Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Board Game Bakes

Something a little different from what I usually post - a video on making Settlers of Catan cookies from Danielle Schneider of Board Game Bakes Youtube channel. Check it out if you're into both boardgames and baking.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

I am a fan of the Mystery Rummy series. I have in my collection Jack the Ripper (my favourite), Jekyll and Hyde, Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld and Bonnie and Clyde. I have played Wyatt Earp before, but didn't particularly fancy it, so I didn't buy a copy. Murders in the Rue Morgue is rated lower than its siblings, and has been out-of-print for long periods. I recently discovered that Jeff stocks it (Boardgamecafe.net), and I couldn't resist getting a copy to see what it's like.

Murders in the Rue Morgue is based on a detective story by Edgar Allen Poe. A word of warning - major spoiler ahead if you have not read the story before. Like the rest of the series, the game has many rummy-like mechanisms. At the start of a hand, you are dealt a hand of cards, and your goal is to play them all - to go out. Whenever one player goes out, everyone scores points based on cards played, and also loses points for cards still in hand (except for the person who went out, of course). You usually play a few hands, until someone reaches 100pts. The game ends then, and highest scorer wins. On a player turn, you must draw one card, either from the draw deck or the discard pile. Then you may play cards from your hand. At the end of your turn, you must discard one card. Regular cards, called evidence cards, must be played in melds of at least 3 cards. If there is already a meld in play, you may layoff, i.e. play single evidence cards matching the meld. The other type of card is the gavel cards. You may play only one gavel card per turn. Usually they have some special power. Some can only be played under certain conditions.

This summarises the common features across the series. Each game also has some unique aspects.

In Murders in the Rue Morgue, some evidence cards have diamond icons in the lower left corner. This means they have a combo colour. E.g. dark blue and light blue are a combo pair. If you manage to play both melds, you score a 10pt bonus.

A 2-player game in progress.

This orangutan card is the most unique aspect of the game. At the start of a hand, everyone secretly picks a card to put under this orangutan card. This is called feeding the orangutan. During play, whenever you play a meld, you must feed the orangutan again. You feed it either the top card of the discard pile, or the top card of the draw deck. You get to see the top card of the draw deck before you decide which card to feed to the orangutan. If you are the one to go out, you get to claim all cards under the orangutan, and they may score you even more points. Cards that can be played will score (e.g. cards which have a meld in play), and those which can't are simply discarded.

Brilliant Deduction cards (one the right) can only be played when melds of both their colours are already in play. So it is not easy to play them. Each is worth 7pts, which is tempting, but is also a stiff penalty if you are stuck with it. It is a gavel card (icon in top left corner). You may only play one gavel card per turn.

The Play

The rules are straight-forward and the game is easy to learn. It plays smoothly. There is some luck. When I played with my wife Michelle, she had pretty bad luck and I was rather lucky, and our game was quite lopsided. The orangutan mechanism seems to make the winner win more. This feels counterintuitive to me. Shouldn't a game have a catch-up mechanism for the trailing player instead? Maybe there's something I'm not getting yet. Maybe the orangutan is meant to be something the trailing player can use to catch up.

The Thoughts

I am probably approaching Murders in the Rue Morgue with preconceived notions. My experience with it seems to confirm that it is indeed not as strong as the other titles in the series. In Jack the Ripper, the shutout mechanism (achieving something difficult which makes your opponent score nothing) is playing the Ripper Escape card after all five Victim cards are in play. This is quite exciting as players need to manoeuvre around it, beware of it, and sometimes shoot for it. In Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld, the shutout mechanism is collecting all eight Al Capone cards. Also hard to achieve, but a little easier if playing partnership rules. Murders in the Rue Morgue has a shutout rule too, but it feels somewhat easier. You need to play both melds of a combo and also play their corresponding Brilliant Deduction card. So far I still don't quite appreciate the orangutan mechanism. I will need to play more and experiment more. In Jekyll and Hyde, the unique mechanism is many cards can only be played specifically when Dr Jekyll is active or when Mr Hyde is active.

The rulebook recommends partnership play, i.e. playing with four players. Perhaps the game works better with four players. I have only played 2-player games. I have played Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld with both two and four players, and the four player game is indeed more fun.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Caverna plus expansion

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Caverna is a reimplementation of Agricola. They share many similarities, but are also different in many ways. You are farmers developing your own farms on your individual player boards. You expand your farm, plant crops, harvest them, rear animals, slaughter them for food, and so on. The core game mechanism is worker placement. The main board shows the various actions you may take. You place your worker on a spot to claim it for the round and take the corresponding action, blocking others. Every round a new action space is added, increasing your options. You may get more workers by having babies. This lets you do more per round. The number of rounds is fixed. Every few rounds you do harvesting, which involves harvesting crops, breeding animals, and most importantly feeding your family. If you are unable to provide enough food, you take a stiff penalty. At game end, you score points for many aspects of your farm, and highest scorer wins.

This summarises the similarities between Caverna and Agricola. Now let's look at the differences.

The first difference you'll see is the player board. There are two halves. The left half is a forest. You need to clear trees to make meadows and fields, meadows for animal husbandry and fields for crops. The right half is a mountain. You dig caves and tunnels to expand your dwelling, to create mines, and to install furnishings. Furnishings give you various special abilities and some help you score points. There are many types available, but only one unit per type, so you have to fight for them.

Some spaces have yellow round icons. These are food icons. When you develop a space with food icons, you collect food. Some forest spaces have black boars. Similarly when developing these spaces you claim the boars.

This is the main board. The top part are the furnishings, 48 types in all their glory, which is intimidating for newcomers. Furnishings come in three categories. (1) Orange dwellings are living spaces you need to create before you can have children, i.e. more workers. (2) Green furnishings are resource-type furnishings. They usually help you produce resources, convert resources, or save resources when doing something. (3) Yellow furnishings are scoring-type furnishings. They usually score points based on specific criteria. The bottom part are the action spaces. The actions on the left half are available right from the beginning. The actions on the right half are made available bit by bit, one new action per round.

On the furnishing tiles, the cost to build is at the top left, and the number in the yellow shield is the point value.

These are some of the action spaces. You add resources to some of them at the start of every round. When you pick an action space with resources on it, you claim all the resources.

One mechanism that doesn't exist in Agricola is adventuring. Iron ore can be used to make and upgrade weapons, and your workers can be armed and sent on adventures. In this photo you can see that many workers (coloured discs) are armed and dangerous - wearing helmets with numbers. If you look at the action spaces of the level-9 and level-8 workers, you will see shield-and-axe icons with numbers. These are adventuring icons. When you go adventuring, you get to pick a number of benefits from a list. How many you get to pick depends on the number on the adventuring icon. How many choices you can pick from depends on the weapon level of your worker. The benefits vary. Some are simply claiming a resource. Some let you develop a forest or mountain space. They may not sound like much, but adventuring actually gives you much flexibility. Often the competition is fierce on the main board for what you need to do. Adventuring is like a safety net. You can use it to help you with the area you are most lacking in.

The second card lists your choices when you go adventuring. Let's say your worker is at level 6, and your adventuring value is 2. You will get to pick two different things between 1 to 6. This card is double-sided. This side shows your choices up to level 8. The other side shows the additional choices up to level 14.

The reason I had the opportunity to play Caverna was my fellow gamers wanted to play the expansion The Forgotten Folk, which was released last year. I missed the boat when Caverna was first released. The Forgotten Folk introduces fantasy races. Every player now plays a unique race with its own strengths, weaknesses and quirks. Depending on the races in play, some furnishings are swapped out with race-specific furnishings. Such special furnishings are not restricted to be built by their corresponding races. Anyone can build them, just that generally they will jive better with their corresponding races. The large card on the right was the race I played - the Silicoids. Instead of food, my people ate rocks. I didn't care about food much. I had to worry about rocks instead.

These two cards are elements from the expansion too. Depending on the races in play, new resource types may come into play, like these two.

When developing forest spaces, you usually do two at a time, covering them with a 2x1 tile, one square being a field for crops, and the other square being a meadow. The meadow can later be upgraded to a pasture (i.e. meadow with fences) by flipping the tile over. A pasture holds two animals. A pasture with a stable (the little house) holds four. A stable on a meadow holds one animal. In Caverna you get to keep dogs (but not cats unfortunately). You don't need to worry about living space for dogs. They sleep anywhere and don't run away. In fact, they actually help you with managing sheep. A team of dogs on a meadow guards the same number of sheep plus one. One dog guards two sheep, two dogs guard three sheep, etc. At game end, every animal including dogs score 1VP. This is simpler than Agricola where you need to look up a table to see how many animals of which species score how many VP.

The green leaf icon means harvesting (and feeding your family). From Round 6 to 12, harvesting is not predetermined. You don't harvest every round, and sometimes the harvest works differently. You only get to know whether there is a harvest at the start of the round. There will be one easier harvest, where your family eats less. There will also be one harder harvest, where you must forgo either harvesting crops or breeding animals.

Rubies is a type of resource, and they are worth 1VP each at game end. At any time you can convert rubies to other resources or spend them to develop a space on your board. Normally you can only get cows by trading in one ruby and one food. At game end, you are penalised 2VP for each animal type you don't have. The difference between having no cow (-2VP) and having one (1VP) is 3VP.

The Play

The core game mechanism in Caverna is worker placement. There are many aspects of your farm you need to improve. Many things to do, and many opponents fighting with you over them. When you play Caverna, the difficult choice is always between things you are keen to do, knowing that by picking one, the other will likely be claimed by someone else. Players may pursue different strategies, so eventually actions spaces will have different values to different people. If there is something you need to do, and it's not important to others, you can probably afford to defer claiming the action space.

Broadly speaking, the aspects of your farm you need to manage are crops, animals, mines, expanding your dwellings in order to have more workers, adventuring, and installing furnishings. Occupations cards and Improvements cards in Agricola have become furnishings in Caverna. Unlike the cards in Agricola which are dealt out to players, where everyone can only play from his hand, in Caverna the whole pool of furnishings is accessible to everyone. There is no luck of the draw and you have freedom to decide what to install, but you may have competitors going for the same strategy and the same furnishings. In base Caverna players start on equal footing. Only in the Forgotten Folk expansion you get different starting positions, abilities and handicaps due to the races.

Caverna is a mid to heavy weight game, not something I'd recommend for people new to the hobby. I think it will be overwhelming, especially the furnishings.

Allen, Kareem, Dennis. This copy of Caverna is Kareem's. He has custom storage trays which save some space when playing and also help a lot in packing the game away. This game has a ton of components.

One furnishing I installed gave me free wood for the next seven rounds, thus these wood pieces placed this way on the main board to remind me to collect them in upcoming rounds.

I had many dogs. Two were idle now and were playing in the forest by themselves. One was guarding two sheep. My pasture with a stable could actually keep four sheep. I just hadn't reorganised my sheep yet. The starting dwelling can keep one pair of animals, and I had a boar in my bedroom now (hmm... that doesn't sound right...).

This was Allen's player board. That grey animal is a donkey. You can keep one donkey at each mine.

In the late game, I managed to completely develop every space on my board. On the right I have three tunnel and cave spaces not yet furnished. Caves can be furnished, and tunnels can become mines. Now I had 7 dogs and 9 sheep. My animal husbandry went very well, due to lack of competition. Both Allen and Kareem's races were poor at developing the forest, so they focused their efforts on the mountain side of their boards. Dennis wanted to build the archery range, which needed empty meadows, i.e. no pastures and no animals. I more or less had free rein.

This was the second last round. On the main board, only one last action card was not yet revealed, the one for the final round. Caverna has more harvests than Agricola, 8 harvests over 12 rounds, compared to Agricola's 6 harvests over 14 rounds. However the harvests in Agricola are more difficult. It is not easy to prepare enough food. In Caverna making food is more convenient, and harvests less daunting.

This was Allen's player board. His race was poor at developing the forest, so he mostly worked on the mountain. At this point he had three iron ore mines and two ruby mines. Mines are worth VP. He had only developed three forest spaces.

Furnishings are printed on the furnishing boards so that you know where to place which one. They are organised by category so that it's easier to analyse and compare.

This was Kareem's player board. Some of the tiles on the mountain half were overhanging. This was due to a special ability of his race. He scored points for doing this. The yellow pawn on the right is the start player marker.

This was Dennis' player board. He had three consecutive empty meadows, arranged as such so that he could build the Archery Range and score the full 10VP for it. 10VP is a big deal. Dennis also planned up front to have many children. He built the Couple Dwelling, which could fit two workers. There was only one Couple Dwelling in the whole game and he beat everyone to it. He also built the Additional Dwelling (also unique) which let him have a sixth worker. Normally a player can only have at most five workers.

This was my player board at game end. I won at 99VP. Kareem and Allen's races were conflicting, which made the game tough for both of them, and I became the indirect beneficiary. Not just in animal husbandry but also in crops. At this point I had much fewer dogs and sheep, because I had converted many of them to money. The Sheep Market let me cash in sets of 1 dog and 2 sheep at $4 per set. Normally 1 dog and 2 sheep would be worth 3VP at game end. $4 is 4VP. My $20 was all earned from selling dogs and sheep. The Food Chamber (top right) also helped me tremendously. Every grain + pumpkin pair gave me 2VP. This furnishing gave me 18VP!

The Thoughts

Caverna is a different Agricola. Many things are similar, but there are many differences too. The differences are not superficial. The underlying economy and balance are different. I find it more forgiving. Harvests are not as suffocating. Adventuring is a backup plan you can fall back to if you are acutely short of something. Some things are simplified, like animal husbandry scoring. Also baking bread and cooking meat is easier - fewer steps. Compared with Ora et Labora and Le Havre, Caverna is still the most similar to Agricola. It's not an improved version, nor is it an inferior and gentler version. It's just different.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Knister / Wurfel Bingo

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Knister is a simple game with very minimalistic components - two dice, paper and pencils. The box says it supports 1 to 12 players, but really you can play with as many people as you want.

Every player gets one sheet like this. This is your player board. The game is played over 25 turns. Every turn two dice are rolled. Add up the numbers to get a total, and everyone must fill this total in one of the spaces on his player board. You fill the 5x5 grid. Each of the five rows, each of the five columns, and the two diagonal lines, will score points in a poker-like manner. If a line contains two of the same number, it scores 1pt. If a line has three of the same number, it scores 3pts. You can see the rest on the left side of the photo above. The last two combos are straights. A regular straight gives you 8pts. A straight without a 7 gives you 12pts. It is not easy to make a straight without a 7. It would need to be either 2-3-4-5-6, or 8-9-10-11-12. The two diagonal lines (in a slightly darker shade of blue) score double, so you would want to prioritise making good combos with them.

The rules say everyone takes turns to roll the dice, but it doesn't really matter who does the die-rolling. Unless you think some people have lucky hands. Or cursed hands.

The Play

One of my diagonal lines had five 7's, which was worth 10pts. Diagonal lines scored double, so I was getting 20pts for this. My first column had four 4's, and I would score 6pts. I was too busy and hadn't had time to write down the scores. I only had one space left now, and I was hoping to get a 5, so that I could get a straight for my fourth row. The game may be simple, but there are quite a few things you need to consider when filling in the blanks. You need to consider the row and the column, and sometimes the diagonal lines too. You try to make every row and column and diagonal line score well. You try to keep your options open. Sometimes when you get a bad number, you need to think about which row and column to sacrifice.

My final score was 50. Some rows and some columns scored 0 because I couldn't make any combo for them. It was a pity that my other diagonal line scored 0. Wasted opportunity. In this game, since two dice are being rolled, you know the most likely number is 7, and the least likely 2 and 12. So there is some basis when you fill the grid.

The Thoughts

Knister is the kind of simple and clever game that makes you think: hey I could have designed this myself! But you didn't. I really admire this design.

There is zero player interaction. This is literally multiplayer solitaire. But this is such a simple and short game we really shouldn't be complaining about it being multiplayer solitaire. Just sit down and enjoy puzzling it out. It's a good filler that works for any number of players.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Puerto Rico expansions

Plays: 3Px1.

Puerto Rico used to be the #1 game on BGG. That feels like so long ago. I own the first expansion, and I think I have played it once before. I don't have the second expansion. Ivan bought the recently re-released expansion set containing both expansions, and he brought it to Boardgamecafe.net to play. It was nice playing an old classic again. We were a little extreme. We swapped in all the buildings in the first expansion, thus removing almost all the buildings in the base game. I'm not exactly sure this is a healthy way to play.

Seeing these game components laid out neatly on the table was almost an emotional moment, like seeing one's great aunt again after many years. The first expansion is all new buildings which can be swapped with buildings in the base game. This creates some variability. The plantations don't change. You still have corn plantations, indigo plantations, etc. However there is one special type of plantation called forests. Forests can only be planted using a specific purple building. Two forests act as one quarry, giving you a discount during building construction. This seems weaker, but one advantage of forests is they don't need to be manned, unlike quarries which need to be manned by colonists.

These are component of the second expansion, the nobles expansion. The buildings are not meant to be swapped with the basic buildings. Instead they are all in play and set next to the main board. The red discs are the nobles, and they mostly function as colonists. The only two differences are (1) they are worth 1VP each, and (2) when they operate certain buildings, the powers of the buildings change. A number of buildings in the noble expansion come with two powers, one for when they are manned by a regular colonist, and one for when they are manned by a noble. The noble version is not necessarily better. E.g. the chapel when manned by a colonist generates $1 during the craftsman phase, and when manned by a noble generates 1VP instead. In the early game, that $1 might be more important.

We did a 3-player game, so every round there were 6 actions to pick from. The three unpicked action tiles will each get $1 added. Whoever picks an action tile with money on it keeps the money. The Trader action has not been picked for two rounds, thus the $2 on it.

This was my player board in the early game. Right from the start I decided to focus on indigo production and shipping indigo for victory points. At this point I already had both a large and a small indigo plant. I also had three indigo plantations. My aqueduct would allow the large indigo plant to produce one extra unit of indigo.

I intentionally sent the nobles to work in the plantations. Suffer!

This was Ivan's player board. He was more diversified, producing sugar, indigo and tobacco.

Jeff started off planting much corn. Corn is cheap, but you don't need a production building to process corn. So it is easier to produce. Jeff built a quarry early (bottom left). Early quarries are always good. You will get to use it many times for the rest of the game. It's not just because of the money you save. It is also about the time you save. Sometimes when you try to save enough for an expensive building, it takes a long time. Discounts from quarries can mean being able to afford the building much earlier.

I had two more new buildings on my player board now, both aligned with my indigo shipping strategy. The speciality factory gave me extra income whenever I produced many of the same goods type. E.g. when I produced 4 indigo, I'd earn $3. The union hall gave me extra VP whenever shipping was done. If I had 4 indigo to ship (which could potentially give me 4VP), they would earn 2VP extra for me even before I shipped them. That's 50% extra!

Ivan's player board. Now his tobacco production was in full swing, being able to produce 3 at each craftsman phase. His (light brown) tobacco storage was fully staffed, and his three tobacco plantations too. He had one large building now - the city hall. The city hall gave him 1VP per purple building, including itself.

Jeff later went for a noble strategy. He built a villa, so every time the Mayor action was taken, he would gain an extra noble. He built the Jeweller, which gave him $1 per noble whenever the Craftsman action was taken. Noble themselves were worth 1VP each, so they were lucrative. He built the royal garden large building which gave him an extra 1VP per noble. We were no match for him and eventually he won with a comfortable margin. Jeff took the Mayor action frequently, since it gave him at least 2VP due to the two nobles he would get. He had many surplus workers. In this photo you can see five idle workers (discs).

Cargo ships.

This was my player board at game end. I collected many VP chips, so naturally I built the customs house (large building). It gave me 1VP for every 4VP in VP chips. I had 37VP in VP chips, which meant a bonus of 9VP.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Res Arcana

Plays: 4Px3.

The Game

Res Arcana is designed by Tom Lehmann, designer of Race for the Galaxy, which I am a big fan of. It is published by a new company, Sand Castle Games, and it is their first product. Production quality is excellent. These guys know what they are doing. After I read about the game, I became interested. Unfortunately it is not being distributed in Malaysia, so eventually I ordered it from Amazon.

In this game you are mages competing for glory. This is essentially a card game. Most game components are cards or tiles. There are many types of items in the game - artifacts, magic items, places of power and monuments, and they have various powers. You produce resources and spend them to buy items, which help you produce more resources and do many different nifty things. Your end goal is to score 10VP. Whenever anyone reaches or exceeds 10VP, the game ends.

Most items in the game have some power, and usually you get to use the power once per round. Some items are worth victory points. The first row is the places of power. There are always five in the game. They are double sided and you randomly pick a side to play during game setup. Places of power tend to be expensive (cost is in top left corner), but their powers are strong, and they are worth victory points. Usually their victory point value depends on some criteria, e.g. how many gold resources you manage to place on them. The second row is the magic items. You get to pick one for free every round. They are not particularly strong, but still useful. Every round you must pick a different one. The third row is the monuments. Only two are revealed, but you may choose to buy from the top of the deck, because all monuments cost four gold. Monuments are worth 1-3 VP. There are five resource types in the game.

Every player gets his own deck of artifacts, 8 artifacts per deck. You are randomly dealt the 8 artifacts at the start of the game, and you get to examine each one before shuffling them to form your deck. You then draw 3 artifacts to form your hand. At the end of every round you draw 1 artifact. The cost to put an artifact in play is in the top left corner. A grey hexagon means any resource. The artifact on the right is worth 1VP - the red wax seal means victory points. The artifact on the right has a dragon icon and a beast icon in its top right corner. Some powers are applicable only to dragons or beasts. Dragons are the main means of offense in the game. They force all other players to lose life (green resource). If the victims run out of life, they have to discard other resources instead, substituting at a 2:1 ratio. This can be painful.

The round token is the start player marker. It is worth 1VP to whoever is holding it. If you are first to pass in a round, you claim this marker and you will be start player next round, if there is a next round. Sometimes that 1VP can be a matter of win or lose. You may need exactly that 1VP to reach 10VP. However if you pass early for the sake of that 1VP, you need to consider whether others who fully utilise their actions for the round can surpass your 10VP.

There are five resources (called essences) in the game. Yellow is gold, and it is more precious than the rest. You have to spend gold to buy monuments. Green is life. It is what dragons attack. Often you need to have life to sacrifice to dragons in order to preserve your other resources. Black is death. Red and blue are elan and calm, but I call them fire and water. The resources do have some character, and are not completely generic and interchangeable.

The card at the bottom right is a mage card, i.e. your character card. Every game you get to pick one from two drawn. You get to examine your artifact deck, shuffle it to draw three, then examine your hand of three, before deciding which mage to play. There is much consideration you need to make before the game starts. This particular mage lets you collect a water or life resource at the start of every round, and also protects you from one attack. The magic item card at the top right is tilted 90 degrees, which means it has been used in the current round and cannot be used again till next round.

These are monuments. There are always two face-up for you to pick from, and you can do lucky draw and buy the top card from the deck too, because they all cost exactly 4 gold. Monuments have point values (number in red wax seal). Both these face-up monuments have single-use per round powers - see that rotate-card-90-degrees icon.

The Play

I would describe Res Arcana as condensed and intense. It's a game you can play in a short time, and at a brisk pace, but it is also a game in which you need to think a lot and consider many factors. It is thoughtful and deliberate. At game setup you already need to analyse your personal deck of artifacts and your two mage options. You have to consider which places of power are in play, and what the two starting monuments are. You should have a rough plan already even before the game starts. If you can identify a good combo, right off the bat you should already be executing your strategy with a laser sharp focus. Often you need to race to grab the place (or places) of power that is needed for your game plan. You do need to react to what others do too. If the game is an aggressive one with may dragons, you'll need some protection. If someone else is clearly running faster than you, you probably should work with others to trip him up. The main way to interfere with others is the dragons. It is a simple mechanism, but it is very effective. Not defending against dragons can be very costly.

I did two games back to back with Allen, Dith and Ivan. In both games, one player sprinted ahead and crossed the finish line well ahead of the rest. If you manage to find a strong combo, and execute it efficiently, you can run away with the game if others are unable to stop you or run as fast as you. 10VP feels distant at first, but once you get your engine going and your are in an efficient action execution cycle, 10VP is suddenly very achievable. No wonder some people call this medieval Race for the Galaxy.

When you have a lot of green (life), you are less worried about dragons. Dragons don't only target green. Every dragon allows you to take some other form of penalty in lieu of green, e.g. another resource type, or discarding a hand card. Sometimes you want to save other things as dragon protection. If you are the aggressor, you want to attack when many opponents do not have what it takes to defend. By forcing them to discard resources to substitute for green at a 2:1 ratio, you will be severely punishing them. When dragons attack, they attack everyone else. If many people do attacks, it will be a tough game for everyone. You will be forcing one another to discard resources, slowing everyone down.

This mage on the left is an alchemist. He transforms regular resources into gold.

13 Sep 2019. This was the third game I played, this time with Allen, Jeff and Tim. It was Allen's third play too, but Jeff and Tim were new to the game. The game went differently from my first two games. In my deck I had two artifacts which would have helped me with dragons, but unfortunately I did not have any dragon. I had artifacts which helped me produce fire and gold, so I decided to go for this particular place of power in the photo above - the Cursed Forge. I feel that places of power are almost a necessity if you want to win. You need to plan to get one, save resources for it and beat others to it, then utilise it to go for your 10VP. My play was still a little messy. The Cursed Forge was not exactly an ideal fit for me, it was just the least bad. Others were worse. In the final round I had to pass hurriedly for that 1VP on the first player marker. I needed that 1VP to get to 10VP. However both Allen and Tim were able to reach 10VP too that round, and both of them had more leftover resources than me. Allen had 7 and Tim 6. Allen was the eventual winner.

After playing this third game, I imagine Res Arcana to be a cross-country obstacle team race. Your artifacts and mage are your starting team. They are what fate deals you and you have to live with them, using their powers as best you can. Even the "useless" ones can be discarded for 2 resources a piece. Magic items are temporary helpers for your team, who can be very useful in the right situations but are generally like interns. Places of power and monuments are star players that your team and everyone else's teams are competing to recruit. You need to pick those who work well with your existing team.

The Thoughts

Res Arcana is a fight among kungfu masters - victory is decided swiftly, but behind every kungfu move there are years of training and generations of refinement. The fight is short, the pace is fast, but behind all the seemingly thoughtless execution there is actually much consideration and deliberation. You need to be able to assess the situation well and take into account many factors in order to play effectively. You need to have a plan, and you also need to be nimble. Basically you need to know what you are doing, or you'll be lying in the dust in no time, wondering what your opponent has done to you. This reminds me a little of how Splotter's games are like.

I think it is possible that win or lose is already decided once the cards are dealt. If you get a killer combo, and none of your opponents have anything half decent, as long as you don't do anything stupid, you will cruise to victory on autopilot. I don't think this is a serious problem though, because I don't think it happens all that often.

Res Arcana, once it clicks, gives me that delicious feeling of an unspoken understanding among rivals. Ooh I know what you're thinking and what you're trying to do, and I know what I should be doing to stop you, and I know you know that I know. When everyone understands what's going on, you all enter the zone together. One innocent-looking card play, and you start to grasp what the fellow is trying to do, which place of power he is probably working towards, or which monument he's eyeing. It is very satisfying to play at this level.

Replayability feels low. There are only 40 artifact cards. With 4 players, 32 of them will be used. There are 10 mage cards. With 4 players, 8 will be viewed, and 4 will be used. The five places of power will always be in play, the question is only which side you use. After my first two games, I felt I had seen all the cards in the game. So I instinctively felt things were samey. However if you do the math, there are actually many permutations of artifacts and mages you can get. Add to that the permutations of places of powers and initial monuments, and you get many possibilities. The biggest part of the game is analysing the scenario and devising a plan. Then when the rubber hits the road, you make tactical adjustments as you learn what your opponents have and what they are aiming for.

Expansions for Res Arcana have been announced. I see the box insert certainly can accommodate more cards and tiles.