LoBsterCon XVII 2019: Top 10 ‘new to me’ games

LoBsterCon: where 150 brave London on Board members climb out of their city pubs, pop their hankies on their heads, roll up their trousers and head to the seaside. I had a brilliant weekend in Eastbourne catching up with old friends, having a few beers and playing some great games.

I managed to introduce some people to recent favourites, including Adios Calavera and Gnomopolis. And got to play old classics including Thurn and Taxis, Manhattan and Lost Cities. But cons are all about learning new games.

LoBsterCon XVII 2019 was my 13th. And coincidentally I managed to play 13 games that were completely new to me. Narrowing it down to 10 was easy. I really didn’t enjoy Cryptid (really not my thing – boring, multi-player solitaire deduction), 3×8 (very average card game) or Yooloo (very below average card game). So what made the mark?

LoBsterCon XVII 2019 – Top 10 ‘new to me’ games

10. TurfMaster (1998, 90 mins, 2-8 players)
By rights this should be number 8, as I’d like to play it more. But I’m not sure it’s really a very good game. Problem was, the guy who taught it had only played once – the night before – and the English rules translation was atrocious. We played largely on his memory and enthusiasm. It’s an old, basic horse racing game. But with enough people, and enough screw-age, it’s fun in the way most racing games are.

9. On Tour (2019, 30 mins, 1-4 players)
I don’t get excited by roll-and-write games. And this is not an exceptional game in the genre. I liked the theme, but this actually manages to ramp up the luck factor despite only having two dice and some cards. It was a pleasant way to spend half an hour, but with very little skill involved and no real replayability I can’t see why anyone would revisit it. Definitely a ‘one and done’ game.

8. Wingspan (2019, 90 mins, 1-5 players)
Speaking of ‘one and done’, I’d rather not play this again. Don’t get me wrong – the game is fine. It looks lovely and the bird theme is well realised. But the mechanisms couldn’t be more average if they tried. Past the theme, nothing stood out. It started OK, got boring in the middle, and we were all pretty much bored by the end. Games should aspire to be more than this – cripplingly average and a little too long.

7. Yellow & Yangtze (2018, 90 mins, 2-4 players)
Stepping up a gear, this reworking of Knizia classic Tigris & Euphrates is solid. It evokes the original, but subtly changes everything in the process. Problem is, whether its T&E or Y&Y the tactics of this aggressive area control game are beyond me. And it has the same scoring idea as Ingenious – which is much more my level! This would be higher on most people’s lists, as it’s quality – it’s just not for me.

6. Bärenpark (2017, 90 mins, 2-4 players)
I’ve been wanting to play this since its release, so it was great to finally get a game. It got a little lost in the mix on release, as it used the same Tetris piece idea as Patchwork. But Phil Walker-Harding isn’t as famous as Rosenberg and it arrived several years later. It was enjoyable, but fell between two stools. It lacked the simplicity and purity or patchwork and didn’t quite have enough to be a euro I’d buy. But I’d play it anytime.

5. New Frontiers (2019, 60 mins, 2-5 players)
Race for the Galaxy meets classic euro Puerto Rico, by the designer of my favourite game. What could go wrong? Sadly it lost the sparks of both games and ended up being a solid yet unexceptional game in the middle. Again, it’s a game I’d happily play if someone put it on the table. But if I never play it again, because I still have Race, I’m fine with that. And the box is too big.

My Top 4 LoBsterCon games

I’ve separated these four out because I really struggled to put them in order. They were all 8/9-out-of-10 game experiences: my real ‘new to me’ hits of the con.

4. Just One (2018, 30 mins, 3-7 players)
Unoriginal concept alert! A word game with hints of Taboo or Trapwords. Ugly alert! Uninspiring art and components with no theme. Co-op alert! You’re working together, rather than teaming up in usual party game style. All these things – yet it’s absolutely brilliant fun. Guess a word from the one-word clues your friends give you, but if any of them pick the same word as the clue they’re cancelled and you don’t see them. Genius.

3. Prehistory (2018, 120 mins, 2-4)
This heavy euro blends action selection, resource management/ set collection and area control. A clever, original mechanism sees you do the same set of actions twice each round – but each time they’re triggered in slightly different yet connected ways. It kind of blew my mind, and I doubt I’ll ever be any good at it, but unlike some heavy euros it’s a puzzle I want to revisit. Review incoming.

2. Whistle Stop (2017, 75 mins, 2-5 players)
I love me some route building. On release I heard meh reviews of this, so pretty much ignored it. While I have very low expectation of Bezier Games. But man, am I glad I got to play it (thanks Tom!). It’s an entry level pick-up-and-deliver train game which skews heavily towards the puzzly elements, with a small amount of stock collection on the side. But I think it will also get way more competitive/skilled the more you play.

1. The Romans (2019, 150 mins, 1-4 players)
Also at the longer end of gaming, this upcoming Ragnar Brothers release is a heady mix of worker placement, area control and incredibly swingy and often hugely annoying dice rolls. However, a clever mechanism by which all players suffer the same battle rolls – despite being in completely separate battles – mitigates the luck just enough to pass muster. Which isn’t something I say lightly, as I hate games such as Memoir 44 and Combat Commander because of the stupid old school war game dice nonsense. And don’t let the Asterix-style cartoony art fool you – beneath the surface lies a genuine nod to history. It was a real experience. And, once again, a full review is coming soon.

Board game cafe in Bristol – Chance & Counters

If you’re looking for a board game cafe in Bristol, you’re in luck. Just a few minutes’ walk from the busiest area of the city, just at the bottom of Christmas Steps, you’ll find the rather lovely Chance & Counters.

The missus and me spend Easter in the city as Pop Will Eat Itself (my favourite band) were playing there, I love Bristol, and Sarah hadn’t been since she was young and wanted to go. So, we went to a great gig, got to be proper tourists (Clifton Suspension Bridge, some Banksy exploring etc) – and of course we played some board games.

The cafe part

Just as a cafe, Chance & Counters would’ve ranked highly. The place was crawling with staff, but they weren’t not over eager – just smiley and friendly. We never had to wait long for anything and they were helpful and knowledgeable.

The food was lovely (unfortunately the cooker had blown up on our second visit of the weekend, but the snacks and sarnies were good!). It usually has a seasonal menu, while there are decent options for vegies and vegans. Sarah’s celiac, but there were also plenty of options for her on the menu.

The hot drinks were good (I had a lovely iced coffee), but the real triumph was the beer selection. Its German Hell pilsner (on tap) was the best beer I had all weekend, while Sarah loved the toffee apple cider. And the prices were pretty reasonable, including a £5 surcharge per person at the table.

I get this, as it’s a small place. I’d only say I’ve preferred board game cafes that put a table charge on, but reduce (or remove) it the more you’ve spent on other things. We spent a lot on each visit (close to £40), so having £10 of that be table charges – when some people were spending next to nothing – seemed a bit of an unfair punishment.

The board gaming part

With 850 board games on its shelves, Chance & Counters has you covered. And they’re usefully separated too: there’s a proper library system, with games grouped into areas such as ‘strategy’, ‘party’, ‘family’ etc. Just find the section you’re after and browse away.

They have plenty of ‘game explainers’ on hand to walk you through rules if you’re looking for a new game, or to help you from scratch if you’re new to the hobby. We saw a big mix of games on the tables during our visits, but it skewed lighter/family. Although, as you can see above, serious gamers have plenty of choice – and there’s nothing to stop you bringing your own games (which is worth it for the beer alone!).

Again, just one small complaint. The building is long and thin, and the back area could get very noisy. They’d done their best with a few noise dampeners but with a couple of groups of younger, shriller patrons in it got a bit much. If you’re grumpy old bastards like us, I’d suggest booking a table in advance (you should probably do that anyway) and asking for a table at the front end of the cafe.

For the record we played Downfall of Pompeii (twice), Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, ‘normal’ Azul and Kingdom Builder. All the games were in a reasonably good state and had all the pieces. But it was funny talking to one of the employees about how tough it is to harden themselves to the state they see some of the games get into. I expect they offer counselling for the more traumatic moments…

Will we return to this board game cafe in Bristol?

Absolutely. Minor problems of the large bill and squeaky noisy teens aside, both our visits were excellent. And the next time I’m in Cardiff, I’ll be sure to visit its sister store there as well. Cheers!

  • Photos taken from the Chance & Counters website. We were too busy drinking and gaming to remember to take any photos…

Top 10 board games 2009

While a common topic, I think top 10 lists of yesteryear’s games are becoming increasingly relevant. The last five years in particular have seen a huge rise in releases, Which means the ease of finding classics from the archives is diminishing.

I was inspired to start this up after listening to the recent Game Pit podcast on the same topic. It was also my first full year back in the hobby, although I didn’t buy any 2009 games that year (only the Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium expansion). In fact I’ve only ever owned five of my Top 10 below and currently own only three – although two others are on my (actually very short) wish list!

But in terms of classics, 2009 wasn’t perhaps the best year to start. There are no genuine 2009 new release games in the BBG Top 100 of all time. Compare that to five Top 100 games from 2008, which also included top sellers such as Dixit, Ghost Stories and Formula D, and it’s a slightly duff year in comparison. But there are still quite a few gems I’d highly recommend getting in your wayback machine to check out.

My Top 10 board games of 2009

1. Macao
2-4 players, 90 mins

I picked this up in 2010, shortly after its release. It became my first Feld – and you know what they say about your first. Much like his other top titles, it blends euro game mechanisms with a ton of ways to score and a nice little chunk of push-your-luck: all in a sub two-hour package. A dull theme that blatantly doesn’t work gives it minus points, but there’s more than enough fun to be had to make up for it.

2. Maori
2-4 players, 30 mins

Back in 2011, a little tired of Carcassonne, I went looking for a similar game and found this beauty. I enjoy the visceral and visual elements of tile-laying, and while this is a family level title it has enough depth to keep more strategically minded gamers happy too. While each player builds their own tableau, there’s a subtle yet important (and brilliant) competitive element in the tile collection. Well deserving of a reprint.

3. Egizia
2-4 players, 90 minutes

I’ve only played once ‘in real life’, but Egizia is a regular favourite of mine at online gaming website Yucata. It’s another worker placement euro game utilises an under-used mechanism. You take actions along a track, but once you take one you can’t go back to a previous one you passed by. It makes for loads of tough and interesting decisions, while the Nile in ancient Egypt is a compelling setting. Sadly though, currently out of print.

4. Finca
2-4 players, 60 minutes

Going one better than even Egizia, I haven’t even managed one real life play of Finca. And, once again, all my plays have been on Yucata. Annoyingly, I managed to miss its 2018 Kickstarter reprint and again missed its booth at Essen before they’d sold the last few copies. But why do I want it? It’s a sub-hour (check) euro game (check) using a clever rondel system (double check). It’s simple yet strategic, while also being tactical and competitive. Check check check etc etc. Want!

5. Endeavor
3-5 players, 90 mins

Endeavor is another 2009 game that enjoyed a successful Kickstarter in 2018 so should be relatively easy to find. (Now as Endeavor: Age of Sail). This was another 2011 purchase for me and an instant hit in our gaming group. It has a solid worker placement mechanism, but more area control conflict than your average euro. Plus, a clever scoring system and just enough ways to diversify to keep it interesting over time. I traded it away a few years ago (when it was highly sought after) but would happily play it any time.

6. Tales of the Arabian Nights
1-6 players, 120 minutes

Enough euros. Let’s turn to a long and frankly daft storytelling game. It will last hours, and you can be well out if contention long before the end. But in a game where you make arbitrary guesses at what’s going to happen before reading a section of text and suffering (usually) the consequences – who cares? You meet a beggar. Do you kill him, or give him some money? One may seem the right thing to do – but this game simply doesn’t work like that. Is it even a game? I’m not sure. But it is tremendously good fun with the right crowd.

7. Masters Gallery
2-5 players, 30 mins

This is one of the better games from outside master designer Reiner Knizia’s pomp years (around the turn of the century). That said, it is a small box take on one of his earlier classic, Modern Art. For me this stripped-down version of the classic auction game loses nothing of real worth from the original. It merging a slew of auction game styles into a single whole, with a sprinkle of his patented clever, mathsy scoring ideas holding it all together.

8. Verflixxt! Kompakt
2-4 players, 20 minutes

Making roll-and-move not stupid isn’t easy, but this clever little game does just that. Original big box game Verflixxt was a big hit in 2005, earning a Spiel de Jahrs nomination. But for me this improves on the formula in a box a fraction of the size. This version only goes to four players, rather than six, but the premise is the same. Roll a six-sided dice and move one of your pieces along a track, claiming or blocking the best tiles as you go. A great, lightweight family filler game.

9. Campaign Manager 2008
2 players, 60 minutes

2009 must’ve been a good year for Yucata development, as this is another of my favourites from that platform. I haven’t played it on the table and don’t have it on my wish list. But I have fond memories of some fantastic close matches online. A two-player game, here you take on the mantles of Obama and McCain. You play cards as you battle for influence – and seats – across the US. There’s theme for those who want it, but the underlying push-and-pull w-euro mechanics are what make it tick.

10. Jaipur
2 players, 30 minutes

Two players compete to collect sets of cards and be the first to market to buy the most expensive wares. Or is better to hold back and receive bonus points for collecting larger sets? This is another I once owned but traded away after having my fill of it. But at a good price, and being this accessible, I’d recommend it for any growing board game collection that needs a few portable two-player fillers. I still play on occasion, usually to teach it to someone at a convention. And often they head off to buy a copy.

What’s not on my list?

I wanted to cover what some will see as huge omissions: I haven’t properly played Chaos in the Old World, Hansa Tuetonica, Tobago, Maria, Imperial 2030, or At the Gates of Loyang. I’ve played Loyang online, where I didn’t think it worked well at all; while I’ve played (and really enjoyed) a single play of Imperial (released in 2006), but not its predecessor. The others are embarrassing holes in my knowledge I intend to rectify (particularly Hansa and Tobago).

Carson City, Cyclades, Homesteaders and Dungeon Lords would probably make up the rest of a Top 10 list of euro games from the year. Both Dobble and Magic Labyrinth are outstanding children’s game every family with young children should own. Small World is a solid gateway game, but I never warmed to it. While The Resistance is a well regarded social game – but I hate social games. Finally, a mention for Space Hulk 3rd Edition. This almost made the list, because its stupid and fun. But its a 3rd edition. That can’t really count, can it?

Terraforming Mars Colonies: expansion review

Terraforming Mars Colonies is a small box expansion for Terraforming Mars, which I reviewed in 2012. (You may also want to check out my review of Prelude, another recent small box expansion for the game.)

Terraforming Mars was a huge hit on its 2016 release and has been well supported since. It sits in the Top 5 games of all time on Board Game Geek, winning a number of awards.

In the base game you manage a hand of cards, playing them into your own tableau to trigger effects. It’s very much an engine building game. Players compete to efficiently create plant life, oceans and raise the temperature on the planet. A game takes about two hours, and there’s quite a bit of luck of the draw. But its strong theme and varied strategies mean it has earned its plaudits.

What does Terraforming Mars Colonies bring to the party?

In the box are 49 project cards, 5 corporations, 13 cardboard tiles and 16 plastic markers. Around half the new corps and projects are connected to the new colony rules, so you’d want to remove them if not playing with the expansion (they’re clearly marked with a triangle).

The only real surprise was there were no additional Prelude cards, as it seems an easy (and cheap) addition to throw a few of them in. The main bulk of Colonies though is, well, the colonies. There’s a Trade Fleets tile on which each player places their initial starting colony ship (you place one of your coloured markers neatly into it). Next, you randomly take three to seven (depending on player number) of the 11 colonies and place them next to it.

The trade fleet tile neatly explains how the ships/colonies work. And there’s a handy matching reference tile for those languishing at the other end of the table. This adds two new turn options: build a colony, or visit one. Players can build one colony on each (to a maximum of three per tile, regardless of player count). Building one gets you an immediate benefit, plus income when any player later visits it. Colonies each produce a different resource, which ticks up each round. Only one player can visit each colony each round, taking all available resources (and giving any player there their bonus).

As you’d expect, many new project cards break/alter these rules. Some allow you to have extra trade ships (there are eight in the box), while others let you build a colony in a place you already have one. There are also quite a few ‘floater’ cards, which will confuse players who don’t have the Venus Next expansion. They can still be used, but it should’ve been explained in the rules for those who skipped that expansion.

How much does it change the game?

Terraforming Mars Colonies adds an interesting, rules-light new dimension to the game. It can be explained to experienced players in about five minutes. So you could equally add it to a game for first-time players with very little extra rules overhead.

In terms of game play, each colony is essentially just another way to get a particular resource. However, the difference is that resource is both guaranteed and contested. Can’t get your plant engine going? Maybe there’s a colony for that. Struggling for money? Take a trip to the right colony for a little cash boost.

But once a ship has arrived at a colony, it stays there until being placed back on the Trade Fleet tile at the end of the round. This can make turn order important. You could leave that colony alone this turn to let it get slightly more valuable. But if you do, will someone nip in before you next turn?

I do also need to mention the rules ‘sheet’. The four-page attempt at rules is woefully inadequate, to which the 59 threads (and counting) of rules queries on BGG will testify – almost one per component! Annoyingly, the official tutorial video adds pretty much nothing useful. We muddled through, but had to check quite a few things per play during the first couple of games.

Is Terraforming Mars Colonies value for money?

At around £20, Colonies seems reasonable value for money. It’s a pretty standard expansion box price and most experienced players will appreciate what it adds to the game. Much like Prelude, it partially addresses a problem some found with the base game: being locked out of particular resources due to luck of the draw.

But while I like a modular expansion, much like Prelude this is essentially just one module. You’re either going to add this in or not. I thought Prelude was a rip off at £15 and, frankly, I see no reason why they couldn’t have added £5 to this and put Prelude in the same box with Colonies – making it an insta-buy. But in terms of game play value, again like Prelude, I think Terraforming Mars Colonies is a solid investment.

Changes to the solo game

There are no significant rules changes to the solo game with the addition of the Colonies expansion. You use either the base game or Prelude rules for winning, picking four random colony tiles and choosing three of them to use during set up.

The fact you don’t contest for them makes them a healthy freebie.With more players the base value they come down to after being visited can slowly increase, so you miss out on that. But overall I find they make winning solo a little easier, becoming a stable part of your engine.

Is Colonies essential?

Absolutely not. However, experienced players will get a kick out of the new competitive element and the new way to get resources. I’ll be including Colonies in all future plays of Terraforming Mars, both with experienced and new players. However, unlike Prelude, if I didn’t now own it, I’m not sure i’d invest in it. Yes, it’s a fun addition – but would I miss it hugely if you took it away? I’d certainly miss Prelude more. I think this is more an expansion for those who play very regularly, and who may be needing fresh impetus. For them, this is going to be a winner.

… and does it fit in the original Terraforming Mars box?

I have both Prelude and Colonies in the base box and the extra components fit very easily. I’ve thrown away the expansion boxes, but they’d probably just about fit even with the boxes intact.

* Thank you to FryxGames (via Asmodee UK) for providing TM: Colonies for review.

Res Arcana board game: A four-sided game review

Res Arcana* is an engine-building board game (well, largely a card game) for two to four players that takes about an hour to play.

The game was designed by Tom Lehmann, of Race for the Galaxy fame. My favourite game. No pressure then. It’s listed for ages 12+, but gamer kids as young as 10 should be OK with it.

In the box you’ll find 64 cards, 150 wooden tokens, 14 small cardboard boards and a few cardboard chits. It’s all beautifully laid out in an almost clever insert. Annoyingly, half the bits escape their moorings if you hold it on its side. But component quality is high, with shaped wooden pieces and good cardboard and card stock. And the pentagonal lidded tray for the wooden pieces is great, helping make setup a doddle.

It’s just a shame the bog-standard fantasy theme does nothing to inspire. You’re all pretty poorly drawn mages using the elements to conjure powerful spells… I think that’s enough of that. But generic theme aside, it feels like good value for the £30-ish you’ll pay for it (Res Arcana was released in 2019 and is easily available at time of writing).

Teaching Res Arcana

At its core, Res Arcana is a standard engine building card game (use your turns to generate resources which you then use to buy better things). But it’s the twist that maketh the game. Teaching will be a doddle for anyone used to engine-builders. And its short enough a new gamer can muddle through and be ready for the rematch. Especially as the iconography largely makes sense and is pretty intuitive.

Anyone brought up on Race for the Galaxy, Terraforming Mars etc will be on familiar ground during setup. You’re dealt two mages and keep one. You’re also dealt eight ‘artefact’ cards, so you can see how they (hopefully) synergise while choosing your mage. So far so every game, right? But here’s the twist. Those are the only cards you get dealt all game. Put your chosen mage on the table face up and shuffle the eight artefacts into a draw deck. Draw three, and you’re ready to play.

Artefacts cost 0-9 resources to play into your tableau. The majority give you an income (resources), a way to get/exchange resources/cards, or both (as does your mage). When you look at your cards at the start of the game, you plan how you’re best going to score points. But of course, those pesky other players may be having the same ideas. There is a small amount of conflict in the game, but very much on the periphery.

The game usually ends on the round someone hits 10 points, giving Res Arcana nice drive and tension. Most points come from claimable goals: five ‘Places of Power’ and 10 ‘Monuments’. Places of Power cost around 10-15 standard resources, while all Monuments cost four gold (the rarest resource). Places are available from the start (and double-sided doe replayability). Two Monuments are dealt face up, or you can buy the top one of the draw pile as a lucky dip. Once a goal is claimed, its yours and yours only.

Monuments are worth 1-3 points each but are plentiful (those worth less also have an ability). Places of Power often start being worth less points but can be powered with resources to be worth a lot more. A tight engine paired with the right Place of Power can get you all your points from one source. While another player may get a few artefact points, a few Monuments and a Place of Power. Either strategy, or one in between, can work. The key is making the most of what you’re initially dealt.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: During Res Arcana, each player holds one of eight ‘magic items’ they trade for another at the end of each round. Think bonus tiles in Terra Mystica. These give you a way of accessing abilities your deck may not have, allowing a little more flexibility. For example, one lets you draw an extra card (you only get one card per turn, so you may not even see them all otherwise); while another allows you to turn basic resources into gold. Also, unwanted cards can be discarded for a few resources – opening up more interesting options.
  • The thinker: I thought I’d like this one, but in the end there was just too much luck and not enough flexibility. As strategy is front-loaded, a player with a better hand or lucky deal can beat you to your target Place of Power. This would be OK in a game with more options, but here there’s rarely enough variety to then pivot to a new plan. Even though the game has maybe just 4-6 turns, you can feel after two or three that your own challenge is over. Those constraints I thought I’d like can become frustrating, insurmountable obstacles.
  • The trasher: Dragon artefacts offer a little direct interaction. Once played into your tableau you can use them to attack, but they do nothing but take a few resources – and can be easily countered. Frankly, they feel tacked on. The real interaction and tension comes from scrapping over Places of Power. But there’s little you can do to stop a better engine than yours, due to the lack of interaction. And with lower player counts, you’re unlikely to be aiming for the same goals anyway. But despite this I enjoyed the game as a fast-playing tactical puzzle.
  • The dabbler: I didn’t really enjoy this one. It was OK, but the theme is unimaginatively tacked on – made worse by the average art (no cliche was left unflogged). I get it in a game with hundreds of cards, but this has less than 100 images. I’d rather have a card type art-free, so more could be spend making the important ones really pop. Beyond that, I didn’t feel there was enough payoff for the number of rules and symbols you have to fight through. This is a race puzzle for euro game fans, which is fine – it’s just not for me. A complicated Splendor, if you will – but I’m happy with the original.

Key observations

Where KeyForge is Magic: The Gathering with the deck-building ‘chore’ removed, Res Arcana moves half the cards from those personal decks and makes them contested instead. It’s a niche that needed filling and the game mechanics generally do it well.

But due to the front-loaded strategy, some say the game gets ‘on rails’ about half way. Claiming a game this short ‘grinds’ seems harsh, but if you’re out of it by then (and you can be) it can get frustrating – even if only for 10 minutes. There’s no denying the lack of hidden information makes the game state easy to parse. Which will be seen as a bug by some and a feature by others.

Replayability is a concern. After a few games the randomness of the draw can be replaced with (included) drafting rules. And the flip-sides of the Places of Power step things up a bit too. But as someone who enjoys Res Arcana, I’m already resigned to the fact it’s a ‘once a month’ pick, rather than a regular. It’s a hard line to walk. Sure, you want players to quickly become familiar with cards to efficiently plan. But not at the expense of the game getting samey quickly. Something needed more variety. Splendor works well because the game is more in the race. Here, less so. An engine-builder needs more options to really sing.

Monuments and the gold strategy feel unbalanced. Only two of the 10 mages, one of eight magic items and less than 10 artefact cards let you get gold. Especially with four players, where you may be locked out of the Places of Power entirely, this may be your only way to get points. If it’s not open to you, you’re screwed. On the flip side, if you get a gold-friendly mage the monuments route will likely be free of competition – while you can still easily go for Places of Power too.

Conclusion: Res Arcana

I’ll draw a vague comparison between Lehmann’s Race versus Res and Rosenberg’s Agricola versus Caverna. Race and Caverna are for players who want to see where fate take them, building a tableau as the game develops. Res and Agricola instead front-load these decisions, putting much more emphasis on your initial decisions. I enjoy seeing a game evolve as I roll with the flow. So while I have a strong fondness for both Rosenberg games I only own Caverna. If I want to play one of them, either will do.

I’ve found a place for both Res and Race on my shelves. While Res Arcana has a similar feel, it scratches a different itch. I can see myself reaching for one or the other in different moods. Res won’t hit the table as often as Race, and already feels as if it needs expansions. But all my friends have enjoyed it and I’m sure it will get enough plays to warrant it hanging around.

But I’m left with as many questions as answers. The number of cards you receive and the way you get them feels just right, as if really well tested. But the Monuments and Dragons especially feel half-baked. Artefact cards work well, but of the 40 in the box many are extremely similar: just the same card for each resource colour. Places of Power seem well balanced, but why always five? It’s too many with two and not enough with four. Its as if they simply ran out of time. But ultimately the good outweighs the bad and I look forward to seeing what they ‘fix in post’ via expansions.

* Thanks to Sand Castle Games (via Asmodee UK) for providing a review copy of Res Arcana. Click here for more of my board game reviews.