Exploring The Lost Ruins of Arnak and The Disparity of Experience: Why We Love Cooperative Games

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We will having our next RichieCon 2021 very soon (see here for previous RichieCon 2019 and RichieCon 2018 highlights)! This is our yearly (modulo last year) event where we get together and play games for two to three days at the Rec Center at the top of the street! This year, we have people coming from all over! Tucson AZ! Las Cruces NM! Phoenix AZ! Madison WI! Fort Hayes KS! It’ll be fun to get together with friends I haven’t seen in a long time!

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Unfortunately, my friend Nevin can’t join us this year, so he went ahead and sent me an early birthday present for RichieCon 2021! The Lost Ruins of Arnak! (See above). This is a hot new Euro that’s currently up for the Kinnerspiel des Jahres 2021 award and it won the BoardGameGeek Medium Game of the Year for 2020! I love the theme (kind of an Indiana-Jones-exploration thene) and I think it would be great for the “hot games” table at RichieCon 2021! So Nevin, in all his magnanimity, went ahead and gifted a copy of Lost Ruins of Arnak to RichieCon 2021! You’ll note that this is not a cooperative game, it’s a stone-cold Euro. So why are we talking it in this cooperative games blog? Keep reading dear reader …

Components

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I think one of the reasons this game is up for the Kinnerspiel is because it looks so nice! The components and art are fantastic! See above and below.

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The art on the cards, board, and locations is downright gorgeous. The plastic components (arrowheads, gems, tablets) are top-notch quality and fun to manipulate. Overall, the game looks gorgeous on the table.

Solo Mode

The solo mode is pretty good: it’s how I learned the game. There’s deck of about 12 cardboard cards (see above) which basically are the deck of a second “automated” player. There are very special rules for what the automated player’s cards do: you basically alternate turns between the automated player deck and your “normal” turn. The solo player plays like a normal player would, and the automated player usually blocks spaces and take resources/spaces before you can sometimes. The automated player represents another player “blocking” you.

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If you look online (see above for web site), you’ll see there is a Solo Campaign available to play as well. I haven’t played it yet, but you can either print out the solo campaign or play online with it.

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Overall, I enjoyed the Solo mode okay. I didn’t love it, but it really did teach me the game.

In Person vs. Online

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So, at this point, I’ve played 1 solo game in person and 2 4-Player in person games.

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I have also played 2 4-Player online games on BoardGameArena (see above). The experience has been very interesting. Simply put, people who have played Lost Ruins of Arnak in person have liked it, and people who have played it online have not. One of the players even said he think he’d love the game in person, but he hated the BoardGameArena implementation. Me and someone else played both online and in person, and we liked both experiences.

I think that because the game is so big and sprawling, Lost Ruins of Arnak can be fiddly and intimidating online: you’ll notice that BGA had to squish the whole board into a small computer screen that you have to scroll a lot (Recall that most online games seem lesser games if you have to scroll too much) . But, if you play in person, you can see the whole grandiose board and focus easily on the areas you need to.

I think the lesson here is simple: play Lost Ruins of Arnak in person first, and then, if you like it, then try it online. Once you know the game and like it, the BGA implementation is good. My experience has been that people don’t seem to like this game if they are introduced to it online.

Disparity of Experience

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So, after each play of the game, I asked people what they liked and didn’t about the Lost Ruins of Arnak. One of the things that came up is a criticism of many games: “Anyone has played the game more has an advantage”. I trounced my friends online (I didn’t mean to: it’s hard to keep track of points until the very end) because I have played more times than them. This led to discussions of “This is like Lords of Waterdeep: I’ll never play that game with Kurt because he’s played like 100 times and he just destroys us! It’s fun, but I don’t like to be destroyed!” Games like this suffer from a disparity of experience: the more experienced players (at that game) tend to beat soundly the less experienced players. It’s not like me and my friends have to win, but it’s usually no fun to watch someone do so much better and take away options (especially in worker placement games like Lost Ruins of Arnak and Lords of Waterdeep).

It’s pretty clear that half of the people I played Lost Ruins of Arnak with will probably never want to play this game again. The disparity of experience (both the first game and future games) really soured them to the game.

(I guess you could argue it’s my fault that I soured the game to my friends, but it was clear to everyone in my group that this was just a first play/learning game. The point was that me and Teresa both had an advantage as we had played more than them. And as long as we all play this game together, we will continue have that advantage. On the same note, I will never play Lords of Waterdeep with Kurt because our disparity of experience is so wide).

Why We Like Cooperative Games

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And this is why we like cooperative board and card games: they don’t tend to suffer from disparity of experience nearly as much as competitive games. Even if one player has played a cooperative game significantly more than the other players, everyone is a cooperative game can usually still participate and contribute! It’s a group effort and you can still feel empowered contributing to the shared victory or commiserate with your friends in a shared loss. Either way, all players are part of the group.

You can still have Alpha Player Syndrome, where a cooperative game can be co-opted by an aggressive player, but this is orthogonal to the disparity of experience problem. An Alpha Player tends to be an Alpha Player regardless of their experience. As an example: I remember teaching my friends a game and we had playing for about an hour. The Alpha Player walked in, and after after 10 minutes, started telling us what to do! He didn’t know all the rules AND he had never played before. The Alpha Player is just an Alpha Player. But usually the problem is pretty easy to solve: don’t play with Jerks. (There are other ways to mitigate Alpha Player Sydrome: see here for some suggestions).

Conclusion

You may or may not like Lost Ruins of Arnak: you will probably have a decent idea of your interest level after reading this. The solo mode in the physical board game is good for learning the game, and there are even solo campaigns (online) to extend your solo experiences! I strongly suggest playing the physical board game in person first to get the best experience! The online experience on BoardGameArena is decent, but that online experience seems to have soured many of my friends on this game.

Unfortunately, Lost Ruins of Arnak definitely suffers from the disparity of experience problem, which tends to make certain groups of people dismiss it. I think the disparity of experience problem does go away over time, but it’s definitely something that will sour certain people (as I definitely saw). The solution is obvious: we really need a cooperative mode for Lost Ruins of Arnak. EDIT: So we made one: see here

3 thoughts on “Exploring The Lost Ruins of Arnak and The Disparity of Experience: Why We Love Cooperative Games

  1. Interesting, Arnak seems like the kind of game you’d get up to speed on quickly but I’ve only played it with people at my same experience level. Good to know.

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  2. you liked it but didn’t love it. That’s enough for me. I heard on other fora that the game gets boring far too quickly. You might want to edit the typos in the post though, I noted several where your other posts had none.

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