Anansi card game: A four-sided review

Anansi is a trick-taking card game for three to five players (for solo and two-player variants, see below). The colourful artwork comes from Nigeria (Dayo Baiyegunhi) and South Africa (Emmanuel Mdlalose) and has enough originality to stand out from the crowd.

The box lists the game as being suitable for ages 10+ and as lasting around 30 minutes. The time is pretty accurate, (20-40 depending on player count). And the age is about right. As while it’s light on rules the subtlety in scoring could be lost on younger players.

The game is a reprint of 2016 release Eternity. For a simple comparison between the two, scroll down to the relevant section below. This twin-pack sized card box contains 96 cards and should set you back a little over £10. This is about standard for a game of this size. And the card stock is of good quality, so I’d say OK in terms of value.

Teaching the Anansi card game

As with all the best trick-takers, Anansi takes the basic concept and makes a couple of subtle twists. The key to success here is to ‘inspire’ your followers. This means matching the number of tricks you win with the amount of followers you collect each round. Followers (0-2) are printed on the cards, with higher value cards having more followers.

A game last three rounds. In each you’ll be dealt 8 or 10 cards (depending on player count) and play that many tricks. The 42 game cards are numbered 1-14 in three suits. After dealing there will be two left over. These indicate the starting trump suit – which is where things get interesting. Before play the three separate cards (each showing a suit) are placed in a row, randomly. From left (strongest) to right, this indicates the trump strength of each suit. The two spare cards are placed in this area. If they’re the same colour, that suit is trump (as it has two cards). If different, the stronger suit becomes trump (as they have one card each). The value printed on the card is ignored, as only the suit is important.

The clever bit

The start player in a trick must lay a card, but the next player has a choice: lay to the trick, or gain followers (see below). Laying a card follows typical trick-taking rules: follow suit if you can, or trump/ditch a card of another suit. Best card wins the trick. To gain followers, put the card to one side until the end of the trick. Then look at the number of followers on the discarded card (either 0, 1 or 2). Take that many follower cards. Then add the card to the trumps area, potentially changing the trump suit for the next trick.

Once all tricks in a round are completed, players score. It’s vital not to have more followers than tricks won, as that scores 0 for the round. Otherwise, score one point per follower/trick-won pair. Plus, if you have exactly the same number of followers and tricks, you get bonus points. The bonus increases each round, giving those falling behind ample chance to fight back. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: It’s hard to make trick-taking games stand out in a crowded market, but Anansi’s art does the job well. And once you start playing, the subtle twists draw you in. Its clever that the high numbered cards (likely to win tricks) are the ones you need to get the most followers. Simply counting your high numbers doesn’t equate to roughly how many tricks you’re likely to win. Because you’ll equally want to discard some for their followers.
  • The thinker: Many trick-taking games have you predicting how many tricks you think you’ll win. But here it’s often a moving target – an interesting strategic and tactical conundrum. The way trumps work really mixes things up. Some rounds it won’t change at all, where in others it’s in almost constant flux. Better still for the strategic thinker, all cards are in play at all times. Even in a three-player game, where some are left out, the unused cards are on display. A very interesting and fun game.
  • The trasher: I like the constantly shifting goalposts in Anansi. They keep everyone on their toes throughout each round. The first few games are tricky as you get your head around the subtleties. But once you start thinking about everyone’s hands, rather than just your own, things really get interesting. Having just three suits gives less opportunities to ditch cards rather than follow suit. Which means on unlucky rounds things can be a little on rails. But for the interesting elements it adds to deciding trumps I think it’s worth it.
  • The dabbler: While the game is pretty, and clever, you need a group of trick-taking fans to make it sing. There’s not much here to hold the interest of those who don’t dig traditional card games. It can also become frustrating if you don’t get the hang of it quickly. And it can be quite a heads-down affair, as there’s loads to think about to manage to get the all-important balance. That said, I really liked it! You just need to pick the right crowd.

Key observations

Not everyone is going to like the changing trump mechanism. If you like the Wizard-style planning, this may not be for you. This is very much a game with a changing landscape hand to hand – as tactical as it is strategic. If you don’t want a bit of chaos in your trick-taking, the Anansi card game probably isn’t for you.

Only having three suits can create some bum hands. It’s more likely you’ll be able to follow suit, so sometimes you’re lefty unable to affect proceedings much. Which can be frustrating. Also ,the way the scoring ramps up works in terms of keeping players in the game. But it’s also frustrating if you do well in round one but less well later. Why are you getting less points, just because you got your good hands early? I can see this being house-ruled out of the game by more serious players.

Anansi is a trick-taker with a few clever bells and whistles. But it is very much just that. So if you don’t like trick-taking games, this is unlikely to convert you. However, it could certainly turn the heads of ‘traditional’ card game players. But the balancing of tricks to followers will also put some off. As while I find it a fascinating puzzle, others may see it as a chore getting in the way of ‘proper’ trick-taking play.

Comparisons to Eternity & the two-player/solo rules

I preferred the presentation of Eternity. The whole package, from the tree tokens to the scorepad and pencil, oozed class. But I applaud HeidelBAR’s use of African folk lore and artists. They’ve created a unique looking product celebrating a culture under-represented in the industry. Fitting at this time, when the Black Lives Matter movement is rightly on our minds.

The two-player rules have been directly ported from the original game. Players play two cards each per hand, while a dummy hand slowly reveals the cards not in-game each turn, keeping a bit of extra tension going in terms of learning which cards are in play. It’s fast and quick, but works very well.

They’ve also added both a solo version and an extended variant for the 3-5 player game. As all these rules take up just a single sheet, I can’t fathom why they didn’t just include them in the box. But in these days of almost constant connectivity, I guess it isn’t really a problem. The extended version seems a bit pointless to me – why not just play again? But it’s always nice to have more options available, so why not? I’m sure some people will like it.

The solo rules are a riff on the two-player version. It’s incredibly simple. Your imaginary opponent has a face-down deck of cards. Each round they play (randomly) first and last, starting and finishing each hand with you playing two cards in the middle. It works fine, but is hardly inspiring. It will pass time in a push. But trick-taking games are surely about reading your opponents? I guess nowadays everyone feels as if their game ‘needs’ rules for as many different player counts as possible.

Conclusion: The Anansi card game

I love a good trick-taking game – and Anansi is one of the better ones I’ve played. While simple to teach, it has that extra level of complexity to stand above some of its competitors. But it doesn’t overdo it in terms of extra rules, meaning you’ve got a better chance of selling it to new and traditional card players. Plus the artwork is bright and colourful. A bit gaudy and shiny for my tastes, but I doubt it will put anyone off playing. It’s just great to see a fantastic game back in print.

For me Anansi is more enjoyable and original than popular trick-takers Diamonds or Skull King. I’d list it as a must-have for genre fans and a should-try for anyone who is a vague fan of trick-taking games. It will be staying in my collection. But if you already have Eternity, there’s no need to pick this up unless you love the artwork. You can simply download the solo/long game rules sheet (linked above) if you want to try those variants.

Board game Top 10: 1980s games that stand the test of time

Welcome to my board game Top 10 1980s games: the decade that saw me struggle through high school, enjoy college, then get my first proper job.

I played some card games, plus some Scrabble and Chess, with my mum. Then some D&D and Games Workshop stuff at high school. And then moved on. But unbeknownst to me there were actually some pretty good board games out there.

So while ‘the cult of the new’ gets all the headlines, I thought it time to give some love to some in-print gems that deserve a place on your shelves. Many of these gems have been borrowed from repeatedly since. And I’d argue some are yet to be bettered in their genre: with many holding strong in the BGG Top 1000. So as these games reach middle age, maybe skip that overblown Kickstarter you’ve been eyeing and give a classic a chance.

I used a BGG search to get the list, so some may have slipped through the cracks. And deliberately left out war games, Games Workshop and Steve Jackson Games as they have very specific audiences. I also left out both Merchant of Venus and HeroQuest for similar reasons. While I left out the original Arkham Horror because it was unrecognisable from recent versions. The games on this list are varied, but have a good chance of appealing to various types of modern gamer.

Board game Top 10: 1980s games

10. Werewolf
(1986, 3+ players, 60 mins)

More an activity than a game? Well, I’m including it here. I’m not a fan, but it is very clever. This is a group participation game, involving outing players as potential werewolves (via often heated group discussion) and killing them off. There’s acting, lying, and manipulation. Great for parties in the right groups. And now in about a thousand flavours to suit all tastes.

9. Wizard
(1984, 3-6 players, 45 mins)

I’ve never quite understood the point of Wizard – but I love it. For me, this is contract whist with a very small twist on the rules. And the versions I’ve seen don’t have particularly nice cards (one has some of the worst fantasy art you’ll see). I’d rather just play contract whist with a normal deck of cards. But if this will draw players in, go for it! A great game.

8. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
(1986, 2-7 players, 3-6 hours)

The popularity of the Ticket to Ride series has ensured train games are a key part of the board game landscape. And the 18xx series has done the same thing for more serious gamers. With 1830 the highest rated on BGG. It’s a deep, long route building and economic game devoid of luck. Build your network, invest in shares and make the most profit.

7. Die Macher
(1986, 3-5 players, 4+ hours)

If you’d told Die Macher’s designers their four-hour German election sim would become a 30+ year sleeper hit, I doubt they’d have believed you. But it is an utterly compelling political game. The hours fly by as alliances rise and fall, and you can see far enough forward to plan for game-changing policy and media changes. It really is quite special.

6. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective
(1982, 1-4 players, 1-3 hours)

This is a co-operative narrative game, where together you attempt to solve a mystery. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure game on steroids, with a large mapping showing numbered locations. Piece together the clues, leading to new locations, and solve the crime. Early versions were a little wonky, but it is still being supported with new scenarios today.

The Top 5: Eighties games for all the family

5. Scotland Yard
(1983, 2-6 players, 45 mins)

Once again you’re trying to catch a murderer on the streets of London. But this time, one of you is the villain. One player moves secretly (writing down their moves) around the map, while the rest work together to corner and capture them. It’s a common find in UK charity shops and well worth a look – especially if it includes the ‘Mr X’ baseball cap!

4. Labyrinth
(1986, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is another mass market release with solid gamer credentials. Yes, it’s a family game and there’s a fairly large luck element involved. But planning your routes around the ever-changing maze in this spatial puzzle can be genuinely tricky. Don’t let the cartoony visuals fool you – this can be a thinky and frustrating experience for even hardened gamers.

3. Survive: Escape from Atlantis
(1982, 2-4 players, 60 mins)

Another with strong charity shop potential, Survive was a Parker/Waddingtons staple for years. It has enjoyed a recent reprint, but I don’t think the game has ever been perfected. Despite that, it is fun enough to carry it off. Desperately try to get your Atlanteans to the edge of the board. Before your opponents feed them to sharks. Wholesome family fun…

2. Take it Easy
(1983, 1-8 players, 30 mins)

This clever little abstract game sees players trying to connect pipelines to score points. The trick is that all players are using exactly the same pieces, in the same order – but arranging them how they like. Players pretty much immediately diverge and it ends up as a fascinating puzzle of a game.

1. Can’t Stop
(1980, 2-4 players, 30 mins)

This is one of my few all-time Top 20 regulars. Mechanically, it is an incredibly simple abstract dice game. But in practice it is a brilliant filler game and great for all ages – it’s even educational. Can’t Stop is all about probabilities. How long will you keep pushing your luck, while risking losing all your progress? It simply creates a great atmosphere.


I’ll come back with a 1990s list, where the competition for places will be a lot stronger! But with the exception of Werewolf (not my kind of game), there’s nothing on this list I wouldn’t happily sit down and play today.

* Like this board game Top 10 1980s list? Check out all my other Board Game Top 10s.

Under Falling Skies board game: A solo review

The Under Falling Skies board game is a dice placement action selection game, with clear nods to the likes of Independence Day and X-COM. It is definitely just a solo game and has a short play time of around 30 minutes. It is listed as 12+, but I’m sure gamer kids a bit younger than that would soon get to grips with it.

While this is a small box game with a small footprint, it manages to pack quite the thematic punch and has loads of replayability. Impressive for what is basically quite a mechanical dice puzzle. The base game is complimented by a story-driven mission campaign which is both multi-directional and fully replayable.

In the box you’ll find about 10 plastic pieces, seven dice, a wooden vehicle piece and whole bunch of cardboard mini boards. At less than £25, you won’t have to worry about getting your money’s worth. The game is beautifully produced, the iconography simple and clear, and the comic book-style artwork nicely compliments the overall experience.

Playing the Under Falling Skies board game

The multi-section game board is long, thin and split into five columns. The alien invaders start at the top in their mothership, with our hero (that’s you, gawd help us) at the bottom in (of course) Roswell. The enemy starts with five ships, one in each column. 17 spaces below is your base, and below ground are six more rows making up your base. Just five dice rest between you and the end of the world. No pressure.

You first roll and assign one dice to each column within your base. There’s no dice mitigation as such. Instead, when you place a white dice in a column (you have three grey and two white) you must reroll all remaining dice. This works well, letting you (hopefully) get out of a bind – or in the opposite case, place four dice immediately if they’re in a good combo. Higher numbers tend to give better powers. But once placed, you have to move any ships in that column an equal number of spaces towards the base…

To win you need to complete research. Green spaces in your base let you do this, but cost energy. Red base spaces also need energy, but let you attack the alien ships. (Some sky spaces have a number on them, allowing you to shoot down ships on those spaces if your attack value is high enough). You get energy from yellow spaces in your base. Elsewhere, the top row of your base is a bit of a dumping ground. Dice placed here have the simple/weak ability to decrease the die number placed by one. But even this can be handy to get a ship onto a kill space, or at worst slow it down.

‘Welcome to Earth’

Your base also has a seven-space damage track. Each time an alien ship gets to the bottom of its column, it deals one damage and heads back to the mother ship to go again. So managing those ships is crucial. But even if you shoot ships down, they come again – so time is of the essence. After each round the mothership drops down a row, and if it manages to drop 12 rows it’s all over. And, of course, each time the mother ship drops a space it means the smaller ships are starting one row closer to your base…

And the mothership dropping can hurt you in other ways; adding extra attack ships, negating some of your research or slowing down your excavator. Your what? Well, you also have a little wooden piece in your base that can burrow down to lower levels, opening up extra (always better) rooms lower below ground. Awesome, sure – but it wastes a dice each time you do it. Speculate to accumulate and all that. It can definitely be worth it – and is sometimes unavoidable, as those lower rooms open abilities you may need to win.

So that’s the basics: slow/shoot down the enemy enough to get your research done before your base is annihilated or the mothership arrives. After your first play you’ll add robots (extra dice which can do automated actions for you each turn), as well as all sorts of other exciting things I’m not allowed to talk about. You simply don’t have clearance…

The four criteria

In a change to my normal reviews, I’m instead looking at areas in which solo board games tend to be judged – either favourably or not, depending on your tastes.

  • Elegance: I didn’t find playing the Under Falling Skies board game an elegant experience at first. And was a little worried after one play. But once you become familiar with the timings, and the nuances of how certain aspects gel together, it soon becomes a smooth experience. The rules are spread over eight A5 pages, including plenty of pictures/examples. And most of the actions, while hardly oozing theme, make thematic sense. After two plays, I felt 100% confident in what I was doing and didn’t find myself returning to the rulebook.
  • Meaningful decisions: It’s here the game shines surprisingly well. You have just five dice and one only one way to mitigate them – but that one way is where the game really stands out. Knowing you’ll have to reroll all remaining dice when you lay a white one keeps you almost permanently on edge. Do you take the average-ish grey dice you rolled now, or risk rolling disastrous ones by placing a white dice now? Elsewhere, you can shift focus on a dime. You may think OK, this turn I need to put a load of effort into research. But then the dice fall in a way that could see you take out several ships – potentially prolonging the game, giving you an extra turn or two to get that research.
  • Replayability: Publisher CGE has specifically asked reviewers not to talk about the content of the included campaign. Personally, I think this is a mistake on their part. All I’ll do here is repeat what I said earlier. Included in the box is a story-driven mission campaign which is both multi-directional and fully replayable. But even before you get to that, you have three cities to choose from (giving a different ability each, plus a different base setup). And the sky tiles are reversible, with a tougher side on the back. You always play with four sky tiles, so the more you flip over the tougher it gets. When you add in the campaign, the replayability is huge.
  • Theme, narrative & the ending: This is a mechanical euro-style puzzle game with dice used to claim action spaces. But the theme works, while tension builds as the mother ship starts to descend and time begins to run out. There are no adventure game elements. Your dice rolls influence your decisions rather than deciding the outcome of your choices. In terms of narrative, again I wish I could talk about the campaign. Let’s just say it adds quite a lot of personality to an otherwise quite mechanical experience. And the game has a pretty good story arc, with tension building throughout.

Key observations

The Under Falling Skies board game uses a small set of components to create a surprisingly varied experience, with multiple paths to victory. In my first play I was totally gung-ho, ignoring ships and letting my base take damage while rushing to do my research. In my next play I handled the ships better and took my time. Then next time I got my excavator to its lowest level fast, using the powerful lower base actions to come back from the brink. And that’s just the basic game.

Tactically there are other things I haven’t mentioned. The mothership unleashes extra ships, but these only need to be destroyed once. And there are spaces on the board where, if a ship lands on them, the mothership gets to drop an extra row. Sounds bad, but it doesn’t trigger its ‘end of round’ ability. Avoiding this (for example, losing precious research) can win you the game. Just another thing you need to weigh up each time you’re looking blankly at the dice you’ve rolled!

To date, no real criticisms have come up. I expect some will say it isn’t thematic enough, or this enough, or that enough. But for now it is basking, quite rightly, in pretty universal praise. But it is what it is. A 30-45 minute thinky puzzle, with dice adding that random factor every solo game needs. Choosing one space means you’re missing out on another, so you’re always thinking on your feet. And it’s very much tactical. Because if the dice say ‘no’. any grand strategy for the turn goes out the window.

Conclusion: The Under Falling Skies board game

For me, Under Falling Skies offers up a fantastic solo board game experience. If you want a long, adventure heavy experience then no – you won’t get that here. But if you’re happy with a sub-hour game heavy on the puzzle but with a coherent theme, plus bundles of replayability, I highly recommend it. Now, let me get back to my campaign… Hello boys! I’m baaaack!

Essen Spiel 2020 releases – game reviews live and incoming

The box art for Essen 2020 release Lost Ruins of Arnak

So the reviews are starting to come in for the Essen Spiel 2020 releases. I wasn’t massively excited about the list of titles this year, but there are bound to be some great new board games. And with just one review in from me so far, things are looking more hopeful than I’d thought.

This will be an evolving post until about March, so please bookmark and pop back once a month so. I’d love to go faster with the reviews, but the new UK lockdown is making things more difficult. I’ll update the list as review copies are confirmed and when reviews go live. As you can imagine, it’s quite a task for publishers to have to deal with all this via post/email rather than face to face, so I’m not holding my breath. But given time, the games will come! Some are already on the shelves, and more are on the way.

Essen Spiel 2020 releases: Game reviews – live

  • Anansi (1-5 players, 30-60 mins)
    Reprint, with new art, of clever trick-taking game Eternity.
  • Aqualin (2 players, 20 mins) Very light abstract with both players scoring the same pieces, but in different ways.
  • Bonfire (1-4 players, 1-2 hours) Point salad-y Stefan Feld euro game, at the high end of complexity for his game designs.
  • Lost Ruins of Arnak (1-4 players, 1-2 hours)
    Deck building/action selection/resource conversion euro.
  • Under Falling Skies (1 player, 20-30 mins)
    Sci-fi/save the world solo dice puzzler, including full campaign mode.

Spiel reviews incoming

  • Curious Cargo (Being played – 2 players, 45 mins) Pick up and deliver, tile placement and route building in this factory-based one-on-one puzzler.
  • Gods Love Dinosaurs (Being played – 2-5 players, 45 mins) Light tile-laying game where players create sustainable food chains.
  • Kompromat (incoming – 2 players, 30 mins) A gamers take on Blackjack/Pontoon/21, with an element of Schotten-Totten thrown in.
  • Royal Visit (incoming – 2 players, 30 mins) Reprint of designer Reiner Knizia’s 2006 tug-of-war style hand management card game, Times Square.

The ‘hopefully’ list

I’m also hoping to get my hands on all the other games on my recent Essen wishlist post. And of course I’d love to hear about the new games on your shelves – and the ones you can’t wait to get your hands on. Reach out on Facebook or Twitter and let me know what I’ve missed and need to check out.

Lost Ruins of Arnak board game: A four-sided review

The Lost Ruins of Arnak board game box, picturing three adventurers approaching a lost temple through the jungle

The Lost Ruins of Arnak board game is a deck-building and action selection euro. It takes 1-4 players about 1-2 hours to play, or longer with anyone who is a bit prone to analysis paralysis. It’s listed for ages 12+, but slightly younger gamer kids could probably manage.

This is an unashamedly nuts-and-bolts thinky euro game, about turning stuff into other stuff to get – you guessed it – victory points. As such the theme isn’t really important. But in fairness it is well realised here, with all the requisite parts fitting nicely together and making thematic sense. But no, you will not get the, “We’re on an adventure with David Beckham!” experience the box art art might suggest.

The artwork and iconography are excellent throughout and the components range from average to excellent quality. And there’s plenty in the box. Double-sided main board, four player boards, player aids, 120+ cardboard chits, 50+ cardboard tiles, 40-ish plastic tokens, 16 wooden pieces (8 with stickers), 110 cards and a score pad. Despite weighing in at just under £50 in the UK, it feels like decent value for money.

Teaching the Lost Ruins of Arnak board game

As much as any game can be, Arnak is a joy to learn from the rulebook. Everything is in a sensible order and given plenty of room, with lots of illustrations. Not that the rules are taxing for gamers. There’s nothing new under the sun here, so anyone familiar with euro games will be on solid ground. You need to learn everything up front, so you may get a few glazed looks in the teach. But once you get going there are very few stumbling blocks.

Players start with a deck of six cards, drawing five to use each round. There’s a row of available cards to buy, bought with two of the game’s currencies. Money buys equipment cards, while compasses let you ‘discover’ (read: buy) artefact cards. Equipment is placed at the bottom of your deck, while artefacts can be used the turn you get them. The downside being, in later turns, artefacts always have an activation cost. The game plays out over just five rounds, with the spread of cards moving from more equipment to artefacts as you go. Thematically, you’re moving further from Amazon to the actual Amazon, I guess.

Your initial deck starts with two money, two compasses and two fear cards. More fear cards are picked up through the game and, as with original deck-builder Dominion, they give negative points and clog up your deck. But also as with Dominion, the game gives you ways to ‘exile’ cards from your deck to avoid this. So, you have the choice of trying to run a tight deck by using actions to keep it lean – or going more freeform and buying a bunch of stuff hoping it all falls together. I’ve seen both work.

The actions

The board is split into three areas: the shop (discussed above), the map and the research track. Players have two meeples that can be sent to map locations each turn, to either discover or use an existing action location. Discovery is a bit of a lucky dip, but will usually be more rewarding. Sites yield a combination of the five game currencies, plus a few other adds (draw a card, gain a fear card etc). Each new site also has a creature guarding it, which can be bested for points and a small one-time bonus.

The research track is where you’ll largely spend the other three currencies: tablets, arrows and jewels. Each player has two tokens (magnifying glass and notebook) which move up the same track. And each token gives different rewards as it ascends. Thematically, you can’t write stuff in the notebook until you find it with your magnifying glass – so the former can never overtake the latter on the track. And of course, the notebook gives cooler rewards.

The game arcs nicely, with later rounds lasting way longer as players’ abilities increase. But it’s one action each per turn, until all players have passed, so it rarely bogs down too badly. Points are awarded on cards, for progress on the research track, for discovering sites and for besting monsters.

Solo play

the Lost Ruins of Arnak board game has solo rules. Set up is straightforward, adding a set of 10 action tiles for a dummy player. Five of these are set, with the other five having easy and hard versions. So you can slowly swap in hard tiles to increase the challenge. You take turns as normal, with the AI flipping a tile and doing its action on its turn. Thankfully the actions are simple, even when there is more than one option. So it doesn’t slow things down much. Basically, it is getting in your way while churning cards/tiles.

I’d put this solo mode in the ‘medium to good’ category. Easy to implement and almost as annoying as ‘real’ players. The only downside is it doesn’t add anything to your decisions, which a good AI will. However, the Arnak website does have a sign-up for a solo campaign which is allegedly ‘coming soon’. If that comes along and I get a chance to give it a go, I’ll update this review with the details. But you can sign up for updates if you’re so inclined.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: I’ve said a few times the game lacks originality. But little touches still impress. The fact the available card mix changes turn to turn (from 1:5 to 5:1 artefacts-items) is both thematically and mechanically clever. Artefacts feel more impactful first time, so ramping them up later makes sense. Elsewhere, assistants are added early on the research track to help you build a bit of strategy. This again works thematically but also helps the game’s arc, helping ramp up your options and differentiate players in those early-to-mid rounds. Design-wise, it just feels satisfying – as if it has been lovingly constructed.
  • The thinker: Lost Ruins of Arnak is a perfectly enjoyable light workout for the brain, great for an evening of chat and a glass of something warming with friends. Each round is its own puzzle, with the light deck-building allowing you to shape your strategy a little as you go – but things are mostly tactical. Happy to play anytime, but equally a little forgettable.
  • The trasher: This game looks very cool and invokes Indy – but has none of the adventure that goes with it. Sure, the theme makes sense – but there’s nothing for a combative player to get their teeth into. It’s OK, I’ll play it. But meh.
  • The dabbler: I wasn’t sure about it on my first play, but I really love this one now! The little nods to theme throughout are great: if you best a dragon guarding a site, later it will grant you a free ride to a site you need to get to. While the swiss army knife card lets you choose a couple of a list of options. They’re small things, but they draw me in. The pieces are great and the artwork is lovely, helping create the atmosphere. And the rules feel instantly familiar, so it is super easy to get into (and a great player aid helps too). Instant favourite!

Key observations

I have to start here: The lost Ruins of Arnak board game brings nothing new to the party, being simply another rearranging of the game design toolbox and being pretty. So why do I enjoy it so much? Especially while feeling hypocritical after giving a hard time to the likes of Wingspan. On reflection, its easy. I found Wingspan to be solitary, tepid and frankly boring. But I find Arnak a thoroughly enjoyable brain workout, with the puzzle being subtly altered by the choices your opponent makes each round. Sure, I wish it had done just something original and clever. But I’ll take it as it is.

Some complain it is a largely solitaire experience. It’s hard to argue against this, but then it isn’t an actual criticism – just a choice. If you want cursing and boiling blood, look elsewhere. However, what other players do can matter, so has an impact. The game is largely about efficient resource conversion. You can normally get what you want – especially later – but how can you get it most efficiently? It’s this puzzle – and how other player’s ruin it (often by accident) that keeps people coming back to this kind of euro game.

For a ‘deck-builder’, there can be very little deck-building. As a comparison, this is a deck-builder in a similar way to Concordia. You start with six cards and will probably have 10-15 by the end of the game. So if you’re looking for a game of devastating combos and card-driven engine building, this isn’t it. However, even with this small number of cards, you’ll see players taking different strategies.

Luck and replayability

The level of luck may bother some, and has certainly lost me at least one game. Personally, I think the game is short and breezy enough that I don’t mind. But it is definitely a factor. The luck of the card draw is a potential issue, of course – but very minor. The bigger one is the random tile draws for locations – and the creatures that guard them. You may draw a location giving you the items that match what you need to defeat the creature guarding them: boom, dead. Then I may not – leaving the monster on the board, plus me with a fear card and a slight feeling of, “It’s not fair!” But again, for a game of its length, I’m OK with that.

In a nice nod to replayability, the flip side of the main board has a second map. This mixes up what is needed to visit the dig sites, as well as making changes to the research track. It doesn’t add any new components, nor add any rules. But it’s a nice touch to add something no one would’ve complained about if it hadn’t been there. And its the kind of thing CGE has consistently done over the years, helping them gain a great reputation in an industry where that commodity in a publisher is quite hard to come by.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of good will towards CGE as a publisher. They do things right, from the way they treat the media (even small fry like me) to their customer service. And the care they clearly put into production. But it feels a long time since they’ve had a genuine hit in the euro category. Well, I think – and hope – they have one here. The lost Ruins of Arnak board game is an early contender for game of the year and will certainly break into my all-time Top 50. Mechanically and thematically sound, it looks great on the table and offers a satisfying and competitive puzzle. Apart from lacking a spark of originality that could’ve made it a classic, you can’t say fairer than that.