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Arkon Kickstarter Preview

Quick Look: Arkon

Designer: Casey Hill, Douglas Hill
Artist: Joshua Cairós
Publisher: Hill Gaming Company
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 10-30 min.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a preview of Arkon. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.


tl;dr: Quick tactical fun with a surprisingly small number of cards, which look phenomenal. OK depth for the play time.

Getting to the Game: The rules for Arkon are as light as the game itself. Once you're familiar with the turn structure and how bidding works, you're ready to go. The cards themselves do an excellent job of explaining their function, with good attention paid to where information lives on the card face. Setup is just a matter of shuffling the deck of 52 cards, dealing 5 to each player, and starting. High marks in this category.

Playing the Game: Arkon tasks each player with recruiting clans (Orcs, Humans, Elves, and Dwarves) to their side by blind-bidding on them with cards from their hands. This game is completely contained in the 52-card deck, which means there's no money, influence tokens, victory points, or any extraneous materiel. This is the double-edged sword of Arkon that finds me waffling back and forth on whether or not I love it. The simplicity is a huge selling factor, but it's also a drawback in that sometimes I want a game like this, with such excellently thought out mechanics, to have just a little bit more crunch to it. 

The ultimate goal is to have either four of the same clan on your side, or to acquire one of each. On your turn, you'll have the opportunity to play one or more of your cards in hand as an action, carrying out whatever effect the card allows. Once you're done, you move on to the bidding phase, the juicy meat of this game. Each of the clan cards has a base influence value of 2. If you put a clan up for bid, you're getting their base influence to start with. Then you can add any number of cards from your hand face-down to that bid. Your opponents get the option to also bid as many cards as they like, likewise face down. Once everyone has either bid or passed, everyone reveals. Highest influence total wins. The trick here is that all the clans you've won in previous bids, or by securing them through card actions, count as 1 more influence to your side. It's a tiny snowball mechanic that seems game-breaking when it's explained, but ends up mostly acting as a soft tiebreaker. Influence values on cards range from 0-8, so a spare 1 or 2 addition isn't going to be burdensome to the other players. 

After putting up as many clans for bid as you like, you get another action phase to play cards from your hand. If you put a clan up for bid, you get to draw one card from the deck when you're done with your second action phase, then everyone draws one card and it's the next player's turn.

It's fiendishly simple, but there's so many tricks in design that elevate this game to elegance. First of all, most cards labeled as "Action" on the bottom of the card, signifying that they can be played during either action phase for their card text, are also labeled as "Counter." What this does is allow other players who also hold a copy of Arcane Insight to use it to counter yours, for example. Both cards are then discarded, and you don't get that draw you were hoping for. We missed this rule during our first play through, and when we played again with it in, it's a complete game changer. There are cards in the deck that are strictly counter cards, negating whatever card it was you just played. But allowing copies of cards to nullify their brethren prevents a player from just churning through the entire deck looking for what they want while everyone else watches helplessly. The additional brilliant element of everyone drawing cards every turn means that hoarding cards is less important, and lends even more to people really letting loose on each other.

Additionally, the clans you bid for and win are far from safe. There are cards in the deck that allow for a player to completely swap their entire clan tableau for yours. There's a card that lets a player choose one of your clans and put it into their hand. These little touches make the game always seem like it's hanging directly under the sword of Damocles. Someone with no clans can win in one turn, which feels amazing. It can feel a little cheap when you're the one with three Humans in front of you, one more in your hand, and two 8-influence cards next to it, but each game is short enough that you likely won't care.

Artwork and Components: As mentioned previously, there are no components to speak of, just the deck of 52 cards. But those cards are gorgeous. Sleeving them will almost feel criminal, because you're covering up cartographer Francesca Baerald's gorgeous art on the card backs. The faces of each of the cards are uniformly beautiful, and feel completely unified in theme and world. There's nothing to not like about this art style.

The Good: Arkon plays quickly, feels correctly tactical, looks amazing, and is highly interactive. Countering your opponent's cards with your own will happen often enough that strategies thought to be solid in one moment will completely fizzle in the next, but without feeling like you're out of the game because of it.

The Bad: I want one more mechanic or component to this game, and I keep reading my own review and wondering why. It just feels like with ONE more thing, this game could be truly great. But then I think about all the games we've played of it, and how much fun people had playing, and I can't justify that feeling. It's a tiny nagging issue for me, and I almost don't mention it because it's just a vague, unhelpful thought.

ScoreI honestly can't tell how I come down on this game. The length of a single game is just perfect for what's here. There's a terrific amount of interaction, strategy, response, and theme. The artwork is phenomenal. People enjoyed playing it and want to play it again. I can't point to anything that's wrong or missing. I just want a little bit more depth. Overall, though, it's a wonderfully interactive bidding game, and I'm giving it a score of Influential.


Coming to KICKSTARTER soon!

About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Arkon Kickstarter Preview Arkon Kickstarter Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on January 30, 2018 Rating: 5

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