BENGALURU: One game was enough to get Tom Lehmann promoted into the pantheon of great board game designers — the wonderful Race for the Galaxy. Lehmann’s come out with many other games since, but Race remains his masterpiece and the one to which all his other games are inevitably compared. Today, we’re looking at his latest release, Res Arcana — a game that might buck that trend.
Res Arcana starts from humble beginnings — each of you is dealt a mage with a special ability, one of each of the five essences, and a deck of eight cards. That may not sound like much, and it really isn’t; but out of such meagre roots, you will construct your alchemical masterpiece. The goal in Res Arcana is to either be the first and only mage to hit 10 points in a round, or to have the most points if multiple mages hit the 10-point mark.
You have eight artifacts at your disposal, each costing some amount of the five essences — life, death, gold, calm and elan (although those last two inevitably become ‘water’ and ‘fire’ soon enough) — and those are the components of the engine you’re trying to build. Like Race for the Galaxy before it, Res Arcana is an engine-building game; however, it’s one of the most tightly-focused examples of that genre that I’ve ever seen.
The threshold for victory will seem nigh unattainable for the first round or two but then, once the pieces start slotting into place, you’ll be frantically trying to cobble together points here or there because that 10-point deadline will be hanging over your heads and looming ever closer. Because you only have an eight-card deck and a fraction of that deck in your hand at any given time, you aren’t overwhelmed with options — here are your tools, the goal is 10 points, now get to it. It’s wonderfully refreshing, especially in the current climate of ‘more is more’, to come across a clear-cut setup.
It’s not just about the artifacts you’ve got, either — in each game, there will be five Places of Power (double-sided tiles, so you’ll get quite a few different combinations) up for grabs, as well as two available Monuments to build at any given time. Monuments are straightforward — they cost gold, which is the toughest resource to collect, and they provide points and a bonus of some sort. Places of Power, on the other hand, require a truckload of multiple essences, but they become part of your engine — offering either powerful activated abilities, or potentially game-changing sources of victory points. You don’t need a Place of Power to win the game, but the early part of Res Arcana is usually an all-out land grab to claim the one that’s perfect for your set of artifacts.
As you might expect, the game doesn’t out-stay its welcome. In terms of variability, there are ten mages to choose from. It is an engine-building game that’s teetering at the top of a rollercoaster — just a little push and boom, it’s off. Turns are limited to one action per player, so things chug along; and the entire affair wraps up in 30-45 minutes of puzzly goodness. Lehmann’s got another winner on his hands and Res Arcana is easily my favourite game of 2019 so far.