It certainly looked fun when i unboxed it, but when the rubber hit the road, was Lost Ruins of Arnak worth my precious time? Let’s find out!

(click to view transcript)

Lost Ruins of Arnak is a hand management worker placement game set in the ruined remnants of a fictional ancient civilization. Hi! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Let’s Find the Fun!

But first, a little This Meets That. i would say that Lost Ruins of Arnak is a little bit like Century: Spice Road, in that you’ve got a series of resources of increasing values, and you’re sort of parleying and trading them to work up to the bigger and better resources to buy bigger and better stuff. And then you’re gonna throw worker placement into that mix. And instead of laying claim to a series of cards, you’re buying different action spaces that you build out to the board, which are generally available to one player at a time. So we’re gonna sprinkle in that building feature that you’ll find in Keyflower or Lords of Waterdeep,
except the difference here is that when you build something to the board, it’s not assigned back to you, so when other people use that space, you don’t get kickbacks or perks.

There’s also a mechanic that may remind you a little bit of the the first expansion to Everdell, called Pearlbrook, where you go to a location, and you flip over a mystery tile, and if you have the resources that are on the back of that tile, at that moment, you can pay to get a bigger benefit. But it’s sort of an improvement to that mechanic, because in Pearlbrook, when you flip the card, you either have the resources, or your don’t. But in Lost Ruins of Arnak, when you flip the tile, you have the rest of the round to gather those resources in order to pay that tile off. So i think the mechanic works better in Lost Ruins of Arnak. You know, it just gives you a little bit more breathing room, and it’s less do-or-die.

Now i usually don’t review new games, because i generally like to have a big pile of plays behind me to draw from. i have played Lost Ruins of Arnak at the 2-, 3-, and 4-player counts, and you can also play the game solo, but i haven’t tried that yet. So could there be serious, game-breaking flaws that i haven’t noticed? Absolutely! Regardless, let’s take a look at what’s fun and what’s not.

Fun: The artwork! The production values! The component quality! All of it is top notch. This is a GORGEOUS game, and you’re gonna notice that right from the word “go,” from the cover of the box, to all of its gorgeously illustrated, individualized tiles that get to put on the board. The card artwork is beautiful. Everything is – oh, mwah! Chef’s kiss! It’s incredible!

And there are little rubies, little red rubies in the game, and instead of going with – you know – just the off-the-shelf rubies that you’re gonna find in something like Trickerion or Caverna, these little rubies are cool! They’re turtle-shaped… and there’s little… broken tablet pieces that look – they just look aw… like everything. It looks awesome. The arrowheads… i can’t say enough about how great this game looks!

Not fun: there’s no insert to speak of. It’s just a big empty box, and you put all the myriad pieces in little ziploc baggies, and throw ’em in there, and they just slosh around! i dunno about you, but i’m getting pretty spoiled by games that have really nice, integrated storage systems for their pieces, and when a game doesn’t have that, i notice!

Fun: it’s got daisy-chaining! Which, if you follow the channel, you know is one of my absolute favourite things in a game: when you can lay down a card, and then lay down another card, and build a little bit of a tableau, and then you get to bounce this card offa that card, and if you use what’s on THAT card, then you get to use THIS card, and then you get to put your guy over here and use that power… and i love being able to orchestrate the whole thing in my head, and then pull it off in a big, like, Rube Goldberg sequence! Drives my fellow players a little bit nuts when i’m really puzzling through it, and you can hear the gears grinding and the smoke coming out of my ears. But it’s fun. That bit reminded me a lot of Everdell.

Not fun: BECAUSE there’s no insert, the game is a bit of a pain in the butt to set up and tear down. Like i mentioned, there are a bunch of pieces. There are a bunch of little bitty baggies, and you have to file everything away and zip ’em up – and it’s just… it’s kind of… um… annoying. You have to separate all the cards out so that they’re in the right stacks, and if your friends wanna go watch the game or something and they leave you at the table to clean up, it’s a little bit of a miserable experience.

Fun: the theme is integrated and ESSENTIAL! Now you know i’m a theme guy, and so i don’t like it when the artwork and the theme don’t have anything to do with what you’re actually doing in the game. i recently played Coimbra, and that was a game where… you could have drawn ANY artwork on top of that game. It didn’t have to take place in Coimbra, it didn’t have to be quasi-medieval, you didn’t have to be… bribing nobles, or whatever the heck you were doing in that game (?) It didn’t matter. You were just moving sliders up and down, and going through the mechanical, mathy motions in that game.

Lost Ruins of Arnak: every mechanic is in service of the theme. You’re uncovering unknown, secret lost temples by turning over tiles, so there’s a mystery there. You never know what you’re gonna get. And each of those tiles has this sort of prehistoric, dangerous guardian, and you don’t know what’s coming out there. And then you’ve got a whole sort of research track that you’re working your way up through and discovering clues in order to find this big temple that’s just loaded with points… whatever that is. That’s gold, or fame, or whatever you’re working towards. But it all works, and it all gels really nicely together. Sure, if you were creative, you could slap other themes on it, but it was great in that it felt like the things i was doing were in service of the theme that they chose for the game.

It’s also one of those games where the artwork and the icons were really cleverly chosen, and on their own, they tell a bit of a story. So for example, there’s this gigantic spider guardian that’s very, very scary to fight. But once you defeat that spider guardian, it lets you get rid of a card from your hand. And the card you get rid of is probably going to be a Fear card. So i think it’s pretty neat that once you conquer the spider, you’re kind of conquering your fear!

There are a bunch of other guardians that stand in for planes and boats and cars, which sounds kind of weird until you figure out “Wait a second… if i defeat this prehistoric hippo, and then one time somewhere in the game, it acts as a car…? Thematically, that means i’m RIDING the prehistoric hippo!” How cool is that??

Now, one note about the theme: it might not impress everybody, and that’s because it’s based on sort of turn-of-the-century, or late 1800s writings, of people like Jules Verne, and you got, like, the Allan Quatermain stories, and John Carter of Mars and that sort of stuff – the Lost Word genre – which is very, very connected to and rooted in colonization. Now, the game kinda takes place in a fictional, probably Mesoamerican jungle-y kind of civilization, but it’s a fictional civilization. It never existed. And some of those ruins will even remind you of other places that aren’t even IN Mesoamerica, like this owl statue that reminded me of Petra in the Middle East. i know colonization can be a sensitive subject. It doesn’t bother ME, because of course, i’m arguably a benefactor of colonization. i’m still ahead because of all the hard work and sacrifice that the Jones family put into retrieving those artifacts.

But if it bugs you, here’s one piece of solace that might help to not bug you quite so much: there are no peoples in this game. So the civilization is never named, except that it’s “Arnak,” whatever that means, but you don’t see… kind of, like the stereotypical “ooga-booga” – you know, holding a spear by the side of the water kind of native peoples in the game. All of the stuff is depicted through big, prehistoric monsters, and cool ruins that are sort of reminiscent of different ruins from around the world. So if that’s any solace to you – if you’re worried about finding the theme a little… mmm… distasteful… maybe that’ll help.

Not fun: endgame involves quite a bit of… min-maxing. i don’t know if that’s the right term, but that’s – you know – when you’re getting down to the last turn, or the last two turns, and you think to yourself “OK…. i could go there, do that, play that, flip that, buy that, and do THAT, and that would get me… (calculating noise) three points… OR, i could go THERE, go there, flip this, buy that, exchange that, and flip THAT, and THAT would get me… eugh. Also three points. Oh! But i could ALSO…” You know. And on it goes. So it gets into a bit of analysis paralysis in those last few turns BECAUSE of the daisy-chaining stuff that i like… it’s a little bit of a trade-off. The best thing to do is to be an intrepid adventurer, and just… go with your gut, so we’re not… here for three hours.

Fun: The game is easy to learn. It’s a complete breeze. You just have to read through the instruction booklet once, or probably watch my How to Play video, if it’s available, and… you’re ready to go! That’s one of the things i most appreciated about this game, is so many of these games, you get them, you read through the instruction booklet, it’s a bit painful, you put it on the table, and then 2 seconds in, somebody has a question. And you don’t know the answer, as the game teacher. So you grab the rulebook, and you flip open to the section, and you eventually find it, and you say “Oh, the… it’s supposed to be (da da da).” Or “This symbol is supposed to mean that.” And you kind of spend your entire evening – that first play – you know, with your head in the rulebook. So YOU can’t play, and people are frustrated because you don’t know the answers, but there’s so much to know.

Lost Ruins of Arnak doesn’t do that to you. There was one symbol that we didn’t understand. We were quickly able to find out what it meant, and then for the rest of it, just the UI disappeared, and we were able to just play, and enjoy the game without any questions. That might not sound like much, but these days, i think that is quite an impressive accomplishment!

Not fun: There’s nothing particularly novel about Lost Ruins of Arnak. The mechanics, as i mentioned off the top, you’ve seen before in other games. You’ve seen this theme before, in games like Lost Cities, and in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. You’ve seen deck builders, you’ve seen worker placements… maybe you’ve even seen games that combine those two…? So it’s not doing anything particularly new. And if you are addicted to novelty, it might be a bit of a “ho-hum” experience for you.

So let’s Find the Fun in Lost Ruins of Arnak, where “fun” is represented by… jacks, and “not fun” is represented by… harolds. Lost Ruins of Arnak is… fun! (cheering)

Alright, down to brass tacks: if you are new to playing modern board games, and you don’t have this whole kind of mess behind you… you don’t have anything like Lost Ruins of Arnak in your collection, get Lost Ruins of Arnak! Absolutely! But the bigger question is: what if you do have this… testament to your mental illness on a big shelf behind you, and you already have games that do what Lost Ruins of Arnak does. What does it do any differently?

Well let me tell you: it gets out of your way differently than, i think, any game you own. The experience is smooth like buttah. You can tell that this thing was playtested and produced within an inch of its life, so that there were no questions about what tiles did, about what cards did, about what happens when i go here, when i buy that… it just… it’s so beautiful how the rules just take a complete back seat to you just having fun with the game! How great is that?

It’s also, i think, very… fluffy. It’s… it’s like a popcorn game. (popcorn popping noises) It’s like the summer blockbusters that it strives to emulate. But you know what? i don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Schindler’s List… (that’s right: i said “Schindler’s List”) is a great movie, and i don’t think too many people would argue that. It’s an important movie, and it’s crucial viewing, and it’s… um, an incredible cinematic experience. But… it’s not always the thing that you’re gonna pull off the shelf on a Friday night for fun with your friends. You know what i’m saying?

So Lost Ruins of Arnak may not be… uh… a crucial game, or a ground-breaking game, but this is not “Find the Groundbreaking-ness.” This series isn’t called “Find the Crucial.” This is called “Find the Fun”! And my friends… Lost Ruins of Arnak is fun.

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[Music – Board Game Boogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]

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