Board Game Review, Previews

Don’t Get Comfy, We Ain’t Staying Here! (Arkosa Preview)

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Ever watched an alien film and thought, “I could totally survive that.” Then you’re a liar. No way could we as a species survive on a desolate alien planet – we barely survive a Monday! But there’s commonality across the films of that theme… abandoned on an alien world, some handsome renegade beats the odds, learns a lesson and survives until they’re inevitably rescued to get a hero’s return. In reality, it’d be struggle, pain and a lot of having hungry for dinner. Arkosa by Toon Hammer is currently on Kickstarter and is a game centred on that surviving an alien world theme. It’s a base building, resource management game for 1-4 players where whomever builds the best bunker by end game, gets to leave!

Gameplay

Arkosa is a game where players manage a bunker, a hand of up to six colonists and resources. The game takes place over three rounds and players take turns to take two actions each. Players compete to have the highest reputation at the end of the game in order to be the victor at the end of round three to be crowned the winner.

Setting Up

To set up, players need to take one colony board and one leader board. These come in simple and advanced modes (A and B respectively). They then take their starting resources and place a cube on the indicated morale point. All players start with 20 reputation and place a disc on this spot accordingly. Players are then dealt four colonists to start and the starting player is chosen.

Setting up the main board involves populating the colonist spaces with A colonist cards and placing the A rooms in the room bag. The B and special rooms need placing to one side, along with the B colonists. The tiered event cards need shuffling separately, along with the medical and raid cards. The bribe cards also need shuffling, but aren’t needed until round two.

Sequence

In Arkosa, the game is played over rounds. Each round follows a sequence of Actions, Feeding Colonists (Rations), Morale and Room Production. In round one, players have access to simple colonists and simple rooms, both marked with an A. These are not as powerful or impressive as later rooms and colonists, but still have purpose and function.

On a player’s turn, they take two actions from those available: put a colonist to work, explore with a colonist, build a room, trade resources or take a bribe (round 2 onwards). Once they have taken two actions they then check to ensure they don’t have more than six colonists, banishing any excess. Then it is the next player’s turn. This continues until players all pass because they have used all their colonist cards to explore or work, have no resources remaining or feel they are ready to end their turn.

Actions

  • Putting a colonist to work includes placing them in the rest area and taking one of the options listed at the top of the card. This may be extra morale, resources or a special action specific to the card.
  • Exploring enables colonists with the appropriate equipment to use one of the locations on the board. These include gaining resources to build, or gaining new colonists. Doing this advances the exploration track, risking activating event cards which can be detrimental or beneficial to you.
  • Trading allows you to swap food and nitrogen for other resources including the other one, scrap and mag-tape.
  • Building lets a player build a room from the available rooms and place it in their bunker. Buildings activate if they are powered using a power shard before the phase during the building phase.

Earning Points

Points in Arkosa are generally calculated at the end. When gaining rooms or colonists, you don’t immediately gain those points. However, should a room give you points through production, these are added straight away. Also, if your morale should ever exceed five, or go below negative five, they adjust their reputation points accordingly straight away. During the morale phase of the round, players earn or lose points based on their position on the track.

Players can also complete bribes at end game to earn reputation points (losing points for incomplete bribes). Finally, players can earn points for end game resources left over: earning one for every two nitrogen, scrap or food, one for each mag-tape and two for each power shard. Who ever has the highest reputation, once all adjustments have been made, wins!

How It Handles

Arkosa can, as a concept, sound a lot. You’ve got hand management, resource management, base building and contracts. All things that seem like big mechanics and over powering elements that should take priority over one another.

That is not the case.

This game flows beautifully. Each mechanic compliments the last. No single strand in this beautifully woven rug is more important than the others. The game works and works superbly, resulting in an incredibly enjoyable experience!

See The Sights! Meet The Locals!

Aesthetics are a big thing for me. I’m a visual learner so seeing common sense symbolism, prompts and imagery helps. And I’m a sucker for something that looks good! Arkosa ticks both those boxes for me. It has a comic style illustration to it with bold, solid colours to create a wonderful styling to the whole game. The board is bold and bright, the cards thematically illustrated and everything fits and flows. It’s one of those games where you’d associate the components with one another easily.

Every colonist is unique across the board of the game. Unique in both their aesthetics and usefulness. They’ll all be able to produce something of worth or possibly be able to explore the planet’s surface. There’s a balance and a tiering to them, too. Any A card alien chaps who are great at exploring will probably be not so good at producing, and vice-versa. Or, they my be duds who just exist and take a valuable colony spot… Whereas B card blokes are going to be very, very good at a few things. Some even have unique abilities which can alter the path of the game, if used correctly… but if push comes to shove, who’s going to be granted a bed at the end of a long day? The folk who produced enough food for everyone and their uncle? Or the one guy who can make a nitrogen? My qualm here is that not all the art is finished, with some colonists being a silhouette only… but there’s then that excitement for how these creatures will look! There’s a silver lining on this one!

But this brings us to banishment. Banishing colonists is a risky business. Your underground bunker society grows attached to some of those living there. Kicking one out reduces morale. Kicking out someone injured removes morale and reputation. And rightfully so! What sort of monster kicks out an injured innocent just because the guy who earns five reputation at game end turned up? (Rhetorical question. Everyone.) Managing the perfect hand is tricky, as knowing how and when to get rid of those useless and defunct A cards to replace them with some more functional Bs takes time. Your A cards could take you to the end game, but your opposition may be bolstering their roster heavily. Only the best get to escape Arkosa… so you might have to leave some men behind.

…Something’s Coming…

The explore track determines what your colonists discover whilst galavanting on Arkosa’s surface. It might be the odd resource, random morale boost, event or – should you tread the wrong path – a raid.

Event cards come in three tiers: green, amber and red. As you’d expect, the colours reflect their risk or reward. Green cards are often minor happenings like ripping your boots and finding a scrap inside them, or being lucky enough to find an adoring fan who’ll boost your morale. It’s a wild place, so anything would make sense. Amber cards are a little more risky. These may entail having you gain bigger bonuses, giving you a dilemma to choose from – or just straight up injury! Red cards are the literal red flags. These will more often than not result in losing something. Again, it can be a choice element but it’s going to hurt.

There are also a few surprises in that deck too that you wouldn’t expect to see… so be wary when wandering around Arkosa. There’s a great diversity to the occurrences and, again, so much uniqueness to them all. They come with flavour text AND a quick fire “this happens, so this” style for if you’re in a rush. I often found myself wanting to hear how things unraveled during an event more than I feared for the risks associated. That little narrative adds some theme and fun to the dangers, whilst also giving the world a little character. What’s more is the randomness of the cards and whether they’d be good or bad. I found the chance of it possibly being good made it so players were happy to land on the spots, and also removed the “no go zone” so many games with similar elements have.

…They’re Coming…

The one part of the track that will get all players nervous are the Raid spots. It’s a cold, chilling moment where – unless you’ve nothing to lose – you’ll feel body parts clench and heart beats skip. We’ve won and lost games on a Raid… They’ll change the course of the game with a single card whilst still having a gentle and whimsical fluffiness. (Sinister fluffiness, but fun nonetheless.)

These events stop the track moving and are a nonnegotiable as far as happenings go. The non-bunker residents of this hell away from home aren’t the friendliest. They rock up, target someone, leave. Activating these doesn’t always impact the one who alerted the raiders, so there’s a clever element to choosing whether you’d want to land on one. The raiders always target someone doing well – a rare happening on Arkosa – and will focus on a particular element. That may be whomever has the most resources, the best (highest scoring) colonist or room, or whomever has the least injured colonist. They then deactivate rooms, injure folk and leave graffiti all over your bunker door. They don’t want you to leave, so they’re going to hinder you however they can!

The cards all fit the thematic impact they’re centred on. The mini narrative to kick any card off sets a nice scene that often results in a twist. You’ll be walking the trodden path, looking for raiders, see a resource satchel and somehow break your arm. It gives, then it takes away. But even so it’s very slapstick and comedic, never taking itself seriously and being very light and fun.

Let’s Get Technical!

Arkosa doesn’t need to stay a game of symmetry. There are some alterations players can make to turn the basic game into an advanced one. By flipping the basic leader and bunker boards to the alternatives, they open up some new options. For one, these have different starting morale and resources to the basic side. For another, it opens up the advanced trade ability! Again, this is unique to players but enables them to gain a power shard in a unique manner. It’s a once per round deal, but perfect in a pinch and means you can orient your resource gains to a strength.

The advanced bunker however is the real game changer! In a standard game, some room spaces give extra food or nitrogen, or even double a produced resource. Also, when covered, some spots give bonuses like a single tome scrap resource. The advanced board makes you specialise way more – and asymmetrically too! In example, one board we used gave reputation for each room built. A massive advantage when considering how important it is to gain those valuable winning points! Whereas another gave lots of bonus food production during the room production phase. By playing to those advantages, we were able to rake in points quickly but also know where we’d lack resources. It really streamlined our strategies in unique ways!

I’m a huge fan of the advanced mode. More so than the standard game! However, you’d need lots of knowledge on how the standard game’s tactics are best utilised to be able to cash in on those advanced sides. Over-reliance on those given benefits will make you lax, or worse, make you forget about something equally as important you may not get so quickly. It gives the game an extra oomph without making it too tricky to handle. It’s what I’d say it the real way to play Arkosa.

Final Thoughts

Arkosa is a great game. I don’t want to dress it up with over-egging one element to compensate for another because I don’t feel I need to. No part of this game lacks, it delivers how it should. The game flows well, is excellently fun and has so many unique components that it results in great enjoyment for replaying the game. It’s currently on Kickstarter, and I highly recommend you check it out. So if you want to build a bunker, recruit the best colonists, keep them happy and blast off this god forsaken rock, give it a look!