Reviewed by Herb Levy
LOST RUINS OF ARNAK (Czech Games Edition, 1 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 30 minutes per player; $59.95)
Ever since Indiana Jones hit the big screen, exploring lost and unknown archeological ruins has become a thrilling theme for all sorts of creative outlets – including games! In this new release designed by Mín and Elwen, players are intrepid explorers leading expeditions to seek out the treasures to be found among the Lost Ruins of Arnak.
The center of the game’s main board shows sites to be explored divided into 3 areas: 5 easily accessible, 8 Level I and 4 Level II. Above this is the card display where Artifacts and Items can be gotten, below room for resources (gold, compasses, tablets, arrowheads and jewels) and, to the right, a research track (a virtual “ladder” to climb through research) charting your progress to reach the innermost secrets of the lost temple.
Players begin with their own player board, two explorers and 2 research tokens (a magnifying glass and a journal) in their chosen color. Explorers begin on their player board; research tokens at the bottom of the “ladder”. Players will also have a few starting resources of gold and/or compasses depending on turn order. All players receive a starting hand of 2 “funding” cards (showing a gold and a travel icon), 2 “exploration” cards (showing a compass and a travel icon) and 2 Fear cards (which has a “Boot” travel icon). These cards are shuffled to create a player’s deck. The game consists of five rounds and, at the start of a round, five cards are drawn as a starting hand.
Each turn in a round allows a player to take ONE main action. But a “lightning bolt” on a card indicates a free, bonus, action and there is no limit to how many of those you can take on a turn. Among the main actions:
- Dig at a Site – All sites have an associated travel cost. (From a Boot needed for the easily accessible sites to multiple travel icons for those at the highest level). Once the travel cost is paid (discarding the appropriate card or cards), a player may move one of his/her archeologists to the site and resolve its effect which can be anything from getting one or more of the game’s resources to getting or “exiling” (i.e. trashing) a card.
- Discover a New Site – This operates like the Dig A Site action but, because this site is “undiscovered”, a price (in compass tokens) must be paid (3 for Level I, 6 for Level II) for its reveal. Being the first to discover a site is rewarding: a player can collect 1 or 2 idol tokens! Idol tokens grant an extra resource or ability and are worth 3 VPs each in final scoring. Discovering a site leads to…
- Overcome a Guardian – Strange, mysterious, creatures guard the island’s ruins. After a new site is revealed (and rewards taken), a Guardian tile is also revealed. On a subsequent turn, the Guardian may be defeated by the player there by paying the stipulated resources the Guardian demands. (In true Euro fashion, there is NO actual combat!) If a player can pay, the Guardian tile is collected and its bonus applied (a travel boost, trashing a card or additional resources). If not, a Fear card is given to the player. At the end of the game, each Guardian in your holdings is worth 5 Victory Points.
- Buy A Card – The card display has room for Artifacts and Items, separated by a “moon staff”. While all are worth 1 to 3 Victory Points at the end of the game, Artifacts cost compass tokens while Items require gold. Each works slightly differently. When an Artifact is purchased, its effect is used immediately. At the end of the round, the Artifact gets shuffled along with other played cards which go to the bottom of that player’s deck. Whenever that card appears again, payment of a tablet token is required to activate the card’s effect again. Items bought immediately go to the bottom of the player’s deck, ready to be drawn into a player’s hand and used without further cost the next round or when drawn via a bonus action.
- Play a Card – Use a card from your hand for either its travel ability OR its action.
- Research – Going up the ladder is beneficial in many ways and each space up requires a certain assortment of resources. Tokens of multiple players may share spaces with no ill effect but a player’s journal may NOT move ahead of her/his magnifying glass (although they MAY share a space). Bonus tiles await for those arriving at a rung first. Final position on the track is also worth VPs at end game scoring (more VPs the higher you go) including the ability to exchange resources for temple tiles. Upward movement also grants bonuses including more resources as well as “assistants”. There are three stacks of face up and available assistant tiles. Players choose one of them and add it to their board. These tiles, for the most part, are one use per round and will help you get more resources, buy cards at a discount, move to sites at a discount and more! As you travel up the ladder, you will be able to flip the assistants from their silver to gold side to upgrade their benefits.
- Pass – Once you have used all the cards you have or decide you are done with your actions, you may simply pass. The round ends when everyone does so. At that point, players’ archeologists are returned to each player and cards played this round are gathered up, shuffled and returned to the bottom of each player’s deck with five drawn in preparation for the next round. Cards on the display are removed, one on each side of the moon staff and the moon staff shifts one slot over to the right, tracking the round. Artifact cards fill in the gap. After five rounds, the game is over and we score.
Players receive points for their position on the research ladder, any temple tiles accumulated, defeated Guardians, for idols and the point values of cards in their decks. (1 VP is lost for each Fear card held.) The player with the highest VP total has the most successful expedition and wins the game!
Lost Ruins of Arnak is very thematic as you become immersed in exploration. It is fun to reveal new sites – and then see which Guardian appears to cause you pain. Although ending up with another Fear card is not a good thing, the risk of its 1 point penalty should not discourage anyone exploring. A bigger concern is the impact Fear has on your deck-building! In this game, you will never be able to grow a very large deck. This means “good” cards you acquire will come up more frequently. On the other hand, with a small deck, Fear cards can clog up the works, leaving it more difficult to quickly recycle “good” cards you so painstakingly bought. (It is possible to trigger effects to allow you to “exile” a card so Fear cards may not remain in your deck forever.)
Both Artifacts and Items have dual uses: each comes with travel icons (on top) and an action (at the bottom). You need travel icons (airplanes, automobiles, ships and boots) to travel to various locations on the board. But card actions are so useful that it’s hard to resist activating them. You can do either but you can’t do both! (Fortunately, you do have a little “wiggle room”. If desperate for a needed travel icon, you can “hire a pilot” for 2 gold, the equivalent of an airplane travel icon, the most useful of them all.)
Aside from their intrinsic 3 VP value, players may place an idol in one of four slots on their player boards, using it to gain needed resources or even draw another card! (Another bonus action!) But this comes with a cost. Each slot is worth VPs in ascending order (1, 2, 3 and 4). Unused slots are worth that number of VPs at the end of the game, adding as much as 10 VPs to your final score! Covering up a slot means you do NOT collect its VPs! Another example of the risk/reward evaluation that players need to make in this game.
VPs come from a variety of places – defeated Guardians, cards in your deck, idols gathered – but you cannot neglect climbing the research ladder as each rung gives you points (and you have two tokens making the climb). Reaching the top can be worth as much as 23 points (a very considerable sum in this game) and leave you poised to pick up temple tiles (in exchange for resources) worth an additional 2, 6 and 11 points! For more of a challenge, the other side of the board (the “snake” side) is slightly different in the layout of the research ladder, providing for the rescue of an assistant (from a previous “failed” expedition) and the necessity of sacrificing idols in order to make your way up the track!
Production values for the game are high with very attractive artwork. It also helps that the rulebook is nicely laid out and easy to follow, making the learning curve easy. Lots of icons are used which may at first seem daunting but they all make sense and the rulebook has a nice page devoted to deciphering them along with a useful play aid. Set up can take a little time, particularly with the shuffling and placement of idol and bonus tiles, but nothing outrageous. Turns vary in length, depending on how many bonus “lightning bolt” actions you choose to do on a turn, but down time between turns is generally minimal. Although the game plays well with 2, 3 or 4, a solo mode is provided for times when a likely opponent is not to be found.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a wonderfully engaging game of exploration tied to a bit of deck-building and worker placement. Adventure awaits and decisions abound throughout. Searching for a first class quality game with some surprises to uncover? In Lost Ruins of Arnak, you have found it! – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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