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Arcane Academy Review

Raf

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Posted by Raf on Oct 5, 2016

Anyone want to go to Wizard School? That’s what I thought. Welcome to the Academy of Magic and Sciences, a school whose lessons belie its humdrum name. Arcane Academy is an almost gateway weight game but it’s one I can’t stop playing. Magic flies through the air and mystic items buzz to life in this combo building game of tiles and card play.

It’s a great thing when a game can make you feel smart. It’s an especially great thing if that game is about a wizard school. Arcane Academy is one of those games. It’s ripe for combos, from the tile laying aspect to the card play, and pulling them off makes you feel clever. Equally important is that you don’t have to be doing particularly well to create them. While surely there are people out there who appreciate a punishing game, I am not one of them. Arcane Academy is fun to play even while you’re losing and that isn’t something many games can say.

Arcane Academy begins as a game of micro-actions. Your player board is populated with some default tiles printed on them that don’t particularly do a lot on their own. The end goal is to earn prestige by completing lessons - casting spells or creating items. Spells offer one-time bonuses and require Will, Items offer lasting effects or abilities and use crystals. One of the default tiles only gets you a single one of either resource. Luckily, that constraint doesn’t stick around long.

Items and Spells grant points and special abilities.


By far the most important early game action is the one that allows you to add another tile to your board. A market dominates the center of the playing area; in it are 4 public Lessons (cards) and 4 public tiles. There is no additional cost to the tiles besides taking the tile laying action. This helps keep the game moving and the complexity down and is a little thing I especially appreciate. These public tiles are far more important; not only do they often provide multiple resources, they often provide multiple actions and are your first foray into the excellent combo building that Arcane Academy offers.

Many of these tiles have little half circles printed around their edges. If two tiles are placed with these half circles adjacent and completing a link, then they can be chained together. Upon activating (and exhausting) a single tile, all adjacent tiles linked together can be activated for free. More importantly, they don’t exhaust. This means that late in the game a single turn may consist of up to 5 actions! Quite powerful and it adds to the feeling that you, as a magic student, are getting better at your courses.

Those linking tiles and synergistic cards drive your engine forward. You’ll have your nose buried in your cards and board as if it was an ancient tome of spells, looking up only to smile and execute a 3 or 4 move action that surprises even you. Spells, items, and abilities fly around the board as everyone casts spells that interact with their items, activate items that boost their spells, and continue building out their tile board.

Activating the Card symbol in the middle would allow you to activate all 4 tiles connected to it!


The game never feels one-note. While building an impressive engine of resources and tiles is often a winning strategy, it doesn’t always have to be. Each player has a hand of three secret private lessons that will inform early strategy as much as the public market or any general strategies. I’ve seen players win with piles of points gained off the back of a full board of tiles. I’ve also seen rapid wins accomplished with a board of only 3 purple Chaos tiles. The game ends after someone completes 8 lessons, either spells or items. A pile of low-point cards completed one after another will end the game just as surely as high cost cards that took a while to play. It’s important to monitor what your opponents are doing so that the game doesn’t end before you can get your engine going.

Tension is woven throughout Arcane Academy. From hoping the tiles and cards you want are still there on your turn to monitoring everyone’s strategies and tempos, you’re engaged the entire game. I can recommend this game to just about everyone and, more importantly, play it with just about any group as well. It’s simply a joy to play.


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