Lost Ruins of Arnak is an exploration game that smashes together deck-building and worker placement mechanics. 1 to 4 players will explore this island and uncover artifacts with powerful abilities. Along the way you’ll encounter guardians that can can only be overcome with the right combination of resources. Let’s jump into the game that was best described by Bob Crowell as “Indiana Jones meets Clank“.
[Note: Thanks to Bob Crowell for taking the photos for this review.]
Exploring the Lost Ruins
After hearing so much buzz about Lost Ruins of Arnak earlier this year, I wanted to play this game that merges two of my favorite game mechanics. Players start the game with a meager deck of 6 cards, 2 archeologist meeples and resources based on turn order. Each of the 5 rounds in the game will follow a similar formula. Players will place their archeologists, gather resources and spend resources on new cards, research or take down guardians.
I must warn you, the first turn in this game usually feels insignificant and makes you say “that’s it?” Lost Ruins of Arnak is a worker placement game, but with only two archeologists it feels so limited. When you assign an archeologist to a location, you’ll get the associated resources. Exploring undiscovered locations on this massive board will cost resources that you’ll need to gather. Discovering a new location reveals a guardian that will give you a “fear card” if they’re not handled within that round.It’s important not to go into these new locations without some resources in hand.
Players will need to rely on purchasing item cards or artifacts to set up bigger more elaborate turns in the future. Even the mechanic of deck-building feels limited. Unlike Quest for El Dorado, Clank, or Dominion, your deck of cards will be fewer than 20 cards in a game. It’s only around 3 or 4 rounds into Lost Ruins of Arnak that the strategies begin to click and you feel like you’re actually doing something significant.
Research and Discovery
While most of the game centers around exploring and getting new cards, I found the research track along the right side of the board to be really important. Players will spend resources throughout the game to increase their notebook and magnifying class tokens. Each time you move these tokens, you’ll be rewarded in some way. Just remember that your notebook token can never move above your magnifying glass. Utilizing this research track is vital to making the most of your turn.
As new locations open up on the board, players will jockey to place their archeologists in these locations. Players have to pay the cost to access a level 1 site or a level 2 site along with paying a travel cost to the specific location. This discovery will earn you an idol at the new location, reveal a new worker placement spot and reveal a guardian who’s defending the location. You’ll need to turn in the right combination of resources to meet the guardians requirement. Anytime a guardian is overcome, you’ll take the guardian card which gives you 5 victory points along with a boon icon that can be used.
These boon icons will meet the travel requirements to access new locations. You’ll see the same icons on the item and artifact cards. Players who don’t have these icons can turn in two compasses to travel to a location with a single icon.
After 5 rounds, the game will come to an end. Victory points will be counted from item cards, artifact cards, guardian tokens, idols, and points from the research track.
A Very Pretty Mixed Bag
I really like Lost Ruins of Arnak but I think the game struggles to find its identity. It’s an OK worker placement game and it’s an OK deck-builder. While the mechanics are definitely present, I think Lost Ruins of Arnak straddles a line and these two mechanics feel a little hollow when smashed together.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is pitched as a family game but I couldn’t imagine teaching my teenage kids this game and expecting us to have an enjoyable time. Arnak is a gamers game and fits into that medium weight category that I enjoy. It’s accessible but you need to have the right audience. It’s not a game that I’m inviting a couple friends over to play. This is a game that I need to get in front of my hobby board game collecting crew.
Each time I’ve played the game, the final round feels like a frantic grasp for points. Players end up buying cards for last minute points or pour resources into the research track. This final round really feels unsatisfying. Players who planned well can keep the round going for more than a couple minutes while some players sit by waiting to calculate their score.
Your first game of Lost Ruins of Arnak is really all about figuring out where you can gain points and what’s worth spending resources on. It can be a little disorienting with all the moving parts. Since points come from so many different sources, it’s worth trying a slightly different strategy each time.
The game has a wonderful theme and the feel of exploration really comes through. There’s a tension when a guardian is revealed. I absolutely love the artwork and the awesome table presence of the whole game. The plastic game tokens, cardboard chits and card quality are all top-notch.
It takes a couple games to really get your footing in Lost Ruins of Arnak. It’s a game that is worth coming back to and trying different strategies. While the game has gotten a lot of buzz and a Spiel des Jahres nomination, I’m not sure where it fits into my collection.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is absolutely beautiful, but it’s not going to be the game I reach for if I want a deck-builder or worker placement game. I’ll probably never turn down a game of Lost Ruins of Arnak, but it’s also a game that I’m not going to purchase. This game has really clicked for lots of people. I just worry that the hype behind it may let some buyers down.
If you want to check out Lost Ruins of Arnak, Board Game Arena has an excellent digital implementation of the game. It’s absolutely worth your time to see if this game is a good fit for you.
You can purchase Lost Ruins of Arnak at your local board game store or online through Amazon.
Excellent artwork and component quality
Plenty of ways to gain victory points
Strong exploration theme
Guardians add tension as you discover new locations
Not sure fans of either mechanic will feel fulfilled