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ARCANUM

A Board Game for 3-5 Players Aged 12+.   Designed by Andrea Chiarvesio & Pierluca Zizzi with Artwork by Patrizio Evangelisti

I think publishers LO SCARABEO have done themselves and this game an injustice through their choice of art for the front of the box. I, for one, found the cover enticing but without substance for the description of the gameplay according to the back cover of the box. The illustration of an alluring young lady with a come-hither look in her eyes in no way represents the way the game is played, the theme of the game or the type of players required. It is a sexual, sensual, piece of artwork that promotes the fantasy worlds and characters of many role-playing and electronic games and would look great as a poster sized print in a gold painted frame hanging on the boardroom wall of one of those publishing companies.  

However,do not be put off by the cover art. Instead let it draw you in with promises that the visual implication will not supply, so that you will then be surprised at the excellence of the actual game when you play it.

ARCANUM is not such a game. ARCANUM is a game that will surprise you with its brilliant gameplay, clever mixing of Chess pieces with a Tarot Deck and otherwise excellent artwork.

There are four sets of Chess (Court) pieces, King, Queen, Knight and Pawn, in each of four colours (Red, Green, Yellow and Blue) but these are NOT the player pieces, they are the pieces that players will move around the board during their search for the Victory Points and useful, usable cards. The player pieces are subtly coloured in White, Pink, Brown, Orange and Purple and are used only for the VP score track.

The preamble informs us that Fate is determining the destiny and fortune of the four Noble Houses (Chalices, Pentacles, Wands and Swords) in an unnamed Medieval City. The players are to represent the different paths for Fate, moving the Court pieces according to cards or design.

ARCANUM can be played over 6 Turns for a shorter but still intriguing game, or 9 Turns for a longer game that holds your interest without seeming to simply extend the game by adding 3 additional Turns to it.

The main Tarot Deck is split into two separate decks, differentiated by the colour of their backs. The Yellow backed deck has 56 cards and contains the Minor Arcana characters whilst the smaller Green backed deck has the 22 Major Arcana cards. The game is controlled by how and when the players play each type of card.

The rules have been translated into English from the original Italian and in the main they are very good and easily understood. There are occasions where the words “Houses” and “Suit” are interchanged causing minor confusion on first read through as both identifications mean the same in the context of the game i.e. the Houses to which the Nobles belong. There are also a couple of occasions where Victory Points are noted as PVs but otherwise the translation and the clarity (and indeed the brevity) of the rules is sublime; most fitting for a game such as Arcanum.

At the beginning of the game the Court pieces are randomly assigned to the ten circled locations on the board, ensuring that no more than two pieces are in each location and that two of the same colours are not together. We have found nothing in the rules to say that during play (after setup) two or more pieces cannot be in the same location; nor is there anything about the colours of those pieces.

The Locations are numbered 1 through to 10 and either side of this printed number you will find various icons that relate to various aspects of the Tarot cards and/or the Court pieces by type and/or by colour. This is a very clever part of the game mechanic as when the pieces are moved into the Locations they immediately determine such things as the scoring of VPs, the collecting of cards to the player or players hands and the moving of the representative Court piece markers on the Prestige track.

The second very well thought out mechanic of the game is indeed the Prestige track. The four Noble Houses are represented on a race type track by four markers, one each in the colour of the Houses. For the first three Rounds of play these markers will be moved according to various means controlled by the players until the end of the third Round. At this point there is a scoring, with the House marker in front of the race being positioned at the top of the Victory Points score track and the other colours underneath in order of position on the Prestige Track. Then the players score points according to the cards they have collected during play – on each of their turns the players have to hide a card (a Minor Arcana – Yellow – card) by placing it face down slightly protruding under the board. During their turns it is possible for actions, often derived by the moving of Court pieces or the playing of Major Arcana cards, to allow players to hide more than one card in a turn.

Once this scoring has been completed and the player’s pieces moved on the score track that surrounds the board, the Prestige markers are replaced on the zero spot, all collected cards are shuffled back into their respective decks, and play then continues. This scoring also occurs at the end of the 6th Round, when the game may end if the short game had been chosen at the start of play, otherwise there will be three more Rounds with a final scoring after the 9th Round.

ARCANUM is one of those games that looks like many others and has pieces and a board that remind you of many other games. It is also one of those games that plays like no other game you have ever played, at least it is different enough from any other game I, or any of my regular gaming group players have played, to make it stand out from the crowd. It is worthy of a “Best Game” nomination from one (or more) of the major conventions or magazines (paper or online) that hand out such prestigious awards, at the very least.

 
The Circles on the board are the Locations. Clearly visible are the numbers and the icons

 

 
The board symbols/icons explained.       The players can cut out pieces to show others what colour they are.

 

  
The black headered cards are the Major Arcana cards. They are marked with Roman Numerals of which the descriptions can be found in the rules book - the cards are not self explanatory. The numbers on the Yellow cards depict the Location you have to move a Court piece (any piece) to, the colour of the card's header determine the colour of piece to be moved. Some cards have a symbol/icon depicting that a Royal piece (King, Queen or Knight) must be moved, though they too must be of the colour of the card. Pieces already in the selected Location are not eligible for moving back to it (i.e. you cannot just nominate a piece in the Location and activate it - pieces always HAVE to be moved).

Verdict: A compelling, super game, worthy of being in any boardgamer's collection.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015