Here is the third of three games that I wrote for the 2017 Heritage Jam, which falls on Open Access week. If you’re an artist and want to collaborate in order to bring this game to market, please let me know. Until then, enjoy the prototype below, and feel free to make it your own.
Creative Commons License
The rules and gameplay mechanics of Excavation! are hereby licensed as CC0 (public domain).
The skeleton forms the rules of the body, and the body cannot do what the skeleton does not permit. In creating games, one begins with the skeleton—the rules—each one a bone with a singular purpose, creating a framework from which gameplay emerges. People of the distant past knew that the flesh concealed bones, and over time learned how that process came to be. The bones form alongside (and inside) the flesh, rules and purpose emerging together, entangled.
When I began thinking about creating an excavation board game, I started with the flesh, with the apparatus and purpose of digging. What are an excavation’s goals? What parts are needed for an excavation? What people? What tools? How does the excavation resist our intrusion, and how do our discoveries reward the work? As I fiddled with the idea of literal squares arranged atop each other in a tray, I began to discern the bones underneath. And then I realized that each archaeological excavation is its own skeleton as we strip away the flesh. In reconstructing what we find, archaeologists return to these site-skeletons their voices and their stories.
I wrote the game, and the resulting rules have become a methodology. We take turns digging. Sometimes we find something. Sometimes there are hazards. Sometimes there is nothing. Our excavations are not completed alone; resources help us manage to process and the project. At the end of the day (or season), our goal is to tell one or more narratives about the site. What happened here, why, when, and to whom? We destroy and record in order to preserve. Archaeologists are scarab beetles, eating away anything temporary until we get to what is permanent: stone and bone, metal and brick. We use these materials to build our interpretations. We re-articulate the skeleton, the bones of our past made present.
What I’ve submitted to the 2017 Heritage Jam is a prototype, a schematic for some thoughtful full. The winner gets to tell the story of what the excavation discovered. It is a story told from the interpretation of the evidence, a forensic approach.
Download the PDF file of the game’s rules. Because the game’s rules are CCO, I would encourage everyone to explore the prototype and improve upon it. If there is an artist out there who would like to partner with me to bring this game to market, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time: 15–30 minutes
Object: Excavate an archaeological site and tell its story. Dig a different site every time you play.
4 miniature excavation tools (pick, shovel, mattock, trowel)
144, 1” x 1” excavation tiles
1 tray that holds 72 tiles
24 archaeology Hazard cards
24 archaeology Resource cards
24 Story cards
1 special 6-sided die
Place the 144 excavation tiles dirt-side up on a playing surface, and mix them up.
Fill the tray with six layers of 12 tiles each, placing the tiles dirt-side up into the tray.
Discard the remaining tiles for the duration of the game in a “midden” nearby.
Shuffle the three decks of cards and put each deck face-down by the tray.
How to Play:
The object of the game is to complete the excavation of your archaeological site and tell its story. Over the course of six rounds, players take turns excavating to recover artifacts, being wary of archaeological hazards. Players earn bonuses by assembling pottery, skeletons, or houses, or by creating a grave-good assemblage from a burial. At the conclusion of each round, the player with the most artifacts draws a Story card. Once all of the tiles have been excavated, the player with the most Story cards uses all drawn Story cards to tell the site’s story.
- Each player selects a digging tool to use throughout the game.
- The youngest player goes first.
- The first player rolls the die. If the die shows a number (1, 2, or 3), the player uses their digging tool to remove that number of tiles from the top layer of tiles in the tray. The player may look at the tiles, but cannot show them to the other players. If the die shows a skull-and-crossbones, the player draws a Hazard card. If the die shows an arrow, the player draws a Resource card. If the die shows an “X”, the player’s turn ends.
- Once the player has followed the instructions from the die-roll and from any drawn cards, the turn is over, and play passes to the right.
- The round ends when the entire top layer of 12 tiles has been excavated.
- At the conclusion of the round, the player with the most artifacts draws a Story card, but does not look at it.
- The next round excavates the new layer of tiles, which was covered by the previous layer.
Once all of the tiles have been excavated, the player with the most Story cards collects the Story cards earned by the other players. The player places each Story card face-up, and then creates a story about the site based on the Story card’s pictures, in the order in which the cards are lined up.
Tiles contain either: dirt, an artifact piece, a skeleton piece, part of a house, or a hazard.
- Dirt tiles: The player’s turn ends.
- Artifact piece tile: The player draws a Resource card, and follows its instructions. If a player has four different tiles that combine to form a pot, rooftile, etc., the player is awarded one Story card.
- Skeleton piece tile: The player draws a Resource card, and follows its instructions. If the player has all five different skeleton tiles, the player is awarded one Story card.
- House part tile: The player may excavate an additional square. If a player collects all five different house tiles, the player is awarded two Story cards.
- Hazard tile: The player draws a Hazard card, and follows its instructions immediately.
Making an Assemblage:
Occasionally players will excavate special tiles containing grave goods. Players must find a total of six grave goods tiles (any number of jewelry, fancy pottery, coins, comb, religious object, corn, toy, pet, knife) to create an assemblage. Players who create an assemblage receive three Story cards.
Tiles: Some excavation tiles are hazardous! If a player recovers a tile with a symbol of a bomb, poison, fire, or a dollar sign, the player’s turn ends immediately. The player also loses one artifact, skeleton, or house tile, returning it to the “midden” of unused excavation tiles.
Cards: There are 24 cards containing real archaeological hazards. Players who draw a Hazard card must immediately do as the card instructs UNLESS the player has a Resource card to counter the hazard.
Good things can happen to archaeologists. Players who draw a Resource card must immediately follow the instructions on the card.
24 Unique Hazard Cards
Hazard cards adversely affect player-progress in the game while also educating players about the various pitfalls and dangers of an archaeological excavation. Details on penalties to follow.
- Empty canteen
- Loss of funds/funding
- Personal injury
- No permit
- Local/regional conflict
- Angry landowner
- Official demands a bribe
- Guards leave
- Shady dig director
- Broken dig relationship
- Broken artifact
- Corrupt database
- Poisonous plants
- Wild animals
- Free labor
- Drone destroyed
- 20 years until publication
24 Unique Resource Cards
Resource cards help the players advance in the game while also educating players about the various needs of an archaeological investigation. Details on rewards to follow.
- Successful grant proposal
- Wheeler’s Mustache
- X marks the spot
- Friendly locals/public
- Dig house repairs
- Mild summer
- Indestructible IT
- Permits arrive
- Favorable press
- Big donors
- Big digger
- “Wonderful things”
- New site museum
- Budding romance
- Secure dating
24 Unique Story Cards
The Story cards are intended to be vague and open to interpretation, almost like a heritage tarot deck. None of these cards have words on them, only pictures, from which the winner creates a story about the site excavated during the game. The 24 cards below are a start, but could be changed to make them more open to interpretation about foundation/abandonment myths, site formation processes, site use, and site history.
- Herd of animals
- Stars at night
- Temple/religious structure
- Two adults and two children
- Multiple ships
- Desert vista
- Tree of life
- Musical instrument
- Writing materials
- Pile of stones
- Sword and shield
- Human heart
144 Excavation Tiles
3 artifact piece (pot, rim)
3 artifact piece (pot, foot)
3 artifact piece (pot, left body/handle)
3 artifact piece (pot, right body/handle)
3 artifact piece (rooftile, upper left)
3 artifact piece (rooftile, lower left)
3 artifact piece (rooftile, upper right)
3 artifact piece (rooftile, lower right)
3 artifact piece (papyrus, upper left)
3 artifact piece (papyrus, lower left)
3 artifact piece (papyrus, upper right)
3 artifact piece (papyrus, lower right)
3 skeleton (skull)
3 skeleton (upper right)
3 skeleton (upper left)
3 skeleton (lower right)
3 skeleton (lower left)
3 house (doorway)
3 house (window)
3 house (hearth)
3 house (wall)
3 house (roof)
1 assemblage (coins)
1 assemblage (corn)
1 assemblage (toy)
1 assemblage (fancy pot)
1 assemblage (comb)
1 assemblage (jewelry)
1 assemblage (religious item)
1 assemblage (knife)
1 assemblage (mummified pet)
—Andrew Reinhard, Archaeogaming