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Designer Preview: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Tom Lehmann
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Perlae Imperii — Pearls of Power — is the second expansion to Res Arcana.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Perlae Imperii adds 4 mages, 4 monuments, 4 Places of Power, 12 artifacts, a magic item, and 25 pearls, a new essence type. It can be played with just the base game or combined with the first expansion, Lux et Tenebrae (light and darkness).

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Pearls, a New Essence

Pearls are a powerful and flexible essence. They are worth 1 VP apiece and can be converted into a gold or any two (same or different) non-gold essences. In addition, various powers can use a pearl essence.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

In a game with just a few rounds, one challenge when adding pearls was to ensure that they were more than just an accelerated start or a way to make an extra VP at game end.

Being able to convert a pearl for 3 gold (Diving Cord), 6 cost reduction (Scrimshaw Awl), or 6 non-gold essences (Trident) ensures that setting up a pearl engine can be quite lucrative.

Each player starts with a pearl, effectively increasing a player's starting essences by 2. This improved start is balanced by a higher victory threshold; now it takes 13 VPs, not 10, to end the game and possibly claim victory.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Calcination ensures that all players potentially have a way to produce more pearls.

Res Arcana games among experienced players often end on round 4. With Perlae Imperii, a fair number of games will now last five rounds, though four-round victories will still occur. Evaluating how long a given game will take and adjusting your plans accordingly is part of the game.

Enhancing Strategies

When designing expansions, I look for ways to enhance existing strategies and add new ones. With the new Places of Power, I added a Menagerie centered around creatures, calm, and card flow; a Workshop where pearls serve as catalysts to make gold; Blood Isle, which provides two different essence routes; and a Pearl Bed based on placing pearls upon it.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

The last obviously works especially well with the Infuser, though the Infuser can work with almost Place of Power.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

The Hidden Hall is a response to "Big Gold" strategies as it works better if you build monuments over several rounds instead of all at once on the final round.

While pearls are obviously the star of this expansion, dragons, creatures, and demons (from Lux et Tenebrae) also receive attention.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Catherine Wheel's attack hurts all players, even its owner, making Ignore Attack artifacts more interesting. The Phoenix gets reborn after defending against life loss, and as react powers that don't involve turning the card can be used when a card is already turned, it can often produce a gold along the way.

Board Game: Res Arcana: Perlae Imperii

Windup Man is a base game card that was fun for brand new players, but as play improved and games got faster, it became less interesting. With Perlae Imperii, a player can invest their starting pearl on it, turning 1 VP into 7 VPs in four rounds with no additional effort. That's half of what one needs to attempt victory, but it effectively claims eight of your 14 initial essences (counting cards, essences, and mage). Can you find a way to turn six essences into another 6 VPs?

Variety, Subsets, and Lemonade

Perlae Imperii shakes up Res Arcana's strategy space, both by adding pearls and a higher victory threshold and by increasing the number of cards from which any given game uses just a subset (scaled with the number of players, as introduced in Lux et Tenebrae).

As players increasingly can't count on seeing any particular card combination, even with drafting, they must be alert and agile at pulling off new combinations, making "lemonade" from what's in play in any given game. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

(Note: As of this writing, Perlae Imperii is available in the EU from publisher Sand Castle Games, but hasn't yet cleared customs into the U.S., so it will be several more weeks before it appears in U.S. stores.)
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