Dragons rise and fly towards your destination. Destroy the essences of my foes and thwart their evil plans. Because I am the rightful ruler of this land. Not for nothing have I spent years of my life searching for magical artefacts. I have forged and broken alliances, visited faraway places of power to become more powerful. And I possess Res Arcana – the mysterious things – full of magical energy.
With Res Arcana Tom Lehmann presents us his new card game. The author, who was also behind Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy, brings us another card game with a race character. Whether the game could inspire us as much as Roll for the Galaxy, you can read in our test of the game.
Res Arcana – the mysterious things
When I first read the rules of Res Arcana, I couldn’t believe that this game is supposed to work like this. With only eight cards in the deck, I should be able to get more victory points than my opponents. Well, if I add in my mage, who I get randomly assigned at the beginning, it’s nine cards. But you have to let that melt in your mouth too, with eight cards I somehow have to build up a victory point machine.
Of course, I am not the only one at the board game table who has this problem. Because even my opponents only have eight randomly selected cards to play with. But it’s not as terrible as it sounds so far. Because even during the first game I recognized certain patterns. Cards that simply fit together very well. With one card you can quickly get resources of which there are five different kinds. And then you find out that one card in your deck matches the resource you just collected perfectly and you have a combo in your play area that will quickly bring you gold and the associated victory points.
However, and this is the good thing about Res Arcana: with every new game the cards are literally reshuffled. And this makes the card game with its minimalist approach something special. Amazingly, there is always some way to get victory points with your cards. Of course, it’s not always immediately obvious and sometimes I only realize just before the end of a game which card combination I actually have in my hand. The problem here is the race character.
A minimalist race
Because Tom Lehmann as the developer of the game is also behind games like Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy, both games in which the objective from the first turn is to collect victory points as quickly as possible and play to the end of the game before other combos of the other players can take effect.
And also with Res Arcana he remains loyal to this basic principle: Whoever reaches 10 points first marks the end of the game. This is checked after a player has passed and this is where the crux of the matter lies. Because if I pass and have exactly my 10 points and maybe have the victory half in the bag, my opponents can continue playing until they pass. However, they can still collect more points until then and just because I have only 10 points does not mean that I will win.
The game is explained surprisingly quickly. Everyone chooses a mage, gets eight cards and can play cards and use actions on the cards until you either voluntarily pass or have to pass because you can’t perform any action anymore. Of course you also need resources or essences, as they are called in Res Arcana, with which I pay my cards or which I also need to be able to trigger certain actions. I usually get these at the beginning of a round but also during the game enough essences are distributed. The only question is what I do with these essences and how fast I can convert them into possible victory points.
Res Arcana – Keyforge in small?
Res Arcana reminded me of Keyforge right after the first game. For me it’s the same basic principle: I’m holding an unknown deck and I have to try to play the deck in a way that it can develop its full strength. But in my opinion Res Arcana is even a little simpler. The cards are more intuitive and the iconography is also easier to understand. Here the very clearly arranged playing aid also helps. I have seen often enough how experienced players could find their way around with it shortly after the game was explained. It is of course an advantage if you already have experience with card games like Magic The Gathering or Epic, because many basic game concepts can be understood immediately.
But there are also some stumbling spots at Res Arcana. The biggest one is the limited number of eight cards I have from the beginning. None of them will be added. This is only minimally offset by the monuments or places of power I can acquire during the game. These not only give me victory points, but can also give me additional action options. The next stumbling spot lurks in the form of experience. The more often I have played the game, the faster I recognize cards that harmonize well with each other. This is of course a big advantage over my opponents who are perhaps playing a Res Arcana for the first time. So the playing experience can be frustrating.
Oh, yeah, there was something else.
You will search in vain for the theme in Res Arcana. Although the good illustrations try to create a magical atmosphere graphically, there is nothing left of it during the actual game. But that was already the case in Race for the Galaxy. There I don’t feel like a galactic civilization leader either. The main thing is that the engine starts up well and helps me to win. It even goes so far that the individual essences are reduced to their colors during the game. So I don’t take Elan essence but the red essence.
If you are looking for great player vs. player interaction, you will not find it at Res Arcana either. Although there is the possibility to attack other players, these attacks usually fizzle out and don’t hinder the other player to the point I might imagine. Because most of the time players have a shield to block attacks. Or they can use a card to deliver an essence that they have in masses to weaken the attack. But sometimes these attacks are annoying because I can’t fend them off. And then the just collected essences, which I actually need, are already gone again.
Most player interaction tends to be through card effects. For example, there is a card that lets you take as many blue (Calm) essences as an opponent has red (Elan) essences. It’s a lucky coincidence if you have this card and your opponent has just taken a lot of red essences. Playing a card at the right moment is also an important element in Res Arcana, but it requires experience.
Res Arcana: simply wow
What I would like to emphasize at this point as very creditable is the playability even for people with color weakness. The wooden essences are shaped exactly as they are shown on the cards. Sandcastle Games did a great job here. Also the design of the inlay and the whole equipment of the game is on a – I think – very high level.
Res Arcana impressed me from the very first game and I’m happy every time the game is put on the table. The clear minimalist style of play appeals to me and I simply enjoy discovering new combinations. And even if a strategy that looked good at the beginning just doesn’t work, even though it looked like it when I was drafted, it doesn’t frustrate me, on the contrary it makes me want to try it again. However, with experienced players, drafting should be the state of play for dealing the cards. The original version, where every player gets eight cards at random, is just too much of a lucky charm and has a potential for frustration.
Plus: In all the games played so far, there’s always a lot of tension. Because the longer the game lasts, the more it gains momentum. And so it is not unusual that the victory you thought you had won cannot be booked because one of my opponents suddenly pulls 4 victory points out of his hat and ends the game prematurely with the right card.
I was really so surprised by Res Arcana. I am already thinking about whether I would like to give the card game a Board Game Award this year. But this decision I am not making alone.
An Expansion is also available
I am looking forward to the expansion Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae. Not only does it bring new cards into play, but it also adds new places of power and new monuments. Especially these are quickly worn out after a few games, so there will be a lack of variety. In addition, the rules for fewer players should be adjusted a bit. And finally the player interaction is to be further developed by the expansion.