17th Oct2023

‘Archeos Society’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

Things move slowly in the world of board games, and the rumour mill is often turning long before anything actually materializes. This is often true when it comes to remaking older games – and in the case of 2017’s Ethnos, there seem to have been rumours about a new design with better components and brighter artwork since the day it came out. Whatever people had hoped or expected, a remake for Ethnos is finally here – and whilst Archeos Society may not tick all the same boxes, it’s still a jolly good game.

Following the original design by Paolo Mori, Archeos Society is a card-based game in which the players must collect and play sets of either the same colour or the same suited cards in order to advance their dominance in one particular area. In Ethnos, dominance is related to the control of specific regions on a board, whilst in Archeos Society, tracks are used instead.

This changes the feel of Archeos Society from one of tight, competitive area control (Ethnos) to one of racing. In Ethnos, only one player could be “ahead” in terms of control of a specific area, whereas in Archeos Society, players can occupy the same space as each other on any of the six boards up which they will be racing. Funnily enough, of all the complaints I had heard about Ethnos, too much contention between players was never the issue. However, if you look at Archeos Society as its own thing and ignore any comparisons, the race aspect is interesting, tense and fun.

The cards that players will use to form their sets play a big part in the interest and variability of Archeos Society. There are 12 different sets of cards to choose from, and each game you’ll choose six of them. These include the pilot set, the botanist set, the students, the mercenaries and many more, and each set has a specific ability that changes the rules of play slightly. There are twice as many students as there are any other card, for example, but an expedition led by them will never advance a track (only the set size will score.) The pilots are almost the opposite, in that a pilot can advance any of the tracks, regardless of colour. Other abilities are more and more varied, even including unique side boards and mini-games.

With six sets of cards shuffled together, play begins and is quite straightforward. On their turn a player either takes a card (from the deck or face-up display) or plays a set. If they play a set, it must be made up of either cards from any set (but all the same colour) or cards from the same set (but of any colour). Either way, whichever card is placed on top is the Expedition Leader, and any set-specific bonuses from their set will apply. The player places this set in front of them (face up and splayed out to show its size) and then must discard all their remaining cards to the face up display for other players to pick on later turns.

Now, the size of the set played will determine whether the player can move up the track that matches the colour of the Expedition Leader. All spaces on the tracks are split by a card value, and to advance a player will need to play a set that exceeds that value. In general (but not always), this means that later along the track, you’ll need bigger sets to make the leap to the next space on the track. As I mentioned before some sets will alter these rules – so in this case a green pilot (for example) will be able to move the player on any track as long as the set value is high enough, whereas a green botanist could only affect the green track.

In theory, just writing about Archeos Society makes it sound a bit fiddly, but it’s actually super straightforward. The boards can be played on either standard or advanced sides, but even with the extra rules that the advanced boards bring, there’s nothing here that should cause too much confusion. The game takes place over two to three rounds, with each round ending when all three monkey idol cards (seeded into the lower half of the deck) have been drawn.

I like to use a few of the advanced boards – especially on the red track (representing Chichen Itza) because it allows players to draw up more cards. This addresses one of the only criticisms I have of Archeos Society, which is that drawing just one card at a time can feel quite slow – especially as you aim for the larger sets needed in the late game. Players can draw two from the deck (instead of one) if there are no face-up options available, but this is rare. I’d like this to be the case in all games – IE one visible card or two from the deck – but even with this speed issue on the table, Archeos Society only takes an hour at most to play on most occasions.

Whilst the intensity of head-to-head competition is no longer present in Archeos Society, it’s still a very simple, very fun game that offers lots of flexibility for players and admittedly, does look much better than the game that inspired it. The racing aspect is neither “better” nor “worse” than the area control in Ethnos – it’s just completely different. I really like the new powers that the alternative boards provide, and even on their basic side, each board has interesting scoring dynamics. For example, on board requires alternating high and low sets to progress, which means you can really push for a high score – but if you end the round on one of the interim slots, you could end up with virtually no points.

Overall, Archeos Society is a great game when considered as a standalone product, and given Ethnos is no longer available, that’s how most people will look at it. It’s a fun racing game with very simple mechanics, good looking components and lots of ways to change things up from one game to the next. The range of options both in the decks and on the boards ensures accessibility for players of all ages and abilities, and when you take all of this together, Archeos Society is a fantastic package.

**** 4/5

A copy of Archeos Society was provided for review.

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