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Lost Ruins of Arnak

Dig up sites, defeat monsters, and conduct research in this deck building, resource management, and worker placement mashup from husband and wife duo Elwen and Min. 

Gameplay

The object of Lost Ruins of Arnak is cut and dry: earn the most victory points and become a renowned archeologist who has uncovered the titular ruins with the most fanfare.

Each player begins with their own player board in one of four colors (green, blue, red, and yellow) as well as two corresponding workers, magnifying glass and journal tokens, and a deck of four cards (two gold and two compasses) as well as two fear cards. Each card in a player’s deck will offer them two options: a symbol in the top left (a boot, a wagon, a boat, or a plane) that allows them to place one of their workers on the board in corresponding spots, or an action or benefit. 

Players will shuffle their starting six cards and place them face-down on their individual player boards. These cards are crucial to interacting with the mammoth game board representing what’s left of Arnak. The game board has five campsite spots to begin with, allowing players the option of placing their workers at the cost of one or two boots to collect the shown resources (compasses, gold, arrowheads, red gem, and tablets). As the game progresses, players will be able to go to an unpopulated site and dig at the cost of three compasses (for level one sites) or six compasses (for level two sites) plus the corresponding symbol of the spot. These spots become new worker placement sites that players can visit during the game and collect the shown resources or benefits. These resources are necessary for multiple reasons, including advancing up the research track, buying and activating new cards from the marketplace for their decks, and defeating monsters. 

Once a site is discovered, a monster is unveiled and placed on the site. Players are able to still collect resources from the site, but the player on the site is unable to pay the resources and action costs to defeat the monster, at the end of the round they will gain a fear card. Not only do fear cards clog up one’s deck, each fear card will lose players one victory point at the end of the game. Defeating a monster will allow a player to collect it and use its bonus immediately (such as gaining a resource or benefit) or save it for later (such as spending its symbol to move a worker to a corresponding spot in lieu of using a card). Once a monster is used, it is turned over and players will collect its worth in victory points at the end of the game. 

Beyond its exploration, deck building is key to Lost Ruins of Arnak. As play advances and players collect more resources, they may spend one of their turns during a round buying new cards from the six available in the card row. At the beginning of the game, this area will house one artifact card and five item cards. After each round, one item card is discarded and replaced with an artifact card so that at the beginning of the last round, there are five artifact cards and only one item card. Once a player purchases a card (at the cost of gold or compasses), it will go to the bottom of their face-down stack on their player board. Item cards usually grant immediate benefits similar to each player’s starting cards, just with greater rewards. Artifact cards cost one tablet to activate, but provide unique strategies, different tactics, and awesome benefits that greatly change the game. 

To maximize one’s deck, one must utilize one or both tenets of deck building: creating draw or exiling cards to thin one’s deck. This is where actions such as exploring and collecting idol tiles (which allows players to draw or exile cards among offering other benefits) and researching has benefits. Researching is done by paying the associated cost with each tier of the track. Players have a magnifying glass as well as a journal. The magnifying glass must always be ahead or on the same tier as the journal, but each offers ascending points opportunities and different benefits. As players move up the track with their magnifying glass, they gain points for end-game scoring but also more compasses. By moving the journal, players will get the chance to gain assistants and upgrade them, which provide benefits players can use once per round, as well as end-game points. Being the first to reach certain spots on the research track will also give players additional benefits by collecting bonus tiles, which grant resources or actions such as exiling cards from one’s deck or drawing from their face-down pile. 

Players take turns completing one of the seven available actions during their turn, with bonus actions available via their player boards by using any gained idols from exploring to gain extra resources or to draw additional cards from their decks. After the end of each round, players will collect their workers (and any fear cards they gain from spots where they visited but the monster was not defeated), the card row will be updated to reflect the new round, and play will continue. At the end of the five rounds, players will add up victory points gained from the value of any purchased cards (minus remaining fear cards) in their deck, their token positions on the resource track, defeated monsters, and idols. The player with the most points wins!

Lost Ruins of Arnak components

Review

At first glance, Lost Ruins of Arnak may seem to have an intimidating presence and steep learning curve, but this is far from the truth. Lost Ruins of Arnak can be learned in 10-15 minutes and by the end of the first round, players will have a handle on the available actions they can take and their benefits. It helps that the rulebook is exquisitely written, easy to navigate, and lays everything out in plain language that is easy to follow and understand. 

Again, the barriers to entry in this game have been whittled down to whether someone wants to play a game like this or not. The good news is Lost Ruins of Arnak scratches similar itches for players who like games such as Clank! or Everdell. Everything is a means to gaining points and one strategy is not better than the next. It becomes a game of figuring out what cards, dig sites, and resources are available to you and figuring out when to best use them from turn-to-turn.

That does not mean Lost Ruins of Arnak is a solitary affair in the company of others. In games of 3-4 players, the initial campsites will allow only two players per site (in 1-2 player games, only one player can occupy these areas). As level one and level two sites are discovered, only one player may occupy those at a time. As rounds progress, a player who discovered a site in the first round and could not defeat the monster may find another player visits that site, not only to take its benefit but to defeat the monster and gain its benefit before the first player can return. As players race up the research track, they may be eying the bonus tiles available (or if players use the more advanced Snake Temple side of the board, assistants are available to rescue) to create combo actions or grab a necessary resource to help them elongate the round just a bit more. 

The item and artifact cards offer a lot of variety as well. The cards are explicit in what they produce or the benefit they provide, so players can figure out whether the cost is worth it. The strategy of having a deck that provides synergizing actions is great, but sometimes a deck that is bloated with a lot of immediate effects allows a player to swim in resource wealth and compete with a player who has turned their deck in a four or five card engine they can use every round. 

Though the box says games can take anywhere from 30-120 minutes, don’t let that alarm you. The game is easy to teach, easy to learn, and games with 3-4 players are usually done in an hour (unless players experience severe analysis paralysis). The game can run a bit long in the solo variant, because it allows players a little bit of time to think through turns more and outsmart a simple, yet effective A.I. deck, but again does not last more than 45-50 minutes.

Lost Ruins of Arnak is the type of game aimed at casual gamers who are Euro-curious. The game’s DNA borrows a lot from familiar deck builders (Dominion), worker placement (any), and resource management (Splendor) games. The theme and mechanics may not be new, but all the parts together in this package work to create a unique gaming experience. The rule set could not be simpler, the iconography is easy to decipher, and the rule book and player aids do most of the heavy lifting to make this a simple teach and play. 

Pro: Simple but solid combination of multiple mechanics, many paths to victory, good balance of player interaction-to-solo strategy, eye-catching art design

Con: The theme isn’t special, Analysis Paralysis will trip up some players