One of the best parts of my job here as Tabletop Editor at TechRaptor (aside from getting to play the latest and greatest from across the hobby), are the times when a game comes along and completely blows me away. It's happened before, with my love for Lost Cities: Roll and Write and Nidavellir, but it's been a while since a game truly knocked my socks off. Enter Archeos Society, a new release from publisher Space Cowboys.
I've been playing and playtesting Archeos Society for the last few months, playing different iterations and permutations of the game with different player counts. Why the extra intense level of study and review? Because I think this could be my favorite board game of 2023. Let's dig in to find out why.
Archeos Society Review - What Is Archeos Society?
Archeos Society is a set collecting board game for 2-6 players, designed by Paolo Mori as an extrapolation of his classic game Ethnos. In Archeos Society, each player leads an expedition comprised of a team of researchers, scientists, and explorers charting some of the most incredible sights in the world.
By collecting and playing sets of cards, players will scramble to claim points after two or three rounds (depending on player count). At the end of the game, all points are tallied, and the player with the most points wins!
What makes Archeos Society so unique, why it so grabbed my attention and held on tight, is the way that the game's components can be mixed and matched to create a truly bespoke gaming experience each and every playthrough.
How Do You Play Archeos Society?
Archeos Society is played by first selecting six different sets of cards. Each of these cards represent a type of explorer you're bringing on your expedition. There's the Botanist, the Curator, the Mercenary, the Student, the Linguist, and so many more.
Each of these decks of explorers all share the same set symbol, but come in a variety of six different colors. These colors correspond to six different boards on the table. On your turn, you'll either draw a card from the deck (or display of discarded cards), or play a set of cards. Playing those sets of cards will move your marker along one of the six location game boards, scoring you points at the end of each round.
Along with those points scored, you'll also almost always enact a small benefit from whichever explorer "leads" the set you play (i.e. is the top, fully visible card in the set).
From gaining a small batch of points, to multiplying your end of round scoring for the set, and even making it easier to navigate on the six location game boards, deciding which explorer to play on top of your set is key.
That is, from a top-down view, the entire game in a nutshell. You play sets of cards, advance tokens on point tracks, collect various smaller ongoing or one-time benefits from cards played, and repeat. But once everyone knows how to play, it's a fast, fun, and sometimes frantic game of card collecting and pushing your luck.
Archeos Society Review - Incredible Replay Value
Because of how carefully tuned the special abilities of each explorer are, and the fact that you'll only ever play with six of the twelve explorer decks, the replay value is pretty obvious right from the jump.
But what surprised me most about Archeos Society is how even the smallest changes -- a different board selection, only swapping out one of the explorer decks -- creates a completely new and extremely different play experience.
Added to this is the fact that you never truly know when a game round will end. There are three trigger cards shuffled into the back half of the deck, and the round ends when you've drawn all three. They could be all right up near the top, spread out, or towards the bottom - but once that second trigger card is pulled, you'll be on pins and needles trying to push your luck and play valuable sets.
Archeos Society Review - Final Thoughts
As I've stated repeatedly here, I think Archeos Society is one of those really special, exciting games. It captures a simple game mechanic -- set collection -- in one of its purest forms, but then asks you to think critically about how you play your cards. You can bumble through, for sure, and still have a great time. But if you plan properly, you can really put (fun!) pressure on your opponents.
That's why this game has had such an effect on me and my gaming group. It's fast, it's incredibly easy to teach, but it doesn't take long to really sink into the strategy of the game. Luckily, all decision making is done in drips and drabs, so there's no real reason to feel bogged down (or take too much time) on your turn.
The game box also perfectly stores all of the different card sets, as you can see in the above picture, and it all just comes across as thoughtful, carefully planned, and perfectly executed. In short, as of right now, it's the most fun we've had at the table all year.
Should I Buy Archeos Society?
If you're a fan of card drafting, set collection, and/or push your luck mechanics in gaming, you should seriously consider giving Archeos Society a try. If, on the other hand, you prefer cooperative games, or games with a deeper story inlaid, this game may not quite do it for you. But I have to stress, I think this game is going to be a hit for almost every table of board gamers.
The copy of Archeos Society used in the creation of this review was provided by Asmodee USA. The author reviewed this game over 30+ hours of gameplay. All photos courtesy of the author.