28 Feb The Tiniest of Engine with the Greatest Impact: A Res Arcana Review
Engine-building games tend lure me in. Naturally, I am drawn to finding ways to make the most efficient combinations. Some games can really provide the experience of devising the largest, most complicated series of machinations to provide an unexpectedly large gain. Others provide simple combinations that provide multiple paths to victory. Still others redefine engine building by having options to “break” the game. What all of these have in common is the great feeling that rises up and warms the soul when a player is able to complete a task that seemed nearly impossible at the start of their turn. This moment is captured perfectly by Res Arcana, an engine builder from the same designer that brought you Race for the Galaxy, Thomas Lehmann.
In this card game, two to four players utilize artifacts that they manifest (cards from their randomly distributed eight-card deck) and utilize essences to conquer places of power and collect monuments. The game is a race to 10 victory points and plays in under an hour. When I first heard about this game, I was skeptical. After all, how could an eight-card deck provide enough flexibility to make for a replayable game? Additionally, how is a deck with only eight cards going to work well enough to provide an engine that makes sense if all of the cards are randomly distributed? With this level of randomness in addition to how few cards are dealt, it is difficult to see how a player would seemingly always be able to find a combination of cards that work together to create synergy. It just didn’t seem plausible, but I continually heard great reviews, so I had to try it.
I was shocked at how well everything worked together. It comes down to the various options that each player has to do something different. Cards can be discarded to gain essences. If a system primarily produces gold, collecting monuments becomes an easy task. When a deck primarily produces essences, conquering places of power comes without breaking a sweat. There are so many different ways the game can be approached, which means that victories go primarily to the individual who is most adaptable to their particular situation. Are there times when one player’s deck has a more straightforward strategy than another player’s? Absolutely, but no player is ever out of the game simply due to the cards that they are dealt.
Another misconception I had was that this game would work best with two players only, and that the three- and four-player options were simply tacked on to attract a wider range of gamers. This is not the case. I have played with both two players and four players (still working on getting a chance to play with three), and it actually works better with four than with two. The way players interact would appear somewhat nonexistent after reading the rules, but where it has the greatest impact is in the opportunity costs of each decision. In a two-player game, seeing what options your opponent has between taking turns is rather easy, but when there are three other players that could take the place of power or monument you so desire prior to your next turn, making the most efficient choice at all times becomes a necessity. All that being said, Res Arcana is still a great game at two players as well.
If you are a fan of engine builders and love finding ways to be more efficient, I highly recommend Res Arcana. Between the multiple strategies to win, the concise deck to manage, and the options provided by each combination of cards, this one is truly a winner.