Archeo: Shinar is an early access strategy game that reminds me quite a bit of Darkest Dungeon, despite the theme being more akin to Renowned Explorers or The Curious Expedition. The world has archaeology fever! Having the means to fund expeditions yourself, you spend the game sending out explorers on various adventures, competing against either AI or hot-seat opponents for fame and money.
When I said that the game reminds me of Darkest Dungeon, I mean that the rounds (30 per game at present) consist of preparing your explorers through various means and then sending them on an expedition, which boils down to a string of encounters. However, these encounters are very simplistic, requiring only that you pick an explorer or two to participate, and are based entirely around one or two of the seven skills that your explorers have at their disposal. Once you have chosen your best explorers the game decides whether they are proficient enough at the relevant skill or skills and gives you one of four possible outcomes. If your successes outweigh your failures, the expedition is declared a success.
This is the first major gripe with the game at present. There is extremely little information to go on when choosing an explorer: No percentages, no indication of the effect of buffs/debuffs, only the skill level of the explorer and the vague sense of the difficulty you get from the expedition’s stated reward (more money = more difficult). It would help (and make the game infinitely more interesting) if there were some sort of flavor text at each encounter. All you get, however, is the required skill and about 25 seconds to choose an explorer.
Another way that Archeo: Shinar reminds me of Darkest Dungeon is that your explorers can accrue debuffs throughout their expeditions. However, these debuffs, called “fears,” are permanent, and can only be held at bay by “stimulants,” such as gin, coffee, and tobacco. These can be bought on one of the many rather disjointed screens found between expeditions.
This brings me to my second major gripe with the game. The Screens available between expeditions aren’t very intuitive. Some are fairly straightforward, such as the “Quarters” screen where you can view your explorers and pay to have them learn skills. Others, despite being explained in the tutorial, are esoteric at best and downright confusing at worst, and feel completely separate from the main game.
One example of this is the property management screen, where you can bid an arbitrary amount of money for a designated piece of land each round, on which you can build buildings to provide bonuses. However, you can’t see other player’s bids so it suffers from the same problem as the expedition encounters. There is also the press screen where you can sell the rights to your adventures for the next round, or pay to have a slanderous article written about the other players.
The worst offender for me, though, is the black market. In the black market you can sell artifacts that you don’t plan on exhibiting later. The problem is, you cannot outright sell it if there is no demand for it: You must put it up for sale, whereupon there is a chance it can be confiscated. Even if it does sell, a percentage is taken out to pay the fence. On top of all of this, the chances of confiscation and the commission percentage change on a round by round basis, so you need to keep up with it.
For me, these mechanics detract from the game: They don’t feel connected enough. Your expeditions only provide money and occasionally artifacts (which are then sold for money), and not much you do outside of expeditions helps the expeditions. The expeditions aren’t terribly compelling, and I never felt excited to do anything available to me outside of the expeditions.
For these reasons, it’s hard to recommend Archeo: Shinar, even at the current price of $13. That said, the art style and the music are great, so if that and the perceived potential of an early access game are enough to sell you, it should satisfy.