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Designer Preview: Res Arcana

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
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Res Arcana is a fantastical card game of resource transformation and growth for 2-4 alchemical mages.

In Res Arcana (arcane things), players use magical essences to craft artifacts to produce more essences and gold.

These, in turn, are used to claim ancient monuments and Places of Power, which provide victory points.

Sample monuments

Sample Places of Power

The goal is to have at least 10 and the most victory points when victory is checked (typically, at the end of each round).

Starting Small

Each player begins with one of each essence, three cards drawn from a personal deck of just eight unique artifacts, plus a mage and magic item chosen during set-up.

During a round, players collect essences, then do actions one at a time, clockwise, until all players pass and victory is checked.

Actions are placing a card from hand or claiming a monument or Place of Power from the center by paying its cost in essences; using a power; passing; or discarding a card from hand to gain one gold or any two essences.

This last action is crucial as it allows a player who draws an artifact whose powers don't fit with their other artifacts to spend it to place the rest of their artifacts more quickly.

Artifact Powers

Many card powers involve turning a card. Once turned, its powers cannot be used again until it is straightened (typically, at the end of a round).

Thus, some cards, such as the Horn of Plenty, force a player to choose which power to use. Other powers, such as Dragon Teeth's first power, can be used multiple times, enabling essence growth and accumulation until these essences are taken during next round's Collect step.

Players interact not only by competing for items, monuments, and Places of Power, but also via powers that give essences to other players, copy essences in a rival's essence pool, or inflict life loss on rivals.

Some powers prevent life loss. Players who have already passed are immune to life loss. The first to pass becomes first player for next round. Each player who passes must exchange their current magic item for a new one from the center, then draw a card.

These rules create timing interactions as players may want to pass early to become first player and avoid life loss or pass later to do more actions, not be interfered with, and obtain a magic item given up by an earlier passing player.

Building a Setting

I drew on three different traditions when I designed Res Arcana's setting: medieval alchemy, classical antiquity, and western fantasy. This led to items such as athanors, Solomon's mine, dragons, a dancing sword, a dwarven axe, an elvish bow, and a cursed skull.

For the essences, I considered and rejected using the classical (Western) elements. Instead, I used Elan, inner vitality, to suggest energy, fire, war, and forging; Calm, with its associations with water, mind, visions, purity, air, and contemplation; Death, with its connotations of decay, destruction, and necromancy; Life, to suggest creating, healing, nature, forests, and growth; and Gold, for its associations with wealth, greed, and precious metals.

All That Glitters

In a setting inspired by alchemy, I wanted gold to feel special and different from the other essences, so I made it the key to obtaining monuments, all of which cost four gold and range from 1-3 victory points.

The monument strategy is an alternative to gaining a Place of Power. Most Places of Power convert and store essences as victory points.

Some artifacts are also creatures or dragons...

...and several Places of Power interact with creatures or dragons.

Finding a Partner

I originally pitched and designed Res Arcana for one publisher. However, by the time I had the submission ready, their product manager had changed. The new product manager, while liking the game, didn't feel it was something that could be easily demoed at SPIEL.

This game then sat in limbo for several years. I showed it to other publishers, but they insisted on completely redoing the theme, which I didn't want to do.

Then, Cyrille, Maud, and their close friends played it. Cyrille Daujean is an industry veteran, having worked for Days of Wonder, and Maud and he were considering starting a game company, Sand Castle Games. I am deeply honored that they chose Res Arcana as their first product.

Cyrille is a graphic artist and art director, who worked closely with the illustrator, Julien Delval, to achieve a look which both suggests historical alchemy as well as fantasy, while keeping my intended theme.

Variety, Variety

The five Places of Power are double-sided. The more straight-forward ones are used, along with pre-set mages and artifact hands, for the players' first game. In later games, everything is determined randomly.

Between forty unique artifacts, ten mages, ten monuments, and eight magic items, Res Arcana provides lots of variety from game to game.

But, wait, there's more! Once players become familiar with the game, two drafting variants add another layer of player interaction and strategy. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann
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