Arcs is 2024's Best New Board Game

2024-07-03T19:26:33Z

Potentially. This could be my best game of 2024. It’s this or Aegean Sea

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where is my copy!
can’t wait to not find anyone to play this with :melting_face:

in theory this is a good game for me but the video suggests that at least 2 of the people i would have considered trying this with will probably hate it.

ah well it’ll be a beautiful addition to my collection nevertheless :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

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I suspect I’m one of the many that has preordered off the back of this review, and, like you say, will have no one to play it with… Will it be kept or be the next Fog of Love, Flamme Rouge, Undaunted etc etc that keeps turning up on all the board game exchanges!

One thing, I’ve watched this review and many other videos about this and I still don’t have a clue what you’re actually doing.

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Alright Tom, sell it to me. I wasn’t interested in Root (but I’ve played twice and confirmed my dislike). Oath didn’t interest me in the slightest (although your video for that was highly entertaining). Your video thumbnail for this looks like completely unreasonable hype, and puts me off before we’ve even started. Oh, and I don’t enjoy Kyle Ferrin’s art style very much.

I’ll follow up after the video to say whether I’m now interested :).

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I get the same general vibe from this that I got from Oath (which I had a terrible time with). Lots of big talk about ‘storytelling’, but when push comes to shove there are no real stories being told.

I also had to chuckle at Tom’s “when you lay it all out like that, Arcs seems wildly straightforward”. No Tom, it doesn’t. You’ve described a game where there are 10 different things I can do on my turn, and you haven’t got to the game’s main mechanic yet.

To be honest, it’s not like I was ever the target audience for this anyway. I got burned out by trick-taking games in my youth.

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I’ve finished watching the video. I’ll say that I’m more interested in trying this than either of the team’s previous titles; but the review didn’t make me want to buy it. I’ll probably try it at a convention some time, though; I’m willing to let the game change my mind.

p.s. I feel that SUSD’s video thumbnails have started getting click-bait-y, which is sad. scratch that; it’s just a couple that stood out, but it doesn’t seem like a trend.

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A couple of negative points from a recent BGG comment are big red flags for me:

  • Game gets harder to parse as there is no natural limit to guild cards entering the system. So by chapter 4 or 5, you have maybe a dozen+ effects to keep on top of, which is difficult
  • I continue to dislike Cole’s verbiage bloat, there are simply too many net-new keywords thrown around here that make explaining the game less intuitive than it might otherwise have been

Also reiterated by another user:

An absurd amount of text on cards. In a 3 player campaign, I’d estimate there’s more than 1000 words of new rules text across all the cards sitting at the table at any given moment. I do not care. Go away.

Werhle creates rulebooks with sentences like “You can ordinate a dictum unless another margrave has previously pronounced a mandate this cycle, or if the writ card is on its precept side” and then gets praised for elegance and economy of design. What?!

That’s the sort of thing I’d anticipated based on Root and what I knew of Oath, and was suspicious of from what I saw in Tom’s video, but it didn’t seem like he was seeing any cons to the game. I guess he at least did enough to cause my suspicion, but the only explicit negatives I can remember him raising were in the form of “BGG comments which are wrong”.

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The verbiage thing has been a problem for me with a few highly-rated designers. I’ve often found it a poor attempt at hiding theme/mechanic mismatches, or hiding a lack of storytelling through mechanics. It usually makes the game harder to learn as well.

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I remember looking at the KS for this, can’t remember why I didn’t back it. Maybe because I didn’t like Root or Oath (both very interesting games, just didn’t work for my group). Don’t really have any space games either (unless you count Quantum). Some worrying aspects tho from this thread (text on cards and lots of cards to keep track of).

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Saw this at my FLGS the other day and was a bit tempted with all the rave reviews it is getting, but after my negative feelings for Oath, I know that this is something I will have to play first before I consider buying it.

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This doesn’t feel like a SU&SD review to me. This has the cadence of a too self-serious Youtube video essay. The only bits with any levity are the two very similar “infomercial” breaks, but those are supposed to be explaining what seem to be pretty crucial parts of the game, so it really muddies the waters. Likely why there are complaints about the video not explaining how the game actually plays.

And this isn’t me dunking on Tom or pining for “the good old days”, because I think Tom’s stuff is often very good and has the right level of silliness, including the John Company review, where it felt appropriate that it was minimally silly because of the subject matter of the game at hand. It feels like Arcs is getting the same reverential treatment, which seems incongruous to the game itself.

I got into board games mostly due to the joy of watching SU&SD videos. This is solidly a video for people who are deep into board games, and even moreso a video for people who are into Arcs. And you might say, “Well they can make some of those videos sometimes, it doesn’t have to all be for people new to the hobby.” But it can be (and often has been in the past) for both! There can be a video for Arcs that entices new players and still gives all it needs to to hardcore hobbyists, but a 37-minute Part One (!!!) is not that.

Maybe I’ll eat my words if I play Arcs and discover oh shit, it really is that good and I can see why there’s been hardly anything else on the site except it for a while, and apparently won’t be again until part two is out.

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As someone who did end up pre ordering off the back of this and other videos (yet still not understanding what the hell you’re doing when playing it) I am now hovering over the cancel button.

I think what I’ve learnt with SUSD videos is that I’m usually carried away by their enthusiasm as people that have played a hell of a lot of games. I’m persuaded by how much I WANT to experience what they’re experiencing rather than the prospect of actually playing it. A bit like watching cooking shows of things I’ll never make myself.

When I think about the recommendations that have paid off, it’s basically Quacks, Oink games, Moon and Decrypto. And Fog of Love was brought and quickly shelved. Not a bad return but given the amount of sealed games going around the exchanges, I suspect many others are much less restrained. Maybe Arcs will be another unplayed, exchanged “masterpiece”.

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Since Tom didn‘t… not really, I will try to give a rules overview. My secondary goal is to commit the rules to memory better by writing them down in my own words.

I have managed to go over the base game rules for the most part as my kickstarted copy arrived. Apparently, I am a Cole Wehrle fangirl and couldn‘t help it. I love his games even when I cannot get them played enough—love doesn‘t prevent criticism or understanding how people may not have the same view, I feel that needs mention over and over.

So the game is a card game played in „tricks“ with a map and a majority scoring system. It goes more or less like this:

  • Put the map on the table. It consists of sectors with planets some of which are adjacent. It‘s a map though no matter the weird cake layout. Each planet is associated with one of 5 resources.
  • There are setup cards that show each player where to put their starting city, shipyard and ships which are all the types of pieces you get to have on the map
  • The game is a race for points over 5 Chapters (each chapter consisting of a number of „tricks“—6 at most). You get points from scoring „Ambitions“ (Terraforming Mars calls them Milestones). A maximum of 3 can be activated for any given chapter.
  • At the start of a chapter you get a hand of 6 cards—the deck has 4 suits and depending on players cards from 0 to 7 or 2-6. Each suit is associated with certain actions. I‘ll get to those. Each card has a number and action pips. Higher numbers have fewer pips.
  • The player with the „Initiative“ Marker starts the trick with a card they play. They get to execute the number of actions on the card.
    • Optionally: put the „declare ambition“ marker over the top of your card, setting the number to 0 and activate an ambition/milestone for the current chapter. No scoring yet, you are just betting that you will do well on that one this round
  • Other players have these options:
    • Play the same suit lower number: execute 1 action of that suit
    • Play the same suit higher number: execute all actions your card has of that suit (also gets you the Initiative Marker unless someone does the „seize“ special below)
    • Play another suit (no need to follow suit as far as I can tell, it is entirely optional) and get 1 action
    • Play any card facedown to execute 1 action of the leading suit
    • Additionally: play a second card facedown (sacrificing an action) to „seize the Initiative“ which can only be done once per trick. No matter what anyone else played you get the Initiative marker and start the next trick.
  • Once everyone has played their cards, they go to the discard and the next trick is started by the player with the Initiative marker. edit: If the player with the Initiative marker is out of cards the marker passes to the next player. When all players run out of cards, the chapter ends, the milestones are scored and then milestones reset and players get new cards for the next chapter. Repeat 5 times.

So that is the basic card play. Here are the actions you can do (the player aid is better than the rulebook, much more concise):

  • Build (suits: Construction): ships, cities or starports get built
  • Repair (suits: Construction, Administration): everything on the map can be damaged and therefore be repaired
  • Tax (suits: Administration): get resources from planets in systems you have the most ships in
  • Move (suits: Aggression, Mobilization): move ships, edit: possibly with special catapult moves if starting at a starport
  • Influence (suits: Administration, Mobilization): put agents on court cards
  • Secure (suits: Aggression): take court cards where you have a majority of agents
  • Battle: (suits: Agression): edit: this is an action not a consequence of moving. In any system where your freshly moved ships encounter other players presence, you get to battle. You have a choice of 3 types of dice with different faces. You get to combine your roll with any types up to the number of ships you sent into combat. You can hit or intercept your own ships, damage opponent ships or cities or starports and steal their stuff depending on your roll.

edit: Resources: obtained from taxing cities in systems you control. Resources can be used to obtain majorities for scoring. But they can also be discarded during your prelude (after playing a card but before executing your actions from your cards).

  • Fuel: gives you 1 move action
  • Goods: gives you 1 build action
  • Weapons: adds „Battle“ to your card as an action option no matter what suit
  • Relics: gives you 1 influence action
  • Psionics: gives you 1 action of the lead card (even if you played it yourself)

The Court: a small market row of cards with the funky stuff that seems a typical Cole Wehrle element. These seem to let you chain and combo and generally do crazy things that the base rules won‘t let you. I haven‘t looked much at the cards. What I know is that they also contribute „resource“ icons for scoring ambitions.
edit: they can give you „prelude“ actions to play during your turn, entirely new action options, passive abilities, some can be discarded to quickly create a bunch of fresh ships

Overall I find the actions mostly intuitive in what they can do. How to apply them is a different matter. But this is about rules complexity vs decision complexity and the former is less than the latter which I think is good.

How do you score an ambition (Milestone)? Having a majority of the associated resource.

  • Tycoon, Keeper and Empath are directly associated with 4 of the 5 resources.
  • Tyrant and Warlord depend on how many captives (agents seized from the court or rival cities) or trophies (killed ships/agents from battle) you have.

edit: additionally all the ambition markers can be flipped to give more points. this happens automatically as the chapters move on, escalating the race towards the end

But that‘s it as far as I can tell.
In subsequent games you can add some asymmetric powers.
And I have no idea how the campaign works…

The rules seem like a cohesive whole thing and the player aids are pretty good. The ship meeples are adorable. I can‘t wait to dig into the court deck and the asymmetric powers to find the crazy stuff…

But this has to be the simplest ruleset (so far) I have encountered on any of his games. I hope I get to find out how it actually plays soon.

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You make it sound very interesting.

So far with ‘hybrid’ games I’ve always found I’d rather be playing the separate game types rather than mashing them together.

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After playing a 2 handed learning game I spottet a few mistakes and mostly omissions. I‘ll correct them above.

I found playing 2 handed immensely difficult as most hands I got were a challenge to figure out what to do with. There is so much that seems useless. You get cards to Influence when you have already done so and need cards to secure those influenced Court cards instead. You get cards to tax when your inventory for taxed resources is filled. You get battle when you would need to build or move ships.

I don‘t think that‘s a bad thing per se. Just when you try to consider doing this for 2 players at the same time… it gets quite difficult. But in order to learn the flow I had to try it of course. I can see the potential of it more clearly now. And also how it will be quite stressful for people who are not keen on high interaction games.