Lost Ruins of Arnak ★★★

Lost Ruins of Arnak combines several popular mechanisms into one game. It has a bit of deckbuilding, like Dominion, a bit of worker placement, like Stone Age, and has a scoring track like a variety of other eurogames. It’s a well-made design, even if it cannot shake off the limitations that define it.

COMBINATION

In Lost Ruins of Arnak we take the roles of fantasy archeologists, starting from a base camp in the namesake site. Like all researchers, our ultimate goal is to explore and then put our work into papers, hereby obtaining victory points and also allowing us to gain additional supplies for our expedition.

At the beginning of each round we draw a handful of cards, which we can use to gain funding, exploration tokens or move our workers to the board to bring in additional resources. We can purchase equipment and ancient artifacts, which are then placed in either our deck or discard pile for use in future rounds.

The base camp sites aren’t the best. Sending our workers deeper into the jungle opens better spots in exchange for tokens. This also allows us to find idols, which are host to a handful of minor benefits. Lastly, we get to fight a monster, earning us points if defeated and a junk “Fear” card if not.

Above all, we must publish or perish. Gathering resources to climb on the Research track is the utmost concern. If we don’t get to the top, it’s impossible to win. It’s how we get assistants, points and a comfy tenure. Mechanically, it’s a resource sink. It rewards us for investing our gains on it.

What I like about Lost Ruins of Arnak is its tension. We always seem to have one less resource than we need. Furthermore our pool of actions is limited. With only two archeologists to get resources and a bunch of inefficient cards in our hand, we have to jump through all possible hoops if we want to get ahead.

We cannot afford to waste actions because the game is on an exponential curve. Explored locations are significantly better than the four starting camps and the monsters we find in them are also a large source of points. The pressure to keep pushing forward at all times is exciting and helps keep the game focused.

Many games try their hand at this kind of play. In fact, having more things to do than resources to do them seems to be the defining feature of most modern eurogames. Arnak is smart enough to allow for only a couple ways to score and even then, giving you points for every card is a way to many.

REPETITION

On the third play of Lost Ruins of Arnak I got a sinking feeling. While the match had been fun, I felt the game had already given me all it had. Once you figure out the importance of exploring and researching as much as possible, there are not a lot of venues to explore. It became a bit repetitive, despite the scarce resources.

It’s not that it doesn’t have enough “content”. Sure, there could be more cards or monsters, but it’s not the heart of the issue. The game becomes repetitive because most actions are equivalent to each other. Cards that give you resource A play the same as those that give you resource B.

I found that, when I had tablets I went for arrowheads and when I had arrow heads I went for tablets. Strategically, all resources are replaceable. Only slight inefficiencies make one option more appealing over the other. And there are enough small actions to smooth over the differences.

Compare this to, say, Dominion where money, cards, purchases and actions all work on a different axis and can’t be easily replaced by another resource. On the bright side, it’s also why I’m not bothered by the randomness of the exploration tiles. Sure, they may produce a more convenient result but you’ll eventually obtain and use those resources.

The randomness of the deckbuilding aspect, however, does bother me a bit. Decks are very small, starting at just six cards. This means it’s possible to draw the flashy cards we bought or be stuck with the initial crummy options. This is especially noticeable with the artifact cards. They require a tablet to be used, so it’s easy to have them stuck in your hand.

Arnak takes steps to reduce this randomness. It puts your purchases directly into your deck so you are assured to draw them next turn, but it’s not enough. Later on, the difference between drawing your good cards or your original filler is quite noticeable. Given the exponential curve, you can just lose to a bad draw.

INSPIRATION

Lost Ruins of Arnak has been positioned as a family game, which I find optimistic. Like Wingspan, it’s more of a gamer’s idea of what a family game looks like than the real thing. By any means, it’s not a difficult title. But it’s still three different games put together. If it meets the bar of family friendliness, most games would.

Arnak‘s bright colours and custom components make it pleasing, though the illustrations do not communicate any particular message. The developers were smart enough to replace traditional tomb raiding with research but, at the end of the day, it’s still a combination of Indiana Jones, King Solomon’s Mines and The Lost World.

It’s not important, though. Arnak’s setting is not reflected in play. We simply take resources and then spend them. Ultimately, its biggest flaw is that it takes inspiration from three different genres yet never matches the heights reached by the games it took inspiration from. It’s pleasing, fun, but rarely outstanding.

That’s both Arnak‘s greatest achievement and its greatest problem. It’s good, certainly, but it’s neither the best nor the most unique offering in the market. As a crowd pleaser, I’ll gladly join in for a play, but I won’t seek it if left to my own devices. In the end, it’s a good game, no less, no more.

LOST RUINS OF ARNAK (2020)
DESIGN Elwen
Mín
ART Jiří Kůs
Ondřej Hrdina Jakub Politzer
František Sedláček
Milan Vavroň
PUBLISHER Czech Games Edition LENGTH 90 minutes
NUMBER OF PLAYERS 1-4 (Best with any number) SCORE ★★★

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