Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 14 March 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Res Arcana

Game: Res Arcana

Publisher: Sandcastle Games

Designer:  Tom Lehmann

Year: 2019

Tom Lehmann is probably most well known as the designer of Race for the Galaxy, which is definitely one of the classic engine building games in our hobby. We are among many fans of the game, in spite of the standard complaint about overwhelming symbology.

Res Arcana is also an engine building game, but this time with a fantasy setting. It's also coming from Sandcastle Games who are a first time publisher. Each player plays as a different mage, using  Life, Death, Elan, Calm, and Gold to fuel the art of magic. The game is a race to gain points by conquering places of power and summoning dragons and mystical creatures.

In Res Arcana, each player will play with one Mage and a deck of eight Artifact cards. Starting with a hand of 3 cards, you will aim to buy the cards in your hand in order to build an efficient engine that allows you to be the first to achieve ten points. At the start of your turn, you will collect the Essences (wooden tokens) indicated by your Mage, played Arifact cards, and the Magic Item you've selected for the round. You can then spend these essences to play more cards, buy 'Places of Power' or if you have gold you can purchase Monuments. Most Artifacts have abilities that convert or store Essences, whilst others are worth points or can attack and opponent. All Monuments are worth points, but most also have a power. The Places of Power typically have the potential for the most points, but they cost a lot of Essence and you'll need to meet other objectives to start earning lots of points.

Like most engine builders, Res Arcana is all about combos and combos are just inherently fun. I've really enjoyed that the game isn't just about your combos, but it's also about focusing on a strategy and there are plenty to explore in Res Arcana. Every game with two-players has ended with a really tight score and I've used a Monument focused strategy, a Gold-focused Places of Power strategy and a Creature and Dragon Strategy. All of those decisions have been driven by the variable setup with lots of Artifact cards, double sided Places of Power and a large deck of Monuments.

As you might expect, the game takes a while to get going because you are building up your engine. The essences are very tight in the early game and your choices are pretty critical on whether to spend all of your resources on playing Artifacts or to save and convert them into other things. Once you have a number of cards in your tableau, you really start to get your engine working, which can happen at different points for different players. I've found that it can be a little demoralising if your engine is the last to kick in, but somehow, by the end of the game, it's always felt like a very close game.

In our first three games of Res Arcana, we slowly increased the complexity. Starting with the suggested starting mages and cards, then moving on to randomly dealt cards with a choice of mages and finally, drafting the cards. Personally I was happiest at stage two of this process. Whilst I'm sure that the drafting variant is designed with experienced gamers in mind, it was too high pressure for me and felt like a Magic the Gathering style deck-building which I never enjoy. I'm not a fan of having to identify all of my combos upfront, I'd rather play tactically with the cards I was given, even if perhaps that's not so fair and results in an engine that is less impressive. Nevertheless, it's nice to see all of the options in the rules.

I'm not sure that Res Arcana does anything revolutionary, but it's exactly the kind of clean engine builder that I enjoy. The barrier to entry is much lower than in Race for the Galaxy. The symbology is super clear and there is a player aid should you need it, but we didn't find it necessary after 2 or 3 games. The two-player game only lasts 20-30 minutes, which does give you enough time to build and execute a really lean engine, unlike other engine builders that might last longer and still feeling like you never used the engine you created. 

I've explored three different strategies already in the game and I'm not sure there is a whole lot more to explore, but I'm honestly not too worried. For me, such a great 30 minute game doesn't need a ton of variety to keep me coming back. Games will play out differently simply due to card draw. The double sided Places of Power have many similarities, but give be 10 potential routes to explore. I love the game and I'd be more than happy to see more content to fill out the box, but I don't think I'm as in need for the additional content as a few other reviewers I've heard from. For an engine building fan, I have Res Arcana at the short end of the spectrum and Terraforming Mars at the long end, and I don't really need a lot more. We've got Underwater Cities and Wingspan still to play, but the bar is very, very high. For the Yellow Meeple, Res Arcana is an 8/10.

Res Arcana was a preview copy provided by Asmodee UK.

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