The ruins of Gil-Garoth have been reawakened after decades of laying dormant. Arch magician Arkhanos is trying to syphon its power, but the greatest power in all the lands hold the envy of more than just a single magician. Magic schools from across the lands are competing to channel this untapped power by building towers. Because towers are well known conduits for magical energy… I guess? Look there is only so much I have to work with here, just go with me on this one.
In The Towers of Arkhanos you will be taking control of one of the magical schools in an attempt to syphon off the most power. And that power comes in the form of prestige. I guess power gets you prestige. Right? I’m going to just move on…
With Great Power, Comes Great Prestige…
As much as The Towers of Arkhanos tries to present itself with a whimsical, fantasy theme, it really is just ‘dice manipulation the game’. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is a small game, and I knew what I was walking into before I bought the game. The game revolves around a simple flow of rolling a handful of coloured dice, choosing one to place, and then placing a meeple next to the placed die. Simple enough in theory, but in practice, things get a little die-cy. Get it?
To start the game, there are 4 circular tiles placed, 1 central and 3 around it. And on each of these tiles, there are 3 spaces that can house a die. Each tile will have stipulations as to what colour die can be placed and what number range can be placed. And then the central tile will always be open for any die of any colour. Each space you choose will net you a bonus; from placing a meeple on your spell book, activating a spell, or straight up prestige points. Your spellbook is essentially your pool of available dice manipulation options and is in my opinion, where the fun comes from in the game.
There are 6 different spells (one for each face of the die) and when you place a die on a ‘activate spell’ space, you will place an available meeple onto the corresponding number in your book. ‘Activate’ means ‘make available’ in this game, it is one thing that confused me for a while. You are allowed to use any amount of ‘activated’ spells as you want during any point during your turn. And as there are options such as flipping the die, exchanging, or simply changing its colour, if utilised well, can go a long way in helping you secure those tiles as your own.
The Sky Is The Limit…
So, the fun gimmick in The Towers of Arkhanos (I am a sucker for a gimmick) is that once all 3 places on a tile is complete, you will take the next tile from the deck and place it on top of the placed dice. This will essentially add a new floor to the tower that you are building and give you a fresh set of available spaces to place your next dice on. The further into the game you get, the more floors you add to your towers.
If you are familiar with area control games, then the scoring will be second nature to you. Each player has a handful of apprentice meeples and 1 master meeple. As I mentioned earlier, whenever you place a die on a tile, you must place a meeple out next to it, and whoever has the majority in the tower scores the most points. There is a cascade of points for second most majority and third most with the master meeple counting as 2.
There is a fun mechanic in the game which will have your meeples trapped in the towers as you build them. Usually, when a tower floor is complete, and scoring is tracked, then everyone receives their meeples back. However, one of the die spaces will allow you to move an additional meeple onto another tile, but if you do this, then that meeple takes the space of a die, and becomes one of the 3 columns needed to progress. It is a great little end-game tactic to use in order to try and rack up a few extra floors when you know you won’t be needing the meeples back.
The other fun mechanic in the game is that no matter what player count you are playing at, at the end of the round there will always be a single die left. This will be placed on the turn tracker and be used to mark down the turns. They also become an additional pool of dice to swap with for one of your spells.
All That Goes up Must Come Down…
Now let’s discuss some things that don’t work all that well for me. The first thing is something that is only small, but it confuses me. The score tracker is double sided, and each side is slightly different. One side has a pic of a die and a pic of each of the scoring tokens. The other side doesn’t but it does have some text on it. I see no reason for this other than to confuse me.
The second is also a little thing but it is a quality-of-life thing. It should have easily been picked up in the game testing phase. In a 2-player game, you will find yourself accumulating points pretty quickly. Tokens available are ‘1’s ‘3’s and ‘5’s. In a game where you can easily have 40+ points at the end. It seems rather crazy not to have ‘2’s and at least a couple of ‘10’s.
The final thing I feel inclined to discuss is the fact that each of the four different magic schools you can play as have different names, and of course different colours, but that is it. Maybe I am becoming more accustomed to heavier games as of late. But I feel like this was a lost opportunity not to include asymmetric play styles. It could have easily been done because just as the score tracker. The player boards are also double sided, each side conveying the same thing but looking different. I feel like the game would have benefited even if they used the same powers for everyone on one side and offered an asymmetric version on the reverse for added replayability.
One thing that The Towers of Arkhanos has going for it is the component quality. I love the chunky dice, the glossy player cards and the meeples. Especially the master meeple with the little star cut out of each, I thought that was a pleasant little touch. The instructions are nice and clear, simple, and easy to follow. There are also 6 different languages available in the rule book. I even like the dice bag that is included with the game. The only thing that lets the components down is the cardboard score tokens.
All in all, The Towers of Arkhanos has some interesting mechanics and game structures. I really enjoy the building of the towers and seeing them get taller and taller. Although the part of me that loves chaos (so, most of me) wishes that the game was structured in a way that made you build to ridiculous heights. I feel like this game would work best with younger gamers or as a game to introduce gamers to dice manipulation as a whole. But maybe that is just me being sour from never actually winning a game of this. The Towers of Arkhanos has definitely proven popular as it has two expansions, which is more than can be said for some of my favourite games. It is worth checking out for sure if you would like a new simple game for your play group!