Before we start on Res Arcana in detail, let me just make something apparent. One thing I really enjoy about some games is every single play-through being a unique experience, those games where you never exactly know what’s going to show up at any moment. And I don’t mean the usual idea of just shuffling cards before dealing them out; sometimes even knowing what cards are waiting for you can change how you play. Res Arcana is one of those games though that takes away the safety net of knowing which cards are coming up soon in the deck by only using a selection of cards from the decks in each game. It’s tighter and more restrictive that other games, but that just goes to create a tense and exciting game that, unusually for a game of this ilk, works amazingly well with just the two players.
So what even is Res Arcana? The idea is that you’ll be setting up as mages, fighting for control of some ancient monuments and Places of Power. You’ll collect essences to help you out with this in the form of Life, Calm, Death, Gold and Elan, and use these alongside other items to build artefacts and command dragons. It is, at its most basic level, another game where you’re managing resources in order to buy cards which, in turn, give you points and abilities, so does anything make it stand out? Let’s look at how it all works and find out.
Initially everyone gets one of each essence to start them off, as well as a mage card which provides them with one of various special abilities, and a starter set of three artifacts. These cards are chosen by dealing out more than you need, and the player choosing the mage they want and a random selection of three from the eight artifacts dealt out. This is a mechanic I really liked; you knew which cards you were going to get during the game, but could only start with a small number of them without knowing exactly when others would crop up. With each hand dished out being different every time you play, it opens up a heap of replayability too. It’s definitely nice to have a smile before the game has even started…
Once the game actually kicks off the turns are quick and relatively straightforward. Players will collect whatever essences their current cards allow them to grab each time round, building up your personal collection of resources. That’s handy, because one of the actions you can carry out is to claim a new monument, but doing so costs resources. The more powerful the cards, the more resources are required to pick it up and the more power that card will provide. It brings the usual dilemma or whether to save up or jump in for the smaller cards. One method lets you get the bigger cards sooner, but picking up the weaker cards will bring about more resources sooner. It’s impossible to predict which way your game will pan out, so thinking on your feet is very much the way forward. If you’re feeling really flush you can buy a Place of Power which costs a mini fortune in resources but allows you to carry out some even more useful tasks like defending attacks, swapping resources and so on. This idea has been done a lot before, but Res Arcana feels really well balanced and as such games are always close and hard fought.
These turns keep passing around players until everyone has passed, either through wanting to save their resources or being unable to do anything else. At this point the victory condition is checked (basically has anyone got 10 or more victory points) and everything starts again with players collecting their essences. It’s quick, it’s easy to understand and learn, and there’s very little sitting around and waiting. It even works well with 2 players, something that’ll be a relief for those who like to play in smaller groups. There’s also a drafting option, allowing you to select your cards in a slightly different way and bringing in another round of strategy on top of what’s already in the game. It’s a neat option once you’re used to the rules, but probably not a great idea in earlier games.
The artwork is great too, with clear images and stats on the cards, and the components are very decent too. The resources are wooden pieces stored in a flimsy but neatly designed tray, and the cards themselves feel like a good size and handle well; you don’t get the feeling that you need to be super gentle while playing, so there’s some good long lasting stuff here.
So Res Arcana manages to stand out from other similar games through it’s easy to understand rules, excellent artwork and well balanced cards which allow 2 players to have every bit as much fun as a group of 4. It’s quick to play, at least in terms of the speed that rounds get completed, and has a huge amount of variety and replayability thanks to the way the cards are initially distributed at the start of the game. With Res Arcana being released this week it’s certainly one you should look out for, and comes highly recommended.