Lost Ruins of Arnak is one of the hottest games in 2021. It has just been nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres. When I first heard of it, the setting did not grab me at all. It seemed like a very typical run-of-the-mill Eurogame. I hadn’t intended to try it. However this game has been everywhere and getting a lot of good buzz. My curiosity overcame my resistance. I was still rather sceptical even after reading the rules. I had to sit down to play to understand what the fuss was all about.
In Lost Ruins or Arnak, you play archaeologists who have just discovered an island belonging to a long lost civilisation. Think Indiana Jones. You will explore the various sites on the island. Those which are further inland will require better transportation tools. You will also study the main temple on the island. The game uses both worker placement and deck-building. You only have two workers, and you don’t ever gain more. Workers are used for discovering new sites and collecting resources at sites. The deck-building improves what you can do in the game. The game is played over 5 rounds, and every round you get to draw 5 cards. Some actions require transportation tools, which are available on cards. Some cards provide basic resources like coins and compasses. Some cards provide special actions. Everyone takes turns performing actions during a game round, and the round ends when everyone is unable to perform any more actions (due to running out of cards and resources) or chooses to pass. You then shuffle all cards used in the current round to the bottom of your deck, then draw 5 cards in preparation for the next round.
The main game board is on the right, and one player board is on the left. Along the top of the main game board is the card purchase area. On the left half of the board you have the various sites to be visited for collecting resources and sites waiting to be discovered. At game start, the five beach sites are already discovered. On the right is the temple you will study. Everyone has two markers at the temple. You perform research to advance your markers. That’s done by simply spending the required resources. Every step you take gives you some benefit, e.g. collecting some other resources and gaining an assistant. The higher your markers go, the more points they will score for you at game end. Once you reach the top, you may spend resources to buy temple tiles, which are worth points.
This is the card buying area. There is a magic staff here which indicates the round number (it’s Round 3 now). Cards to its left are artefact cards, and to its right item cards. Since the magic staff keeps moving right, there will be more item cards in the early game, and more artefact cards in the late game. Artefacts are purchased with compasses, and items with coins. Artefacts may be used immediately upon purchase, for free, but in future you need to spend a tablet whenever you use them. Items are put at the bottom of your draw deck when purchased. Most likely you will draw them next round. They are free to use. Both artefacts and items have point values (bottom right of card).
Your player deck starts with only 6 cards. You will use it up quickly since you draw 5 cards at the start of every round. The basic currencies are coins and compasses. The lightning icon means free action. On your turn you may play those cards with lightning icons as many times as you wish, to take the corresponding resources, and these don’t count as the main action of your turn. There is one or more transportation icons at the top left of every card. You spend cards as transportation tools when you place your worker. The transportation cost depends on the location you are sending your worker to. There is a hierarchy of the transportation modes. Airplanes may replace any other form. Cars and ships may replace walking. If it’s a place you can walk to, you can drive there too.
To discover a site, you not only need to pay the transportation cost, you also need to pay many compasses. When you discover a site, you first claim a statue (worth 3 victory points) and the benefit printed on it. You then draw a site tile to be placed at the site, and you gain the benefit stated on it. You don’t know what you’ll get beforehand. Finally, you draw a guardian tile. Guardians are monsters which guard a site. If you are able to defeat a guardian, you earn points and gain a single-use power. Guardians don’t immediately hurt you. Only at the end of the round, if you are forced to leave a site without defeating its guardian, you will gain a fear card. Fear cards are weak cards which clog your deck and they cost you 1VP at game end if not removed. It is best to discover a new site early in a round, when you have more resources and thus are more likely to be able to defeat the guardian.
In the screenshot above, this guardian draw was a lucky one, because two of the three resources required to defeat it happened to be already provided by the site itself. The player only needed to have one compass to defeat it.
This is a site tile. This particular tile lets you draw a card and gain an arrow head.
You have two markers at the temple, a magnifying glass and a book. The book may never overtake the magnifying glass. Icons on the right tell you what benefit you gain whenever you move a marker to a particular row. They also tell you how many points the marker will score at game end. Some spaces here are seeded with bonuses, and only the first person to reach these spaces get to claim these bonuses. The victory points for reaching the top of the temple are different depending on the order of arrival. So despite no blocking at the temple, there is still a race element.
Some levels at the temple let you recruit assistants. Assistants are single-use-per-round abilities. If there is a particular assistant you fancy, you will have to race the others to get him or her.
Assistants who have been used in the current round are turned sideways. You reset them only at the end of the round. On the player board there are four hex spaces where you may place statues. Whenever a statue is placed, you get to claim some resources. However by doing this you will lose some points, as indicated on the hex spaces.
This Ostrich is an item card. If you use the card power, you draw a card and then place a worker at a discount of one car. However if you use the card as transportation, it is worth 2 cars (top left corner).
This Obsidian Earring is an artefact. On the left of the card you see a small tablet icon, which means you need to pay a tablet each time you use the card, except for the first use when you buy it.
This is a fear card. Everyone starts the game with two of them. During play, you may add more to your deck. Fear cards can only be used as boots / walking – the most basic mode of transportation. Some actions in the game let you remove cards from your deck. You should aim to remove most if not all fear cards from your deck.
You have many options throughout a round. Not all actions require cards. For some actions you only spend resources, like defeating guardians, studying the temple and buying cards. You only have two workers, and they are normally used for collecting resources at sites, or discovering new sites and collecting resources there. Sending workers out require transportation tools, i.e. cards. Playing some cards are a player turn action. Cards have a wide variety of abilities.
Your main ways of scoring points are studying the temple, and discovering sites plus defeating monsters. Your cards will be worth points too.
I played with Han and Allen on BoardGameArena.com. We tried both sides of the board. The advanced side is slightly more challenging, but there are only tiny rule additions.
You only have 5 rounds, and each round you only draw 5 cards. At first I felt there was not much I could do with this. I didn’t have many resources. The temple looked absolutely daunting. How the hell was I supposed to climb all the way to the top? Only as I played on that I realised my powers grew steadily and I could do more and more in each subsequent round. One reason is the cards I buy will let me do more and also more powerful things. Once more sites are opened up, we have better options for worker placement too. Gradually we abandon the beach sites in favour of the more attractive inland sites. In the screenshot above, we have discovered four inland sites.
In general, this is still a game about collecting resources and converting them to points, and that conversion is done mainly through climbing the temple and discovering sites (and defeating guardians). These are the two general paths. What is fun about the game is towards the late game, your options widen and you get to plan more and more elaborate sequences of actions. You will have more cards, more variety in powers and more resources. It is an interesting puzzle to solve, how to order your actions and where to compete to get the most points.
In this game, I (green) realised trying to move both temple markers was difficult, and decided to abandon my book marker. I focused on getting my magnifying glass to the top, which I eventually did. I managed to accumulate enough resources to buy a large temple tile too.
Temple tiles come in 3 sizes, with the bigger ones costing more resources. The large tile is worth 11VP, which is a lot. The others are 6VP and 2VP.
Deck-building plays a big role in the game. You won’t have a huge deck, and you won’t shuffle many times, likely just once per round. The deck starts with 6 cards and you draw 5 every round. Throughout a game you’ll probably buy 6 to 10 cards. You will remove cards too, so your deck will not grow very big. New item cards purchased go to the bottom of your deck. This is before any of the cards drawn and used in the current round get shuffled and returned to the bottom of your deck. So most likely by the next round you will draw that new item card. You may even draw it in the current round if you have some draw card powers. Buying an item is basically planning your next round. Artefact cards can already be used upon purchase. They are then shuffled to the bottom of your deck together with all other used cards at the end of the round. If your deck is thin, which is likely the case, you may draw the same artefact card again next round. This is what’s different about the deck-building in Lost Ruins of Arnak – instant gratification! You will get to use your new cards pretty soon. In most other deck-builders, it takes some time for you to draw your new cards.
This was near game end. We had discovered six sites, two in the deepest part of the island, and four in the middle. Discovering the most distant sites cost 6 compasses, while the middle sites cost 3.
This is the other game board. The main difference is some assistants are placed in the middle of the temple. When your magnifying glass marker reaches this spot, you get to recruit one of these assistants. The costs of moving up the temple are higher compared to the basic board.
The magic staff is at the 5th position now, which means this is the fifth and final round.
This was one very handy artefact, which could be used to defeat a guardian. This helped me tremendously. In this particular game I defeated four guardians. That’s a whopping 20VP! This game I wanted to work more on discovering sites and fighting guardians, since the temple research cost was high. This artefact aligned well with my strategy.
I love this item card. I can use this to buy artefacts at a discount of 3 compasses. Although both compasses and coins are basic currencies, I find that compasses are of a higher value than coins. Saving 3 compasses is a lot! I can’t imagine using this item card for its transportation value (1 ship, at the top left corner).
Recently I find myself quite tired of resource conversion games. Many popular games and many heavy Eurogames use such a mechanism – collect resources then convert them to points. Lost Ruins of Arnak is certainly such a game. Even after reading the rules, I was doubtful that I would enjoy it. Now that I have played it, it was better than I expected. It doesn’t offer anything particularly new. The magic staff is clever but it’s just a novelty and not a crucial part of the game. What’s most enjoyable about the game is its deck-building formula. You get to enjoy your newly purchased cards very soon. You don’t shuffle you deck many times. The fun of deck-builders is condensed. The tedium of deck-builders is removed, leaving you with a strong unfiltered dose. When I played A Few Acres of Snow, I greatly admired how the tedium of the deck-building simulated the difficulty of running a colonial war. Newly purchased cards take time to come up. It is hard to get the right combination of cards to do something efficiently. You are at mercy of the luck of the draw. I enjoy the hardships there. However, in Lost Ruins of Arnak, which does things in a completely opposite way, I find that I enjoy the quick satisfaction too. The key concept here is instant gratification.
Lost Ruins of Arnak presses all the right buttons for gamers who like development games. You become more and more powerful. Your progress at the temple accelerates towards a climax. It all feels a little formulaic, but I must admit it works, and that’s probably what matters most. I enjoyed the process.
In the second half of the game, as you gradually build up your abilities, you find many tools at your disposal. You have many ways to slice the fish. You have your cards, your assistants, better sites, the one-shot powers of defeated guardians, and also statues to activate those spots on your player board. There are many possibilities and different sequences to consider to maximise your score. In the end it’s still about scoring points, but when you have so many colour pencils to fill in your colouring book, you can’t help feeling like a talented artist. That’s basically how I felt when playing Lost Ruins of Arnak.