Dale Yu: First Impressions of Lost Ruins of Arnak

Lost Ruins of Arnak

  • Designers: Min and Elwen
  • Publisher: Czech Games Edition
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 30-120 minutes on box
  • Played with review prototype provided by CGE

Per the publisher – Lost Ruins of Arnak combines deck-building and worker placement in a game of exploration, resource management, and discovery. In addition to traditional deck-builder effects, cards can also be used to place workers, and new worker actions become available as players explore the island. Some of these actions require resources instead of workers, so building a solid resource base will be essential. You are limited to only one action per turn, so make your choice carefully… what action will benefit you most now? And what can you afford to do later… assuming someone else doesn’t take the action first!?”  I don’t know about you, but this one paragraph was enough to have me salivating at the chance to play it – so much so that I asked for a preview prototype in order to get the game here faster!

When I first started reading about the game, I realized that I didn’t recognize the designers… Well, a little bit of Internet sleuthing comes up with this – “Michal “Elwen” Štach is the co-author of Lost Ruins of Arnak, a 2020 release from Czech Games Edition. He and his wife Mín form a highly creative designer duo “Mín & Elwen” and both are long term friends and employees of Czech Games Edition.”

Before I go much further, I should make it clear that I’m playing on a pre-production prototype copy, and while I’ve been told this is close to the final product, just be aware that there may be differences in the pictures and descriptions here than the “real deal” – which should be released in a few weeks.

The fairly large board is placed in the center of the table.  There are four main areas on the board.  At the left, there is room for the cards and the turn track.  The row has room for six cards, and Artifact Cards and Item Cards will fill the slots.  In each round, Artifacts are placed to the left of the round marker and Items are placed to the right.  Thus, at the beginning of the game, the row is Item heavy, but in the final round, it will be Artifact heavy.  The center of the board has the Island which has twelve exploration sites that have idol tiles on them.  The Research Track is also in this area near the top of the board.  Finally, at the bottom is the Supply area.  The supply area holds all the site tiles as well as the five types of resources: gold coins, green compasses, yellow tablets, blue arrowheads and red jewels.  The supply area also has room for three piles of Assistants.

Each player also gets their personal board which has an area for their deck of cards (which starts out with 4 basic cards in their color and 2 Fear cards).  There is also room for your two archaeologists, your idols and the assistants that you will recruit.

The game is played over five rounds, each of which starts with the players drawing cards from their decks until they have a hand of 5 cards.  Then play goes around the table with each player taking exactly ONE main action per turn (and as many free actions as they want).  The main actions are:

  • Dig at a site – Find a site with an empty space for an archaeologist. Play cards from you hand with travel icons matching those needed by the empty space. (Note that you can always play higher valued travel types to move; planes are the best and can always be used while boots are the lowest level of travel icon.  You can also always pay two coins to generate a plane travel icon…)  Place your worker in the empty space and then use the effect of the site
  • Discover a new site – Pay the compass cost of an undiscovered site, and then pay the travel cost to move your archaeologist to a space on that site. Take the idol that is there and place it on your board.  (The idol can later be moved into an idol slot on your board to get a special bonus effect, but this will cost you victory points).  Then put a site tile for that type of space and immediately use the effect of the site tile.  Finally, add the top guardian tile to this site.  Guardian tiles don’t necessarily do anything, but any archaeologist who returns from a site with a Guardian tile must add a Fear card to their deck.

  • Overcome a Guardian – you must have an worker already at the site to overcome the Guardian by paying the cost at the bottom of the tile. Take the defeated Guardian tile and place it next to your player board. Each Guardian tile has a one-time boon effect which can be used at any point later in the game. After using it, flip the Guardian tile over.
  • Buy an item – choose an item card from the card row, pay its cost in coins, and then put it on the bottom of your deck. Refill the card row with another item card by sliding all cards into the center (towards the turn order stick) and placing the new card on the outside.

  • Buy an artifact – choose an Artifact card from the card row and pay its cost in compasses. Put it into your play area and immediately use its effect (ignoring its yellow tablet cost in the corner). Refill the card row with another artifact card
  • Play a card – either use a card for its travel ability or for its effect; if there is a cost associated with the effect, you must also pay that cost. Place all played cards to the right of your player board; they will accumulate over the course of the round.  (Note that some cards are free, they are denoted with a lightning bolt icon on them – when you play these cards, it does NOT count as your main action for the turn).  If the card ability is to exile a card, that exiled card is placed over near the decks of cards – that card is removed from your deck.
  • Research – You have two research tokens, a notebook and a magnifying glass. Both will travel up the research paths, though the notebook may NEVER be above your magnifying glass. Choose a valid token to move, and move it upwards along a path.  Pay the cost shown on the path you traverse. If you are the first person to land on a particular research space, take the bonus token and immediately gain its benefit.  Then, look to the side of the row you moved into and don’t forget to resolve the row’s effect – it will be different depending on which token you moved.  When your magnifying glass reaches the top row of the research track, you enter the Lost Temple of Arnak.  Your magnifying glass goes on the highest scoring space available.  From now on, you can take scoring tiles from the Lost Temple, assuming you can meet the costs to pick them up.  These tiles are worth 2V, 6VP and 11VP.  You might also gain assistants while researching, and these are tiles that are placed on your player board; they have special abilities that can generally be used once per round.

  • Pass – sit out for the rest of the round. You might do this because you have nothing else to do.  Alternatively, some effects require you to pass as the “cost” for their effect.

Play continues until all players have passed.  Then there is a bit of upkeep.  All players take their archaeologists back; if there is a guardian at their site, you must add a Fear card to your play area.  If you have hand cards left, you can choose to discard them to your play area or  save them in your hand for next round.  Then, gather all the cards in your play area, shuffle them, and then place them on the bottom of your deck.  Untap any assistants that you have used this turn.  Next, look at the card row, and exile the item and the artifact which is closest to the turn order stick.  Move the turn order stick one space to the right, and then refill the card row.  The starting player marker moves one space around the table.  Then, to start the next round, all players draw their hand up to 5 cards.

If this is the final round, the only upkeep that needs to be done is to retrieve your archaeologists and take any Fear cards that would come with them.  Then the game moves into the final scoring.  There are a lot of things to score, so it’s good that they have given you a handy score sheet to tabulate everything.  The scoring categories are:

  • Score both of your research tokens based on their final position
  • Score any temple tiles you were able to collect
  • Each idol collected scores 3VP AND any empty idol slots on your player board score
  • Each guardian tile you collected scores 5VP
  • Item and Artifact cards are worth the VP in the lower right corner
  • Fear cards are -1 VP. If you have a Fear token, it’s worth -2VP

The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player who reached the Lost Temple first.

My thoughts on the game

Wow. This was a great first game.  I wasn’t sure how well I was going to grok it from reading the rules and preparing my review, but wow – this game is good.   All the mechanics are tightly woven together, and though our game took close to 90 minutes, it was one of those games where it didn’t feel like we had played that long as we were so engaged with it.

At first glance, it seems like there are a LOT of choices to consider each turn.  And on second, third, and the 100th glance, that fact remains the same.  That being said, the individual choices are easy to parse and by the second or third round, they become second nature.   The big thing to remember is that you only have 2 archaeologists, so you have to choose where and when to use them wisely.  Mostly, they archaeologists either go exploring to try to find a monster to beat up OR they can go to a previously discovered site to get a lot more loot than is available at the tent sites near the bottom.  Resources are fairly hard to come by, so getting a nice supply near the start of the round is pretty helpful.

As we started, it definitely felt as if the research track was going to be way too long for anyone to progress all the way to the top.  I think this is because early on, there aren’t as many places to go to get large amounts of resources (without a multitude of explored sites on the board).  In later rounds, when there are many more places to get things, and ways to maybe even move your archaeologists so that they can be used more than once, you end up with more resources.  Also, once you start up the  track – if you gain assistants, they can provide you with resources once each round, and that’s a nice bonus too.  In the end, we had two players out of four make it to the top – though that seemed to be their main priority in their strategy.

Like in most worker placement games, there is a sense of racing to place your people first in order to get a more desirable reward.  This is heightened here because there is also a race to choose the best card or perhaps to move the quickest up the research track in order to get the bonus for getting to a space first.  Could this cause AP? Yeah, probably.  Luckily, our group doesn’t suffer much from that, and while there were definitely moments were players had to sit and think for a bit, we never had a time where things just ground to a halt.

You should note that the game is a table hog.  Here it is on my 8.5 ft table…

The board doesn’t take too much space, but each player needs space for their own camp and their cards – so you end up needing a lot of space.  I can’t imagine this online – with the size of the board and the number of things to track, this would hard to play on tabletopia?  That being said, it appears that a number of OG writers have tried it online and they did OK with it – so the issues might just be that I can not personally play things on Tabletopia…

We found in our first game – somewhat intentionally – that there are a number of different strategies that can be employed, and that bodes quite well for the overall replayability.  One player tried to max out his card acquisition; getting cheap cards when possible, buying cards (and getting actions) that either allowed him to buy more cards at a discount or allowing him to draw more cards from his deck each turn.  Each individual card has a small VP value, but they can add up when your deck gets to be 20+ cards.  Others went for a slim deck strategy and a concentration on the research track.  Getting all the way to the top of the research track gives you around 20VP, and then if you can get a treasure (up to 11VP), this definitely balances out the VPs from cards. Also, with a deck of 6 or 7 cards, you end up knowing what you’re going to get and can hopefully slim it down to only powerful cards.  Finally, a mixed strategy, with a whole bunch of monster butt kicking also is competitive – at 5VP per vanquished monster, that adds up pretty quickly as well.

One other thing that I like is tht there are two sides of the board, each a slightly different layout- this will also make games play differently.

Initial rating: I love it!

Mark Jackson also loves it.  It’s a must buy for him

So far my only regret is that I asked for an advance copy to be able to it this weekend. I really think this is a keeper, so having a finished copy would be better. Also, I’m worried that my cards now won’t make for the inevitable expansion or promo card that will be coming along because I think there is a good chance that this becomes an evergreen in that more complicated game space.

Until your next appointment

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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