This review has been a long time coming, but the good news is, I’ve played Lost Ruins of Arnak a lot at this point — dozens of times on boardgame arena as well as several times in person — and so I’m giving you a pretty full perspective on this game.
In short, even after dozens of plays, this is my favorite competitive board game going right now. I’ll play it any time, with any group.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a competitive game for 2-4 players, published in 2020 by Czech Games Edition, who really does outstanding work, including Adrenaline, which I’ve also reviewed. It was designed by Elwen and Mín and this appears to be their first game, well done! Art by Jiří Kůs, Ondřej Hrdina, Jakub Politzer, František Sedláček, and Milan Vavroň.
It feels a lot, a lot like Raiders of the Lost Ark, but all the best parts. You’re a treasure-seeking archeologist, facing fearsome monsters and using interesting items to help you on your quest. It’s a bit of worker placement, a bit of deck building, it’s risking it all for more glory and then figuring your way out of it later.
Do you do something in this game?
You take a boat, a whip, and a hat, go up to an old site and dig it up, defeat the giant snake that’s guarding it and take the treasure. Yeah, you do something! You spend a lot of time moving up the Temple track, which is sort of exploring and moving up one big temple, and you also pick up and promote 2 assistants along the way (you don’t have to but you really should). Really, you’re always doing a lot on every turn, and trying to measure out how to get the very most out of your 2 archeologists.
What does this game do that others don’t?
To be honest, not a whole heck of a lot, it just has a great combination of elements: Worker placement, deck building, race up the ladder, and resource management are all elements you’ve seen somewhere else, but they’re all done really well here, and work together to create a deeper “Raiders” feeling. You’re placing archeologists on dig sites, building (or thinning out) a deck of items that can help you, managing your arrowheads and rubies and compasses and money, and racing up the temple track. There is the fairly unique Assistant mechanic which I’ll discuss, plus some clever things like overcoming Guardians and using Idols for bonuses but for the most part, it’s not unlike any game I’ve ever seen before, in fact, almost all of it is very familiar.
Was there anything I didn’t like about this game?
Not a thing. I play it all the time on boardgamearena and it’s all pretty awesome online. Ok yeah, I don’t like how much better some players are at this game than I am. This isn’t a complaint, but there’s definitely a learning curve. By the time Gen Con rolled around I was pretty experienced at it, and I pretty soundly thumped the newbies because there’s a lot to pick up, but even to this day, I’m still getting thumped by more advanced players.
How were the theme and components?
The theme is perfect, 1940s archaeology, much like a certain franchise of films. The art is more than good enough to bring that feeling about.
As for the components, you tell me:
These components are pretty spectacular, and the theme is so strong that it comes right through the computer screen, let alone in person. They’re fun components of arrowheads and rubies and ivory and compasses.
Anything interesting about the mechanics and game play?
One thing I really like is that it’s 5 turns, every game. It keeps the entire game clearly under 2 hours, and a pretty snappy 1 hour or so online. 5 turns gives you plenty of time to build your deck and exploit the fruits of your labor, but also brings quite a bit of urgency. There’s no long play in this game, you need to get up that Temple track quickly or you won’t get to the top at all.
One element that’s pretty unique is that you can pick up and promote assistants who help you each turn. You can imagine Indiana Jones taking on an assistant or two, even training them up. One thing I’ve learned is that you really need assistants! You can have 2, and you really need 2, and you really need to train at least one up but better yet, both. You give up precious early resources to get them, but they pay off the investment.
Another element I really like are the “idol” bonuses. You get an idol for exploring an unexplored dig site, then you can use up to 4 of those idols for a one-time resource bonus. You can also eschew the bonus in favor of points at the end, but every time I play it seems like every player uses all 4 idol bonuses.
How is the Replay Ability?
I’ll say it again: I’ve played it dozens of times on boardgamearena and it really doesn’t get old, and the manageable game length is a big part of that. It’s a great, tight game, and one that takes many plays to get good at. There’s always a lot to learn, and it’s fun to dig up treasure and defeat their guardian monsters and progress up the temple. You’ll get a different mix of assistants and opponent tactics every time.
So we’re just a little over 2 months into 2022 and I’m already seeing 6 expansions. This game rocks and appears firmly entrenched in “The Hotness” on boardgamegeek, so I would expect many more expansions on the way. That stated, I know nothing about any of them.
Do you need to add this game to your collection?
Yes you do, and right away! That stated, the interface on boardgamearena.com is so good, that maybe you don’t really have to, and can just play it there on bga, you might even see me there (“Roman” — I was early enough to BGA to get the name, no F or anything). But yeah, if you want a new game that your group can just groove on for a while, this is my favorite game going right now along with Spirit Island and Fearsome Wilderness, which are both cooperative. I noticed there’s such a heavy trend in cooperative games right now, including our own, that you it’s almost refreshing to find another really fun competitive game.