Designer Diary: The Road to Arnak

Developing and publishing Lost Ruins of Arnak amidst a global pandemic has been a harrowing adventure of its own, to say the least. Hitting exciting milestones, like winning the 2020 Golden Geek award for Medium Game of the Year, certainly helps to keep our spirits high, but this trek has had its share of pitfalls, too. As we plot a course forward through these difficult times, we also wanted to take a moment to look back to appreciate the journey itself.

The Evolution of Arnak

Once per year in March, we invite all CGE employees and our friends from the Czech board gaming community to gather together in one place. There, we mostly playtest games, focusing the most on games planned to be released the same year. In 2019, that was Sanctum and the Through the Ages expansion.

Besides testing games already in development, we also spend time trying out new prototypes, too. And that was the case with Arnak from Mín and Elwen, who both happened to be our friends and have been working with us in CGE for some time. They started showing their prototype to several people, and I remember that at some point, I heard from several people that we definitely should try it out.

When something like this happens, it’s usually quite promising. So we tried it, and we were pleasantly surprised. Not only did we see its potential, but we felt that the prototype was in such good shape that it would be possible to release it the same year. I am glad, however, that we resisted that temptation.

Releasing it in 2019 wouldn’t allow us to make all those beautiful illustrations and develop the game properly, as some crucial ideas came to us only one year later. And the production wouldn’t be on the same level as it is now, as those arrows, tablets, and jewels wouldn’t have been possible to make in time.

So we agreed that we were interested in the game, with a preliminary launch date for Essen Spiel 2020. Throughout the rest of the year, designers continued playtesting, iterating, and expanding on the core design. By Spiel 2019, the game was in great shape, and people were enjoying it a lot, so shortly after that we made the formal decision to publish it in 2020.

But nobody quite expected the crazy times ahead.

2020: A Wild Ride

The world of Arnak really started to come alive in the first weeks of 2020, as Mín and Elwen worked closely with graphic designers and illustrators to expand the game’s lore and visual style. It was an exciting time for the project. With everything coming together, 2020 was shaping up to be a good year for Arnak.

Then the lockdown came, and COVID-19 completely turned the world upside down.

Fortunately for us, CGE originally started as an online company. When we worked on our first games Galaxy Trucker and League of Six (and the original Through the Ages even before that), we worked from our homes and met only at gaming events. Only after several years of existence, we decided to have an office. But even after that, not everyone was visiting the office regularly, as some people were living too far from Prague for that.

So we knew how to work remotely and test our games online, as we had done that before. But not being able to attend gaming events and playtest games there was new for us, and from our experience, we knew that it is crucial. Games can feel very different when you are playing them online compared to playing with actual physical components. Fortunately, during the summer, events here in Czech were allowed again, and we were able to playtest Arnak in person.

Arnak was announced on July 1st, 2020, and the reception was amazing! It was a relief to see the game make a successful launch in October, winning numerous awards and receiving lots of critical praise from press and players alike. Interest in Arnak was even higher than our most optimistic predictions, however, and it didn’t take long for demand to outpace supply.

In late 2020 and early 2021, the pandemic also put limitations on wooden component manufacturing across the industry. Cardboard and paper supply issues, alongside slower shipping times around the world, have further exacerbated those challenges in recent months—making it exceedingly difficult to keep the game in stock. We know this is frustrating for players who’ve been waiting to delve into Arnak’s depths.

The good news is we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to battle this, and things are starting to look up! Big praise here goes to our partners who publish Arnak in other languages with us, as they committed to a second print run of Arnak even before they received the first one!

The Adventure Continues…

On the digital front, we are glad that the Beta of Arnak was recently released to play online on Board Game Arena! It’s still in active development by our friend Adam Španěl, but it’s fully featured, and you can enjoy the game online for free. But what about newly vaccinated players who can’t wait to get Arnak to the table with their gaming group this year?
We have more copies en-route to retailers as we speak, and we’ve worked out a solution to increase our global production capacities. Our hope is that we’ll soon be able to deliver enough games worldwide to meet demand and keep copies in stock.

We are very grateful for our amazing player community, and to everyone else who has been patiently waiting to enjoy Lost Ruins of Arnak for the first time! Looking ahead, we have some exciting developments in the works, including a hefty solo campaign (and companion app) as well as some other fun surprises for you.

Stay tuned and stay safe!