Buzzworthiness: The Shipwreck Arcana

Special thanks to Meromorph Games for providing a review copy of this game.

I grew up playing Clue, so I’ve always liked deduction games. Today’s game is another in that genre:

image by BGG user tsox

The Shipwreck Arcana is a 2017 game from designer Kevin Bishop and published by Meromorph Games. A new printing is out now, hence the review copy. The game is based around a tarot deck of cards with a general loose theme of trying to predict each others’ fates so you can all escape from a doomed world.

The game comes with a deck of 20 Arcana cards, an Hours card, 35 number line tokens, and a bag of 21 Fate tokens. At the start of the game, you’ll lay out the Hours card, setting your score tracker to zero and the Doom track to your level of difficulty, from 0 (easy) to 6 (doomed). You’ll also draw four Arcana cards and place them in a line next to the Hours card. Each player gets 7 number line tokens and puts them in a line, 1-7. The Fate tokens are mixed, you choose a start player, and you’re ready to play.

image by BGG user mercopparis

On your turn, you’ll draw Fate tokens so you have two (you may have one left over from the previous round). These tokens are numbered like the number line, and basically give you a secret number you are trying to get the other players to guess.

After drawing Fate, you’ll place one of the tokens so it is underneath one of the Arcana cards. Each Arcana card has a special condition under which you can place underneath. For example, in the image above, the first card (The Pallbearers), if the difference between your Fates is 1 or 2, you can put a token underneath. So, if you have a 3 and a 7, you couldn’t place there, but if you have a 4 and a 5, you could. If neither of your Fate tokens fits below any of the Arcana cards, you place it beneath the Hours card.

The other players now confirm with each other, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO COMMUNICATION FROM YOU, about what they think you have. They can ask you to flip some numbers on your number line to help them in deducing what you have. If they figure it out, they can guess, and if they’re right, your team gains a point. However, if they’re wrong, the Doom tracker advances one space. In either case, the Fate you have goes back in the bag.

However, the other players can choose to NOT make a prediction. In this case, you just hold onto your Fate for the next turn.

At the end of your turn, you check to see if Fading occurs. This happens when the sums of the pips on the prediction tiles (1 for 1-3, 2 for 4-6, 3 for 7) are equal to or more than the number of moons shown on the bottom of the Arcana cards. You’ll then take that Arcana card, flip it over, move it to the side, and put the tiles that were under it back in the bag. IMPORTANT: If a correct prediction was not made on a turn where Fading occurs, the Doom marker moves up two spaces.

It’s not all bad when Fading happens. For one thing, you get a new clue to help deduction. Also, on the other side of the card is a Fade power, a one-time use power that can be discarded to gain an ability that can give extra information. Once used, the Faded card is discarded, so use it wisely.

If the Doom track ever makes it to 7, you lose. However, if the point track reaches 7 before the Doom track, the team wins.

image by BGG user Aldaron

As mentioned, this game is based around a tarot deck. The cards are tarot shaped, and it seems that the characters on the cards are based on things you would find on a tarot deck (but I have no idea, not having any tarot experience at all). The art, which was done by Matthew Bishop, looks very in place for a tarot deck. Everything is very nice quality, especially the tokens, which are nice lightweight wood.

Thematically, there’s not really a plot. The theme is the tarot deck, and you’re trying to use logic to determine each other’s Fates so you can avoid them. In the end, it’s really a fairly abstract logic puzzle. Which is perfectly fine with me, I’m not big on shoehorning in theme where there just doesn’t need to be any. The flavor of the cards is just fine for me.

Shipwreck Arcana is, at its core, a deduction game. For the guessers, it’s a matter of trying to figure out what the active player is trying to tell them with their placement. Sometimes, what’s not being said can be as important as what is being said, so you have to take all information into account. And you can still give a lot of information if you’re forced to play on the Hours – it means that none of the clues applied to your numbers, and therefore you can’t have anything the clues DO apply to. The number line in front of each player is a pretty good solution for allowing players to keep track of the information they know.

The active player also has to use logic to determine the best placement for their numbers. What is going to give the guessers the best chance of answering? And you have to do it without any extra communication, as in games like Mysterium or Hanabi. I’d put this more on the Hanabi end of the spectrum, since all players are going to have a chance to be the active player and guessers in equal measure, instead of just one player giving everyone clues as in Mysterium.

The cards themselves are interesting and varied. Each one of them has a unique clue on the front, though there is some repetition of the Faded powers on the back. Still, that’s not a bad thing – the Faded powers are going to be absolutely essential to your success in the game, and sometimes it’s worth letting something fade just so you can have access to the Faded power.

My biggest gripe with the game has to do with winning and losing. Not that I think the win condition itself bad – going to seven points seems like a reasonable requirement for a full-length game. But rather, it’s the “levels of difficulty.” You’re supposed to set the Doom tracker at the beginning of the game for how hard you want it – zero for an easy game, two for normal, four for hard, and six for DOOMED! There’s no other way to scale the game, you’re just arbitrarily deciding (with no information – this is done before the Arcana cards are even revealed) how much room for error you want. With DOOMED!, the Doom tracker can’t move at all for you to win. I’d rather see you always start at zero, then have different levels of victory – total victory for not moving the Doom tracker, an close win for getting the Doom tracker to six, something like that. I’m sure that’s how I’ll play in the future.

This game has a relatively small footprint. You need space for the four Arcana cards, any Faded powers, and each player’s number lines. It’s not super sprawling, and is fairly portable. It’s a little complicated to get your head around for new people, but once you get over that hump, it’s not terribly complex.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I like Shipwreck Arcana a lot. It’s a cool take on deduction games, and comes in a nice portable package. It looks very nice, and provides a good mental exercise for its players.

Thanks again to Meromorph Games for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!

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