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Lost Ruins of Arnak & Expansions Review

Lost Ruins of Arnak Review - Plus Expansions Book Cover Lost Ruins of Arnak Review - Plus Expansions
Deck Building
CGE
Elwen, Mín
Ondřej Hrdina, Jiří Kůs, Filip Murmak, Jakub Politzer, František Sedláček, Milan Vavroň
1-4

Thinky and tight, Lost Ruins of Arnak might be a game all about exploring the jungle, but the challenge of its action-economy puzzle is what some players will love getting lost in.

Set in the dense jungle wilderness of the titular island, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a big, beautifully produced deck building & worker placement game from publisher Czech Games Edition.  As players adventure further and further into the jungle in search of supplies, treasure, and relics, they will be brought face to face with massive, powerful guardians – creatures which defend valuable sites that are the key to victory…and survival.  With two major expansions, Lost Ruins of Arnak has lots of content to offer would-be jungle-delvers.  But is this adventure one worth diving into?  Find out as we review Lost Ruins of Arnak, as well as the Expedition Leaders and The Missing Expedition expansions!

The main game of Lost Ruins of Arnak combines deck building and worker placement mechanics.  Each round, players will have a modest hand of cards and a pair of archaeologist workers to use to scout out locations in the jungle, gather supplies, purchase new resources, and make progress on the Temple board.  Ultimately, it’s the player who manages to score the highest number of points who will be the winner, but every turn will be a tight decision space of attempting to optimize your limited resources to make meaningful progress.

Arguably the best design decision in Lost Ruins of Arnak is the interplay between your cards and your worker placement decisions.  Card can be used several ways – you might spend a card to pay the movement cost needed to send one of your archaeologists to a space on the board, or use it to generate resources, or to activate a special ability.  On your turn, you will take a single main action, defined as:

  • Dig at a site – travel to a space and gain its benefit
  • Discover a new site – travel to an empty space and draw a random site tile, permanently adding it to the board for the rest of the game
  • Overcome a guardian – pay the required supplies to remove a guardian from a site where you have an archaeologist
  • Buy a card- paying the required supplies to add an artifact or item card to your deck
  • Research – pay the required supplies to move your research markers up the temple track

All of these actions is incredibly useful – moving up the Temple tracks will net you huge points as well as resources and assistants which further open up your action options.  Discovering new sites is key to expanding the supplies available to you and give you bonuses every time you do so.  Powerful Artifact cards will let you manipulate the game in myriad ways to your advantage and managing your deck by adding and playing cards is the critical piece of your action engine.

Andrew
Andrew
Which brings me to my first, and in some ways only, major criticism of LOST – the game is tight.  Too tight, to my thinking.  You only have 5 rounds total, and there are so many directions to push in that, ironically, it makes it feel like there’s no room to explore!
Jess
Jess
I totally agree!  Every time I play Lost Ruins of Arnak, I get so excited at the possibilities of how best to use the artifacts or what sorts of sites I might dig up in the jungle, but the game is so short and even though there are lots of ways to spend your turns, they’re definitely not equally valuable in terms of points.  And that’s a shame because it’s a game that wants to make me do all the things!

It seems this attribute of Lost Ruins of Arnak is quite intentional – the game’s design is clearly meant to make decisions challenging by limiting your scope of available actions.  Even the deck building element, which is a mechanical feature that generally takes time to get started in other games, is implemented with somewhat claustrophobic consequences – you start with 6 cards total and each round, you will draw 5 cards.  Outside of specific items and artifacts, that’s all you ever get: 25 cards total for the entire game.

Same with the worker placement aspect.  You might want to send an archaeologist to a site to gather valuable resources, or possibly to an empty spot to find somewhere new, or to go confront a guardian to earn the points and powerful boons that are rewarded to the player who defeats them, but (again, with the very narrow exception of specific artifact abilities) you’ll only get 2 archaeologists per turn for 10 placements for the entire game!  That’s not a lot!

Worth noting – these are the in-box components, not upgrades. They’re awesome!

Now, outside of this critique, Lost Ruins of Arnak functions extremely well.  The narrow decision space does tend to mean that there are no ‘wasted’ turns or actions – everything pushes your gameplay forward and virtually every card you add or site you discover will be extremely useful.  It’s on you to manage your cards and archaeologists in such a way that you’re being more effective than your opponents, who will be vying for those same sites, cards, and supplies.

Overall, the experience Lost Ruins of Arnak provides is definitely worth engaging the puzzle of its design.  Given the relatively small number of cards you’ll gather into your deck and the variety of options each provides, you’ll definitely have lots of opportunities to try a variety of tactics with each playthrough, even though all players will start out on equal footing.

Or will they…?


Expedition Leaders

Expedition Leaders is the first major expansion to Lost Ruins of Arnak, and it’s one of those ‘always in’ expansions – the modular elements it adds to the game can be seamlessly folded into the base game permanently and vastly improve on an already excellent design.

The expansion adds new items, artifacts, assistants, guardians, sites – basically more variety to every aspect of the base game.  It even adds an optional new gameplay mode that will churn through the card market even more aggressively, meaning that you’ll see more cards, but also that you won’t have as much time to acquire them.  However, the titular leaders are by far the biggest contribution.  Each of the 6 Leaders included in the expansion has unique rules, abilities, and starter decks, effectively adding variable player powers to Lost Ruins of Arnak.

One of the Leaders, whose hawk helps her gather valuable items

Jess
Jess
I really love the way Expedition Leaders changes up the formula of LOST and opens up new possibilities!
Andrew
Andrew
I totally agree! The variety it adds makes each player feel a unique, helping add even more strategy without hugely complicating the formula of the game.

Each leader has a unique starting deck and rules which vary in complexity of application.  The Captain, the most straightforward of the lot, has an extra Archaeologist on his team and a starter deck that makes it a little easier to deploy them to the board.  On the other side of the scale are the Explorer, who adventures through the jungle alone and is powered by snack tokens, and the Mystic, who actually wants to gather the Fear cards that generally exist to clog up player decks and use them to create a variety of rituals that allow for huge plays.  Each of the leaders is fun to explore, and randomly picking which leader you get for the game immediately adds a sense of uniqueness and variety.

Guardians will provide challenges to every act of exploration

While Expedition Leaders doesn’t make the game any longer, we found that each leader suggested a different playstyle that made the gameplay a little more focused and easier to approach.  Even though you’ve got more per-round options, the focus it lent made it easier to figure out how to approach the big action economy puzzle that is Lost Ruins of Arnak.


The Missing Expedition

In a game themed on jungle exploration, it’s no surprise that one of the most fun actions you can take in Lost Ruins of Arnak is discovering a new site in the jungle.  The Missing Expedition, the second major expansion, takes this thematic idea and propels it to the forefront of the gameplay by making Lost Ruins of Arnak a campaign-driven game that can be tackled either solo or cooperatively for two.

The Missing Expedition comes with more of everything – items, artifacts, guardians, locations, assistants, board overlays for new temples, and even two new expedition leaders, the Journalist, who writes stories as the game progresses to unlock variable powers, and the Mechanic, who powers their turns by engaging the massive spinning cog on their player board to select actions.  There are even rules for 2 additional leaders which can be made from components in the base game, so even if you don’t have the Expedition Leaders expansion, you can have a bit of variety in your player abilities.

In each of the 6 scenarios, the players will square off against an automated opponent.  The setup for each scenario is unique and will make use of items, artifacts, guardians, and special board pieces that come in the expansion, as well as bits from the main game.  The automated player’s difficulty changes with each scenario, as does the victory condition.  The gameplay core is the same as the competitive game for the most part – limited actions, a small deck, lots of options and never enough time – but scenarios have unique rules that impact how you’ll approach the game.

Each scenario will confront you with choices, and you’ll decide between an immediate benefit or one that can be activated later

Some elements of each scenario can carry into the next – repairing the plane in the first, for example, means you’ll have that card available to you in future scenarios.  If you happen to lose a scenario game and don’t wish to replay it, you can always accept a loss and move on, but you’ll have to deal with penalties at the beginning of your next game.

And losing is a thing you might have to get comfortable with…

Andrew
Andrew
It’s no secret that we love co-op games and campaign games, so we knew we were going to be way into this expansion.
Jess
Jess
Yeah, for sure! But I guess I wasn’t expecting it to be so dang *hard*!

And when we say the campaign in The Missing Expedition is hard, we mean it.  As we said, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a puzzle – you have lots of desirable actions, but an extremely limited window in which to accomplish them.  This is amplified in The Missing Expedition, where the victory condition competes for your attention with the side objectives of discovering new cards and engaging the unique mechanics of each scenario.  Meanwhile, the automated player will be running absolutely roughshod over the board, blocking spaces, destroying resources, and generally being an absolute menace.   We found that it was easy to get overwhelmed by the desire to do it all, especially because we wanted to take any action that let us read some more of the scenario flavor text and unravel the short story that the campaign unfolds.

Double-sided overlays for the temple track

Jess
Jess
Gotta say, even though I really like the campaign and I think it was put together in a really clever way, I really wanted to be able to slow things down and, well, EXPLORE a little! Always feeling like everything was coming off the rails kinda lessened the experience for me.
Andrew
Andrew
I’m totally on the same page. I think that The Missing Expedition does a lot of really great things, but the thing it does the least is give you room to breathe. I enjoyed our plays of it a lot, but there were so many times that the automated player just crapped on our plans.
Jess
Jess
Yeah, that was frustrating. But I will say that even then, the *way* they mess with you changes a bit given the scenario, and I actually really enjoyed that. Just, y’know, wish I could have locked them in a closet or something.

And perhaps that frustration is, in some ways, a sign of The Missing Expedition’s success – Lost Ruins of Arnak is a game that is more complex and strategic than it might first appear, and it’s entirely appropriate that a campaign based in its gameplay should be more challenging than one might assume.  And even though there were times we cursed the game’s name, we still enjoyed the ride.

The market for items and artifacts will get churned constantly throughout the game
Andrew
Andrew
And for the record, there are ways of adjusting the game’s difficulty up OR down, though we only played it on the standard challenge setting. So, to be clear, we could have made things a bit easier on ourselves if we’d wanted, but we were having fun being kinda frustrated by the AI.

The components from The Missing Expedition can also be seamlessly and permanently added to the base game, meaning that even if you’re not interested in the campaign or have finished it and aren’t up for a replay, this expansion just makes the Lost Ruins of Arnak experience bigger and more varied, and that’s awesome.

With both expansions, you’ll have a whole pile of unique leaders to choose from

On the whole, our favorite thing about Lost Ruins of Arnak and its expansions is, ironically, the thing we wish there was more of – a sense of exploration.  But even despite the tight nature of the game design, and in many cases because of it, Lost Ruins of Arnak is an engaging, challenging, satisfying game to play.

So here’s where we stand on recommendations.  If you like the idea of a strategic worker placement puzzle with gorgeous production value and clever design, definitely check out Lost Ruins of Arnak.  Once you play the base game and are sure its your cup of tea (or whatever they drink in the jungle), then you should absolutely add the Expedition Leaders expansion, as the variety and options it adds makes the base game feel even more enjoyable.  And if you want to tackle the game cooperatively as you make your way through some cool scenarios you can’t go wrong with adding The Missing Expedition.

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