Res Arcana Review: A Perfect Blend of Easy-to-Learn Mechanics and Hidden Depth

The newest creation from Tom Lehmann and Julien Delval is Res Arcana, a card game steeped in the world of warriors, magic, and dragons. The title comes from Sand Castle Games and Asmodee, and has you and up to three other players attempting to assemble the right mix of artifacts, monuments, creatures, and places of power that will ultimately lead you to victory. The first player to 10 points wins, and while the goal may seem simple, the journey there is filled with far more complexity.

10 victory points might be all you need to win Res Arcana, but there’s a delightful amount of avenues and pathways to achieve that goal. Everything in the game is purchased with essences, which come in five flavors. Life, Death, Elan, Calm, and Gold are the currency of Res Arcana, and you’ll utilize not only your deck of artifacts but also magical items that you’ll rotate through to put those to work.

There’s a lovely amount of variety right out of the box, as the game features 10 different mages you can play as, each with a specific skill that will factor into your strategy. You’ll randomly select two from the deck and then pick from those, ensuring that repeated playthroughs won’t just be you using old favorites every single time. The same goes for the artifact cards, of which there are 40, and you’ll shuffle before picking eight for each game. That may not sound like a lot, but it will take you a bit to work your way through them, as you only have so much essence to work with, especially in the early rounds.

Res-Arcana-Mages
(Photo: ComicBook.com)

Between the mages, magic items, and Places of Power (which feature other locations on the opposite side), there’s a great deal of replay value, and thankfully things move at a steady pace once you pick up the game. That should only take a few turns, as after the collection phase (where you pick up any essence you are owed) players just go clockwise and make one action each until everyone at the table has passed their turn once. Early on that doesn’t take very long, but as you start to gain more abilities and learn to use your cards you’ll get more out of your deck, but even that process isn’t that time-consuming.

Res Arcana is relatively simple to learn once you have the symbols down, though that will arguably take the longest to get comfortable with, as there are quite a bit of them. Still, once you have an idea of what each one does, you’ll start to discover the game’s underlying complexity. You can play cards that attack your opponent or give you gold immediately, but most Places of Power, for instance, have multiple powers to use, with some giving you an immediate effect (like essence or an attack) and others giving you a long-term bonus, like additional victory points at the end of the game.

Res-Arcana-3
(Photo: ComicBook.com)

Since your mages and artifacts are random, you’ll need to formulate a plan of attack early but one that can change and fluctuate depending on the other players’ actions. Someone might take a Place of Power or Magic Item that you were counting on to make your strategy work, and you’ll need to come up with a Plan B to stay afloat in the game. The good news is that is very possible, especially with the right Magic Item. Once players pass their turn, they have to give up their Magic Item of choice and swap it out, freeing it up for someone else to use when they eventually pass. These Magic Items allow you specific flexibilities on your turn, ranging from giving you free essence to transforming unwanted essence into needed essence, reanimating previously turned cards, and more, so don’t be afraid to experiment with them early on.

This rule also applies to Monuments, which always cost four Gold but can vary in their additional abilities, so make sure to pay attention when choosing. Cards like Golden Statue allow you to spend three Gold when victory is checked, giving you a +3 bonus for just that check, which might prove far more valuable to you at some point than the other card that will simply benefit you now. Artifacts also hold a myriad of abilities, and some will only reach their potential by playing the long game, so make sure to not make a snap judgment.

Res-Arcana-Box-Art
(Photo: Sand Castle Games)

Res Arcana isn’t just impressive to play either. Delval's illustrations are superb, with each card featuring a bold and colorful portrait front and center as well as little touches that give each card and item the aesthetic of an ancient tablet or scroll. Each of the essence pieces are bright and unique, and the Mages themselves are impressive as well.

Res Arcana combines easy-to-learn mechanics with satisfying depth and complexity and puts it all into a superb visual package. Those who want to switch it up and explore all the game has to offer will feel rewarded for their efforts, while those who just want a fun game to play will enjoy their time as well without feeling overwhelmed. The rules could use a bit of clarifying in certain spots, but that small nitpick doesn’t bring down an otherwise stellar game of tactics and magic.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Published by Sand Castle Games

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Designed by Tomas Lehmann

Art by Julien Delval

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