Lost Ruins of Arnak Expedition Leaders: expansion review

Lost Ruins of Arnak is a 1-4 player euro game, released in 2020 (and reviewed by me the same year). Arnak Expedition Leaders is the first significant expansion for the game, outside of some downloadable solo content and promo cards.

On its release, the game became an instant hit. And is in the board Game Geek Top 50 games of all time (at time of writing). It combines light deck building and resource management mechanisms with a well realised and accessible Indiana Jones-style theme.

In my original review, I praised Arnak for being both a mechanical and thematic triumph, offering a satisfyingly puzzley experience. As well as for having high production values. And I felt it got the luck levels just right for a family/gateway game. But it did lack a little originality, or that direct confrontational edge some players crave. This expansion doesn’t do anything to change my mind on the latter points. So, what do ya do?

What does Arnak Expedition Leaders bring to the party?

Leaders is a modular expansion. Meaning you add any combination of the elements you want to, each time you play. Some you can throw straight in and forget about them: namely the 18 item and 12 artefact cards, eight sites, five guardians, four idols and three assistants. These mix things up a bit, rather than adding any new rules or mechanisms. But are very welcome, increasing the already strong replay value.

There’s also a new staff, or round marker. This simply makes you discard two cards from either side of it (instead of one) at the end of each turn – nice in a two-player game to keep things churning. Next up is a double-sided research track board, which you can place over the one on the main board for two slightly different challenges. Again, these add interesting tweaks to the original rules rather than reinventing the wheel. They’re a little tougher, upping the challenge. But this is to balance against the new leader abilities (see below).

The leaders

The biggest change is the leaders. There are six, each with their own player board, four starting cards and some other bonus component (card, meeple or cardboard chits). Each also comes with an excellent player aid, highlighting that character’s unique abilities. You add two fear cards as normal, for a starting hand of six. And while the new cards are unique they all incorporate the normal starting card abilities (get money and compasses), but offer interesting twists and alternatives. Each board also has a couple of blue idol spots that offer a unique ability tied to the character’s speciality.

The Baroness is well funded and the Professor well researched, giving bonuses aimed at items and artefacts respectively. The Captain and Explorer give you extra exploration options. The Falconer gives a variety of bonuses, but you need to build up to them by moving along a track. While the Mystic does a similar thing but in as more complex fashion, collecting and ‘spending’ exiled Fear cards. We tend to pick the ones we fancy, but you could draft them, get random ones etc.

How much does it change the game?

In an expansion this size, you usually get a whole new mechanism. But there’s nothing actually game changing in Arnak Expedition Leaders. As already mentioned, the various cards, guardians, locations and bonus tokens all riff off elements that were already in the game. As do the new temples. Better rewards also give fear cards. Reflipping guardians so you can use their power again. Or using the powers of untaken assistants on the game board. If you like the game, you’ll welcome all this. But it certainly won’t convert anyone.

The real meat is the leaders themselves. But even here, you’re largely playing the game same way. All it really does is make your starting cards more complex, while giving you some new routes to the same old goals. Take the mystic. After drawing five cards, he must add a fear card to his hand each round. Sounds bad, but if he can exile them he puts them on his player board. And can later get rid of them in rituals that give bonuses. It adds an extra layer of challenge, making it ideal for experienced players who think they’ve seen it all. So if you thought the original was a little too basic, this may change your mind. But unlikely.

Unfortunately, CGE forgot to add any solo play explanations to the rules – particularly in regard to the new temples and idol tokens. But these were only minor things and were quickly released in an online update of the rulebook. The solo version still plays very smoothly with the new content. But there is nothing solo specific in here to get excited about.

Is Arnak Expedition Leaders value for money?

Looking at comparison site Board Game Prices (at time of writing), you can find Leaders for around £25 (or £30 delivered). This seems OK value for the physical content in the box, which probably amounts to what you’d get in a full game at this price point. And as mentioned, the component quality here is of the highest quality. While the rules, iconography and artwork are all top notch.

If you’ve played a lot of Arnak and were looking for more content, I’m pretty sure this is going to satisfy too. I’m a big fan of the game and was super happy with everything included in the expansion. I wanted more of everything and that’s what I got. But would I have been happier if they’d also changed things up a bit, rather than just sideways? Absolutely. But equally, I don’t feel short changed. What you get here is more Arnak, with added asymmetry. But it’s certainly not 2.0. It’s one for the fans that will put it back on the hotlist for a while, rather than a way to win over the naysayers.

Is Arnak Expedition Leaders essential?

Absolutely not. The original game is popular for a reason. It’s not broken and didn’t need fixing. But if you’ve found Arnak hitting the table a little less often recently, this should give it the new lease of life it needs. Everything just works in a very satisfying way, letting you re-explore the game and find new ways to optimise strategies.

One caveat though. The new cards, tokens etc are probably not enough to make this value for money on their own. To make this purchase worthwhile, you need to embrace the leaders and temples. And even the simplest ones add a level of complexity. So if you’re casual gamers who don’t want to add another level of puzzle to this particular family game, I’d suggest (if possible) you try before you buy.

… and does it fit in the original Lost Ruins of Arnak box?

Yup, just. But if another similar sized expansion comes along, it might become a struggle. But let’s hope it happens, because this one is well worth the extra box strain! The original didn’t reinvent the wheel, but was excellent regardless. Looks like they’ve done it again.

* Thank you to Czech Games Edition for providing a copy for review.
* Follow this link for 200+ more of my board game reviews.

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