One of our local board game gurus, Justin Dowd, gives us his take on Res Arcana!
Hey there Everyone!
Bubba here interjecting a little before we get started with Justin's review. While I expect that most reviews will be either by me, Seth, or our new employee Katie, every now and again we're going to have guest reviews like this! If you're interested in writing one, shoot us a message!
And now, without further undue ado, here's Justin!
Res Arcana (8/10) – Designer: Tom Lehmann, Publisher: Sand Castle Games
Consider this if you like Race (or Roll) for the Galaxy, Wingspan, or any engine builder
Have you ever wanted to be a morally agnostic mage? Seeking more power than your competitors, drawing energy from strange totems and helpful trinkets to summon powerful allies and dangerous beasts? Well, in Res Arcana, you absolutely can! And it is good. Oh, sweet potatoes, is it good.
Designer Tom Lehmann is probably best known for the classic and notoriously obtuse ‘Race For The Galaxy.’ Like Race, Res Arcana is a tableau builder where the cards you play become a strange, bubbling engine of near limitless power. Whoever figures out how best to use what they’ve created will outmatch their opponents and win, earning the title of ‘Pretty Cool Wizard’ (not canon). Thankfully, Res Arcana is almost deceptively simple to learn and play.
Winning is easy! 10 points is all you need to declare yourself the Best. Mage. Ever! Of course, that feels like a steep hill to climb when all you start with is a mage full of ambition, one each of five essences and a meagre deck of 8 Artifacts; the only ones you’ll ever see.
In the center of the table you’ll find resources (included in a lovely removable container that I wish more bit-heavy games offered), a deck of monuments, 5 Places of Power and 8 magic items you’ll hopefully grab at exactly the right moment.
Early on, Places of Power appear to be the easiest path to victory. Each offers an opportunity to convert hard earned essence directly into victory points and gives players something to work toward. Not to mention a big, very useful toy to play with for the rest of the game.
Monuments can only be purchased with gold and are always worth victory points. Some also offer a new ability to add to your already rollicking engine.
Each round, players will gain resources, then perform one action per player until everyone has passed. When passing, players get to swap out their magical item and draw a single card from their deck. Also, the first player to pass is the start player on the next round.
Oh, that start player token is also worth a point, which can be a BIG DEAL.
Cards cost essence and players only have two ways to get them. Artifacts in your tableau may produce them or you can discard one of your precious few cards to either gain 2 basic essence or 1 gold.
On your turn you can play an artifact, claim a place of power, purchase a monument, or use the powers in your tableau. Especially in the early game, turns whip around the table. More than once, I looked up from my cards to see the other players patiently waiting for me to realize it was my turn and perhaps I should get to it. Later in the game, things tend to slow a bit, but never enough where it started to drag.
The true joy of this game is the utterly absurd combos for players to discover. And hoo boy can they be powerful. I’ve seen players create engines for near-infinite gold, to score 5 or 6 victory points in a round (did I mention 10 is the goal) or generate enough essence to play every single card in their deck. And yes, in some games one player will find the perfect combo and run away with it. Thankfully, once one of these combos begins paying out, the game will likely be over in a round or two. Most of the time, though, each player is building something different but equally impressive.
A few creatures (yes, a creature can be an artifact…) can attack other players, however this is typically an annoyance that might slow you down but won’t entirely derail a strategy. Still, it is worth considering if you’re not a fan of games with any direct aggression.
The Artifact cards still feel fresh even after multiple plays thanks to the 8-card deck limitation. I certainly haven’t run out of new ideas in the base game, but I’m happy to say that when I do there’s already one expansion, Lux et Tenebrae, with more already announced.
My learning game took me about an hour to play after teaching. Seasoned players won’t need more than 40 minutes. I highly recommend the draft variant once everyone at the table understands the basics. This gives players more control over their starting deck and a basic idea of what everyone else is working with.
The art and graphic design are a huge step up from Lehmann’s earlier ‘Race.’ Symbols are reasonably intuitive, and the game comes with player aids that clearly explain each effect. The art, while never stunning, is evocative. In one game, I knew my mage had probably crossed a line when they used the Fountain of Youth to create life, only to feed it directly into a pentagram smudged flaming pit for a little bit of fire and death. It was utterly delicious.
This is easily one of my favorite games of 2020. There are tons of combos for your mages to discover, your engine bears fruit quickly, and games are just the right length. Res Arcana is most definitely worth your time."
Thanks, Justin!! What a great review, I say as someone who totally read this!
Catch you on the flip, zip!