Have you ever wondered what it would be like to discover and explore an unexplored island full of valuable ruins filled with rare and wonderful artifacts? Well now you can with Czech Games Edition’s latest game Lost Ruins of Arnak. In this game, each player leads a team of archaeologists, assistants and researchers to uncover and unravel the secrets of the uncharted island's newly found lost civilisation.
This is a medium-weight euro that combines a worker placement mechanic, as made popular by the likes of Agricola (Lookout Games/Z-Man Games), with deck building, which was first introduced by Dominion (Rio Grande). Lost Ruins of Arnak is not the first game to try to mash deck building with worker placement, but by combining and adapting familiar mechanics, designers Elwen and Mín have succeeded in creating a game that feels fresh yet is nonetheless easy to learn and teach.
One of the first thing you will notice after setting up the game is how gorgeous it is, with art by Jiri Kus, Ondrej Hridina, Jakub Politzer, Frantisek Sedlacek and Milan Vavron. Illustrations are beautiful and evocative, colours are vibrant, and the standard components make the game feel like a deluxified edition with stunning crystal, arrow and tablet tokens.
Multiuse cards are at the core of the game, and each one can be played as an instant action that provides an immediate reward, a main action or to provide movement points for worker placement and map exploration. The game round tracker and card display are made more interesting through the use of a staff token that moves along a track, altering the balance of Artifact and Item cards available. With each new round, the ratio of Artifacts to Items gets slowly inverted, starting the game with a single Artifact to four Items, which is reversed in the last round with four Artifacts to a single Item.
At the start of the round, each player draws five cards to his hand. This is not very different from most deck building games; however, increasingly designers try to tweak deck building to fix some of its limitations. In Lost Ruins of Arnak, the designers have introduced their own tweaks, including a rule here that you only reshuffle your discard pile at the end of each round and not when you need to draw a card. Other tweaks that make the game so interesting are, when you acquire new cards, they do not go into your discard pile as you might expect... Instead, if they are an Item, they go to the bottom of your deck. The thematic rationale for this is that the delay between acquiring the card and being able to use it represents the time it takes for equipment to reach you from the mainland. However, if it is an Artifact (native to the island) you can get a free activation before it goes into your play area, as if you had just found it.
During each round, players will alternately perform a main action. These can be playing a card, acquiring an Artifact or Item card, placing a worker and resolving the location effects, or exploring a new area in the board, revealing not only a new action space that will be available until the end of the game but also a guardian - a creature that protects these ancient sites and that we can overcome to gain their favour. The game also includes a research track with a very interesting approach: each player has two tokens that can be used to go up the track: a magnifying glass that makes the find/breakthrough and a journal that represents an in-depth research and exploration of the initial discovery. As you exchange different combinations of resources to climb up the track, you are rewarded with gold/compasses/draw cards/etc., hire/find additional assistants, race to bonus tiles and you can acquire even more victory points.
Lost Ruins of Arnak provides a good degree of variability, including a double-sided board for two different set ups as well as randomised assistant and guardians distribution. Variable player powers and more powerful/complex card actions might have been a welcome addition, tho' they'd have complicated the game... Perhaps CGE might consider introducing these in any sequel game or expansion tho', particularly as a way of increasing the game's appeal to more hardcore board gamers.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a really good game and we definitely recommend it. Tho' it sports a busy board with a lot going on, it's a very accessible game that can readily be played by casual players and families that want to have a good time with a game that provides a new and interesting challenge.
(Review by Rui Marques)