The modern board game market is absolutely packed with eye-catching hits, and it means developers need something a little more to stand out on the shelf. For Lost Ruins of Arnak, that ‘something’ is one the best-looking map boards I’ve ever seen, and high quality artwork that makes this action-adventure pop.
While it does require a hefty setup and a long time to learn the intricacies of gameplay, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a fun and challenging experience from 1-4 buoyed by interesting, strategy-based gameplay and spectacular design choices.
How to set up and play Lost Ruins of Arnak
The action of Lost Ruins of Arnak takes place on an intricately-designed map board depicting a vast, jungle-filled valley that crosses great oceans and mountain ranges. Honestly, the photos I took don’t really do it justice — it’s a huge, stunning map to play on, and one filled with surprises in every cavern and crevasse.
To set up Lost Ruins of Arnak, you start by placing down the map and resource boards to form a whopping near-metre-long playing area. Then, you place ‘idol’ tokens on key exploration spots, place boons on each research slot, set out individual player boards and tokens, and fill the lower resource slots with diamonds, arrowheads, tablets, compasses and coins.
This forms your basic playing area and lets you take your first steps into the Lost Ruins of Arnak.
Gameplay takes place across five rounds where players take turns performing actions, with the ultimate goal being to gather resources, research and earn points on your travels.
Actions players can take include digging in locations to gain resources, spending resources to advance on the research track, purchasing items, uncovering new locations, or defeating the deadly Guardians you encounter along the way.
Rounds last until each player has exhausted all their action cards (you get five each round) and no further moves or can be taken.
When a round ends, player tokens are reset and a new purchasable artefact enters the playing area. This is repeated five times, with final scores being calculated based on how many resources are gathered, how far up the research track players have gone and how many Guardians they’ve defeated.
While gameplay seems fairly straightforward at first, it does take a whopping long time to learn how to play because there’s so many gameplay quirks, rules and actions along the way.
I’d recommend checking out this video from Gaming Rules! to start with (and this one if playing solo) for a more visual look at how it works. Then, check out the glossy rule book in the box for clarification on any actions.
It’ll take you a good hour to really understand the rules, and even longer to grasp a winning play.
You’ll need strategy to conquer the Ruins
Lost Ruins of Arnak is packed with actions you can take on every turn, and you’ll have to be picky to survive. Arnak plays as a race to the top between all players as everyone works to uncover the best treasures, gather the most research and grab artefacts from the ruins.
The first person to reach the top of the track can claim the most points, meaning you’ll want to stay focussed and make well thought-out decisions about what resources to go for and when to play your best cards.
To defeat particular Guardians and claim their power and treasure, you’ll need to sacrifice specific research tokens that can be gathered by digging, researching or playing action cards. There’s no going in blind — you’ll need to plan, or sacrifice points in your journey.
The strategy element means Lost Ruins of Arnak isn’t just a simple romp through great caverns and forests. It’s a game riddled with competition, and one that requires understanding, focus and confidence. That’ll mean it’s not for everyone, particularly if you prefer a more relaxed journey.
Even in solo mode, you’ll need to think before you leap.
The solo experience is solid, but can become repetitive
For everyone who prefers to play games solo (myself included), Lost Ruins of Arnak includes a solo mode where players go up against an AI opponent controlled by a deck of ten action cards. This AI player will make ‘blocking’ decisions, such as occupying exploration sites, nabbing rare items or advancing ahead of you on the research track, and always goes first in gameplay.
It means in solo mode you’ve got an opponent to chase, and a reason to take riskier decisions as you win or lose tokens.
Each round, the AI player must make 10 moves regardless of when you’re finished with your turn — and while this can shake up your gameplay and increase the speed of solo mode it also means you have to make the same ten moves every round on behalf of the AI player. By the fifth round, this element of gameplay becomes very repetitive and it can reduce the excitement of discovering new goods every turn.
That said, having a solo mode at all is a great feature because adventures like Lost Ruins of Arnak don’t typically allow players to go it alone. The gameplay is more dynamic with a friend, but if there’s no other alternative the solo mode is still a solid, enjoyable addition.
You can also make your journey more interesting via the Czech Games website.
Spice things up with the digital companion
Lost Ruins of Arnak has a free digital companion app with a bunch of additional gameplay goodies that’ll make your adventure easier and more fun.
You can use this page on mobile or web browser to control the actions of your AI opponent in solo mode, or to run through an entire story-based campaign. This has special rules laid out in the app, and tells an entire story to keep you hooked as you make each turn.
While it’s not a major part of playing Lost Ruins of Arnak (and you can skip it entirely) it’s a nice addition, particularly for solo players who might tire of controlling their own character and the AI opponent.
Lost Ruins of Arnak is a game best played with at least two people but if you can’t conjure another player, the solo mode is still well-integrated into gameplay and doesn’t dampen the excitement and adventure of discovering new locations and fending off great beasts.
With the addition of a research track designed to push your expedition forward, there’s plenty of strategy to complicate your journey. Everything has a price, and working out the best way to advance your expedition is an exciting challenge even in later rounds. When you’re up against other players things can really heat up, and there’s benefits to going hard and fast on research and focussing on your strategy.
If you’re somebody who enjoys adventure-type or strategy board games, particularly ones involving tile-based exploration, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a real gem. It does take some time to learn and requires a lot of strategic decisions, but it’s a gorgeous and adventurous way to spend an afternoon solo or with mates. Just make sure to keep an eye on the competition as the going gets tough.