Dusted off the shelf and pulled out an old favorite the other night, Arkadia from Ravensburger Games. In Arkadia players become medieval architects competing for the commissions of the noble families in the area, the whole time also helping to build the large castle in the center of town. The game is a lot of fun, not too long of a commitment, and pretty easy to understand. Katie, Mike, and I had played a bunch of times before, this would be the first time for Nick, though he seemed eager to get started. It had probably been about a year since any of us had played Arkadia so I went through the rules and once we got going it all seemed to come back fairly easy. This is definitely one of those easy to learn, hard to master type games. Each turn a player has the option of placing down a building on the board (each of which bears a seal of one of four colors) or placing down workers to close out a building. A building is closed off when all of it’s sides have either another building or a worker on it. The player that closed it off gets the seal from the building, and everyone who has a colored worker also gets a seal of that color. Additionally, when a building is completed another piece of the castle is added. Each castle piece has a colored tile that corresponds to the four colors, and how many of the color are currently visible in the castle construction is how much in gold each seal is worth. The castle is also essentially the timer for the game. When construction begins on the third floor of the castle the game enters it’s final turn.
As is typical with this game, play started off pretty slowly. We were all being very cautious in placing our buildings and trying not to give each other openings to seal off a building. Right away Nick grasped the value of the neutral workers gained from covering up camps and picked up a couple early on. The neutral workers don’t garner any seals for you, but they help close out buildings which in turn helps control the value of the colored seals. Mike was the first to use some of his banners and cash in some seals once he had picked some up. At this point in the game getting the two colored workers is probably more useful than cashing in. Mike was to my right, so I also had to deal with his stingy ways and he was giving me nothing to work with. I was off to a much slower start than I had wanted. There were several buildings with silver seals concentrated in one part of the board and I wound up using most of my resources in that area, leaving me with a bunch of silver. Unfortunately no one else was into silver and it’s value kept plummeting as no new silver pieces were added to the castle. I figured I would just hoard them for now and hope for a big payoff later in the game, but I wasn’t sure that it would ever come.
As we moved into the second half of the game Nick and Mike started to pull away. They were both gathering in a lot of the olive colored seals so they were helping each other by adding more olive to the castle. Nick in particular seemed to be doing well, though his tent setup in front of him kept his gold total unknown to me. I suppose I could have tried to track his total in my head, but defense against one individual in a four player game is almost impossible so I didn’t see the point in it. I did eventually get a decent return on my silver, I cashed in 12 silver seals at four gold each for a total of 48 gold. I swore to myself that I was going to wait until silver got to five gold before trading in, but that day never arrived so I had to do something.
One of the tricky things about Arkadia is how quickly the ending sneaks up on you. For a game that starts off very conservative, it ends in very aggressive fashion with all of the players quickly trying to play whatever workers they have and cash in their seals once the third floor of the castle is started. I misplayed my hand entirely and wound up with some colored workers still in my hand at the end of the game, which is a cardinal sin in this game. When the last turn finished up we cashed in our remaining seals and the score looked like this: Nick 97, Fran 95, Mike 84, Katie 71.
Despite the fact that a rookie player won the game Arkadia really does have a lot of strategy. In the four player game it is tough to plan long term since the board changes so much by the time it comes back around, so the best thing to do is look for general trends and make the best move you can at any given time. I like this game a lot and I hope it’s not another year before we play again.