A to Z Gaming: Res Arcana

Res Arcana cards the Homunculus with two "calm" resources on it and the Golden Lion

We crafted unique artifacts using essences we gathered in Res Arcana, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Res Arcana box cover

Res Arcana
Players: 2-4
Time: 30-60 Minutes
Designers: Thomas Lehmann
Artists: Julien Delval
Publisher: Sand Castle Games

In Res Arcana, players take on the role of mages who are collecting essences to allow them to brew potions and craft artifacts. They can also summon dragons, demons and creatures. With the right mix of essences they can take control of places of power, or they can take over monuments with gold. Whoever can claim enough power first will win.

Res Arcana game set up with lines of cards laid out with the places of power, monuments, scrolls, and magic items. The tray of resources is at the center of the table, and each player has a mage, starting magical item, helper cards, and starting resources.

The game is set up with the resources in the middle of the table, the Monuments deck shuffled and two laid out, and the Magic Items laid out for all to see. A number of Places of Power are chosen at random, based on player count.

Each player gets one of each essence and two Mage cards to choose from — these will give the player a special ability throughout the game. Then players draft eight Artifact cards, which will become their deck for the game. After shuffling their deck, they take three cards in hand. In reverse turn order players choose a Magical Item, and then play begins.

Res Arcana player set up with a mage - the Druid for this player - starting resources, and starting magic item - the Calm/Elan one in for this player.

The game is played in rounds until someone has enough points at the end of the round to trigger the end of the game (10 points in the base game, but more in the expansions).

Each round starts with an income phase where players collect essences based on the income symbol on cards played in front of them. They may also collect essences that are on cards, but if they take any, they have to take all from a single card.

Then players take turns. On each turn they can take one action, which could be building an Artifact from their hand, activate an already-played card, claim a Place of Power or Monument, or pass. Once a player passes, they are out for the round, if they are the first to pass, they take the first player marker (which is also worth one victory point while the player has it). They also turn in their Magic Item and choose a new one, and also draw a new card into their hand from their deck.

Finally, after everyone has passed, the players check for victory. If anyone has 10 points (this is different with the expansions), the game ends, and whoever has the most points win.

Two Res Arcana cards in-hand: the Homunculus with a gray creature in a large glass dome, and the Treant, a tree-like creature

We picked up Res Arcana after watching a play-through and based on some of the buzz we heard about it. And we’ve been enjoying it ever since! We like games that are all about getting resources to buy things to get more resources — chaining actions together.

I’m always a little taken aback at the beginning of the game when each player only gets eight cards, since it feels like such a small deck! It means that you have to be strategic about which things you build first, but within the constraints of the cards you draw first.

Res Arcana player tableau with Monuments, Great Pyramid and Solomon's Temple; Mage, the Druid; and artifacts the Corrupt Altar and Possessed Demon Slayer

While the game has a theme, it could be almost any theme. Even so, I really like the art on the various cards. Plus, the different artifacts have somewhat thematic ways that they work — for example, there was a corrupt alter in our last game that gave dead essences and you could sacrifice life essence to gain fire on the altar. So even though Res Arcana could be pretty much any theme, I still enjoy the thematic elements that they’ve sprinkled throughout the game.

We’ve picked up the two expansions that have come out so far, and been enjoying what they bring to the game. One introduced a new resource, pearls, which can be used as wilds, giving players a little more freedom if they don’t get the right cards for the resources they need. The other expansion added magic scrolls, which help players out with special abilities.

Res Arcana Monument cards: Great Pyramid and Solomon's Temple with a pearl on it

How is it as a 2-player game? Res Arcana works well as a two-player game. There are a few opportunities for player interaction, but for the most part people are just building up their own tableaus. Players are also fighting for the same Places of Power, Monuments, and Magic Items. Turns are fairly snappy, so it plays quickly with just two players, and we often play twice when we get it out.

How about the art and component quality? The components are really nice — I like the component bin that you can place in the center of the table, and it fits nicely back in the box with all the other cards, chits, and boards. The cards are also good quality.

While the theme of the game could be almost anything, I do enjoy the art on the cards and the thematic touches for how they work and give powers or essences. The icons are clear, but there are a lot of them; fortunately there’s a player reference, which helps when you come back to the game after no playing for a little while.

Will this stay in my collection? Absolutely yes. We enjoy this one, it works well for two-players, and I could see easily sharing this with our game group and new players.

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