Arkadia – Game of the Month Review

Arkadia
  
Arkadia is a game that I’ve been excited about since I first heard about it.  Its rather thin theme is that players are architects working for influential families all vying to build a new castle and its surrounding buildings in the city of Arkadia.  The game mechanics primarily involved are tile laying and resource management, but there is also a really cool market manipulation aspect to scoring, and the real “skill” of the game is more a matter of timing than anything else.  The goal of the game is to collect the most gold for your contributions to the city and castle, and the game ends one round after the second level of the castle is completed.  Arkadia was nominated for several awards, and I think it is one of the best games of 2006.  I’ll get to why a little later.     

Components and Setup 

Arkadia, and setup time is one of the few downsides to the game.  The most striking bits are the castle pieces themselves, which are square, plastic tower pieces very similar to those found in the game Torres.  A small, cardboard tile is placed in each of these pieces signifying which family (the cloth merchants, the spice merchants, the carpenters and the silversmiths – each a different color) it belongs to.  In addition, there are lots of “Tetris-like” buildings of various sizes and shapes.  Each player also has a set of 11 sculpted plastic workers in their color, as well as a player screen and four scoring flags.  A pool of neutral colored workers is also available for any player to obtain and use (our group took to calling them “nekkid” workers, which is, by the way, how we say “naked” here in the south).  A small deck of cards are included as the one random element of the game,  from which the players draw to determine the buildings available for them to construct.  And, of course, there are also lots of cardboard counters both for colored “seals” representing how much work players have done for a particular family and how much gold (victory points) they have collected.  

Note that in Arkadia, players are independent architects that work for any and potentially all of these four merchant families.  Therefore, the player colors and the family colors are different, and should not be confused throughout the rest of this review (or when playing the game). 

/images/78039-68332/Arkadia_Cards.JPG” width=91>All the components look nice and are of good quality, except maybe the player screens and scoring banners.  They are definitely on the flimsy side, but they serve their purpose and look nice, anyway.  The cards are also those itsy-bitsy little “doll-sized” cards that so many games have, which I dislike as a general rule (having big sausage fingers and all).  The graphic design of the board and components is nice, but not exactly “inspired” or anything.  The most notable thing about the look of the game is the wide variety of the bits, and I can’t decide if the contrast between nice cardboard buildings, chunky plastic castle pieces, and pretentiously-posed plastic workers is interesting or incongruous.  Whatever… I’m not playing it because of how it looks in either case.

Like I said, setup can be a bit of a chore.  The large castle foundation tile is placed in the center of the board, and the castle pieces are placed appropriately in the areas for each of the three phases of the game.  The building tiles, colored seal tokens, and gold counters are placed near the board.  Each player takes one of the player screens with its four scoring banners and the matching set of colored workers, three of which begin behind their screen.  Each player is dealt four of the building cards, and the rest of the deck is placed nearby with the top three cards played face up.      

Basic Gameplay  (click here for complete game rules)

During a player’s turn, they must either lay out a building or place workers.  Afterwards, they may also choose to turn in a banner to get more of their colored workers and have the chance to score.

To lay out a building, a player plays one of the cards in their hand.  They take one of the buildings of the shape indicated on the card and place it on the board next to either the caste, another building, or a worker.  A colored seal token matching the color on the card is then placed on the building as well.  If the building covered any of the “tent camp” spaces on the board, the player takes one of the “nekkid” workers for each such space covered and places them behind their screen.  

To place workers, a player chooses one building on the board and plays workers (colored or nekkid) from behind their screen into spaces orthogonally adjacent to that building.   The player must place at least one worker, but is not required to fill all spaces around the building if they do not choose to.

/images/78039-68332/Arkadia_in_Thought.JPG” width=211>After choosing to either lay out a building or place workers on their turn, players may choose to also use an architect banner.  First, the player takes two more workers of their color from the supply and places them behind their screen.  Then, they may “sell” any number of the seals behind their screen for gold.  Note that players do not have to trade in any seals, instead choosing to use a banner merely to gain more of their colored workers.  But each player only has four banners to use for the entire game.  

Like I just said, the value of a seal is determined by how many castle pieces of that color are visable from above.  So, when trading in seals, multiply the number of seals by the value of that color to determine how much gold is paid out to a player.  For example, if I turned in 5 Olive seals, and 4 Olive castle pieces were visible from above, then I would receive 20 gold.

The endgame is triggered when someone places the last castle piece in the second level of the castle.  At this point, every player gets one more turn (including the one that triggered the endgame).  Then, all players have one last chance to trade in seals for gold based on the final castle arangement.  The player with the most gold wins!    
 
What I think… 

Simply put, I really like this game.  It’s simple to teach and play, but there is a significant learning curve to understand the strategy and tactics involved in its play.  Because it is very abstract and has little randomness involved, experience and skill is almost always rewarded.  But at the same time, the game is still accessible and fun for new players as well.  

/images/78039-68332/Arkadia_Endgame.JPG” width=264>Therefore, my biggest tip for anyone just picking up the game is to be aware of how drastically the pace changes depending on the number of players.  In a 2-player game, take your time and attempt to maximize the value of your seals before you choose to score.  In a multiplayer game, however, think more tactically and be willing to accept a sub-optimal exchange rate unless you are sure that other players are also working on that same color.  

Two other things come to mind as far as general strategy goes.  First of all, control in the game comes from completing buildings.  Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to get everything in place and “just right” before surrounding the building tiles.  Usually, you’re just inviting someone else to come in and at least share (if not outright steal) your “ideal” situation.  Instead, look for opportunities to complete any building on the board.  Don’t necessarily be afraid of completing a building that an opponent will get benefit from, as long as you can see that you will get a greater overall advantage (based on the number and color of seals you both gather, how you can influence the market with the castle piece you will play, or what pacing advantage you can capture).   

Following right up on this, make sure to get your colored workers on the board!  Of course, you need to look for the best and most influential spots to place them (ideally to be next to multiple buildings that are likely to be completed), but even a sub-optimal placement is better than having them sitting unused at the end of the game.  Especially when the value of a color is high, using several colored workers to surround and complete just one building of that color can give an almost game-changing benefit.  Particularly in multiplayer games, also don’t be afraid to use a scoring banner just to get more workers.  It’s unlikely that you will have a good opportunity to actually score more than 2-3 times anyway, so go ahead and use a banner or two to get more workers when you see any advantage to do so. 

See what I mean?  It’s all cool, gamery goodness!      

The Verdict!

Since I introduced Arkadia to the Hypermind BoardGamers, 11 different people have played 10 total games and have given it an average rating of 8.23.

Rules: “Simple to play, difficult to master”… it’s a cliche, but it’s true. 
Downtime: Turns are short, but sometimes people can fall into a bit of analysis paralysis. 
Length: Our games averaged right at 44 minutes with an average of 3.1 players per game. 
Player Interaction: Tons, both in terms of competition for space and resources as well as the ability to interfere in others’ plans.
Weight:  Medium
GamerChris’ Rating: To me, it’s the best family strategy game of 2006, and I give it a solid 9.


/images/78039-68332/Arkadia_4_Player.JPG” width=356> 

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