This is the first in a series of “How to Fix…” articles, where i tweak an aspect of board game design to make it a wee bit better.
i quite like Lost Ruins of Arnak. The Scales of Funstice declared it “fun” in a recent Find the Fun video, and i’ve been lucky enough to play it a handful of times on Board Game Arena with the crew on the NAaT Discord Server (hop in and check the #game-scheduling channel if you’d like to play something with us). i even spent scads of time 3D printing, staining, and painting a really cool insert for the game. i have the utmost respect for designers Mín & Elwen, who seemed to come out of nowhere to bring us a really great experience.
But there’s one teensy aspect of the design that irks me:
Arnak is a great marriage of mechanic and theme. The game has you placing one of two explorers on different dig sites on the board. If the site is an already-discovered encampment, you collect the resources depicted like any self-respecting worker placement game would have you do.
But if you traipse through the jungle and machete your way to an undiscovered site, spending 3 or 6 compass tokens depending on how deep you delve (in addition to something with a car, a boat, or an airplane icon – or even a combination of multiple vehicles for the deepest, darkest dig sites) you get to put a new worker placement tile on the board, and collect its goodies. That tile also gets a fearsome guardian creature on it, which you can defeat for points and perks, or avoid at the peril of accruing a point-losing and deck-defiling Fear card.
Once the smoke clears and a new round begins, the dig site you discovered becomes fair game for any other player to explore, and collect the site’s resources.
Um… exsqueeze me? i fought my way through the underbrush, discovered the site, and fought off the guardian, and now YOU get to just wander in there and snatch a few pieces of loot? You don’t even have to spend the compasses to FIND the place! You’re using MY map! Just a quick trip in a car (along the road that i cleared) and you’re there.
Something about that rubs me the wrong way.
What Other Games Do
When i consider other board games that let players add variable worker placement locations, two games come to mind: Lords of Waterdeep and Keyflower. And in both cases, these games reward the player responsible for generating the worker placement spot.
In Lords of Waterdeep, there are a handful of pre-printed locations on the board. There are also empty slots where players can pay to construct buildings. Those buildings become new worker placement slots, and each building is marked with a crest identifying the player who owns it. If another player places an agent on that building, the building’s owner collects a reward, which varies depending on the building in question. In Waterdeep, the reward the player earns comes from the general supply, not from the player who “rents” the building.
By contrast in Keyflower, all players’ farm tiles that they win at auction become fair game as worker placement slots for other players to use. If Suresh places a blue meeple on Tammy’s tile, Suresh gets the tile’s benefit, but Tammy collects Suresh’s meeple at the end of the round, increasing the number of workers she gets to play later. So in the case of Keyflower, the payment comes from the “renting” player, not from the game supply.
Presently, the game has no way to delineate which player discovered which dig site. This could be easily solved by printing a set of 12 cardboard tent tokens in each player’s colour. When you discover a new dig site, you place one of your tents there. Later, if another player travels to that site, he or she camps out in your tent, so you get some sort of benefit. Nice and thematic!
So Arnak has two options for rewarding the player who discovered the dig site: payment can come from the “renting” player, or it can come from the game supply.
It would be easy to just declare, for example, that
“The player who travels to a discovered dig site must pay the player who discovered the dig site [x] [whatever],”
“When a player travels to a discovered dig site, the player who originally discovered that site collects [x] [whatever] from the supply.“
(Take your pick with [whatever] – Arnak has five hard currencies: coins, compasses, tablets, arrowheads, and jewels.)
The problem, though, is that i’m sure Lost Ruins of Arnak in its current configuration has been playtested out the wazoo, and the rewards have been carefully modelled and balanced. A player who spends 3 (or 6) compass tokens, in addition to travel icons, already gets the benefit of the space. (But on the other hand, it’s a blind benefit, which arguably isn’t as valuable as travelling there later when the reward is known). The discovering player can also pay extra resources to defeat the guardian – again, a blind cost – but a defeated guardian is worth 5 points and some sort of perk… usually a travel icon that the player can use later without sacrificing a card.
Giving the discovering player an extra resource when another player “rents” the space would definitely throw the game off-kilter if that resource had to come from the renter’s own supply. And taking something from the general game supply could still give the discoverer too much benefit at the end of it all. i don’t know. i would have to rigorously playtest that rule, and since i have no real skin in the game, i ain’t gonna.
But just as a thought experiment, i tried to come up with some other reward that a dig site discoverer could earn that wouldn’t upset the apple cart by impoverishing the renter, or enriching the discoverer by too great a degree. There are many different rewards to be had in Arnak, and not all of them are tied to physical goods. They include:
- drawing a card, either from the top or bottom of your deck (“bottom” is much more beneficial, since that’s where you send your newly-bought cards, so odds are you know exactly what you’re about to draw)
- exiling a card (this clears room in your deck so you’re more likely to draw your more powerful cards)
- relocating an explorer to another site (but this is a very valuable power move permitted by certain expensive Artifact cards)
- removing an explorer from the board (see above)
There are other card manipulation perks that aren’t present in the game, that could be used as “soft” perks to reward dig site discoverers:
- peeking at your deck
- reordering your entire deck (this would be extremely powerful in certain situations)
- loading a card – selecting a single card and floating it to the top of your draw deck, while the order of your other cards remains the same. So this perk would necessarily incorporate the “peek at your deck” perk.
- peeking at the next card in the Artifact or Tool decks
- peeking at, or reordering (or both) an opponent’s deck (note: Arnak is pretty light on “player interaction” [read: dickery] so this feels like it’s a bit outside the spirit of the game)
- collecting one element from the dig site’s rewards, a la Waterdeep. For example: a site offers a tablet and an arrowhead. The renting player gets both items, while the original discoverer gets one or the other. But again, there are big balance issues here… especially in cases where a dig site only offers a single reward, like a valuable jewel or a “draw a card” option.
- moving the journal or the magnifying glass up one level with a 1-item discount, as long as the original discoverer can pay at that very moment. This is kind of interesting, and reminds me of the “follow” mechanic in Tiny Epic Galaxies. But it still seems quite powerful – especially, again, in cases where the cost of moving up to the next level is a single, expensive jewel.
- straight-up getting points. Maybe you collect a 1-point token any time someone “rents” your campsite. This is how Everdell handles it when someone uses a worker placement location that you built, like the Inn. Again, does it balance? No idea.
For a game with so many moving parts, there are, of course, many possible perks i’ve missed. i’ve given this whole thing a single shower time’s worth of thought, and what i’ve come up with is this:
When another player uses a dig site you discovered, you may discard a card from your hand (deriving no benefit from it), and draw a new card from your deck.
As usual, if there are no cards left in your deck, you skip the perk. So this lets you ditch a low-benefit card in order to fish for something of higher value.
This solution feels like it rights the original thematic wrong that – hey! i should derive benefit from you using a spot i worked to hard to reveal! And it does so in a largely innocuous way that hopefully doesn’t throw the thoroughly playtested risk/reward system out of balance. And it’s yours for the cost of 12×4 printed tent tokens in the four player colours.
How’d i do?
What do you think? Would you play Lost Ruins of Arnak with this modification? Or do you think it’s unneccessary? Or that it would throw the carefully balanced orbit of the game out of whack and send Arnak spinning uncontrollably into the bad game void?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and if you have a better way to address the issue!
Ryan Henson Creighton has been a professional game designer for over 20 years.