Arkosa - Don't Pet The Nerffles.
Arkosa is the new game from Toon Hammer Games creators of Gobblin' Goblins. While this game is on a different planet, the familiar text, tone and character that I love so much are present. I absolutely love the art work and the way the theme has been executed. Arkosa is a game for 2 to 4 players, it takes 25minutes per player or thereabouts and is suitable for ages 13+. I'm assuming as with so many games this is a reading age consideration as there is nothing in the text or the game itself that is unsuitable. Although having said that, only one colony can escape the treacherous planet of Arkosa - the rest of you will be stranded there forevermore which is a disturbing thought.
The game plays over three rounds from the time when you crash land on the planet to the time when the escape shuttle takes off with one lucky player and their band of hapless but loyal colonists. If you have built the bunker with the finest rooms, a happy colony and maybe put in a few well placed bribes then your reputation will precede you and you will be chosen to escape.
There is more to the name of the game than merely sounding good. As game designer Angela Dickens explains "Arkosa used the word 'Ark' because that fits well with the theme. Also, 'Arkose' is a type of sandstone and Arkosa is very sandy duney planet!" It is in these unforgiving sandy dunes that your fate as a colony leader is made or broken.
Each player starts with four founding colonists. As we have come to expect from Toon Hammer the characters are a rum bunch. There are characters like Movoo the mood hoover bringing everybody's morale down, Combustible Joe who is at constant risk of exploding and the more useful Quaz Oberman who can fix your power shards. Each round you must decide whether to recruit new colonists into your bunker weighing up their usefulness against how fun it will be to play them! Who doesn't want to announce they've got 'Boeuf' and play this beauty.
Your Colony and You.
Each turn you can choose to put a colonist to work to gain necessary resources - you will need scrap and magtape to build new rooms, food and nitrogen to ensure the basic survivial of your colonists and power shards to attach to rooms to generate more resources. Or, you can put them to work exploring - this costs some resources but you can gain resources and recruit new colonists to your bunker. Exploring is a risky business on Arkosa and there are many hazards which may befall the intrepid colonist: tentacle mites, explosions, clouds of pestilence and of course the famously volatile Nerffle. Of course there are good things too - sometimes you'll meet a prescient Jargle or just find a really nice flag.
The risks of exploring are threefold! Indicated here by the three alertness levels of the dreaded Nerffle.
Repuation is everything on Arkosa - it is your passage to freedom after all. To build your reputation you need to keep the morale of your colonists up too. Morale is a tricky and clever mechanism in the game. The morale tracker is relatively short giving you the opportunity to max out your morale score. By doing this you score extra reputation points. In addition each round your morale converts to reputation. So, keeping your colonists well fed and nitrogened as well as happily occupied is good for you all. Exiling colonists or using their happiness to offset the cost of resources costs you reputation. Colonists who are injured on their travels may benefit from a visit to Dr Sawbones a dubious character with questionable practices. It's all in the luck of the draw really - sometimes he helps, sometimes - let's just say - he's less helpful.
So, what have we learnt so far - make sure you have enough food and nitrogen, don't let anyone injure themselves and make sure you've got the right combination of rooms. And above all do not wake the Nerffles. That seems straightforward enough!
Your player board has some rooms ready built on it. But, for you to be able to gain rewards like extra scrap, map tape or morale from it each room needs to have an active power shard on it. Certain events can mean that power shards are deactivated and once placed they are not so easy to move around. Of all the resources they seem the trickiest to acquire. As in all good resource management games, it is impossible to do everything. You are constantly trying to balance and weigh up your decisions. A visit to Disco Dystopia ups the morale in the bunker for instance while the Aphid Farm produces plenty of food but you only have one power shard! You are also doing lots of planning ahead so that you can get all your rooms, colonists and resources lined up just right to benefit you in future rounds. You can also score bonuses for building rooms in certain places specified on your player board. But Arkosa is a hostile planet and the combination of event decks, raid events and the unpredictable nature of the other colonists mean that your best laid plans often go up in a cloud of pestilence. The game always feels really balanced and the three round structure means that your plans are relatively short term which I like.
In the second round it won't shock you to learn that bribes and corruption are introduced to Arkosan life. Now you have the additional option to score some quite significant bonuses by collecting the resources indicated to pay for the bribe. Will it be a bug rotisserie or a statue of The Savior that will secure your place on that escape ship? But be careful, the bigger the bribe, the bigger the risk. Any bribes not fulfilled count as minus points. Quite rightly when you are discovered trying to unsuccessfully bribe officials your reputation takes a hit. Imagine not only being abandoned on Arkosa but remaining there with that stain on your record!
Once you are confident and know your way around Arkosa - when you can pop down to the Space Bar for a swift half and make it back before Dr Sawbones talks you into some new and groundbreaking surgical procedure - then you can move on to more advanced or just different variants. They are currently perfecting a solo game. We'll definitely be trying them all out once we get our tentacles on the kickstarter. We have just about mastered the starter game which is perfect for learning what to do. And also perfect when each child in your family decides to learn the game with you at separate times. Ah, teenagers. I wonder if there's any spaces on that next shuttle to Arkosa....
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