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Arcane Alley Preview

Quick Look: Arcane Alley

Designer: Corwin Riddle
Artist: Janette Ramos
Publisher: Strange Space Games
Year Published: 2019
No. of Players: 3-6 (2p variant available)
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 45 min

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

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


tl;dr: Set collection in the cutthroat world of magical merchants. 

Getting to the Game: Each player chooses the color of their magical merchant of dubious morality. Shuffle the giant deck of the pieces of your arcane goods and deal everyone 9 cards, which they should not look at to form your storehouse. Have everyone arrange their cards in a 3x3 grid, flip any two of these face up, then deal everyone two more to form their stash. These, you can look at. Everyone starts with 25 gold and no infamy. You're not in too much trouble...yet.

Your mystical goal is to accrue enough money to be the first one to pay off the authorities to turn a blind eye to your dealings, then arrest everyone else for selling their black market goods. The going rate is 100 gold. Of course, they'll always take more...

Playing the Game: Each turn, you'll take a card either from the top of the discard (face up) or the deck (face down) and add it to the two cards already in your hand. Choose one card from your stash and add it face-up to your storehouse, replacing any card already there, face-up or face-down. Then discard the replaced card. That's literally all you're going to do. The ultimate goal is to manipulate your storehouse with pieces coming and going to form three identical cards in a row, which you can then sell for their set value. If at any point any merchant has fully revealed their storehouse, the end of the round is signaled, and you're stuck with whatever you can't get rid of in one more turn. 

In practice, Arcane Alley ends up proving the adage "It's better to be lucky than good." Mostly, you're at the mercy of the giant stack of cards in the middle of the table. Draw well, and be rewarded. You can hedge your luck a little bit--the quantity of every card in the game is known, though the cards you need may be face down in someone else's storefront. Generally, the more valuable the set, the fewer pieces there are to make it. You can't make a set without revealing two of them, though, so get ready to be blocked from your goal unless it's in someone else's best interest to help you (and it rarely is). 

Card powers all feel fun and thematic, though. Nearly every set does something fun when you complete them, and completing a set and scrunching your storehouse together into another set is every Dr. Mario player's dream. The magical boomerang is annoyingly tough to get rid of, and the Haunted Doll won't let you get rid of it at all. 

There's an additional mechanic in the infamy track--any cards you can't sell get discovered by the authorities, and they draw attention to you as a broker of dark magicks. The problem is that if you can't sell anything in a round (it happened to me, ok?), you're stuck with a TON of infamy, and you have to pay gold to get rid of it. This is just a win-more element, and I wanted it to be the other way around. Granted, the game does have other ways to toss infamy on to other players, but when you're saddled with not only getting no gold in a round, but then having to pay 25 or even 50 gold to shake your infamy, you start to get annoyed real quick.

Swinging back to the good side, though, the actual manipulation of the storehouse is fun, and gameplay is quick enough to not stick it to someone too long. Games generally take 3-4 rounds, and can be quicker if a player gets lucky. 

Artwork and Components: Janette Ramos' art makes this game for me. The double-sided Wizards cards with alternating masculine/feminine artwork is a wonderful addition, and her varying art across each of the card sets is brightly-colored, playful fun. The card backs are even slick-looking chains and gold, completing the feel of smuggling enchanted, forbidden goods.


The components in my preview copy are placeholder wooden cubes and generic skull tokens, so those are likely not done yet. The score-tracking board feels cramped--there's art behind the numbers that I can't quite make out. I'm hesitant to be too critical, but I'll offer this advice to the designers--go nuts. This game feels wacky enough to really let loose, and the components are sparse enough to have fun with them and not break the bank.

The Good: Set collection gameplay is quick and light, art is playful. Rounds move swiftly and feel properly competitive.

The Bad: Falling behind often means you can't catch up. Game components aren't done yet.

Score: While I think there are fundamental issues here that might affect your enjoyment of the game, if you embrace Arcane Alley for the lighthearted puzzle it is, you're going to get paid off with a very fun, but admittedly lucky, game. If none of that bothers you, and you like good art with enough player interaction to just bother people enough--then here's your next game. I'm giving Arcane Alley a score of Not Just Famous, He's In-Famous.

Check out Arcane Alley on:


On KICKSTARTER now. Campaign ends November 29, 2018

About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman - Reviewer

Nicholas 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. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

See Nicholas's reviews HERE.
Arcane Alley Preview Arcane Alley Preview Reviewed by The Madjai on November 19, 2018 Rating: 5

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