Sometimes a game comes out and it seems like everyone is talking about it. Everything you hear about the game is positive and you just have to try that game yourself. For me, most recently, that game has been Lost Ruins of Arnak.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is an engine building, worker placement game that also adds in deck building elements. Is this a match made in Heaven? Does Arnak live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
Disclosure: We had heard so many good things about this that we picked it up on our own. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast.
What is Lost Ruins of Arnak the Board Game?
Lost Ruins of Arnak was designed by Elwen and Mín. It features evocative artwork from Jiří Kůs, Ondřej Hrdina, Jakub Politzer, František Sedláček and Milan Vavroň, with graphic design by Filip Murmak.
This game plays one to four players with games taking about half an hour per player, once you’ve learned the game. The first few plays will probably be longer than that.
Lost Ruins of Arnak was published in North America by Czech Games Edition in late 2020 and has more award nominations and wins than I care to list here. It has a reasonable MSRP of $59.95.
In Lost Ruins of Arnak you lead an expedition to an uninhabited island where you have found the traces of an ancient civilization. You will be searching dig sites, discovering new sites, battling the island’s guardians, upgrading your equipment, discovering and utilizing strange artifacts and idols, increasing your knowledge and documenting that knowledge for future generations. All of this is handled through a mix of deck building and worker placement.
For a look at the very cool components you get in this game check out our Lost Ruins of Arnak unboxing video on YouTube.
Lost Ruins of Arnak features really awesome component quality and excellent graphic design. The boards are thick, with clear worker placement spots that are very easy to see. While there is a ton of iconography, which can be overwhelming at first, it is all actually very clear once you learn what everything means. The artwork is as fantastic as it is fantastical and the components are very tactile and a joy to play with.
The rulebook is expertly written and is just as good for reading to learn the game as for referencing during play.
The game comes with a rather large two sided player board that offers two different gameplay difficulty levels. There is also, a supply board that is placed below the main board to hold things like resources, as well as player boards and components in the four player colours. The player pieces include wooden meeple with “Indiana Jones”-style hats, and notebook and magnifying glass tokens.
Cards include four starter cards in each player colour, fear cards, item cards and artifact cards.
The tiles include larger guardian tiles, sites tiles at two different levels and two sided assistant tiles. There are also smaller research bonus tiles, temple tiles, idol tiles, as well as reserve tiles and blocking tiles that are used when playing with less than four players.
There are also coins and compass tokens, which are cardboard, and tablet, arrowhead and jewel tokens, which are plastic.
The game also includes a score pad, a cardboard moon staff to mark the games rounds, and a starting player market.
Finally, there is a set of rival cards which are used when playing solo.
While I will admit that it would have been nice if the gold and explore tokens were plastic like the other resources, I really can’t complain about anything here.
Honestly, it would be awesome if every game in my collection lived up to the quality of Lost Ruins of Arnak.
Lost Ruins of Arnak Overview of Play
You start a game of Lost Ruins of Arnak by picking a side of the board to play on. It’s recommended that you start with the Bird Temple side, saving the Snake Temple side for when your group is more experienced.
Each player takes a player board and the components in their colour, including the starter cards that form their starting deck. Two fear cards are added to these and the deck is shuffled. Each player then draws their initial hand of five cards.
Magnifying glasses and books are placed at the bottom of the research track which is then filled with random research bonus tiles. The temple tiles are placed at the top of the research track. Bonus tokens are placed on to each dig site on the main board.
Everything else, the various tiles and card decks, gets shuffled and placed onto the board in the appropriate spots along with the resources. One artifact card and five item cards are flipped face up and placed at the top of the board.
Players receive starting resources based on player order and the game is ready to begin. Note, some aspects of set up change based on the player count.
A game of Lost Ruins of Arnak plays over five rounds. Each round players will take a number of actions, with each player taking one action at a time and the round ending only after all players have passed. Due to this players will most likely not have the same number of turns.
Each turn you choose between seven actions which I will summaries quickly:
First up you can Dig at a Site. You move a meeple onto an existing, already discovered, dig site and activate it.
To do this you have to pay the transportation costs, which could be boots, cars, boats, or planes. Every card in the game provides one or more movement icons that can be spent to pay for this cost. A card used for transportation can’t be used for anything else and is discarded.
You can also pay two coins to “charter a flight” giving you one plane resource. Finally, you can downgrade a travel icon by one or two levels. A plane can be used as a car, boat or boots and a car or boat can be used as boots.
After paying the travel cost, you gain whatever is shown on the dig site space. This will include some resources and could potentially offer you other bonuses like the ability to draw cards, banish cards from your deck, or untap your assistants. There are three levels of dig sites and the rewards get better the deeper you explore, but you can’t just go to a dig site that hasn’t been discovered yet.
That leads me to the next action Discover A New Site. This costs either three or six compass tokens and has a travel cost as described above. After paying the cost you collect the idol token on the dig site and place it on your player board. Idol tokens are worth points at the end of the game or can be spent to gain an instant bonus in the form of resources or drawing a card.
After collecting your idol(s) you draw a random appropriate level site tile and place it at the location you just explored. You then get the reward listed on this site tile, as if you did a dig action here. Basically, each Discover action gives you a free Dig action to go with it.
Finally, you draw a random Guardian tile and place it on the site. If you do not defeat this Guardian before the “return your worker” phase at the end of the round, you will gain a Fear card. Fear cards clog up your deck and are worth negative points at the end of the game.
Next, we have a way to deal with those Guardians — the Overcoming a Guardian action. Each Guardian has a list of resources needed to overcome it. When you take this action you discard the appropriate resources and take the Guardian tile. This tile will have a one time use ability on it and is also worth points at the end of the game. These one use abilities include upgrading resources, gaining resources, banishing a card, and more.
Next, you can do some deck building with the Buy A Card action. You spend coins to buy any of the face up items or spend compasses to buy any face up artifact. Purchased cards are instantly replaced at the end of your action. Item cards are immediately put on the bottom of your deck (a change from most deck-building games) whereas artifacts have their effect happen instantly.
Cards that you’ve purchased will come up in your future hands and can be played with the Play A Card action.
Item cards include a ton of different actions, like giving you resources, paying for travel costs, converting resources to other resources, letting you activate dig sites without a worker, discounts on further purchases and more.
Artifacts tend to be even more powerful. Their ability activates for free when you first get them, but you have to pay a tablet to use their ability again when they come up in your deck later.
Both Item cards and Artifiact cards are also worth victory points at the end of the game, with the amount listed on each card.
Another action that can be taken on your turn is Research. There is a branching research track on the side of the board that is broken into a number of individual spots, many of which have bonus tiles on them. To Research you move your magnifying glass token or book token up one tier by paying the cost listed on the board. If there’s a bonus tile on the spot you are moving to you earn it immediately. You then get a bonus for reaching a new level of research, with different rewards for your magnifying glass and for your book for each tier.
When researching you can’t ever move your book past your magnifying glass. Thematically the magnifying glass represents the physical act of researching whereas the book represents documenting that research.
If you manage to get to the top of the research track with your magnifying glass you get a bonus tile and can now start purchasing Temple Tiles. These tiles are worth points at the end of the game but cost a lot of resources, with the temple tiles that are worth more points costing more resources.
Rewards for going up the research track are varied and include resources, drawing cards, discounts on buying cards, overcoming guardians, getting assistants and more.
Assistants gained while researching come from one of three stacks at the bottom of the board. Each assistant provides an instant action that can be done at any time. These provide the usual range of things, movement icons, resources, the ability to upgrade resources etc. Each assistant is two sided and they can be upgraded by moving up high enough on the research track. Each assistant can only be used once per round. During the game you can have at most two assistants.
The final action option is to Pass, which you will chose if you are out of cards, workers and resources that you wish to spend.
The way all of these actions work in play is that players generally try to take as many actions as they can on their turns, maximizing their cards and resources to do multiple different things and setting up chains and synergies. Bonus actions and resources play a big part of this and trying to figure out how to get that one more resource so you can go up the research track one more time to get that other resource that will now let you do that other thing, is what makes this game so enjoyable.
At the end of each round, you collect your workers (and gain Fear Cards for any Guardians that you didn’t overcome). Your assistants untap and you choose one card in your hand to keep if you wish, then shuffle your discarded cards and place them on the bottom of your deck. Each player then draws five cards. The two cards next to the moon staff in the market, one artifact card and one item card, are removed from the game. The moon staff moves one to the right and a new artifact card is revealed to fill the open spot.
At the end of the fifth round you calculate everyone’s score. Lost Ruins of Arnak is very much a point salad, as you get points for all kinds of things. Idols collected, guardians overcome, your progress on the research track for both your book and your magnifying glass, any temple tiles collected, plus the points shown on all of your purchased cards. You then lose one point for each fear card still in your deck at the end of the game.
The player with the most points wins.
Does Lost Ruins of Arnak live up to the hype?
Honestly, yes, Lost Ruins of Arnak totally lives up to the hype. I would say for us it was even better than the hype.
It’s not often that a game gets this much buzz, wins this many awards, and still manages to be just as good, if not better, than the press, especially with our group. Just because a game has broad appeal doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, but in this case Lost Ruins of Arnak was absolutely perfect for our group.
It’s just the right mix of game length, complexity and replayability, that we keep coming back to it again and again. I’m actually playing a Board Game Arena game of Lost Ruins of Arnak right now in another window, and our physical copy hits the table at least once a month if not more often than that.
We’ve also found the game great at all player counts, though I will admit I do prefer to play with at least three. Actually, throughout all of our plays, I found three to be the sweet spot, as a three player game is significantly shorter than a four player game. Now that’s not to say that the other player counts are bad in any way, I just happen to like it at three.
What I love the most about Lost Ruins of Arnak is puzzling out how to combine all of the various actions and bonuses to get the most out of your turn. This is an aspect of the game that’s hard to describe without seeing it happen at the table and is a key part of being able to play Lost Ruins of Arnak well. It’s also very rewarding when it works out just right.
There’s a lot of fun to be had in figuring out combinations like; I just need to explore a new spot this turn so that I will get an idol, which I can then spend to get this resource I need, which will let me play this card, that gives me this other resource I need, which will let me go up on this track, that will give me this movement icon, that will let me dig at this site, which will let me overcome this guardian, which I can then spend to dig in this other spot which will get me … well, I think you get the idea.
As mentioned above I’m extremely impressed by the component quality here. I don’t even mind the fact that two of the resources are cardboard because those are the only two resources you can use to buy cards. The other resources, which are plastic, are used to either overcome Guardians or Research. It’s also interesting to note that all of the cardboard tokens you collect give end game scoring points where as tokens you discard give you instant bonuses that you don’t have to track. When you really look into it, there is a lot more thought in the design here than you would expect.
I also found Lost Ruins of Arnak to be surprisingly thematic. What movement icons you need are actually based on the map of the island that forms the board and it makes sense that the deeper into the island you go the more movement or exploration icons you will need. The way research works, where you have to do the legwork and then document it, is also rather thematic. What’s not necessarily obvious at first, but ties in really well, are the rewards you get for overcoming the guardians. For example, you defeat a giant turtle and you can later use it as a boat icon — oh wow, you are totally riding that turtle somewhere later!
This tie in to theme actually makes Lost Ruins of Arnak surprisingly easy to teach to new players. Once I had the core rules down I found that I was able to give an overview of play in a very short time and then, due to most of the information in the game being open during the first round, I found it easy to teach key elements of the game as they came up.
The biggest problem with learning Lost Ruins of Arnak, and even with getting people to sit down to play it in the first place, is that it can be intimidating.
This game features a big board with lots of spaces and icons on it, and then during set up that board gets covered with all kinds of tokens with even more icons on them.
Added to the overwhelming physical presence of Lost Ruins of Arnak, players have a lot of options in this game and when learning it may not be evident just how much you can do with a limited amount of resources. The biggest hurdle for most players is in learning how the research track works and how important progressing up it can be as well as just how important earning bonus tiles and idols is.
New players tend to focus on one aspect of the game, usually building their deck by buying cards or placing their workers to collect the most stuff. The problem with this is that to play Lost Ruins of Arnak well you need to focus on more than one thing and you also have to be willing to adapt to a changing board.
What I strongly recommend, is that any experienced players help new players out by pointing out action options that they may miss. When a player passes, look over at their player board and see what resources they have left. Have they forgotten that they can use leftover compasses to buy artifact cards? Do they have enough gold to buy an item card? Do they have a worker left that they haven’t placed? Have they forgotten that you can spend two gold to charter a flight which counts as any movement icon? I’ve found most new players don’t realize all of the different ways they can actually generate the resources and/or movement icons that they need to take additional actions.
Overall Lost Ruins of Arnak is a fantastic game that features engaging mechanics, a quick playtime for the amount of depth it features, and fantastic components. It plays great at all player counts and is a game that we have returned to many times without getting sick of at all.
Despite all of that, I will say that this game is not for everyone. Despite being ranked the number 2 family game right now on Board Game Geek, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a pretty heavy game.
This game is well above medium weight according to it’s BGG rating, and that fits for how it feels to me. There are a lot of options and permutations to consider when planning your moves and it requires the ability to plan ahead. There are groups out there that are going to feel as though playing Lost Ruins of Arnak is work and that won’t appeal to them at all.
Now if you are okay with a game that makes you think, and rewards you for puzzling out the best series of moves possible, you are going to love Lost Ruins of Arnak. We found this to be a highly engaging game that is quite thematic and fun while making you feel smart when you play well.
No matter what kinds of games you are usually into, I recommend at least giving the Lost Ruins of Arnak a shot. It’s one of the most approachable medium heavy games out there and I think it will appeal to a rather broad range of game groups.
Despite any misgivings I had, Lost Ruins of Arnak really does live up to the hype.
A note on Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders
At the point that I’m writing this review, there is an expansion out for Lost Ruins of Arnak called Expedition Leaders which adds asymmetry to the game, as well as alternative research tracks for more replayability and bigger challenges, more guardians, and new item and artifact cards.
I would love to tell you more but I haven’t actually picked it up yet. However, just like all of the buzz for Lost Ruins of Arnak, everything I’ve heard, seen and read about this expansion says it’s fantastic and well worth picking up.
Every time I share a picture of us playing Arnak I get at least one comment asking “Have you played with Expedition Leaders yet?”
At this point, the expansion is high on my board game wishlist and is something we will probably purchase. It really does sound like a solid addition to the game. Plus you all know how much I love asymmetry in my games.
It is always so awesome to find a board game that not only lives up to your expectations but exceeds them. This is what happened for us with Lost Ruins of Arnak. Right from our first play, we were hooked and we just keep going back.
What’s the last game you played that wowed you or totally blew away your expectations? Tell us about it in the comments below!