Die Baumeister von Arkadia (The Master Builder of Arcadia) is the new game by Rüdiger Dorn, published by Ravensburger, that was released at Essen 2006. Herr Dorn has previously given us such well-respected titles as Goa, so a new game by him will always be eagerly anticipated by gamers.
Arkadia is essentially a tile-laying game for 2-4 players that utilises stock market style scoring. This review is based upon two playings of the game, one each with three and four players.
Opening the box immediately gives the impression of a game that comes with a large quantity of ‘bits’. There are tiles to represent buildings, workers in the form of plastic miniatures, card ‘seals’, scoring chits that resemble wooden chests containing gold coins, card screens and flags. There are also a large number of plastic castle pieces identical to those used in Torres. Before play, a card image showing a coloured seal has to be attached to the top of each of the castle pieces.
Once separated, the pieces will only fit into the box insert unbagged. If you prefer to use resealable bags, the fit is rather clumsy.
The game is in German, but components are language independent. English rules are available here on the ‘Geek.
The board consists of a grid of green squares, some of which show a tented ‘village’. A smaller 4x3 square board representing a castle is placed on top of the main board with the restriction that it cannot cover any of the villages. This restricts it quite sharply to the central area of the main board with a small variation from game to game.
The plastic castle pieces are arranged at the edge of the board in three groups. Groups one and two contain twelve castle bits (three each showing a seal in one of four colours: red, silver, green and black). Group three consists of four more castle pieces, one of each colour.
Each player takes a screen printed in the form of a large tent, and hangs four card flags from the top of the screen. These are very colourful and enhance the atmosphere of a medieval/renaissance themed game. The screens are used to conceal each player’s workers, seals and victory points. Each player starts with three workers in his colour, and is dealt a hand of four cards.
The remaining cards form a stock with three turned over to make a display.
During his turn to play, each player has a choice of two actions, followed by an optional scoring. The actions are to either place a building on the board, or place workers around a building.
In order to place a building, a player plays one card from hand and places the building of matching shape. The buildings are polyominoes (think of Tetris pieces) covering two to four squares. Each must be built orthogonally adjacent to something already on the board, either the castle, another building or a worker. If placed such that it covers one or more of the villages, the player takers workers of a neutral beige colour, one per village covered. The card played also shows a colour, and a seal of matching colour is placed on the new building. The player then refreshes his hand to four cards.
To place workers, no card is played. The player can place any or all of the workers he has available with the restriction that they must all be positioned adjacent to the same building. Workers in the player’s colour represent opportunities to score, and since there are very few of them and they neither move nor return to hand, it is essential to place them as efficiently as possible.
If after placement, any of the buildings on the board is now surrounded (which can be by any combination of workers and other buildings), then those buildings are scored. The current player takes the seal placed on the building when it was built. Each player that has adjacent workers in his colour, also gets seals, one per worker. The neutral, beige workers do not score, but simply accelerate the surrounding of a building. The current player then adds a piece to the castle for each building scored. I’ll describe the castle mechanism in a moment.
At the end of his turn, the player has the option of cashing in any seals that he has collected. They are exchanged for scoring chits at the current market value for seals of that colour. The market rate is displayed in the castle, which initially shows two seals of each colour. Thus at the outset each seal may be exchanged for two victory points. The market values vary as the castle is built and values may go as low as zero and as high as five or six, so good timing is essential.
Each time he scores, a player must discard one of the flags on his screen, so he has four opportunities to score, plus a final end game scoring. Each time he discards a flag, a player receives two more workers in his colour.
The castle creates the ‘stock market’ element of the game. The castle board is printed with two seals of each colour. For each building scored, the current player adds a plastic piece to the castle. Each plastic piece also shows a coloured seal, so by adding a castle piece the current player may cover one of the previously displayed seals with a different colour. This alters the value of the collected seals to the number currently visible from above the castle.
The castle has to be built one storey at a time. So the castle pieces are taken from the first group, until the ‘ground floor’ is complete. Since this uses ten pieces, the remaining two are transferred to group three for possible use near the end of the game.
The second group of pieces then comes into play and forms a second storey of the castle. Once the second storey is complete, the game end is triggered, and each player has one more turn. Any buildings scored allow a third storey of the castle to be started, so altering prices once more.
At the end of the game, any remaining seals are cashed in. The player with the most victory points wins.
It’s a bit odd to see a stock market game set in the Middle Ages, but this is a good example of the genre. All the components are of the high quality that we’ve come to expect from Ravensburger, but the VP chits might have been made available in higher denominations than the 1/5/10 that are included.
The game has simple rules and mechanisms, but some difficult decisions to make. At the outset players tend to concentrate on placing buildings and covering villages to obtain the neutral workers. When and where to place your own workers is always a tough call. You want to place them next to four buildings if possible, in order to score four times per worker, but this is easier said than done.
There is limited opportunity for strategy. For example you can place a worker knowing that you hold a card which will create another adjacent building, but fundamentally this is a game where you’re reliant on your right –hand neighbour leaving you a good scoring opportunity. The board is large and with less than four players, each tends to concentrate on his own ‘neighbourhood’, so reducing interaction between plays.
Finally the stock market aspect to the game, creates its own restrictions. If you’re collecting the same coloured seals as the other players, the price is likely to be adjusted upwards. If you’re the sole owner of a colour, you can attempt to increase the value of your holding, but others are likely to conspire to keep the value low.
Die Baumeister von Arkadia won’t be joining more long-established titles in the Premier Division of board games, but it’s well worth playing and for me, among the best releases from what’s been a pretty modest crop from this year’s Essen.
If you enjoy a simple tile laying game with opportunities for scoring ‘coups’ then this is for you. Alternatively, if you’re big on player interaction, want to build your own position rather than rely on the previous player for opportunities or simply dislike ‘multiplier’ scoring, then steer clear.
My rating: 7.