As part of our July Spotlight on The Artemis Project, we strive to inform readers of little extra tidbits surrounding the game. Games are made by people, and one of those tidbits we enjoy is learning a little bit more about the people behind them. Some designers shy away from the public stage, while others enjoy being front and center.
When it comes to designers Daryl Chow and Daniel Rocchi, they’ve are over the Jupiter moon when wanting to discuss their latest game. In a part of the year where things are pretty balmy, these two are more than happy to chill out and talk about the ice-filled surface of Europa and the clever dice placement game they have engineered. As fans of both the dice placement genre and games where you have numerous, sometimes difficult decisions to make, both sought creating a setting that was flavorful and challenging but not prohibitively so. Working together in a cross-continental fashion, they put extensive effort into finding that balance, creating a final product that provides both accessibility and replayability while also giving it their own twist on the much beloved dice placement game. They’re more than happy to talk about that process, and their enthusiasm for it shows.
In The Artemis Project, each player represents a team of workers who have braved the perils of space to establish an exploratory expedition on the strange and alien ice-covered ocean moon of Europa. Over the span of several rounds, each player place dice on different locations. These locations provide various effects when resolved, such as procuring resources, committing dice to group expeditions, hiring new workers, and constructing different buildings that aid your actions throughout the course of the game. The catch with Artemis, however, is that the value of the dice determines the order the items at each location will be chosen. Lower valued dice mean going earlier but you’re able to collect, whereas larger dice mean collecting more – assuming anything is left. Gauging when and where to use dice in front of you each round is essential to your efficacy over the course of the game, and whomever is the most adept at navigating these strange frozen lands will be the winner.
Mixing familiar dice placement concepts with making the value of the die matter more than just where to place it – along with some excellent synergy layered among the various buildings you can construct – The Artemis Project finds that happy medium where it can appeal to stalwart dice placement veterans as well as those experiencing the concept for the very first time.
Yes, it may be hot out now, but The Atemis Project is pretty cool. But you don’t have to take our word for it. You can hear it straight from the designers themselves here today. So grab your gear and let’s dive in!
Round One Questions
CR: What was your Gateway Game?
Daryl: It probably has to be Catan since that was the only game that was around during the time I started playing. The ‘Eurofication’ of Catan with Cities and Knights hooked me in for good. But one of the great things about the hobby is that its constantly innovating and moving forward, so I like the fact that the ‘Gateway [Games]’ are always changing.
Daniel: In terms of games that brought me into the modern hobby, it was Princes of Florence.
CR: What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides The Artemis Project)?
Daniel: Just last night I played Gold West by J. Alex Kevern. I hadn’t played it in a while, but it is such a solid game.
Daryl: I am a big proponent of Asian-designed games, especially Japanese and Taiwanese games. I enjoy playing games from Saashi (another co-designer of mine) and Hisashi Hayashi. There’s some good Euros coming out from Taiwan as well.
CR: How big is your game collection?
Daryl: Slightly less than a thousand I believe. From Singaporean standards this is pretty big. I maintain it mostly for my Singaporean / international gaming community (PlayToGather), not really for myself anymore. I help publishers, both local and international, to promote their games within our community
Daniel: By contrast I’m probably somewhere around 250 games now.
CR: What is your favorite type of game to play?
Daryl: Games that make you think, and that give you interesting decisions. So usually light to mid strategy Euros with interesting themes. And of course Asian games.
Daniel: In broad terms, I like thematic Euros. More specifically, I like engine builders, tile laying, and deck building.
CR: How do you feel about Monopoly?
Daniel: I actually have a lot of fondness for Monopoly, probably for nostalgic reasons. As a kid, I loved the level of complexity that Monopoly had compared to our usual fare, and I still remember appreciating the chunky wooden bits and houses and hotels. These two elements might have informed my later love of Euro games.
Daryl: As gamers, we only harp on the negative aspects of Monopoly, so how about something good for once? It’s a great example of how pervasive board games can get with good worldwide marketing.
On The Artemis Project
CR: At its icy core, Artemis is a dice (dis)placement game. Had you played many games in that genre prior to creating this one? And how do you feel this one sets itself apart from the others?
Daniel: The big one, and where we seem to draw a lot of comparisons, is Alien Frontiers. I feel Artemis Project is different because players place one die at a time, and every round, something has changed, and one placement can have such a dynamic shift in the situation of the game. You are not dropping sets to get want you want, but making decisions on every die you place.
Daryl: I’ve played all I could get my hands on. Marco Polo is probably my favorite in the genre, as the replayability is excellent and the decisions are there. We wanted to create a game in this genre where all dice were equal without needing to bestow handicaps. I think the interaction in this game that results from the system really sets it apart. It has both the tension and thinkiness of a Euro while having the possibility to be aggressive like in an ‘American’ game, and I think this allows it to be fun for multiple crowds.
CR: The game’s ‘Exposure’ system creates a nice relationship for the dice at a location – rewarding those with higher dice at a location to collect more but at the risk of lower dice claiming resources beforehand. What inspired this approach compared to normal dice placement?
Daniel: I had designed a game called Outposts, where players manned medieval outposts by stacking dice on various locations, and resolved from the bottom up. Daryl played this game, thought most of it was “meh”, but really liked this resolution mechanism. He had some great ideas to implement it, and we continued on as co-designers.
Daryl: One of the issues from all dice placement games is that if the values of the dice matter, then the luck of the roll matters. Games usually try to fix this imbalance by giving the low rolls a handicap (e.g. going first in Kingsburg, extra resources in Marco Polo), or not at all (Alien Frontiers). We wanted to create a game in which both low rolls and high rolls have inherent value, so it’s really about how you manage what you get in the round. Also, the theme of the game fits – you have to make do with whatever you have – no changing your fate!
CR: The game also uses several different trainable worker types. How did you settle on the final ones in the game. Were there other worker types that ultimately got left out?
Daniel: The four types you see in the game; Pioneers, Engineers, Marines, and Stewards, were the four types we had from the beginning of the game. We wanted the element where you had to compete for specific types of workers to power the functions of the buildings you were constructing. A lot of credit goes to game developer Josh Cappel for really defining the roles, and fleshing out their function in the world of the game.
Daryl: The worker types were there though they were a LOT more vanilla – farmers / miners / soldiers / nobles basically. Josh certainly gave them more personality. Though I’ve been thinking of a new type for the expansion!
CR: The Relief Track seemingly serves two purposes, one flavorful, and one mechanical, with the mechanical side acting as a consolatory benefit if you get locked out elsewhere. Was that there from the start or was it added later?
Daniel: The Relief Track was originally called the Relief Ship. We imagined it as “You screwed up on the moon’s surface, so we have to send you some extra supplies and more colonists”. It was actually a later addition to the game. It used to be if you got shut out – tough luck. Daryl is a big fan of punishing games. I like to say, he’s generally one of the smartest guys in the room, so he does well at games like that.
But many playtesters found getting nothing for your dice very frustrating, so we changed it to make for a satisfying experience. The rewards are still not great, but I have seen players strategically place dice to get bumped because they specifically needed one of the Relief Track rewards.
Daryl: I conceded and added the track especially since the game got longer and getting edged out can be very frustrating for a longer game. There always needed to be a balance to make sure the track isn’t overly strong, however, since you want players to avoid going for the relief, otherwise it takes away from the focus of the game.
CR: The Artemis Project is set on the Jupiter moon of Europa, which has some pretty interesting properties. How much did you know about Europa prior to going through design of the game?
Daryl: We always intended for the harshness of a space colony, and we wanted there to be a looming presence of an alien threat. But exactly where in space was up in the air. Our development team stepped up here and together we basically decided after pondering many options that Europa is where we want to travel to and house our game in.
Going on this journey, I learnt lots more than I needed to about Europa as well as space exploration and travel (immersing myself in background literature is one of the great perks of game design), and I hope I’m the better person for it!
Daniel: I also knew very little. The game was originally called Colonies of Venus. When Marc took the game on for Grand Gamers Guild we thought the title sounded a little generic and were aware of a couple other Venus games on the way, so we decided to look for greener pastures, so to speak. It felt like an audition, with Josh, Marc, Daryl and I at the table, as we proposed various planets or moons to be our new setting. “Nah, this one’s too gassy”, “This one’s too small”. Europa, with it’s icy crust supported not only the possibility of hardscrabble colonies on the surface supporting excavation below, but helped define the different sets of buildings above and below the surface which generate benefits during the game or at game end.
CR: The creation of buildings that give you additional bonus effects opens up a lot of synergy between the cards as the game progresses. Do you have any particular favorites you always go for when playing?
Daniel: I like the Crystal Foundry and the Volcanic Extractor, which give you resources, but extra resources when manned with Engineers. The Shuttle Bay and Snowcat Garage are also excellent for moving colonists from the early game Ocean buildings to the end game Surface buildings for points when you need them.
Daryl: I try not to have favorites, though I usually like the buildings that provide more colonists. I also like buildings that give more spaces for spare colonists, since you always need more room!
CR: The game did phenomenally well on Kickstarter – well above its initial goal. Does this bode well for further exploration of Europa?
Daryl: We are bubbling with ideas below the surface! There’s lots of possibilities for thematic expansion (and the IP we’ve created is exciting – we have to do it justice). Because mechanically the game is already quite condensed, we need to make sure that any addition doesn’t disrupt the system in place but expand its horizons.
Daniel: The loose idea of an expansion has always been part of the discussion; Josh’s vision of the world building has always asked, “What do they find below the surface of the alien crust?” Due to the success of the Kickstarter and the exceptional response of early plays, an expansion is definitely in the works.
CR: Finally, let’s say you were a worker who was part of the Artemis Project. Which worker class would you be, and what would you look forward to the most about going – if at all? Be honest…
Daniel: I don’t even think I’d go. I’m a big baby- I hate the cold! I imagine the Stewards get to hang out indoors more, huddled around a space heater with their clipboard, or whatever the high tech version of that might be.
Daryl: Technically, a game designer is an engineer of sorts, right? I’m designing systems all the time!
Despite being set on a fairly inhospitable rock halfway across the solar system, there’s a lot to enjoy about The Artemis Project. It’s a solid light-to-medium gaming experience with plenty of choices to consider, a fun concept, and an enjoyably ice-laden theme. With only so many dice to go around and no guarantees you’ll be able to get what you need each round, surviving on this frozen wasteland will require some adaptability and a really, really warm parka. Careful attention must be paid not only to your actions but those of the other players, as fighting too much over the same spaces could be detrimental not only to your odds of winning but your worker’s very health.
Now, we’re going to be the first to admit that as an outfit, we simply don’t have the financial resources to send you along as an expedition member to Europa directly. We looked into it, and we could send one person or go out to the local pizza shop for dinner. We obviously chose the latter. (Granted, we tried to see if they’d take Claudius as an unpaid intern but he couldn’t even make it through basic training, the poor guy. He and spaceflight never seem to cooperate. But we digress.) At any rate, we also figure you probably don’t actually want to be orbiting Jupiter for the next several years in perpetual winter, so instead we’re offering up a blueprint of the expedition, in the form of a game. It’ll be far less stressful on your part and save us a ton of paperwork.
But as things could get a bit chilly out there as your competing with one another, we recommend coming prepared all the same.
Photo Credits: The Artemis Project cover and photos by Grand Gamers Guild.