Arnak Designer Diary: Overcoming a Guardian

In the past diaries, we have talked about the art and theme of the game (The World, The Language, The Art) and about some of the design decisions concerning the worker placement elements of the game and the reasoning behind them (Archaeologist actions).

This time, we would like to focus more on the action of Overcoming a Guardian.
Together with Discovering a New Site, these are somewhat controversial actions because of the element of theme and randomness they bring into the game.
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When we were designing the game, we debated at length how to go about discovering new sites. We decided to focus on the player’s emotions. We tested a number of variants with open or semi-open information about what players would find on the site, but it felt dry and more prone to analysis-paralysis.
We agreed that during this action, a player must reveal hidden information. Ideally, it should result in an emotion: surprise, cheer, or “oh no!” moment.
But these emotions are hard to achieve in eurogames, especially if you don’t want them to be too luck-based. And luck is a spice that must be used very carefully.

During the first game awaking a guardian might feel very luck-based, you either have the required resources, or you don’t. The difference feels huge: 5 points + boon VS fear, and feeling that you are possibly leaving those 5 points + boon for your opponent to take during one of the future rounds!
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When you learn more about the game mechanics, you will find that very often (but not always), you will be able to overcome the guardian even without having the right resources. Because when you discover a new site and awaken a guardian, you are also granted an idol, which gives you the option to exchange some points for resources you might need. (Remembering the rule that you can always hire a pilot for two coins helps as well.)
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But there is actually a third level of understanding when you might decide not to overcome a guardian on purpose. Let’s get back to the perceived difference:
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Of course, this is not a full picture because overcoming a guardian costs you resources. Usually enough resources to let you Research if you did not spend them on overcoming the guardian!
So it is more helpful to picture the difference this way:
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Research is a significant (and strategic!) part of the game, especially if it results in:
– Gaining a bonus tile before your opponents
– Gaining / Upgrading assistants
Investing resources into building your engine (hiring assistants) or getting in the lead of the Research race might bring you more long-term benefits than exchanging those resources into guardians points (even if it is a substantial sum).
On the other hand, you need to be ready to deal with the Fear card you will receive. You will usually find good ways to utilize a few of them, but once the number of Fear cards passes a certain threshold, you might find yourself relying heavily on a lucky draw, and your card engine might clog.

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There are games when I overcome every single guardian I encounter and other games when I don’t overcome any. Those decisions are not made before the game starts. Rather they come as a reaction to how quickly my opponents progress in the Research, what cards and assistants are available to build my engine with, and what resources I have available.

When bad luck closes one door for you, give a try to a new strategy, and you might be surprised by the result!

Publsihed on
on November, the 19th 2020.