LOST RUINS OF ARNAK
Designed by: Min & Elwen Published by: Czech Games Edition
Currently Available from Zatu for £38.49. Seen online at Target for $44.49
If you are in the UK and thinking of obtaining a copy of this game then check out Zatu asap as their current price is £4.00-£8.00 lower than other online advertisers. It is often being advertised for sale on Board game sales groups at a higher price 'used' than Zatu have it as new. Before anyone thinks otherwise, I have nothing to do with Zatu, I just thought it was worth noting. The other thing of note is that I cannot understand why it is being sold so often as it's an excellent, management game with an enjoyably fun deck-building element.
The players are expedition leaders who have gathered a small work force of Archaeologist meeples to study, explore and excavate the Ruins on the small island of Arnak which are represented by Temples on both sides of the board; the Bird Temple being on one side and the Snake Temple on the other. Having different boards is like having an expansion within the base box - although 'Expedition Leaders' is the first actual separately sold expansion.
There are so many good things about Arnak but what stands out from them all, for me at least, is the board (actually both boards). They are both very busy, so much going on over the deeply coloured island artwork - Card stacks, Resources in boxes, Exploration sites, Idol tiles, Level sites, Items, Artifacts and Bonus tracks etc - and yet there is room, space for everything, without it being or getting messy. Other board game designers/publishers should take note.
Because of the numerous components there is a fair amount of setting up of the Temples and Player boards, but after a game or two, especially if the same players are involved, it comes together smoothly. When the game is ready for starting it is visually very impressive. Each player board has tents in the same chosen colour as the archaeologist meeples; Red, Blue, Green & Yellow - players also have a Notebook token and Spyglass token in their colour. To begin their deck-building the players also have a starter set of six cards, two Funding, two Exploration and two Fear - the Fear cards are the deck blockers that often screw up your hand draw; they will become more but no merrier as the game progresses.
ARNAK is a game where the selected Start player and those following clockwise all begin with different or/and different number of resources. It is also a game where you have a limited number of just five Rounds (a Round being when all players have had a Turn). Each Round has similar prospects and options, but depending on whether you are playing the expansion, the Snake Temple or the Bird Temple, some things, subtly or directly have altered. A good example of this being the Temple Bonus tracks. They are quite different for both Temples as they give a variety of different Bonuses and scoring opportunities whilst sticking to the Research Token and Assistant enrolment rules.
The Research tokens are shaped wooden units, square for the Books and Oval (egg) shaped for the Magnifying (Spyglass) glasses. When spending resources to move on the Bonus track a player's Book may never move higher up the track than the Spyglass. This ensures careful spending and collecting of Resources. Spaces along the track give all manner of bonuses by way of Resources and Victory points; certain of the spaces on the VP portion of the track also allow the player to gain a companion/assistant and others gain Compasses for the player.
In the base game some card counters depict Compasses and Gold coins; both of these are counted as Resources. Other resource tokens are Tablets, Arrowheads and Jewels, and at times, even though you may find obtaining some harder than others, they are often equally as important, it just depends on what you are looking to 'buy' needs.
To search a Dig (archaeological site) you need to move your meeple people onto it as long as it is unoccupied. To move you have to pay a cost, the type of which is shown on the Dig site, and once you wish to move into either Region I or II there is a Compass cost plus the Site visit cost. Some cards show one movement icon and some show two. You can use the double-icon as a single icon if necessary but you don't get any change - you lose the odd one.
Dending on the site you wish to visit there is a travel icon. The basic icon is a Boot. The Boot is the lowest form of travel and can only be used where a Boot icon is required. The next icons in the hierarchy are Cars and Boats. Either of these can be used in place of Boots but not in place of each other. Finally the highest form of travel, in more ways than one if you think about it, is the Bi-Plane, which can be used as Car, Boat or Boot, or even Plane.
Once you arrive at the site you collect its Idol token, only one if there are two available, and enjoy its effect. Then you place the next site card from the correct face down stack in place, and immediately resolve the effect. Now the fun starts because a Guardian now appears and this will require some fighting. However when it first arrives it scares you (take a Fear card) back to camp. In a later Turn you may be able to defeat the Guardian or you may just want to send an archaeologist to dig there; you will gain another Fear card if you do. Defeating a Guardian gives you its Boon, one type of which will be VPs, though as often will be valuable Movement or Actions.
You win the game by scoring the most VPs via Tokens, Cards, Guardians, Tiles etc. adding each player's points down the columns of the score sheet. The player who has the most VPs is deemed to have discovered the most secrets of the lost and vanished ancient civilisation.
The top section of the board has spaces for two decks of cards, Artifacts which cost Compasses and Items which cost Coins. Items bought must be placed on the bottom of your deck and can be used when you receive them into your hand. Artifacts can be used immediately without cost or later by paying its cost.
Assistants are placed on the two spaces of the Player's boards. When an Assistant's ability is used you turn the Assistant tile sideways (in TCG parlance you 'tap' the tile). Assistant's effects/abilities may be used only once per Round, the tile is stabilised at the beginning of the player's next Turn.
The Rules Booklet is wonderfully created, containing good clarity in rules and examples. The back page explains, by icons and text, the Effects of all Tokens, the Keywords in the rules and on cards etc. and the effects caused by Actions. It is best to read the rulesbook fully first, relying only on the rear page is possible only when you have experienced playing the game one or more times.
Inside the back page is a double-spread Appendix of selected cards, each briefly described by headed title, informative text and an illustration of the card/s. The mentioned pages follow the rules pages for the Solo Variant in the booklet in page order but are not specifically for that variant.
I am lucky that I play a lot of games with some very good friends and family, all of whom are experienced players in various game genres. RUINS of ARNAK falls into a category of our design which features a good selection of games which we are all happy to bring to the table at any session. It has several aspects of play that we really enjoy and yet none of these seem secondary to any other. There is the fragility of a wrong move causing defeat or victory, there is the frustration of wanting to do more but not having the resources to do so, there is the luck of choice, where you make a decision to gain what you hope will be the needed resource, card or effect and there is the thought, consideration and focus that we hope will manifest in other games but often doesn't quite make it.
I cannot proclaim this to be the perfect game or even give it 10 out of 10, should I ever have to give such scores. For myself it is a game that has, at this moment in time, just what I require a quality board game to have. Will it be the same next week or next month? Yes it will, but by then there may be another game or games with similar qualities vying for a position on my games table. This is why I never give 10/10 or 100% because when someone does give that they are saying there can never be a better or more suitable game. What I will say is that LOST RUINS of ARNAK is going to be around for many a long time and long may it grace my games table.