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Kenton White
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The Shipwreck Arcana

The Shipwreck Arcana does something I would have thought impossible: a co-operative deduction game where players challenge each other with logic puzzles of their own creation. This could have gone horribly off the rails. Since we are working together, what stops me making insanely easy puzzles for my partner? Or what stops the game from making the puzzle creation devilishly difficult, frustrating us all? The Shipwreck Arcana masterfully balances these 2 extremes in a fun and challenging deduction game.

I draw 2 number tiles from a bag — my fates. One fate I'll reveal, providing a clue what my other, hidden fate is. My partner must guess my hidden fate. Say I have 2 tiles, the 6 and the 7 (tiles range from 1 to 7). There will be 4 arcana cards revealed. One of them has the clue "Lower: If one of your fates is lower than the other, play the lower one here". This is really good for me. I'll play my 6 fate on the card. There is only one number that 6 is lower than. My partner easily guesses 7, the correct tile.

The other extreme is when none of the cards work. There is always "The Hours" card, where one of the fates is played if none of the cards work. My partner draws 2 tiles and frowns. After some head scratching, she plays a 3 on "The Hours" — she can't play on any of the revealed arcana cards. One of the cards is "Lower", which requires that one fate is lower than the other. Why couldn't she play on "Lower"? If she doesn't have a fate lower than the other, her fates must be equal. I correctly guess 3 as her other fate.

(Arcana cards feature tarot-inspired illustrations.)

The Shipwreck Arcana is rarely this easy. Finding an obvious clue, one that will instantly guide my partner to the correct answer, is hard. How useful is "Lower" as a clue if I have a 1 and a 7? Playing the 1 provides absolutely no information! In these cases I can use the other cards as clues for what my fates can't be. If my partner plays a 1 on the "Lower" arcana card, perhaps she couldn't play elsewhere. Maybe she couldn't play on the card where the sum of fates is 5 or less. So her remaining fate must 5, 6 or 7. A third card says the sum must be odd, so I deduce the sum of fates is actually even, eliminating 6. Now I have a 50 / 50 chance of guessing her hidden fate — it is either 5 or 7.

Guessing correctly scores us a point. We'll alternate setting the puzzle and guessing the puzzle until we score 7 points — 7 correct guesses — and win. Incorrect guesses advances the doom track — reach the end of the doom track and the game ends. When faced with a 50 /50 chance, I must decide if I should risk an incorrect guess or pass, letting me partner provide another clue. This is a very interesting decision. But why would I risk guessing when waiting for another clue is safer? I'll guess because the arcana cards "fade".

Each arcana card will be replaced ("fade") after enough fate tiles are placed on them. When an arcana card fades, the doom track is advanced by 2 unless the hidden fate was successfully guessed. Guessing at a fate introduces a clever risk-reward mechanism. If a card is about to fade, the doom track will advance by 2 if I play it safe. Guessing I risk an extra doom for the chance of preventing 2. When the odds of guessing are 50%, I'll take one less doom over the long run by guessing (pass 2 turns = 4 doom, guess 2 turns, one right & one wrong = 3 doom).

Faded cards aren't removed from play. They are turned over, revealing a single use special power. One may be to guess twice; others let me ask my partner something about her hidden fate ("is it a 1-2-3?"). Factoring these special abilities into my puzzle introduces another fascinating dimension. When the best I can do is whittle down the choices to a handful of possibilities, is there a revealed ability that can tip the odds?

(Wooden fates are drawn from a gorgeous velour bag.)

The Shipwreck Arcana solves many deduction game problems. First, creating the puzzles is fun! In many deduction games, setting the puzzle is a chore — the puzzle solver has all the fun. Here, finding the right clues for my partner is as fun as deciphering her clues. Each creates there own mental challenge. When I'm giving clues, I'm working backwards from my partner's perspective, trying to see how she will understand the clues I've given. Maybe there will only be a single arcana card I can play on, but how will she see the clue? Will she see it as an intended hint or correctly deduce I had no other options? If I have 2 choices of the fate I can play, will one better communicate my intentions over the other?

Unlike other deduction games, The Shipwreck Arcana doesn't rely solely on logic. Since we are working together, I can use the psychology of my opponent to help communicate my hidden fate. Does she always guess the higher number? I'll try to keep my higher number back, weighting the odds slightly in our favour. Does she sometimes stumble when determining if a sum is odd or even? I'll focus on clues that require more simple comparisons. Knowing how my partner thinks will help us win.

Finally, The Shipwreck Arcana scales well between analytical and intuitive people. I definitely fall into the analytical camp, and many people dislike playing deduction games with me. Just when they are starting to figure out the puzzle for themselves, I'll end the game early by successfully solving my puzzle. Alternating the clue giver and working together to solve the puzzles gives everyone a chance to have fun. I may see the perfect clue, navigating through the twists and turns to eliminate all other possibilities. But if my partner can't follow that logic it is useless. However, sometimes she can get a feeling, intuiting what the answer is. Although she can't explain how she came to the correct choice, she still experiences the same pleasure as I do untangling a difficult problem. And so we must gear our clues and puzzles to each other. And when one of us incorrectly guesses, we still have fun explaining to each other how the puzzle should have gone. I've played The Shipwreck Aracana with a wide range of people, from my elderly mother to my 10 year old son, and have consistently had fun creating and solving these deduction puzzles.

I enjoy The Shipwreck Arcana best with 2 payers. It can play up to 5 players, but I find higher player counts can become distracting. In a 2 player game we are alternating back and forth, giving and receiving clues. If I don't guess my opponents fate right away, I won't have to wait too long to receive another clue and guess again. With more than 2 people I can get confused which player gave which clue. The Shipwreck Arcana comes with numbered tiles each player places in front of them, tracking which numbers I've eliminated in previous turns, but with more than 2 players I'll forget why I eliminated certain numbers previously.

My one gripe with The Shipwreck Arcana is the theme. This is really an abstract logic game and could have worked well with no theme. The developers have tried hard to give the game a theme (we are using tarot cards to predict each other's fates). Pasted on themes are fine, but The Shipwreck Arcana insists on calling the number tiles fates. This leads to confusing clues — "If the sum of your fates...", "If one fate is larger than...", "If your fate is unique...". I would have found the game easier to play and teach if fates where simply called numbers. Saying "If no visible number is exactly 1 more or 1 1ess than either of your numbers" parses so much easier than "If no visible fate is exactly 1 more or 1 less than either of your fates".

The Shipwreck Arcana is a fabulous cooperative deduction game. I can play this with anyone and have a great time. Not just creating and solving logic puzzles, The Shipwreck Arcana encourages me to learn how my partner thinks, getting into her head and creating puzzles that will click for her. Challenging without being frustrating, The Shipwreck Arcana works well with analytical and intuitive players alike.

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