Table of Contents
|Name||Lost Ruins of Arnak (2020)|
|Review||Meeple Like Us|
|BGG Rank||125 [8.21]|
|Designer(s)||Elwen and Mín|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
A review copy of Lost Ruins of Arnak was provided by Czech Games Edition in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Lost Ruins of Arnak, despite being constructed from ‘weel-kent’ parts, was a breath of fresh air to me. A game that felt new because of how well it was put together as opposed to being built from unique components. That’s not to say it had no innovation – I think the way it blends together its models of time and economy creates a new experience in the synthesis. We gave it four stars, because it was a great game.
I sometimes say that Meeple Like Us is undoubtedly the single most critical review outlet on the Internet because every game goes through two evaluative processes and very few come out of the second unharmed. Sanctum was the last CGE game about which we felt similarly positive, and it got a rough ride in its second outing. I hope Lost Ruins of Arnak will do better, but I approach this teardown with trepidation.
Enough of that though – let’s get on with it.
Why are we still having this issue in 2020? Red, green, and blue are an awful configuration of colours to use for tokens because every single one of the dominant categories of colour blindness are going to struggle. Attaching stickers, as is done for the notebook and the magnifying glass, is only a solution if they have different images for different players.
This is undoubtedly the single most frustrating thing I see in these accessibility teardowns because it is trivial to avoid . Even in circumstances where a game is perfectly accessible for people with colour blindness it’s still a signal suggesting that tyhe outcome was an example of being ‘accidentally accessible’ or ‘accidenta11y’.
The colours in Arnak are an issue primarily on the research track. Knowing what it costs to progress (and thus what the benefits would be) is handled via the research tokens. One of these determines how much you know (the magnifying glass) and the other determines how much you’ve documented (the notepad). Your notebook can never be higher up the research track than your magnifying glass. So what you have here is a tangle of information where colour blindness can be a problem in two areas.
- You may confuse your magnifying glass with someone else’s, thus thinking you’ve made more or less progress than you have.
- You may confuse your notebook with someone else’s, thus thinking you have greater, or fewer, options regarding research.
As usual, it depends on specific manifestations of colour blindness and the blend of colours chosen, but it was so easy to fix here. CGE even give you stickers, so even if they didn’t change the colours they could at least have changed the printing.
As to the rest of the game, all the individual icons can be differentiated, but the presence of archaelogists will be a small issue. Once you’ve placed an archelogist you can’t move them again, but your decision to take, or not, a particular location on the board may be influenced by who needs what and who has pieces they can still move. You can inquire about all of this without much leaking of strategic information, but it shouldn’t be necessary.
Nothing else in the game uses colour as the sole channel of information.
We’ll recommend, just, Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category. The impact of colour is constrained and the consequences of inquiring are low. But it’s 2020 and it blows my mind that this is still an issue I have to talk about.
There’s a lot of information on the board that is only available visually. Everything from research costs, to dig site benefits, to how you defeat guardians is shown only iconically. Since the setup of ruins and monsters is random, it’s not a learnable system in any meaningful sense. Most of the tokens though can be differentiated by touch, although the money and exploration tokens are both just circular cardboard coins and thus they break with the otherwise accessible design of the rest. That’s a bit of a shame.
You gain idols for discovering ruins for the first time, one-off rewards for being the first person to explore a research pathway, and one-off boosts for defeating a guardian. All of these are displayed in tiny icons on the relevant tokens. Icons on dig sites, cards and monsters are usually much larger, and more clearly contrasted.
The main issue though with the cards is that they need to be kept secret and they are information dense in a way that is going to be an issue for anyone with visual accessibility needs. They are consistently structured, but each card has the following payload information:
- Their value in travel, located in the top left of the card
- Their category of card, located in the top right
- Their cost in the marketplace, shown in the bottom left
- Their value in victory points, shown in the bottom right
- Their effect, shown in the lower half of the card
- Some cards have also have instant effects which means they don’t count as an ‘action’ to play, which is also indicated in the lower half of the card.
Note the sophistication of some of this payload information as demonstrated on the image above. The gold pan is simply ‘instantly get two coins’, but the aeroplane has icons interwoven with text in a way that can make it difficult to read. It also makes it difficult to be sure that a close inspection is looking at the right place. For those with total blindness, the game is likely to be mostly impossible to play without sighted support – the sheer number of cards and the random deal they get to the marketplace ensures that every session will come with new information that needs to be comitted to memory. A few icons also are too similar to others and thus lack a clear identifiable silhouette.
As far as the main board is concerned, the game state can be verbalised to a degree in that only a certain number of options will be available at all considering how much other players will be occupying available ruins. However, relating options to cards is always going to be a challenge. It’s one thing to know ‘In order to get an amulet and a tablet you’ll need to spend a card with a car on it’, but you then need to relate that to which of the cars in your hand, if any, you might want to spend. There’s a massive difference in terms of future game strategy between spending a machete and spending a tent.
A lot of the board too benefits from an assessment of synergy. For example, ‘if I spend my gold pan I lose an option to make a move but I can use the money to buy a bear trap, and then use that trap to kill that loose guardian and get its plane bonus, which then means I can activate the plane ruin to get the amulet I need to move up the research track’. You need to be planning several moves ahead within a very tight economy. If you’re going to do it well you need to be thinking of multiple paths to the same goal. Arnak doesn’t present itself like a puzzle game, but that’s exactly what it is. The puzzle is ‘How do I get X’ and the solution is ‘rub your archeologist and your cards against the board in these specific ways’. As is always the case with these kind of games, those that cannot easily visually interrogate their options will be at a disadvantage.
We don’t recommend Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category.
As you can probably pick up both from the review and other sections of this teardown, there’s an awful lot of cognitve processing that goes into playing Arnak even before we start to consider what’s involved in playing it ‘well’.
First of all, knowing deck composition is a hugely important part of play in several levels. The first is knowing what’s left to be drawn in your own deck, which impacts on the statistical value of a ‘draw a new card’ action. If I know I have three fear cards and one tent, I should count on there being a 75% chance that all I get from taking a ‘draw a card’ action is a relatively useless card and I’d want to factor that into decision making.
On top of that, it’s good to know what cards your opponent may have available. Knowing they bought an aeroplane for example has an implication on whether you want to be the one making new discoveries or blocking sites that can only be accessed via the air.
Third, since all cards are in the draw decks at the start of the game, it’s worthwhile although not critical to know what cards might still be in the deck for when the market is refreshed. You only see a subset of them in any given game so the benefit is limited but it’s still useful to know ‘These cards have come out therefore there are no other cards that can do X’.
You can play Arnak by focusing on your own deck, but I think to play well you need to be thinking one step beyond that.
As to fluid intelligence requirements, the story is a bit more straightforward. You can make progress in the game without a lot of deep strategic thinking but it’ll always be situational. You won’t be able to chain actions together for an effect that is greater than the sum of its parts, and as such it’ll be a case of working out what you can do with what you have, and that may be less than you hope. Making research progress isn’t a case of throwing resources at the problem (as it is in real life) but rather making available a specific blend of resources. If you have no arrow-heads and no plan to get them, life becomes a lot more difficult.
There’s a fair amount of literacy required for play. It requies a grasp of numeracy that can deal with a shifting economic value defined by availability. It also requies explicit numeracy for working arithmetic through discounts and point gains by resource costs. The level of skill needed isn’t high, but it is there, and it comes up again in the scoring which requires the use of a pencil and a (provided) pad to calculate.
The game state never becomes especially complex in and of itself, but again this issue of synergy of strategy comes up in that the game is made up of simple things that can have interesting compound effects. I have occasionally had rounds in Arnak where I have performed invocations that are indistinguishable from a magic spell, leaving my opponent (Mrs Meeple) convinced that I had cheated because of the scale of the sorcery. At one point after she passed I brandished a hand of cards that contained seven to her zero and I said ‘Now let’s see what happens’. And what happened was ‘a lot more than you’d expect’.
We can very tentatively recommend Lost Ruins of Arnak in our memory category, but we can’t recommend it for those with fluid intelligence impairments.
This is probably the ‘most accessible’ form of deck-building we’ve seen on Meeple Like Us. It has exactly all the card curation aspects you’d expect from a game that draws design lessons from Dominion or Star Realms but it’s like a game that has had Ketamine injected into its veins. Everything is so much more sedate than is usually the case. You shuffle your hand at the end of a round, rather than a turn, which means that there’s a much greater time distance between shuffles. And when you run out of cards, you’re just left with an empty draw deck rather than getting what is essentially an infinite deck as you shuffle the discards to remake yourself anew. This by itself makes play with support several times easier than it is in faster moving games. The hand of cards with which you are working is persistant and changes slowly over the course of a round, making compensations like card holders far more feasible.
I would have loved to have seen the ruins come with some kind of evocative names, both for the theme and for accessibility purposes. It would have been cool to say ‘Send my archealogist to the Tomb of Tiny Screaming Souls’. Instead you have to say things like ‘Move my archaelogist to the third ruin in the second row in the first area’, or some equivalent. It’s more cumbersome, has a degree of ambiguity that will need to be resolved for each new set of players, and just sounds rubbish. This is a game where more accessibility in the sense of unambigious naming would have made it better for everyone. After all, it wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Ruin of Spending One Car Card To Get An Exploration Token And An Amulet.
The tokens, for the most part, are nice and tactile and lend themselves well to picking up and putting down. That’s not true for the coins and the exploration tokens, and that’s a shame. I probably would have prefered cards too for the ruins and the monsters, simply because the thick cardboard tiles used are difficult to shuffle.
I will say though that the board is a little on the large side, making it occasionally awkward to reach over to the far end (which you may have to do regardless of where you are seated). It is, to a degree, modular though – the board that contains the tokens is separate from the main board, but it would have been good to see the research track and the marketplace being similarly conveniently positionable.
Overall though, we can recommend, just, Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category. There are no problems in play that can’t be solved by support from the table and an agreed upon naming scheme.
There is no direct competition in Arnak, it all happens via the medium of the board. So much of the game is bound up in blocking other players though that it feels more pointed than many ‘indirect’ competition games.
The game doesn’t incentivise players ganging up on others, and it’s rare that anyone is every truly blocked from taking a meaningful action except in games where certain resources are in notably short supply. Blocking is mostly a temporary issue – the rotating player order solves it to an extent, but so does the fact that resources are available from many sources. Idols for example can be ‘slotted’ to give a one-off reward, and advancing up the research track may provide a resource that is otherwise unavailable.
Point differentials though can be quite significant and partly as a result of the accumulating advantage issue we discussed in the review. If I buy a card it’s a potential action (especially if it comes with a ‘draw a card’ payload) but it’s also points at the end of the game. As such, the most beneficial action a player might be able to take is to build up their lead in actions while accumulating the score that goes with it. Even simply having a couple of actions more, on average, than other players can translate into a greater number of resources which can propel someone more quickly up the research track even if they ignore everything else.
There are no major red flags here, at least after the first game has been played, so we’ll recommend Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category.
The manual doesn’t make use of gendered language, and while the box shows two men and a woman it does make an obvious effort at some degree of inclusivity. The theme though does carry with it overtones of ‘cultural theft through imperialism’ since you are exploring Some Far Off Country and plundering the resources you find. There are references too to ‘evil tribes’ and similar tropes that you find when the conception of a game is about ‘civilization’ interacting with ‘primitives’. That’s not uncommon in games like this, but it does bring to mind the adage that ‘the difference between archeaology and grave robbing is only a matter of time’. That said, given the ‘guardians’ that occupy each of the ruins it’s clear that this is something of a fantasy world and as such you can probably hand-wave all this way. Depending on your cultural background though (specifically if you are from a colonizer background or a colonized background) this may be a sore point.
Lost Ruins of Arnak has a hefty RRP of around £55 which – while not excessive as far as hobbyist games go – is still a relatively eyewatering sum for ‘non gamers’. You can see where the money is going in the box – even opening up the bag containing the tablet resource made me grin like a kid. I do have my doubts though about how much the game is likely to hit the table after the first few times, and that’s always a factor in price evaluation. While the game did change dramatically for me between my last and second last playthrough, that was because I’d screwed up the rules for my first few games. Beyond that though each session that I played of it felt much like the previous one – while the specifics of strategies had to change, the essential nature of them didn’t.
We’ll tentatively recommend Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category.
There is some need for literacy during play, but it’s supported through the use of reasonably clear iconography. There is otherwise no need for formal communication.
We’ll recommend Lost Ruins of Arnak in this category.
Given the very tentative recommendation we have given for those with memory impairments, if that compounds with a communication impairment related to literacy I’d be inclined to say perhaps consider another game. Some of the effects in Arnak e are sufficiently obscure that it’s likely to require regular consultation of the manual, or regular support from the table. It’s not excessive, which is why I say ‘perhaps’, but it’s certainly a factor. Similarly if a communication impairment is linked to colour blindness – at that point the need to regularly inquire of the table regarding ownership of tokens may be enough to seriously impact on game flow.
Lost Ruins of Arnak plays reasonably swiftly, but it can be drawn out in the last couple of rounds. The box suggests about thirty minutes per player, which feels roughly in the right area. At a full player count that’s two hours of relatively intense play given how rounds interleave. It’s enough that it might be too long for some players, especially those with conditions of modulating severity. Dropping out of play is possible, and it could be easily house-ruled by bringing in the space restrictions outlined in the manual for lower player count games. Games with larger numbers of players will tend to have larger numbers of ruins, but I don’t see that having a major impact on balance if the count changes half way through.
Well, it’s not an inspiring performance here but it’s not without its upsides. It performed better than Sanctum, overall, but it’s still a game that stumbles in a lot of these categories which has to moderate how enthusiastic we can be about recommending it to people.
There are a few easy fixes in there (for God’s sake, colour palettes like that are not okay in 2020), a few opportunities for improvements (give the ruins names!), but otherwise it’s an accessibility profile mostly defined by the game design rather than its production.
We gave Lost Ruins of Arnak a hefty four stars in our review, because it’s a very enjoyable game that has a model of research that feels like I want real research to feel. I’m not quite ready to jack in my career for the high Arnak gives me but I do think it’s a very good game that is worth your attention if you believe from this teardown that it might be playable.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
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Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.