Czech Games Edition's Lost Ruins of Arnak was already a favorite for its classic sense of adventure and immersive mechanics, but instead of simply adding more content to the experience, CGE decided to shake up how each player approaches the experience with the Expedition Leaders expansion. The new expansion gives each player a unique character to play as, and while some offer small twists, others drastically change the core playstyle, and that's not even accounting for the new Research Tracks, Artifacts, Items, and more. While Expedition Leaders is not required to play the base game, I can't see a time when or place where I'll play Lost Ruins of Arnak without it, so for me it's absolutely essential.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a deck-building and worker placement game that has you exploring mysterious archaeological sites, encountering the Guardians of those locations, obtaining resources to defeat them and making your way up the Research Track in an attempt to earn enough points during your expedition to win the game over 5 rounds. That goal remains the same in Expedition Leaders, but this time instead of starting the game with the same abilities and a nameless persona, you'll choose a unique leader that each carries their own benefits, drawbacks, and abilities.
You'll quickly notice how drastically this changes the turn to turn gameplay, and Leaders players can choose from include the Captain, Falconer, Baroness, Professor, Explorer, and the Mystic. The Captain is probably the most straightforward, as he gives you an additional Archaeologist to search sites with, while the Baroness and Professor each provide benefits when acquiring Items and Artifacts respectively. These three still take a bit to get used to and provide a fun twist to the gameplay, but it's really the next three that shake things up considerably.
The Falconer has an Eagle tile that moves to a different spot on its track every round, giving you access to a unique ability, but there are also other ways to move the Eagle forward. Two of the abilities further down the tracker allows you to activate Level 1 and 2 sites whether someone is occupying them or not, which is incredibly handy, but the earlier abilities can be used as Free Actions and gain you Gold and Tablets. Plus, you might need to save that Eagle movement card or Idol effect for something down the road, so there is incentive to stick around.
This push and pull is evident to even greater effect in other Leaders, including The Explorer, who only has access to one Archaeologist but can use Snack Tokens to move to additional places. Eventually, you'll even gain a third Snack Token, which for a cost, allows you to explore the island more than anyone else, though as I learned later on, sometimes they are best used on her Starter Cards, which can activate sites and net you the use of Idol effects on the board. The Explorer was challenging at first to get a rhythm for, but eventually, I found myself really enjoying how it changed up my play style. That said, I wasn't really prepared for The Mystic.
The Mystic introduces the Ritual mechanic and relies heavily on Fear Cards, which typically aren't that helpful in your hand and will cost you points at the end of the game. The Mystic actually ends up with more of these cards than anyone else right off the bat of each turn, and that takes some getting used to. You can then burn these in a ritual, and doing so will net you several different rewards, but you only have so many cards that can start a Ritual, and you have to Exile them to do so. It took quite a while for me to get the hang of planning things out a little further because I didn't want to burn those too soon and leave me with a lack of options later on. The good news is that you can exile Fear Cards rather easily if you look to the various sites and Research Track, both of which offer a multitude of opportunities to get Fear Cards out of your deck into the Ritual pile. I never felt fully comfortable playing as The Mystic, but I enjoyed the challenge and fresh perspective and given time I'm sure I would find a groove with the play style.
The new Research Tracks also add new wrinkles to the experience, throwing in new costs, rewards, and mechanics. The one that left the biggest impression was the Lizard Temple, both because of its eye-catching artwork and inclusion of a Guardian in the middle of the track. If you're truly looking for a fresh experience the Snake Temple is your first stop thanks to its additional Guardian and varied rewards, including a Volcanic Eruption that takes out a tile and its Guardian. The Monkey Temple is fun too and changes up your ascent with a two-pronged path and even an Artifact, but it isn't quite as innovative as the Snake Temple.
CGE even threw in a Red Moon Staff Variant that allows you to see more Artifacts and Items, of which there are ones new to the expansion. Still, the stars of the show here are the Leaders, and they all play so vastly different from each other that every replay felt inherently more varied than in the base game. If you enjoyed Lost Ruins of Arnak and you are looking for a way to take it to another level, Expedition Leaders is your answer. If Lost Ruins of Arnak's original version didn't click with you, however, there's a good chance that Expedition Leaders will be the expansion to win you over and keep you playing for quite some time.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Published By: CGE
Designed By: Michal Stach, Michaela Stachova, Tomas Uhlir, and Adam Spanel
Art and Graphic Design By: Radek Boxan, Ondrej Hrdina, Milan Vavron, Jiri Kus, Jakub Politzer, Frantisek Sedlacek, and Stepan Drastak
Lost Ruins of Arnak: Expedition Leaders is available in stores now.
What did you think of Expedition Leaders? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things tabletop with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!