#457 – The Towers of Arkhanos

Box

Base price: $40.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~10 minutes per player.
BGG | Board Game Atlas

Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of The Towers of Arkhanos was provided by IDW Games.

I’m still running a giveaway this week for two copies of Catch the Moon! Find out more here.

It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to review much from IDW! I think the last thing from them I reviewed was, uh, Death Note: Confrontation, almost a year ago! I remember that one; almost a roll-and-write / bluffing game. Really interesting; still would super recommend checking it out. Or, at least, that was true previously. Now it was Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course. Scheduling is so fun. Now, surprisingly, I’m playing one of their games with no license, the recently-picked-up The Towers of Arkhanos! It seemed to have a pretty successful Kickstarter run, so no surprise it’s been picked up for wider distribution from IDW; let’s dive in.

In The Towers of Arkhanos, you play as apprentices of a mighty wizard who has just discovered the ruins of Gil-Garoth. The wizard is Arkhanos, in case that wasn’t clear. You’ll team up with your school of magic to try and help him channel that power by building towers and increasing the magic. Word on the street is that you can also be imprisoned in the tower until the end of time, but that’s probably just a rumor, right? Which school will earn the most prestige and help Arkhanos achieve even greater magical heights?

Contents

Setup

Setup isn’t too bad You’re going to want to give every player a player board:

Spellbooks

And meeples in their corresponding color:

Meeples

The meeples with stickers are the Master Meeples. There should be some starting tiles with stars on the spaces on the back:

Starting Floors Generic

Shuffle those four. Put three in a triangle shape face-up (star-side down) and the fourth, face-down (star-side up) in the middle. Shuffle the rest of the tiles:

Floors

Make a face-up stack to one side. Set side the points, as well:

Point Tokens

Take the dice:

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Place them in the dice bag:

Dice Bag

And then set the mana board within view of all players:

Round Tracker

Once you’ve done that, you should be all ready to start! Choose a player to go first.

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

A game of Towers of Arkhanos consists of some dice drafting to build up the various towers. As you do, you’ll vie to control each floor, gaining some of its power for yourself. Once the powerful Arkhanos has run out of runes (dice), the game will end, and the player with the most points wins!

To start a round, roll dice:

  • 2 / 4 players: 5 dice
  • 3 players: 4 dice

Gameplay 3

Each player will then choose a die to place. Each tower tile has a restriction, indicated by the dice faces showing in the center of the tower tile. The exception to this is the center; any die can be placed on the tower in the center. When you place a die, put it on the square space and put your meeple next to it. On the outer tower spaces, this will then give you one of three abilities:

  • Gain 2 points.
  • Gain 1 point per level in the tower. You start at first level, so 1 point to start.
  • Place another meeple from your supply anywhere. You can place it in your spellbook on the space corresponding to the value of the die you just placed (each spell may only hold one meeple), or you may place it on any square space in any tower. If you do the latter option, you cannot remove it, and a die cannot be placed there. That space is considered filled as though it were a die.

Gameplay 4

If you place in the center tower, you may take the following ability:

  • Place a meeple from your supply into your spellbook. The meeple must be placed on the spell matching the value on the die you added to the central tower. Each spell may only hold one meeple.

Gameplay 5

After all three spots on a tower are filled with meeples or dice, the tower is complete! First, score influence. Each meeple counts as one point of influence, but the Master Meeple counts as points of influence.

For the outer towers, award points as follows:

  • 1st (most influence): 6 points
  • 2nd: 4 points
  • Ties: 3 points for each tied player. If players are tied for first place, second place scores nothing.

For the central tower, award points as follows:

  • 1st (most influence): 3 points
  • 2nd: 2 points
  • Ties: 1 point for each tied player. If players are tied for first place, second place scores nothing.

Now, remove meeples from the meeple spots (not the dice spots) and place a new tower tile on top of the old one. If it’s going on the outer towers, it should be face-up; if it’s going on the central tower, it should be face-down. Any meeples on dice spots are permanently locked in the tower. Rough.

Gameplay 2

Additionally, on your turn, you may use spells from your spellbook. You may use any number of spells, and when you do return the meeple from that space to your supply of meeples. Spells can change die faces, change die colors, and swap dice around; maybe that’ll be of some use.

Gameplay 6

Once every player has taken a turn, place the remaining die on the Mana Board and pass the dice bag to the player on your left; they’ll be the start player next round.

Game End

Gameplay 7

The game ends after 8 rounds (2 / 4 players) or 9 rounds (3 players). Once that happens, score all unfinished towers based on how much influence they currently have:

  • 1st (most influence): 3 points
  • 2nd: 2 points
  • Ties: 1 point for each tied player. If players are tied for first place, second place scores nothing.

Additionally, each player receives one point for each meeple they have in their spellbook. Now, count points; the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

So, I tend to prefer this at higher player counts because the towers tend to get a bit more intense, since it’s harder to predict who will go where. At two players, generally, either you take the tower or your opponent does, so your scores end up looking pretty similar towards the end of the game. At three, if a player messes up the delicate balance, the other players will benefit. At four, it’s sort of a free-for-all, which is a lot of fun. There’s more spells, more contention, and, dangerously, more towers that you get left out of. I think I tilt towards 3+ players, for that reason.

Strategy

Gameplay 8

  • One of the keys is to finish a lot of the lower-level outer towers. When you do that, if you do it well, you can often get 6 points and block other players from getting more. The benefit here is that you limit the options for players coming after you. As the towers get higher, your benefit from winning towers starts to decrease, since it might be worth getting a 4 for second place and then getting a meeple on there that scores you another 4 points (8 total). I think that might be more useful, long-term.
  • As you move higher in the towers, focus less on the “2 points” spot and more on the “1 point per level” spot. That’s strictly more points after the 3rd level and beyond, so, make sure you’re getting those points. Or place a meeple there to block that spot.
  • You basically always want a 1-spell and a 4-spell. The hardest thing to do in this game is get dice that are the right colors. Being able to change them frequently ensures that you always have something to do. Naturally, being able to score big on the center tower is a good thing, too, but the outer towers provide larger rewards, so being flexible about where you can place will help ensure that you get those big payoffs.
  • If you can’t win the tower, at least score on it. That provides some points coming in even when it’s not your turn, which is super useful.
  • Burying your meeples isn’t the worst thing. Often, you can use that in the right combination to finish one (sometimes two) tower(s) in a turn, which might give you a bunch of points. Just make sure that you don’t use so many that you don’t have enough left for spells or for completing other towers. That will make your life difficult.
  • Don’t bury your Master Meeple. That’s just … poor strategy. Instead, use your Master Meeple on the space that lets you place a meeple anywhere else. Then you can get the control bonus without losing your best meeple. That’s … usually a lot better.
  • Don’t overplay your hand too quickly. If you completely go after a tower, you might find other players loathe to give you six points, which forces you to get more of your meeples onto the tower to finish it. Ideally, you want to claim a tower by placing only one meeple, as that’s 6 points for one meeple. If you claim it by placing 3, that’s a much-more-meager 2 points per meeple. Try to optimize where you can, score-wise.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The obvious verticality of the game is awesome. I think Saloon Tycoon was one of my first games that really encouraged vertical building, but this looks great on the table as you’re building up towers. It’s a very fun schtick and I think it was a smart design choice to go for it.
  • Relatively simple game to learn. There aren’t that many actions you can take on a turn. As far as gateway dice drafting goes, it’s much easier than, say, Sagrada, though I think the spatial component there is more compelling. But this is the game I would bring to a game night to teach.
  • The component quality is superb. The tower tiles are thick, the dice are large, and the bag is also very nice. The whole thing works pretty well, and I appreciate that a lot.
  • Imprisoning a meeple is quite humorous. They’re ever so slightly shorter than the dice, so eventually the towers will lean a smidge, but it’s very fun to do and mechanically satisfying. It was another very smart feature to include in the game and I appreciate it.
  • Having a text and a pictorial side to the player boards is really nice. It looks good, which is always a plus, but it also provides good scaffolding for new players without burdening experienced players. It’s a solid move.
  • The art in general looks very nice. The tiles are well-illustrated, the box art looks great; the whole thing is a very nice production, end to end. The art team should be pleased.

Mehs

  • All the point tokens being the same size can lead to confusion. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it would help if the larger denominations were, well, larger. At least they’re different colors.
  • It would also help if there were … more point tokens. We typically run out of 5-point tokens every game.
  • A more diverse set of Master Meeples would have been nice. They all appear to be pale dudes with beards, which, okay, but it would have been nice to see a more diverse set.

Cons

  • It’s a bit disappointing that every tile has the same generic scoring conditions. It would make the game feel a bit livelier (and is probably a solid expansion path) to have different effects on tiles in the tower, to add a bit more variety. As it stands, it makes it easier to learn since you don’t have to explain multiple effects, but I worry after several games it might start becoming stale since players tend to go after whatever earns the highest points available to them on a given turn.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I think The Towers of Arkhanos is solid! It’s the right length for a dice-drafting gateway game, and I think they did a smart thing focusing on making the game play vertically. Similar to Saloon Tycoon, it gives the game a lot more table presence, which I really appreciate. Add in bright colors and solid art and you’ve got a game that’s going to catch a lot of people’s attention, which is pretty smart as well. I’ve made some comparisons to Sagrada, and I think I prefer Sagrada to this, but between the two I’d be much more likely to bring this to a board game night, especially if I don’t know the people participating all that well. The lack of a spatial component limits the amount of analysis paralysis that players experience, and the tower tiles all being the same effects means that players aren’t trying to plan too aggressively for long-term impact (or luck of the draw). It’s much easier to plan when you know what you’re up against, and I think that this is a nice way to introduce players to dice drafting as a mechanic ahead of slamming them with Sagrada or Tag City, for instance. Either way, I also have a soft spot for wizard games, so if you share that or if you’re looking for a game that’s got really nice table presence, I think The Towers of Arkahnos is a solid choice! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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