Mina's Fresh Cardboard
Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Arcane Academy With Two
Arcane Academy is a "tile-linking game of magic and wizardry." In this game, you and your friends take on the roles of magicians striving to come out on top in their final exams. You create a tableau of action tiles and activate these to gain will and shards, expand your tableau, activate items, and complete assignments.
At the start of the game, you will receive a slate that features 4 pre-printed action ties. You will also receive 3 shards, 3 will, and 3 assignment cards. Three is the magic number when it comes to setting up this game!
You will also create a common pool consisting of 4 face-up action tiles and 4 face-up assignment cards in the center of the table.
Each turn, you must either cast or reset.
*CAST - When casting, you must choose a non-exhausted action tile in your tableau and execute its action, followed by the action of each directly linked, orthogonality adjacent tile. Tiles are considered to be linked when they show complete circles between each other. Then, you must place an exhaustion token on the tile you activated.
Actions include collecting the number of shards and/or will shown, using an item with a "use" symbol and performing its action, completing an assignment by returning the number of shards/will shown to the supply and executing the card's effect, and adding a tile to your tableau.
*RESET - When resetting, you remove all exhaustion tokens from your tableau and may discard one of your assignment cards to draw a new one from the deck.
The game ends when one player has completed 8 assignments. The round is finished and the game ends when that player has played another final turn. The player with the most VP as shown on completed assignments wins!
"Item" assignments"Spell" assignments
Played prior to review 7x
Arcane Academy is beautifully illustrated to appeal to a broad audience. It is colorful, cute, and fun and I'm certain the style will appeal to kids and adults alike. The only piece of art in the game I don't like is the "pencils down" card, which looks completely out of place with its muted colors and non-cartoony style, but that is so minor and completely irrelevant given how gorgeous all the other cards are.
2. Short play time
With two players, this takes about 20 minutes to play, which is perfect for a good light-medium-weight game.
3. Simple rules and few components create a surprising number of decision points
Arcane Academy features simple rules and only a few simple components that truly belie the number of decision points in the game. When I first read the rules and saw the pieces, all I could think was, "That's it?" Will this really be a game with enough substance to keep me engaged and interested?
Even though it seems terribly simple, Arcane Academy creates many challenges in puzzling out the most effective layout for your tableau, the most efficient activation order for your action tiles, the best assignments to complete, and the ideal order to do so.
First, you have to think about how to build your tableau. Are you trying to build up powerful one-time actions or actions that you can link to others to provide greater flexibility. Action tiles that give you more "stuff" and more abilities can generally be linked to few other tiles, so you have to consider what you are giving up by adding rich tiles to your tableau. Some assignments even provide points for creating lots of links and others give you points for jetissoning tiles from your tableau. Obviously, you want to build a well-linked tableau in the former case and a tableau that allows you to add multiple tiles to your tableau in one go and activate an item. You always have to consider not only how to best connect your tiles for maximum combo potential but also which abilities you need to best exploit whatever strategy you have adopted based on your completed assignments or assignments you have in hand or can see waiting for you in the public display. In one game, I spent the entire game building a well-linked tableau in preparation for a 9-shard assignment that would give me a point for every completed link. I didn't win that game, but I did complete the assignment, which ended up being worth well over a dozen points. It was quite a satisfying experience, despite my loss.
Next, you have to consider the order of activation. Do you activate a tile positioned at the center of 4 other linked tiles first in order to get a massive action payout or do you go slowly, from the outside in in order to maximize the number of times you get to activate the tile at the center? This all depends on your current needs, the stage of the game, and the layout you have built.
You also have to think about which assignments to complete. Do you want to complete many low-cost assignments and try to rush the game or go for few higher-cost, higher-payoff assignments? You have to either set the pace of the game with your assignments or keep up with the pace of the game in completing them. Their effects and abilities can also influence when you choose to complete them. Some provide effects that are useful early in the game (for example, gaining a shard and will every time somebody rests) and others provide effects that are useful later in the game (for example, adding VP to every item in your tableau or removing a VP from every item in your opponent's tableau).
Finally, when do you burn a turn to reset? You can do this before you've exhausted all tiles in your tableau or you can do it earlier than that if you are desperate to repeat an action you've already fully exhausted. The frequency at which you burn turns to reset your tableau affects your efficiency and ultimate number of turns you have in the game, so using assignments that reset your tableau without burning an action can be particularly important. This is a game of efficiency, so whatever you can do to minimize your reset frequency is what you have to do, whether it be completing a certain assignment, building your tableau in an efficient way, and/or efficiently activating it.
4. Great sense of escalation with a uniquely executed engine-building element
I don't know about you, but I haven't seen many "tile-linking games of magic and wizardry" on the market. In fact, I think this may be the first game of its kind, a game that has you build a tableau by activating said tableau and creating cascading chains of effects. It's quite clever! But more than that, it is incredibly satisfying! Creating synergistic combinations between tiles that allow you to collect a small fortune of shards and/or will and then simultaneously complete an assignment, which may allow you to un-exhaust all the action tiles in your tableau and take another turn to do the same thing!
Going from a bare-bones tableau that doesn't allow you to accomplish much of anything other than take a shard or tile to one that gives you 5 actions in one shot in a crazy, spectacular combo extravaganza gives you an immense sense of power.
Like any great engine-building game, this one ramps up quickly and does so using an interesting and unique spatial puzzly twist! Great stuff!
5. Great race-y tension but not a race - PACING, PACING, PACING!
Arcane Academy features all the tension of a race (i.e. the best part) without being a true race. The end of the game is triggered when one player has 8 completed assignments, so one way to play the game is to simply push the end forward by completing many tiny assignments that require very few resources. You might win, but you might not because many little, low-cost, low-VP assignments can easily be outdone by a few large, high-cost, high-VP assignments. I love the fact that Arcane Academy makes you feel the tension of a race by forcing you to keep abreast your opponent (or at least keep close watch over your opponent and the general pace of the game), while minimizing the sense of doom from failing to be the first to cross the finish line.
6. Very high replay value
Arcane Academy is compulsively replayable. You have a big deck of assignments and numerous action tiles that become available in different quantities and at different times over the course of any given game. Trying to create an efficient and effective tableau out of the unique set of tiles available each turn makes for a different puzzle every time!
What's more, some assignments point you in certain strategic directions, encouraging you to build many connections between your tiles or to build a tableau that allows you to activate them.
7. Two may be the ideal player count for the most control
I had one concern about Arcane Academy after I read the rulebook - randomness; I was worried that the combination of randomly drawn action tiles, randomly drawn assignment cards, and take-that-style card effects would result in an uncomfortably high level of randomness. This does create a fair bit of randomness, but when playing with only two players, that randomness is not so high as to make the game feel like eating random soup.
With two players, you can somewhat rely on having certain public assignments available to you on a later turn and saving gems or will to complete those specific assignments. At higher player counts, you would be more at the mercy of the assignments and tiles that remain after up to 3 other players are done with them, leading to a more tactical game. You may possibly also be subject to fewer "attacks" with only two, but that's really depends on your play group and whether players enjoy ganging up on one person.
I am not typically drawn to highly tactical and highly random games and I don't typically appreciate ANY take-that-style interaction in my games. Arcane Academy features 3 sources of randomness - its randomly drawn action tiles, randomly drawn assignment cards, and take-that-style card effects. Completing an assignment and then drawing a new assignment that is just perfect for your opponent can happen and could lead to some frustration if that triggers the end of the game or allows your opponent to trigger some crazy chain of events. Desecration can be particularly devastating both very early and late in the game, as it essentially nets you 3 bonus actions. If you just so happen to have it available to you early in the game, it can allow you to build a much larger and more powerful tableau than your opponent and larger and more powerful tableaus can be used to activate many more actions before resting, effectively giving you more actions over the course of the game. It's kind of like card advantage; if you have more cards, you a) have more options and b) can do more. Always good.
The take-that style card effects can also be an annoyance when your opponent uses them to undo things you worked to achieve or mess with your plans to achieve something on an upcoming turn. For example, one effect allows you to basically steal 1 will and 1 shard from an opponent, possibly delaying this opponent's ability to complete an assignment. Another removes 1 VP from each of your opponent's item. VPs take some work to add to items.
2. Negative interaction
If you desperately despise take-that-style interaction, you should beware of Arcane Academy. I was taken aback by the meanness of the game when we first played it because it looks so very nice. Doesn't it!? It's really not. Some assignments allow you to blackmail your opponents, steal from them, and remove VPs they have worked hard to add to their cards. In one game, I added a VP to each of my items by completing an assignment and then Peter proceeded to take them all away on the following turn. If you think that sort of thing will bother you, make an effort to try Arcane Academy before seeking it out. For me, the game's duration makes its cutthroat nature acceptable.
Arcane Academy may look a little like a silly children's game, but it's not! Between building and activating your tableau and selecting the right assignments to complete, the game gives you a tonne of crunchy bits to chew. Highly engaging, fast playing, compulsively replayable, puzzly, and unique, this one is sure to appeal to a broad audience. I could do without the bit of "take that," but I'm more than willing to live with it for the great sense of satisfaction I get from building cleverly positioned links between the tiles in my tableau and then activating them for maximum effect. This is a lot of fun and for now, I can't seem to get enough!
MINA'S LOVE METER SOME LOVE (With potential to increase.)
Mina's Love Meter
- I dislike this game so much that it makes me angry. (I rate these 4 or less on the BGG scale) Dislike
- I don't like this game, but I can see why others like it.
(5 on BGG scale) Some like
- I find this game somewhat appealing, but it doesn't really grab me. I am glad to have had the opportunity to try this game, but it is unlikely to stay in my collection for very long.
(5.5 to 6.5) on BGG scale) Like
- I like this game and appreciate the design. I am happy to play this game occasionally when the mood strikes and enjoy doing so.
(7 to 7.5 on BGG scale) Some love
- I love this game. It's not perfect, but it really appeals to me and I will play it frequently.
(7.5 to 8 on BGG scale) Lots of love
- I really love this game. The design really speaks to me. I want to play it most of the time.
(8 to 9 on BGG scale) All love all the time
- I ADORE this game and can see myself playing it many times and for many years. I would go to sleep clutching it in my arms and want to play it all day every day...only not literally because that would be insane.
(9 to 10 on BGG scale)
Thank you very much for a great, well thought out review. I'm also extremely happy that you like the game, even more so because I very much enjoy that one bit of the game which you've found to be bothersome - negative interaction.
Not that I've needed any more incentive to buy this game...
The Nicholas Cage of games! Oh god, not the beeeeeesssss!
It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
First, thanks for the review!
Second, a note on the take that stuff in the game. Eric and I wrestled a lot with the proper level of it. In the end, we removed most of the targeted 'take that' effects and made them more generalized so that there was less of one player feeling picked on. The few targeted effects that remain are player choices, such as the 'blackmail' items.
And of course, there's nothing wrong with leaving a few cards in the box if that's how your game group would prefer to play. Just be aware that a lot of the cards are inter-related in various ways. For instance, the Armor of the Inverse benefits from the existence of the Combustion spell, which is one of the non-targeted take that cards.
But ultimately, play the game in whatever way makes you and your friends happiest.
Thanks for making such an awesome game. I was pleasantly surprised by the take that elements. Chaining is also a super satisfying mechanic. My coworkers really enjoy the game.
In a four player game the player on my right was playing and the player on my left had a huge grin. He played a card that had a pretty big impact. Very exciting stuff.
Looking forward to seeing an expansion someday.