the loser, and then play continues. 

Once 10 points worth of Treasure have been discovered, things get really interesting. Wait, no. Interesting? I meant deadly. I always get those two confused.  The temple you were looting begins to collapse, and players must find the lone exit tile and make it out or be crushed beneath tons of rubble. Of the surviving players, the ones with the most points from Treasure and Traps is the winner. 

Outer Planet Panic – Kickstarter

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

So we’ve covered digging up dinosaur bones. And digging up lost treasures. But what about a game where you can be a space dinosaur digging up lost alien treasures?

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

That sentence, ladies and gentleman, is just the tip of the technicolor iceberg that is Outer Planet Panic. In this resource and deck management game, 1 to 6 players will race to construct their Ultimate Device, a piece of alien technology so powerful and destructive that it cannot be stopped! To do so, you’ll need resources from your corporate sponsor to send starsmonauts (“astronauts” to you and me) careening into space where they will search for the 7 different components needed to construct and activate your Ultimate Device. There are a number of sites you can aim your starsmonauts , each of them with varying costs and chances of success. If you’re trying to really stretch your budget, sending an explorer to the Junk Zone can land you some lower-tier pieces cheaply and safely. For a little more, you can head to one of the Outer Planets where resources are more plentiful. Or you can pool all of your resources to launch your hapless starsmonaut into the Haz Mat zone, a place of dangerous astral energies and home to the powerful Cosmic Devices. While not part of your Ultimate Device, these will give you additional options and advantages as the game progresses. But be warned! Other players could be eyeing up your shiny new find for themselves.

Because while each Ultimate Device’s construction is different, there are some parts that will overlap. Meaning the “Transformaic Nucleic Acid Bio Detonator” I just discovered might be a needed part not only for my Ultimate Device, but also yours as well. While there is an option to buy the device from me, sometimes legitimate negotiations fail. At that point, the only option is to steal or sabotage my device in the Espionage phase. So even when it isn’t your turn, you’ll want to keep an eye on what your opponent is up to.

Trademarks and visuals belong to their rightful owners.

This game is bright, and silly, and it knows it. The art work is big and beefy like something straight out of a Jack Kirby comic. The flavor text describing the various alien races and gadgets goes out of its way to be as ridiculous as it can be, but in no way detracts from the clear mechanics of the game. Instead, it encourages players to lean into the fun and get in on the joke. If you need a break from the “serious science” of 4X space games or the bleakness of grimdark sci-fi, this is your game.

by Zane Messina

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