Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae
- Designer: Tom Lehmann
- Publisher: Sand Castle Games
- Players: 2-5
- Age: 12+
- Time: 20-40 mins
- Times played: 5, with preview copy provided by Asmodee NA
Res Arcana was, without a doubt, one of my favorite games of 2019. If I were king (or at least a jury member), it would have been my vote for Spiel des Jahres. As it was, it was my vote for the International Gamers Awards. My review on that was posted earlier last year, and you can review it here. In short, Res Arcana provides me with a quick game with constant twists/turns due to the interactions between the different cards. The game is quick playing, and it demands that players make the most of every turn as the race to the finish line is so fast.
I’ll switch up my usual format and give my thoughts at the top in this review. Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae is a wonderful addition to the base game. For the most part, it is more of the same as the game adds 4 new Places of Power, 12 artifacts, 4 mages, 4 monuments, 25 Essences (5 of each color) and 2 magic items to Res Arcana. That being said, there are a few new rules – this expansion extends the game to five players, adds scaling rules for fewer players, and introduces two new things: scrolls and demons. The game has been available in French for awhile, but it sounds like the EN version is just hitting the streets now, and I’m super excited to have a copy to start with.
The box is perfectly sized, roughly 9.5” x 5” x 1”. It’s nice and small (though it doesn’t stack well with really anything else…) but it is perfect for me because all the components to the base game AS WELL as the expansion fit snugly into this small box. I had already shrunk my base game into a photo case, but now that everything fits densely into the expansion box, the game has been transplanted into this box.
As with most expansions that I like, you can play with any or all of the components as you like – you can choose to randomly pick Mages, Places of Power, Monuments, etc – or you can specifically choose to use certain components as you wish. So, it just adds to the variety of your games, and if you want, you don’t have to learn any new rules at all – though I’ll explain the new twists below. The additions do not seem that great at first, but when you realize that 12 new cards = 30% more cards in the artifact deck, 2 new Places of power = 40% more, and 4 new mages = 40% more mages – you can easily see that there are plenty of new possibilities and combinations in the setup now.
The expansion has pretty much made one of my top games of 2019 even better. I don’t see any downside to it, and all of the changes are positive in my eyes.
Lux et Tenebrae is Latin for Light and Darkness – in the official publisher’s description: “In a dark cathedral, a mage harnesses the power of demons to enhance her spells. In an alchemical laboratory, a diviner inscribes a scroll of destruction. Meanwhile, a bard and beastmaster seek out the prismatic dragon and golden lion to keep these forces of darkness at bay.”
There are two changes in the overall architecture of the game with this expansion. First, the game can now play up to 5 players. I’ve tried it once, and it works OK – but the game starts to bog down a bit, and I think it would only be a last resort for me to play this with 5… though it’s nice to have it as an option if that’s the player count at a game night. The other change is a scaling setup. One of my only complaints with the base game was that the fixed number of monuments and Places of Power in the setup phase made the game play differently with different player counts. In general, there were too many opportunities to score points with 2 players (due to lack of competition) and things were maybe a wee too tight with 4 players. Now, the rules give a varying number of Monuments and Places of Power to set out based on the player count; thus making the game play similarly at each number. I am a huge proponent of the scaled setup as I had already thought of making a house rules with Places of Power in my 2p games with the base set…
So what about the new bits? Don’t worry about mixing them up, all of the expansion bits have a gold circle in the lower left corner so that you can easily find them.
There are 4 new Mages, 4 Monuments and 2 new double sided Places of Power. These really are just more of the same – well, each has their own special quirks. Of the mages, I’ll highlight the Demonist – this allows you to spend 1 Green to Retrieve any 1 card from your Discard pile (Retrieving is a new concept to the game). I have found this one to be super useful to quickly recycle cards that have been destroyed/discarded to trigger other card effects.
Of the new Places of Power, the Crystal Keep is the one most players have been focusing on. It has a massive cost, 20 resources total – 4 of each of the 5 colors – but it gives you 5 VP at base PLUS 1 VP for every 2 artifacts you have played. And, to top it off, it can trigger an automatic victory check! It does seem possibly unbalancing (seeing as the Coral Castle was the highest base VP PoP at 3VP), but the effort it takes to get the Crystal Keep is massive. You pretty much can only focus on this, and if you miss out on it, you’re probably in a bad position for any other strategy. When it comes out in setup, it’s one of those things that you either have to go for or just ignore. Heck, there are plenty of games where I don’t ever get 4 Gold total, much less getting the capacity to gain all the other colors…
And, for the Monuments, I like the Dark Cathedral which gives the owner a chance to react to any Victory Check and possibly add 1 VP to their own total. Having this ability in your pocket is a nice balance against things like the Crystal Keep!
There are also 2 new Magic Items. Inscription and Illusion. Illusion lets you make a temporary (fake) demon/creature/dragon. This can be useful to temporarily meet the needs of a certain card or Place of Power requirement. Inscription allows you to take a Scroll from the table and keep it next to you until you use it (and return the Scroll to the table). Scrolls are new to the game, and there are 8 total scrolls available. Revivify is the one I have used the most, and it allows you to Retrieve a card from your Discard pile. Projection has also had a lot of early play – this lets you convert any number of one Essence into Gold at a 3:1 ratio. Disjunction is another useful scroll which lets you convert a single Gold into one of each of the four base essences. This has come in handy more times that I thought it would.
I have found that having two more Magic Items available to choose from makes it nearly impossible to be shut out of a useful choice, though realistically, that rarely happened in the base game. But now, you often have multiple good options, and I think that this improves the game. Sure, there are still times when you are just trying to wait someone out to grab the Magic Item that they are forced to discard when they pass – but now, there are even more possible options. Furthermore, many of the scrolls have abilities which are related, but not the same, as the other Magic Items, and this gives you another possible way to get the type of Magic Item action that you want. The Scrolls also have the advantage that you can hold onto them until you use them, which allows you to keep the action you want in reserve until the right time, and not just hope that the right Magic Item is available on the turn that you want to use it.
As far as the new Artifact cards go, there is one new feature – 8 of the cards use the new Demon type – there are now Creatures, Dragons and Demons. Only 2 of the Demons attack other players, the rest simply have the Demon type and work with each other (and with some of the new Places of Power and Mages) as Creatures and Dragons did. Adding in this new class of cards does have a somewhat diluting effect as it is now harder to collect and concentrate cards of any one type; but it hasn’t noticeably slowed things down as there are other changes which speed things up.
Overall, the additions are pretty seamless, and anyone who is familiar with the base game should be able to pick up the new rules after only a few turns. I have found that the additions to the game give Res Arcana a bit more depth, and they have only improved the game experience. It’s rare for me to gush about an expansion, but this might be my second favorite expansion ever (after Prosperity for Dominion!).
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
“If I were king (or at least a jury member), it would have been my vote for Spiel des Jahres.” – really? Kennerspiel I can just about see, but this doesn’t feel at all like an SdJ game to me (and I love it!).
Martin, if Iwere king, I would vote for what I wanted. For me, this was the game of the year for me. So I would vote as such for it. (If I were king, the SdJ would also gear itself to slightly more complex games too).
Heh, fair enough! Though if you were a jury member, I’d hope you’d pay some attention to the criteria the prize is supposed to reward :)
Great review anyway – just had my first play with the expansion this week.
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Fantastic in-depth review for a fantastic game. The fact that even Rahdo in his 2020 preview said that this was what he considers to be objectively the best game to be released in 2019, despite it not working for him and Jen because of the attack cards speaks volumes.
What are your thoughts on why something like Res wouldn’t be eligible for the Kennerspiel when no more accessible, though far more humdrum, games like Wingspan make the cut?
Honestly, I was surprised that Res Arcana wasn’t named to the list, but maybe it just didn’t catch the eye of the jurors. With so many games out there now, it’s really hard sometimes to even get seen. I don’t presume to know what the jurors are looking for now; I still enjoy the game greatly whether it has a poeppel on the box or not. Wingspan is the game that worked best for them, and I’ve got no issues with their choice. I don’t like that game much, but I know others that do — and in the end, it’s their award, and they can choose whichever games they feel best meet their criteria!
Yes, it’s a shame, even the DSP ignored it, I assume that industry professionals and critics would be well-informed of bigger releases and designer pedigree, the only reason Res came up on my radar early last year was because of the coverage it was getting on OP and elsewhere, you’d think given that and the pedigree of the designer it would at least get a look-in for these awards.
Maybe the critics just don’t like fantasy themed games? Or perhaps it’s due to the ‘attack’ cards?
The good thing is the game has steadily been gaining traction if you go from recorded plays on BGG, and is bucking the typical trend of plays peaking within a month or two of release, which means it should have legs.
DSP isn’t an entity that ignores or notices games – DSP is awarded by the voting public. The game just wasn’t known widely enough, especially in Germany where I think most DSP voters still come from. It’s still eligible this year, so if the distribution is wider, it still has a chance to be awarded.
As for the Spiel des Jahres, was the German edition released early enough for SdJ? The English and French versions came out in February-March, which is somewhat pushing at the limits for SdJ eligibility as far as I know, so if the German edition was released any later, then it just didn’t have enough time to reach the jury. It’s still eligible this year, so who knows, maybe it makes an appearance now.
Res Arcana’s publisher, Sand Castle, is a brand new one, and this is the only game they’ve released. Maybe the SdJ jury wasn’t sure they could meet the demand that would follow an award win. Most likely, though, it just didn’t strike the jury’s fancy.
The game did get an IGA nomination. It’ll be interesting to see how it does with the upcoming 2019-based awards, such as the Golden Geeks, Dice Tower, and Meeples Choice awards.
Yes, fingers crossed it gets some recognition in this year’s awards.
That being said, it is doing much better than New Frontiers which has fallen off a cliff in terms of word of mouth, coverage or plays (despite being an excellent mid-weight game).
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