Thursday, May 03, 2007

The News in Reviews / Old Puzzler Answer / New Fortnightly Puzzler

Arkadia After One Play

I am a big fan of Rudiger Dorn. I've played Louis XIV, Jambo, Traders of Genoa, Goa, and now Arkadia. He designs games with a pleasing mixture of skill mechanics and randomness, with the emphasis on pleasing. Some of my most enjoyable playing experiences have been with the above games, and even though I've only played it once, I think Arkadia is an good addition to the Dorn's gaming credits.

The Flavor

In Arkadia, you're building a city and castle. Two to four players are each given a divider tent, four banners, five workers, and a hand of four cards. With these modest beginnings, players must figure out a way to gain the most money.

The Rules and Components

Before getting into the game play, I want to review the components: 1) the board and castle, 2) the banners, 3) the workers, 4) the building tiles and cards, 5) the building tokens, 6) the castle parts.

1) The board and castle. The playing area is a large grid of squares. There are villages scattered throughout the board (they are part of the board's art, perhaps twenty in all) which when covered with a tile provide a neutral worker to the active player. The castle, which is a separate mini-board, is placed anywhere on top of the board, though we played with it in the center. The castle features two of each of the building tokens and is a kind of medieval stock market. More on that in a bit.

2) The banners. Each player gets four banners. At the end of your turn, you may "cash in" a banner to receive the following: 1) two additional workers (your color), 2) the right to cash in any of your building tokens for their current market value. The second is optional.

3) The workers. Each player has a pool of personal workers (useable) and a pool of general workers (recruitable but not yet useable). On top of that, all players have a pool of neutral workers that anyone can recruit. You start with five personal workers in your color. The only way to get more is by cashing in a banner. You get neutral workers by placing your building tiles over villages, one per village covered.

4) The building tiles and cards. The building tiles are shaped like Tetris pieces. The two exceptions are two and three unit lines. All the tiles correspond with the cards, of which there is a stack. Three cards are always flipped up. The cards come in four different colors; each color corresponds to a different building token. When you use a card, you take the appropriate shaped tile and building token and place both together anywhere on the board. Then you may draw a face-up replacement or one from the top of the stack (a la Ticket to Ride).

5) The building tokens. There are four different kinds of building tokens. During the course of the game, you will redeem earned tokens for money (victory points). You cash in building tokens with a banner or at the end of the game. No token will ever NOT be cashed in. Players simply try to follow the stock market to get the best value.

6) The castle parts. The Torres parts get used again! The castle (the original flat castle and all of the parts) is essentially the stock market for all of the building tokens. At any given point, a bird's eye view of the castle will reveal how much each token is worth. Each castle part has a building token symbol on it. When the castle is getting built, players may place a new part of the castle over another part of the castle, thus covering the symbol underneath. This in turn changes the value of the building tokens.

There are a few nit-picky rules in Arkadia, but they are pretty intuitive. Each turn, players may perform one of two actions: 1) place any number of personal workers (your color) and/or neutral workers (beige) around a single building or 2) play a card from your hand to be able to place the accompanying tile in the city.

You want to earn building tokens, preferably the ones with the highest current value or ones that you think will have a better value later on. You can earn tokens in two ways: 1) just by touching a building with one of your workers, 2) by surrounding a building completely with any combination of workers and/or other buildings.

Many of the buildings will get surrounded, so it's a matter of placing your workers so that they touch many buildings at once. When a building is surrounded, the active player first gets the token on the building (even if he/she doesn't have any workers touching the building). Then players count to see how many player workers are touching the building (this excludes neutral workers). Players score the appropriate token per touching worker.

Whenever a building tile is surrounded and scored, the active player gets to place a castle part on the castle/stock market. Each level of the castle must be filled before moving on to the next level. This keeps players from completely eliminating one color. There are three distinct "pools" of castle parts that are used to make each level, and more parts than are possible to use in each pool.

Once the final scoring takes place and players have cashed in all of their building tokens, the player with the most money (victory points) wins!

Quality of Components

The workers are actually small plastic workers, not wooden cubes. They are pastel colors, like the camels in Through the Desert. They look snapable, so that might be a concern to some.

The building tokens, buildings, and money/victory points are all chits, which suits me fine. I especially like the art for the buildings. Nice and detailed. The cards are nice, too.

I'm totally impressed with the revival of the Torres pieces. It's a simple gesture, using them as the stock market, and probably unnecessary, but I like the look. Unlike games like Ys where the fluctuating market is off to the side, the castle is in the middle of the board somewhere. That is, when you are looking at the board and trying to figure out what to do, you don't have to look elsewhere to get the information you need. This may sound a little silly, but any information you can keep from your opponents (like "Ugh, he just noticed me looking at the stock market") can be an edge.

Personal Thoughts

Arkadia is a good game. We played it with three players, and we all finished within ten points of one another. We all made mistakes, but none so terrible as to have a runaway leader.

The fluctuating stock market really works well here. It's simple, but you still have to watch what's going on. If you don't have a good memory for what people have earned, you can always infer it by watching what they're doing in the castle/stock market.

The dividers and hidden information proved to be a decisive factor in the game. I don't really have the memory for keeping track of who has what, and those dividers make all the difference. They probably won't be a huge factor for the super competitive euro-gamer, but they were enough for me to lose the advantage and ultimately the game.

I had a good time with Arkadia, and though some of the other Rudiger Dorn games seem to have a little more meat on them (specifically Goa and Louis XIV), I'm excited to play it again. I think this game will ultimately be more about fine-tuning your strategies (placement, the timing with workers, choosing cards, etc.) than finding out original ways to win.

As for the Rudiger Dorn fans, I'm pretty sure they'll be satisfied.


Old Puzzler Q & A

Q: I'm thinking of a game and a sitcom. One is a question, and the other is the answer to that question. What are they?

A: Who's the Boss? (sitcom) and I'm the Boss! (game)

I got a lot of responses to this one. Various alternatives included "What's Happenin?" and "Diplomacy." Also, "Who's the Ass?" and "Seinfeld" was given.


New Fortnightly Puzzler

My old boss was named ROE (as in Mike Roe). This sequence of letters coincidentally is what you get when you take a particular game's title, drop every pair of like letters (this includes letters that are adjacent and letters that are not), and group the remaining letters together (without rearranging them). If you want to know how many letters the game has in its title, you may count the number of asterisks in the middle line of the seven-line cluster above. What's the game?

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