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Alien Artifacts Review

Alien Artifacts Review

Stats at a glance

Players: 2-5

Duration: 60

Difficulty: Medium

Published: 2017

Ages: 10 +

Publisher: Portal Games

The universe is vast and mysterious. Have you ever looked up at the stars and wondered what is out there? Don’t you think it’s time we found out and started exploring alien worlds? 

Alien Artifacts puts you in charge of an aspiring faction that allows you to realize those dreams. As commander-in-chief, you will have a lot of strategic decisions to make. From humble beginnings, you will research new technologies and discover new worlds.  

Send your colonial fleet to far-flung regions of the galaxy and develop an interplanetary empire. But watch out for competing factions and alien strongholds. Welcome to our Alien Artifacts review. 

Brief Overview of Alien Artifacts 

Alien Artifacts 4X Board Game Box and Art

Alien Artifacts is a 4X, tableau-building game where a card-based resource engine allows you to expand your empire. Strategic card development and wise resource rationing are integral to your success. 

The game takes about an hour but can take more or less time depending on the number of players and the turn speed. Once everyone knows the rules, the turns are fast and furious. 

Alien Artifacts aims to achieve a 4X experience within an hour. This can be unfulfilling as it doesn’t feel like you have truly eXplored, eXpanded, eXploited, and eXterminated to your fullest potential. But the quick pace could be exactly what appeals to you. 

Construct a fleet, explore other planets, research new technologies, and attack enemies in order to earn victory points. 

Alien Artifacts

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Versions and Expansions 

Alien Artifacts: Discovery

This expansion keeps all of the elements from the original game. It adds 50 new cards and one game mechanism: Alien Resources. This allows you to further develop your planets. 

Alien Artifacts: Discovery Expansion

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Alien Artifacts: Breakthrough:

The second expansion adds even more cards. This expansion has revamped the tech strategy, allowing more scoring combinations using your tech cards.  

Alien Artifacts: Breakthrough

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Unboxing Alien Artifacts

The game includes the following components:

  • 1 scoring board
  • 6 Faction boards
  • 6 Faction cards
  • 83 Resource cards
  • 40 Planet cards
  • 40 Technology cards
  • 40 Ship cards
  • 16 Alien artifacts cards
  • 5 Alien system cards
  • 10 Defense plans cards
  • 5 player aid tiles
  • 1 basic defense plan tile
  • 1 starting player token
  • 1 round marker
  • 38 blockade tokens
  • 10 wooden markers

The first thing you’ll notice is the artwork. All of the cards and components include unique, science-fiction-themed graphics and it helps create the futuristic atmosphere that a game involving space empires deserves. 

There aren’t any substantial components in the game. Nothing nice and chunky to hold. There isn’t any central map either –  just a central scoreboard and a lot of card decks. This does make it hard to visualize your empire.

Each faction board is double-sided. Both sides have identical stats, except that one is a guy and one is a girl. So you can choose which leader best fits your imperial ambitions. 

What really makes this game is the cards – there are over 200 of them. Some represent ships, others planets, and others Alien Artifacts. Each one includes a detailed description and unique artwork. 

How to Play Alien Artifacts

The goal of the game is to build the greatest interplanetary empire, measured by victory points. Do this by trading resources, constructing a fleet, researching technology, discovering planets, and attacking enemies. 


Shuffle all 7 individual decks and place these in the middle of the gameplay area, along with the scoring board, blockade tokens, and round marker. 

Choose a faction and take the corresponding board, card, and tokens. Deal three resource cards to each player. Randomly choose who starts and then take turns moving clockwise. 


Each turn involves two parts: performing an action and drawing resource cards. 

Actions cost resources and let you develop your planets, technologies, and ships. You can also trade or prepare resources, start offensives or remove blockades. Once you’ve finished your action, draw a maximum of three resource cards.

Planets, Technologies, and Ships

There are three main types of cards – in three separate decks – that improve your empire: planets, technologies, and ships. These cards are double sided and you can develop them in two ways. The logistics side awards ongoing bonuses while the operational side gives you victory points. 

Use credits to buy cards and put them under construction. Use resources to move cards from under construction to the empire side of your faction board. Only then can you reap the rewards. 

Ships allow you to launch offensives on other players and Alien Systems which provide lucrative rewards. Technologies give you more ways to gain victory points and more actions. Planets provide resources that can be mined.  All are essential to win the game. 

Trading and Preparing Resources

You can trade resources from your hand for credits in the bank. You can also prepare resources for your next turn by setting them aside for later. This really helps because you can only play two resource cards from your hand per turn. 

On your next go, resource cards from your hand can be combined with the resources you have prepared.

Attacking and Defending

Another action you can choose is to attack another player or Alien System. The other player or Alien System must use their defense plan to resolve the conflict. 

If your attack is stronger than another player’s, you can weaken them and place blockade tokens. If your attack is stronger than the Alien System, you can gain an Alien Artifact which gives you awesome bonuses. 

If you have been attacked, first use your defense plan to resolve the attack. If the attacking player has blockaded you, this stops the benefits of the blockaded card until you remove it. Pay resources to remove the blockade. 

Scoring and End-of-Game Conditions

You score victory points throughout the game by combining abilities and benefits from your technology, ship, and planet cards. These are all added to the victory point tracker during the game. You can also score faction-specific points. 

Players keep taking turns until the resource deck runs out. When this happens, reshuffle and move the round marker one step to the right. Once the round marker has been moved all the way to the right, this triggers the end game. 

Count all your planets, tech, and ships and add 1 victory point for each to the victory points tracker. Whoever has the most victory points wins.

Pros & Cons


  • Fast turn-taking
  • Lots of strategy and variety
  • Awesome artwork

Once everyone understands the rules, turns are lightning fast. You play an action and draw your cards. Rinse and repeat until the game is over. Even with a higher number of players, downtime is not a problem. The whole game can take less than an hour and if you’re looking for a quick 4X fix then, timewise, Alien Artifacts hits the spot.

There are so many cards, and combinations of cards, that every game feels different. Card development requires a lot of tactical choices. Balancing your long-term strategy with short-term needs means you are always thinking and planning your next move. 

The artwork makes the game and provides an epic science-fiction backdrop. It is futuristic, colorful, and engaging. 


  • Limited player interaction
  • Doesn’t achieve the 4X hype

Player interaction exists but doesn’t add anything. You can attack other players during the game but this feels like a distraction from the empire-building aspects of the game. It isn’t rewarding or engaging. Developing your empire is where the game excels and you can play whole games without attacking another player.

Alien Artifacts lacks the scale and the mechanics to really be a 4X game. Sure, each aspect technically exists. But you don’t get a sense of imperial expansion and domination. Alien Artifacts is a great engine builder, for sure. But it’s not a true 4X game so if that’s what you’re looking for, look elsewhere. 

Alien Artifacts Review (TL;DR)

Alien Artifacts is a quick-fire 4X game that focuses on card development and imperial expansion. The high number of cards, as well as the variation of card combinations, allow for high replayability and lots of strategy.

I would not recommend this game to players looking for a truly immersive 4X experience. If you are looking for a quicker 4X-lite game, Alien Artifacts could be a great choice for you. 

Conclusion: Verdict?

Alien Artifacts sells itself as a 4X game that you can play in less than an hour. Does it achieve this? Yes, but only partially. You can complete the game in less than one hour so that part is absolutely true. It includes all the elements of a 4X game but not the overall experience. The extermination aspect is a sideshow, and you don’t get a sense of epic imperial expansion. 

If you approach Alien Artifacts as an engine-builder rather than an immersive 4X experience, the game is excellent. Card development involves strategy and planning. There are so many different combinations that every game is different so you will need to think on your feet. 

Alien Artifacts is great for people who want to dabble with a 4X experience without committing to an hours-long epic. The mechanics aren’t complicated and the gameplay is fast so it’s also good for the casual gamer. 

Alien Artifacts

Buy on Amazon Buy at Noble Knight
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
05/30/2023 04:00 pm GMT

We hope you enjoyed our Alien Artifacts review! Have you tried this 4X space-themed board game? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below.