ARKENSHIELD: The Gates of Thy’An
Published by MAD MAKI Authored by Wolfgang.M.Eck 1-4 Players
Illustrations: Wolfgang.M.Eck. Vanessa Schumacher. Thomas Müller. Johannes Fuchs
Kickstarting 11th-30th November 2020
PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A PREVIEW AND THUS THE GAME IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE
ARKENSHIELD: is of the Deck-Building style of games. With so many of this game type already on the market bringing a new one to the table, especially one that isn’t based on a well-known comic book, TV show or Super-Hero series, means that the publisher has confidence that their product is different enough to make an incisive dent in the game genre. The illustrator’s vision of Sword & Sandal mythology for the box cover art is that of a cubist futuristic city and that somewhat confused my first visual impression.
Is that confidence verified by the end-product? I hate to use the ‘marmite’ analogy again (I understand it means you either like it or hate it, but that is mainly because I don’t know any games that are brown, pungent and sticky). Anyway, amongst my group of players the decision was split, some (including me) liked it and others found it a little too ‘going through the motions’.
ARKENSHIELD encompasses many of the regular traits found in deck-builders. Players have their own deck of cards, each starter deck consisting of the same combination – 7 basic shields and 3 daggers – which are shuffled and 6 dealt out as a playing hand each turn. Unlike other games in this genre, Arkenshield’s deck-building system is pleasantly different. Instead of taking up the remaining cards from your personal draw pile and then shuffling the discards as necessary, you actually shuffle your entire personal deck including all other cards obtained every turn, and then deal your 6 card hand.
Each player has a personal board on which their journey from Thaera ‘Ijun to the Citadel, the game end, is mapped out by a selection of Movement tiles. These tiles are marked 1 through 5 and are shuffled face down and placed onto the spaces on the board numerically marked the same – there will be a good number of these tiles not used each game which helps make for variations on the journey. Your journey map is shown as a high road and a low road with intersections that allow movement between them. The high road ends at the Citadel and gives a +5 VP bonus and the lower road which takes longer and ends one stop past the Citadel at Titans Arch, has a +15 VP bonus.
On one of the spaces on your travels you will encounter an Inn. Here you can gain a Companion who will accompany you and help you on your quest with additional resources. You can have up to three Companions, never more, though you can exchange them when better ones become available; however you may only ever gain one from the Inn, this is the one you obtain during setup, and placed to one side.
NOTE: The rules state that you can have 4 Companions (including the Leader) which is a mite confusing as your Leader is not truly a Companion and is immune to the majority of events/actions etc that affect Companions.
Companions and Items/Equipment can give bonuses at the beginning of a player’s turn, In the base game these will be Strength (red tokens) Influence (green tokens) and Experience (blue tokens).
Apart from visiting the Inn and hiring the Companion, you gain other cards for your deck from the Supply, which is a large deck of cards with the 5-card display alongside it – other Companions can be bought from the supply. As each card is bought from the display a new card from the top of the deck replaces it, always giving the at-turn player 5 cards to view and purchase if they wish, and they have the required resources (red and/or green tokens).
Nearly all cards that arrive from the supply/draw deck have a cost in either Strength or Influence, but there are two types of card that have no cost so they cannot be bought. These have a light-blue banner in place of the cost and are either Events or Emotions. Generally when flipped over these cards are placed on their specified positions on the Central Board and are activated at the start of the next player’s turn and removed after all players have been affected.
Equipment cards bought from the display are placed on top of your personal draw pile ready to be shuffled in at the end of your turn and are thus possibly available for you in the next draw (if they are of the six cards drawn). Companions from the display can be placed into an empty Companion’s slot on your board or used to replace a Companion in a slot; their bonuses are immediate and you do not lose the bonuses from the newly replaced Companions.
At the beginning of your turn you always draw 6 cards plus the resource tokens from your Leader and Companion/s. When you want to progress along one of the paths select the next place in line and flip the movement tile over to see what you have to face. You do not have to visit this place now but once you have flipped a movement tile over you cannot choose another place to travel to. You may only travel to one Movement space per turn and for the first few spaces it is likely that you will only have to spend a couple of resources or maybe discard a card or two for a successful journey. It gets tougher as you travel further; the resources you use in combat are lost but you gain an equal number of Victory Points. The more you travel the more VPs you get, so you need to travel, but you also need to spend resources to buy Equipment and hire Companions, so this is a conflict every player has; it’s how they react to it that counts.
The Movement spaces are marked with a Blue number (this is the amount of Experience you need to be able to visit it – you do not spend the Experience). Next in line is a Black on White number (used if you want to randomly place the Inn – not a good idea for your first few games). Then there is a Red and a Green resource icon with numbers from zero up which are extra rewards for completing the visit. Further along the journey the White on Black number becomes a Black on Gold number – this has yet to be explained in this base rule set and may not make it to the end product.
Play continues in clockwise order, each player shuffling their personal deck, collecting all resource tokens, buying more cards and travelling along their chosen paths. By the time you reach the later Movement spaces your deck should be producing more than enough resources for you to sail through without problems.
The object of the game is to score the most VPs and there are several ways to do this. Collecting equipment and Companions, capturing Creatures and reaching end spaces on the travel map. It is because there is no actual combat in which you can suffer defeat that made some of our players feel like they were not really playing a game but just following instructions blindly.
There is a decent adventure tale within the game and the places, powers and people/creatures augment this, but it is incomplete. You can find more on the Arkenshield website. The gameplay itself is straightforward and continuous so once the rules are understood there is little need of referencing the rules-book even though the cards are indexed and explained within it. With the different components added to the mix there is more involvement in playing solo than in the regular 2-4 player game.
I rarely enjoy solo game play except with electronic games, but since I began writing these notes I have had the time to play Arkenshield solitaire an enjoyable couple of times. It has more additional components for the Artificially Intelligent opponent you will be facing than I would normally expect to find in any deck-building game.
In the solo game the A.I. has its own turn, of sorts, but in the base game the players just take circuitous turns until the game ends and the scores are counted which enhances the view of our ‘going through the motions’ players. In the multi-player game there is very little player interaction that it is almost like playing solitaire but without the challenges of the Commanders or the Expedition cards.
As I said, I enjoyed building my deck to fight my way along the paths to victory, but I also understand why nearly half of our players felt they were not being challenged. There are no real penalties! You may have to lose a couple of cards or resources in your turn and that can set you back on your plans, but only a little and usually only for one turn.
The main thing missing for me that multi-player ARKENSHIELD could do with is bite. You only go into combat when you know that you will win – the creatures on your path do nothing except force you to spend resources. Companions may look different but they have no special abilities. Yes, one may add 2 Strengths whilst another adds 2 Influence, but as unique characters they are nonentities.
Everything about ARKENSHIELD, in this format, screams quality! The cards are super to shuffle and deal, the tiles and tokens pop out of their frames without tearing, the personal player boards fold without stretching, tearing or wearing and the tiles are thick and durable. Because of the number of components, the rules, despite the gameplay being straightforward once known, can take one or two read-throughs to be mentally consumed.
There is something about ARKENSHIELD that draws me back to it, but I have to somewhat agree with my friends that the authors have perhaps had their reasons to hold back on some action.
Suggestions bounded about by us include using dice for additional excitement when travelling the path from Experience Level 2 onwards and having each Companion add +1 to your die roll or some other such bonus. Then when you arrive at a Movement space you have to spend the resources AND defeat the creature. If you don’t kill it you have lost those resources for this turn – this could be especially painful if you had used actual resource tokens and not just cards (which go back into your deck).
Maybe even completely losing a card or two, discarded from the game, on the endgame spaces.
Dice may not be how you want to go, but our players feel that ARKENSHIELD needs something that gives the combat meaning and makes it challenging.
Please remember that this is only a PREVIEW of a prototype Boxed set and that all or many of the things I have mentioned may have changed by the time the game reaches Kickstarter.