There are a million ways to love magic these days. You can rest assured that you are not alone in your obsession whether you self identify as mage, wizard, warlock or…student? In Arcane Academy, each player takes on the role of a student of magic with the goal of being “best in class.” And if you aren’t totally intrigued by a game that is the brainchild of Eric Lang (A Game of Thrones, Star Wars: The Card Game, Blood Rage, X-Com) and Kevin Wilson (Descent, Arkham Horror and Android) then perhaps the rule book’s call to arms will inspire you to give Arcane Academy a chance;
“In the world of Gossamyr, mathematics is the language of magic. For this reason, when an ancient evil rises to threaten this magnificent realm, it is not steel-clad warriors that are called to battle, it is students, sages and prodigies.”
Yes. YES. And with those words, I am ratatouilled back into my high school math class; TI 85 calculator in hand and yawping my savage battle cry. So, well done rule book… You’ve got my attention.
The rules of play are fairly straight forward. Using their slate and the action tiles they place upon it, “students” will gain will power and shards so that they can complete assignments. Linked tiles give the player more bang for their buck, as exhausting one tile also activates the ones it is directly linked to. Players may use a turn to “rest” or rather to clear their slate of exhaustion tokens.
Completed assignments are either spells or items, each respectively with their own flare and prestige points to boot. A player can purchase a card from the public hand of 4 cards or their own private hand of 3 cards. The first student to complete 8 assignments activates the Pencils Down card, leaving each player with one final chance to bulk up their prestige points before the final scores are tallied.
A tile linking game with a wizarding theme is pretty cool in my book. Though I feel more like the math geek solving a problem than a magic wielding mage. This is wildly appropriate since Arcane Academy is based on the Finding Gossamyr, a comic book about young autistic boy whose mathematical genius transports him into a magical world. His ability to solve theorems makes him quite the commodity in this new land but his disability leaves him unsure whom to trust. As the main character is distant from what his powers can unleash in Finding Gossamyr, so too is the player who is puzzling along in Arcane Academy.
Since the focus is on creating a slate with optimum linkage, the game has a unique ability to satisfy both the abstract/puzzle loving gamer and the theme mongers alike. And nothing sells the theme more in this game than the components. Dipping into the black bag for an action tile, or using fiery shards to purchase a powerful item keeps that magic feeling alive. The solid chunky shards, by the way, are the most alluring of all the fixin’s and a welcome change from most cardboard components.
The most addictive part of the game is inarguably the linking mechanism. Once your slate is a happening place with linked tiles galore, each turn can unleash a cascade of events. But crafting a well linked slate is really a product of luck more than strategy. With only 4 choices at a time and all the players competing for those choices, building a strategy is completely at the mercy of the draw pile and your fellow players. The lack of control is somewhat abated by the personal hand that allows players to plan ahead under the radar. The random factors don’t necessarily detract from the fun of the game, but worth noting if that isn’t really your thing.
And although piecing together a sexy slate can feel like a shot in the dark, the player’s skill is shown in how they fit their links together and the order in which they choose to exhaust their tiles. This is the only area of the game where a player has complete control. And truth be told, there is an inexplicable satisfaction that goes with linking your tiles so that the perfect chain of events may unfold.
Though not what I would call a gateway game, Arcane Academy is easy to learn with enough random elements that make it tricky to master. It looks to be a sweet little game, with endearing artwork and fun components but truly it is an evenly paced battle of wits that escalates intensity as one builds their slate. A simple tile laying game where the stakes are raised because MAGIC YOU GUYS. So, check it out if magic and puzzles is your jam. It’s a worthy addition to any shelf.
Have you played Arcane Academy? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
Image Credits: Mark Aimerito, Christina Aimerito