Lost Ruins of Arnak (Czech Games Edition) got released late in 2020 together with Dune: Imperium (Dire Wolf) and both managed to cause some turmoil in the board game community by the clever yet distinct way they mixed deck building and worker placement mechanics. Move forward to late 2021 Essen Spiel when CGE released Expedition Leaders, the first major expansion to the game that adds variable starting player powers, additional temple tracks, more item and artifact cards, sites, guardians, assistants and a new staff variant. Like the base game, it's designed by Michal 'Elwen' Stach and Michaela 'Min' Stachova and it expands on the base game rules with a few new generally simple-to-understand icons, while not deviating too much from the base game and keeping the rules overhead quite low and easy to pick up even for new players.
Component quality matches the original game; although without any distinct piece such as the rubies, arrows or tablets from the base game. Art is by Jiri Kus, Ondrej Hrdina, Jakub Politizer, Frantisek Sedlacek and Milan Vavron. The new item and artifact cards, sites, guardians and assistants add more variability and help incorporate the new iconography into the game.
Additional cards in a deck building game are almost always a good thing and in this case they add just enough for both experienced and new players with new combos’ abilities to be explored. The new temple tracks provide greater variability to the game: the Monkey and Lizard temple tracks respectively use an artifact and a guardian at their core, creating different experiences and challenges not in the base game as players race through them.
A new red staff variant increases card cycling at the end of each round by doubling the number of cards removed. This works great and is worth considering as the standard set up. One potential criticism might be the fact that instead of new double board, the new temple tracks only cover the temple track in the base game board. It works but a full new board might also have added new variable exploration movement costs.
Although the new temple tracks make a great addition to the expansion, it's the variable starting powers in the form of Expedition Leaders that really make this expansion essential for experienced players who want a greater challenge...
When playing with Expedition Leaders, players' initial set up can move away from the standard two archaeologists, reducing the scripted feel that the base game's initial moves tended to have. Players now have six Expedition Leader characters to choose from, each with different abilities. The expansion introduces players to the Captain, who has an extra archaeologist; the Falconer, whose Eagle can get her additional bonuses and rewards; the Baroness, who can buy item cards straight into her hand instead of the bottom of the deck; the Professor, with his own private artifacts archive to buy from; the Explorer, with a single archaeologist that uses snack tokens to move around the board; and the Mystic, who discards fear cards from a personal pile to perform powerful rituals...
If you were on the fence with Lost Ruins of Arnak or didn't particularly enjoy your plays of it, then move on; this expansion builds on the base game in the way good expansions do, by building on the game mechanisms instead of transforming it into a different game. If you didn't like the base game then it's highly unlikely that this expansion will change your mind. However, if you're one of the legion of fans of Lost Ruins of Arnak and enjoy variable player powers, then what are you waiting for? Go get the Expedition Leaders expansion now!
(Review by Rui Marques)