Ah, this is the life, dear readers! Cotton candy in one hand, a cheap toy won at a carnival game in the other, my head dizzy from the loops and whirls of my favorite roller coaster, I couldn’t be happier! Well, actually, if I’m being totally honest, there are a few things I’d change about this park. For instance, it relies a little too heavily on food and could do with more game booths. And where are the mascots? I mean, what’s an amusement park without a costumed critter or two? Don’t you think that you could design a better park? Well, I have good news for you- now you can!
Arcadia is a set collection card game from APE Games. In this game, each player will be tasked with building the best theme park possible from available Attractions. Attraction cards will be arrayed in the center of the table and come in four varieties (Rides, Shows, Midway Attractions, and Food) and each card has a level (1-4), point value, and a cost (a various amount of symbols comprising of tents, balloons, cotton candies, or ducks). At the beginning of the game, each player will be given a couple of Carny Critic cards (critical reviews in the local newspaper) which will award the player bonus points for constructing certain types of Attractions or using a specific resource (giving each player direction as to which types of Attractions to focus on in their park.)
How will players pay for these Attractions? Why, with the skills of their employees, of course! In the middle of the table will be an array of the two types of resources in the game: Jobs and Experts. Job cards will have 1-2 symbols of them, whereas Experts will have 3-4. However, just to make things tricky, many of these Jobs and Expert cards will have restrictions as to which type of Attractions they can be used to pay for (for instance, a Job may have the restriction that it can only be used for Rides, or Shows.) Don’t have the right combination of symbols or cards with restrictions that don’t fit? You can exchange three of the same symbol for any other symbol you may need (and also remove the restrictions in the process.) On a player’s turn, they can either take two Job cards, one Expert card, reserve an Attraction (by putting it in their hand- maximum of two), or they can build an Attraction by paying the cost on the card and then placing the Attraction on the table in front of them.
Wait up, though- it isn’t quite as simple as that. Remember how I mentioned that each Attraction has a level? Well, you can’t build an Attraction unless you already have an Attraction of the same type, but a lower level. So for instance, you may really like that level 3 ride, but until you have a level one and level two ride, you can’t build it- you’ll have to leave it on the table for someone else to snatch up. Oh, and just in case you thought you could just reserve it and hold on to it until you could build it- you can’t reserve an Attraction unless you have the level beneath it either in your park or in your hand. Who knew that building a theme park could have so much red tape, eh?
The result of this is a simple, tidy game of set collection and beating your competition to the punch when it comes to the ideal Attraction to add to your park. There isn’t really any player interaction beyond snatching up an Attraction before they can, but that’s okay. This is a simple game and a good introduction to the hobby. A possible fault, however, would be that depending on how the Attraction cards are shuffled, you could end up in a situation where the first player each round buys or reserves the only Attractions that anyone else could possibly buy- and since the array of cards isn’t resupplied until the round is over, you can quickly end up in a cascading effect where the first player dominates the game early on and throughout it’s entirety. However, this doesn’t happen often, and can easily be remedied by sufficient shuffling.
I should mention that in the copy I received, there was a small packet of cards with instructions to replace specific cards with these substitutes. If your copy has this included, do yourself a favor- immediately do this. Do not, I repeat, do not play this game as-is out of the box. Before replacing these cards, this game was an unbalanced, broken, train wreck- the gaming equivalent of a roller coaster accident in a crowded park. It pleases me to no end that the designers of this game (Greg Bush and Phil R. Chase) and the good people at APE Games included this fix in the game. They realized that there was a problem and did their due diligence to rectify it. Kudos all around.
So is Arcadia a perfect game? No. But it is a fun, relatively stress-free excursion to the world of theme park design and construction. This game is perfect for younger players, those new to the hobby, or as an opening game for a low-key game night. Buy yourself a copy, place it on your shelf, and I assure you, one of your guests will look at its unusual dimensions and ask, “What’s that?” That, dear readers, is when you can take a trip together to a fun, little world of roller coasters, carnies, cotton candy, and colorful cards.