Review: Arcanum – arcane magic in hands of god

Arcanum - packaging

Four families, who gain power and fight for domination over one italian city. All that stands between their failure, victory and the destruction of the world is only Arcana magic. But in these troubled times, people are not the ones, who decide the fate. Gods are sitting over a map of the medieval city. People in it live their peaceful and ordinary lives and know nothing about, whats happening above. Deciding their one and only future.

Four gods have their destiny in their hands. With the help of their powers, each of these gods will try to direct the fate of the city, where he sees greatest benefit for himself. Their magic is called Arcane, and if the gods were carried away by this struggle, they may even cause the end of the world.

And after these magical spells, which were put as images on cards, an italian board game was named . This game was made by and Pierlucy Zizzi. The whole game is presented with a mysterious and magical view of Patrizia Evangelisti, who created art for this game. We have already mentioned, that the game comes from Italy and it has a company from Turin as a distributor.

Arcanum - game is ready

The box, in which the whole Arcanum game is located, has a square shape and classic size of Dominion-like (review available only in Czech) board games. But the owner of this game will be primarily interested in answering one classic question: What is hidden inside?

First of all, it’s a game board. This is definitely the first place to mention, because of its unusual graphic appearance. Some of our players seemed a bit ambiguous about it, but ultimately everyone liked the graphics, as well as the layout of the board itself. In upper part, there is a racetrack, which will monitor the prestige of individual families. Below, there is a city marked with ten different locations. On each ring are located icons, whose meaning will we discuss later. Around the board, there winds a trail for the victory points and to its left side, there is a turn counter.

Other components are made of wood. There are four different pieces in four colors. In total there is sixteen of them and therefore they are – king, queen, knight and knave. All these pieces have a suede ring glued to their bottom, so they will not clap, when you are playing with them. It’s an interesting and unusual sensation in board games, when you lay the piece and feel it is comfortably settled into its place. Another five colorful pieces are pawns and are meant for players, so they can track their victory points gained during the match.

Arcanum - game is ready

As king, queen, knight and knave, these other two tokens belong to each of noble houses, who live in the city plan. They are wooden and are used for scoring and tracking prestige. The last black token denotes number of turn and one cylinder marks the first player.

The last part of the whole game are two decks of cards – small (56) and large (22) Arcana. This is a pack of 78 tarot cards, divided by the background into those two species. Each of these cards is wearing a different illustration, so you have will enjoy looking at them for a very long time. Rules now include five languages and are surprisingly simple for a game, which seems complicated at first glance.

Similarly intuitive is the preparation of the match. You should first ready the game board by laying tokens – one turn counter and then one token for each family on the prestige track on appropriate row. You should leave the other round tokens yet lie next to the board. Now it’s time to inhabit the game board with the wooden pieces of families.Where exactly is the king and queen located in the start of this particular race? You will now specify that.

Arcanum - game in progress

This distribution is done in a random fashion. For ease of preparation, we recommend you to browse location from one to ten gradually and randomly draw pieces from some sack. At each position, there can be a maximum of two figures there and there have to be of different color. After this whole process, you will have board filled with kings, queens, knights and knaves in a way, that every site has at least one and six have two. There is an option, where eight can have two and the other ones none, but then you have to use another drawing system.

Players can put their pawns on the scoring track. So they wont forget, which color is whose, there is also paper, which can be cut out. These slits of paper have color on them according to the player colors and they should put the proper one in front of them. Each player gets one more card, where he can find a summary of the most important rules. At the beginning of the game, each player (instead of drawing phase in first turn) is dealt four cards of smaller Arcana and one card with big Arcana.

And now you can begin the game of Arcanum. Game is divided into six or nine rounds – it depends on the number of players participating in the game. At the beginning of each round, everyone starting with the first player draws Arcana cards. When drawing, players have two choices – either they take three cards of small Arcana or one big Arcana.

Arcanum - game in progress

At the same time, everyone chooses one card from their actual hand and hides it below the game board in front of himself, so that he can easily pull it out again. This activity is made every turn by all players after drawing cards. Each of small Arcana card belongs to one of four houses (colors). They also easily recognizable by icons – swords, wands, chalices and pentacle.

What is it good for? By concealing cards, you secretly buy influence in given family. For these cards, you get then victory points during the scoring rounds – you earn points corresponding to house position on the prestige track. But before this happens, it’s time to play cards. The player must each round play one small arcana. Then he can, if he wants, play also one big, bringing some immediate gains and changes to the game.

But we are mainly interested in small arcana now. They create movement on the board. First, you strengthen family prestige for the house, which card have you played. Move appropriate token on the prestige track one space forward. Player will now move figures on the board according to type of card played.

Arcanum - game in progress

This can be done in two ways. If you have played card with a number (from one to ten), then the player takes one of figures in corresponding color and move it to a location with card number. Opposite situation occurs, when player uses a card with knave, knight, queen or king. In such a case, he takes this specific piece of the family (according to the card color) and moves it to any location on the board. Every approach has its benefits and also disadvantages.

Each of ten positions on the board have icons on the ring of its place. To the left next to location number, there are symbols corresponding to the houses colors (swords, chalices, wands and pentacle), but also specific types of royal figures – knave, knight, king and queen. For each match between the moved piece and destination icons, the player will move once more prestige of this family up on the prestige track.

To the right next to the location number, there are icons of actions, which can a player take advantage of in a moment, when he visited this place. He can thus obtain a new card, some victory points, or perhaps move prestige indicators for families. All actions are important and have a significant impact on the game. You can even hide more cards under the board and this may be crucial in upcoming parts of the match.

Arcanum - cards

Thus, players take turns and play cards, visiting with individual family members different sites of board and collect and reputation for their houses. At the end of some rounds, there come scoring phase. Players gain points depending on what family they have influence in according to their concealed cards. You earn points not only for first, but also for second, third and fourth place. But you must have at least one card of this family. Individual houses, however, provide a different profit according to their positions on the prestige track.

The game ends, when the counter reaches a precise round number. Winner is the player, whose piece is further on the scoring track and got away from the others.

Arcanum is an interesting game of superiority in italian houses. This principle reminds us of the games such as Alhambra (review only in Czech). Yet it achieves the similar goals in an unusual way – by playing cards and moving pieces on the board.

Arcanum - game in progress

The game features interesting strategic decisions. You must maintain an overview about cards, which have already been played. Often, you need to wait for cards, that have not yet come and you will rely your future in this race on it. But you may be betting on a house, whose cards have almost all been played.

Of course you need to know your options, when choosing a family, whose card you should hide this round. It is however not enough to have one house card in your hand, which creates some troubles, when combined with the limit to a maximum of seven cards in your hand. You need more cards, which raise house prestige points, and you can then gather many points during scoring.

Unlike other majority games, points are not clearly stratified between colors / houses. For example, in Alhambra, you clearly know, that red will always be worth more points, than brown. Here, the situation is constantly changing and it creates interesting and tough decisions. You can actually bet on the wrong horse. And then from time to time, you will be pleased with your choice, because the point rewards are significantly different.

Arcanum - cards

Often, you simply must rely on chance. And that’s probably the biggest problem of Arcanum. Because you just simply draw the cards from the deck in a random fashion. On the other hand, in such a situation, you can focus on usage of special big Arcana abilities, which are also very specific and powerful.

Perhaps it would help, if you have an offer made up from few cards, which would you choose instead of drawing from the deck. Players would be able to actively influence their tactics and the game would be a little bit less random.

In the whole game of Arcanum, the most important thing is to know how to play with what you have in hand. You must use the best combination of cards, that you gained to support the right family. Figures can be moved in two ways – either you have a fixed target location and choose a piece or have a piece and choose the location. But in both situations, you can easily affect whether and how much points you earn.

Arcanum - cards

The strategy is simple: it is always important to have enough cards in hand, so you can react to changes. You play the major arcana usually in a times, when you have nothing else to play or you expect scoring and need changing of house prestige. However, given the large number of Arcane cards, you have to constantly explore their functions, because they are not recognizable clearly at first sight with icons. You have to use help cards or look into the manual, because you forget their abilities easily.

Arcanum mined much of its processing. Cards and board are both really beautiful. However, there is a flaw associated with them – the game is recommended for families from twelve years. This would correspond to its tactical focus, but some illustrations on the cards disagree. Overall, however, designs on cards are really interesting. Also pieces with suede cushion made us very happy.

Arcanum is a board game, where you can influence everything by playing cards. You secretly choose a family, which would you like to supports and then you are trying hard to get this house to lead in dominating the city itself (with prestige points). You travel with your representatives around the city, visit all places and gain as much support as possible. The game has a nice atmosphere and requires good strategic decisions, but also luck. If you like board games, playing cards which make the pieces move, then this game will make you happy.

DesignerAndrea Chiarvesio, Pierluca Zizzi
ArtistPatrizio Evangelisti
PublisherHeidelberger Spieleverlag, Lo Scarabeo
Year Published
# of Players3 - 5
User Suggested # of Players Best with 4 players
Recommended with 3, 4, 5 players
(3 voters)
Playing Time45
Mfg Suggested Ages10 and up
Language DependenceNo necessary in-game text
(2 voters)
CategoryBluffing, Medieval, Political
MechanicHand Management
ExpansionArcanum: The Witch
Primary NameArcanum

Infos courtesy of More Infos.

Review: Arcanum – arcane magic in hands of god
Final word
Arcanum is a supremacy game with interesting twist. Beside your influence in given houses, which you specify by hiding different cards, the whole game revolves around altering prestige of unique houses. They then offer their prestige to you and you score victory points for your influence in given family. And there are more scoring rounds during the match. Every house has four characters, which are constantly lobbing for their families. They have a shape of nice wooden chess miniatures. But also the processing of the rest of Arcanum is great, it shines with nice and unique illustrations on cards and on board. Families with children might be a little surprised by few quite violent images on cards. And putting those cards out of the game would create imbalance for certain houses. You can influence the outcome of the game not only by moving family miniatures, but also by playing action cards. If you like games about dominance with new ideas, then you should check out Arcanum.
Reader Rating0 Votes
unique image on every card
excellent processing
fight for majority over noble houses
families have no strictly given value – players change it
several ways to influence result
two arcana card types
pictures on some cards are not suitable for family boardgaming
big arcana have unique skills – hard to remember
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