Review – Lost Ruins of Arnak: The Missing Expedition
|Artist||Ondřej Hrdina, Jiří Kůs, Jakub Politzer, Milan Vavroň|
|Publisher||Czech Games Edition|
|Category||Strategy Game, Expansion|
|Release Date||October 2023|
One of the biggest games of 2020 was The Lost Ruins of Arnak. It was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres and won the Deutscher Spiele Preis, two of the largest awards in board gaming, along with many other accolades. It also shot up the BoardGameGeek “best of all time” charts; it’s within the Top 30 as of me writing this. Naturally, this means expansions, and after Expedition Leaders introduced individual player powers, The Missing Expedition adds a solo campaign, along with a lot of other material. Does it make the game better, or worse? Let’s take a look!
It feels like we should start with the big reason to get this expansion, which is the solo mode. To be frank, I did not enjoy it. Some context: I really enjoy Lost Ruins of Arnak, but I find it on the upper edge of what my brain can handle. While you never have a lot of resources on hand in the game, managing what you’ll need for the round and how long you can keep going is quite often a difficult puzzle, one that uses up all my brainpower. And to be clear, I want to be using that brain power on the game and on strategy, not on rules. The base game goes just far enough without pushing me over. But I also get really frustrated with how many pieces the base game has; the game has far too many bits and zero organization included. (I can’t remember if it even had a “pity insert”, but if it did, I quickly tossed it.)
The first time I played the campaign, I set it all out, looked over all the rules again, gave up, and put it back in the box. Finally, after switching from the Journalist to the Captain (the simplest leader in Expedition Leaders, the first expansion), I was able to get going. I played the first two scenarios! Even though I spent one of them frustrated because I found myself having to dig through three different rulebooks AND a campaign book, and I’m sure rules mistakes were made. Then after a few days, I played another scenario. I decided to try using the Journalist again. Midway through I realized 1) I had missed a chance to grab one of the Journalist’s newspaper tokens the round before and 2) I had forgotten to include my rewards from the previous scenario. Frustrated, yet again, I again threw it all back in the box.
In the middle of this, I finally received a 3D organizer I had ordered for the base game. Then, I took the new materials to a friend’s house and we played a three-person multiplayer game with most of the new content, and I played as the Mechanic. I had several realizations. The first is that this game is much better with an organizer. The second is that the game is just a lot more fun with other players. The third is that the Mechanic is a great Leader; easy rules and just a constant feeling of getting extra resources “for free.”
It is clear that this solo mode was made with great love and care, and many people are going to love it. But I will never play it again. I would actually rather play the base game’s solo mode than play this again. There is just too much to remember, and no real way to track it all. And important rules from the base game should have been reprinted in this campaign book, but instead I kept having to cross-reference what was what.
What I really want is a Lost Ruins of Arnak app. CGE developed an absolutely mind-blowing Through the Ages app; I would like to see the same developers make one for Arnak. Yes, it’s already on BoardGameArena, but framing this solo campaign as a “video game” where all of the rules are automated, and there are animations and cutscenes and encounters are read aloud, would be fantastic. I would buy it in a heartbeat, even if it was a pricier app. In the meantime, I feel like this solo campaign is only for solo-gaming diehards, which apparently isn’t me.
Okay, so far, it sounds like I hate this expansion. Oops. Well, there’s a lot of stuff I won’t use again, it’s true. So let’s go over the stuff for multiplayer. First, let’s keep going with the bad. All of the new level 1 and 2 sites use the Encounter cards from the campaign, prompting players to read some dialogue and then the active player makes a choice about an immediate reward or a reward they can use at any point later. I hate these, and so did the other players. They’re fine in the solo mode, but they’re not appropriate for the base game. What, you say? You’re mad that they made an honest effort to add some theme to a Eurogame? Well, I’m not mad, but I don’t want to use these, and here’s why.
When you read a typo in a book, it breaks the immersion: you were engrossed in the story and suddenly you realize you were just reading words on a page. But in board games, especially advanced Eurogames like Lost Ruins of Arnak, I’m “strategically immersed.” I’m completely focused on what I’m trying to do in upcoming turns, what plays might foil my plans and what my plan B is, how to manage resources, and so on. It takes a lot of brainpower. It is ridiculous to expect me to stop and forget all of that so that another player can read some flavor text to the third player while all of my strategy falls out of my tiny brain. I put these away in the expansion box with the solo mode stuff, then slid it all under the couch, never to be used again.
Okay, so did I like anything in the expansion? Yes. There are also new Guardians, new Assistants, new Artifacts, new Items, new Idols – these are all fantastic and I’ll mix them in every time. There’s also two new research tracks, and I really like both sides. The Waterfall Temple is gorgeous without too many new rules, although we did have some trouble keeping track of what space was where when near the top. The Tree Temple also brings some unique gameplay with the Idol slots. And as I’ve mentioned, I really like the Mechanic, although the Journalist is far too convoluted to be enjoyable.
Much like the Red Moon Staff variant in Expedition Leaders, my favorite thing about The Missing Expedition is just some new rules. As I said above, the base game really pushes my brain to capacity, so playing with the Leaders often pushes me over the edge (particularly because they are all more complex than I think they needed to be). Since The Missing Expedition only includes two Leaders but players might want to play them in a four-player game, it includes rules for two “made-up” Leaders that are made simply by replacing two of the standard starting cards with two Items from the Item deck. I absolutely love this, and will play this almost every time going forward, even if my opponents pick “actual” Leaders. I wish they had included official descriptions of four leaders like this instead of two (though I’ve already made two more myself), so I could just pack up the other Leaders and not worry about them. Why play with Leaders at all, then, you ask? I really enjoy the new research tracks, but they’re more demanding and fit better with players having more firepower at the start.
Ok, so mostly I’ve just complained about this expansion. And yeah, there’s a lot that I do not like. But even then, the MSRP is, what, $30? If the box only had the research track, Guardians, Artifacts, Items, Assistants, Idols, and the Mechanic (“only,” he says), I’m sure the MSRP would be no lower than $25. So, the price is fine even if you only use the stuff that I am choosing to use. When you add on all the stuff included for solo gaming die-hards, the value on this expansion is absolutely insane. So, in probably one of the most confusing reviews I’ve ever written, even though I dislike a lot of this expansion, it’s still an automatic recommendation for any diehard Lost Ruins of Arnak fan. At least, until they develop the app. (C’mon… Please!)
The Bottom Line
The Missing Expedition adds some fantastic material for multiplayer games, but the solo campaign disappoints.