Arcana Review

Arcana card game in play

Last night I had the chance to play Arcana again, and it seems always best to review these games while they are fresh in your mind, so here we go...

Arcana is a deck building game (similar to Dominion, Heroes of Graxia, Thunderstone, and Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer). Arcana is played in a series of rounds. Each round starts with all of the players having 4 cards in their hand. There will also be 5 piles of cards (4 in 3-player) showing which new cards that each player has available to them. However, only one player will get each card - and that is the player that has the most points of the right resource next to the card (each card has a primary resource that you must use to try to earn it and this isn't as complicated as it sounds). Next the players will take turns playing the cards from their hands. The primary objective in the game is to get more cards (thus more victory points), and you do this by playing "agents" next to the cards in the different piles. In addition to playing "agents", you can also use relics to try to "bribe" a personality card, thus allowing you to get the card before the round is over - before someone with more points would have the chance to collect it. Finally, there are location cards, which can be played to adjust some aspect of the game - you can play them to switch the card on top of two different piles, move around agents, etc.

The first thing that I like about Arcana is that there is the ability to bluff. Each player can play their agents face down against the piles on either side of them (again, 5 piles - one to the right and left of each player, and one in the middle of the table). This bluffing works pretty well, especially in 3 and 4-player, because nobody can guarantee that they are going to collect a card.

Another thing that I liked about Arcana was that the game was played in rounds. Instead of all of the other deck-building games that I have played, the moves of each player can directly affect which player, including which cards that player can collect.  (This did make the pace of the game a little slower, though.)

A third concept that I like about the game is the ability to bribe personality cards. Unfortunately, this leads into my "con's" section, because I did not like the execution of this part of the game. The distribution of cards seems to be about 1/3 location, 1/3 personality, and 1/3 relic. Since you can only bribe personality cards, this means that often the relic card you draw will be useless. Also, the "bribe cost" of the personalities are all the same. They can all be bribed for either 6 or 7, and there is no variety to represent that some people would be able to be bribed much more easily than others.  So, what winds up happening is that starting about halfway through the game almost all of the personalities get bribed instead of being collected normally.

The next aspect that I did not like is that this is a deck building game in which your deck doesn't ever get better. There are 3 main stats on a card, and a number of points split between these stats. The personality cards that start in your deck have all of their stats add up to 6. The ones that can be acquired add up to 6 or 7. Therefore, all you see are different combinations of the same basic cards (you may see a card with stats 3-2-2, 6-0-1, 2-4-1, etc, but they all add up to 6 or 7). Something that may have worked better is if you were getting cards that were better than your starting cards during the beginning and middle of the game and then even better (and more expensive) cards later in the game.

A third aspect that did not work well about Arcana was simply seeing what was going on in the game. Since a 4-player game has 5 different piles of available cards, and each player can play against each pile, there are 20 different piles to keep track of, some face up, some face down, and all pointing in different directions to symbolize who played them - in addition to your normal draw and discard decks.

A fourth aspect that seemed a bit shallow to me was the victory points. The victory points went as follows: 1 point for a relic, 3 points for a personality, 5 points for a location.  I think this game could have used more variety.

A final couple notes before the overall ranking - since all of your cards wind up being different variations of the same thing, you wind up spending most of your turns reacting to what you draw much more than in most deck building games. What this means is that if you draw a whole lot of points in the 2nd stat (military power), you will go after the cards that use that stat, regardless of whether you actually need the card or not. Secondly, from the games that we played, Arcana just didn't hold our interest very well, and we spent more time talking about other things than actually playing the game.

Overall, Arcana gets a 5.0/10. I liked a few concepts about the game, but the execution was off and there were just too many problems with the game to give it any higher score. I recommend that if you are interested in Arcana, you definitely find a way to play it before you buy it.

Since I obviously wasn't a huge fan of Arcana, I would recommend that you might instead consider Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game, Summoner Wars, Race for the Galaxy, or 51st State.

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