As it says on the box, ‘The Arrival’ is a game by Martin Wallace, which to many people might not mean much. However, as the board game aficionados amongst you will know, Mr Wallace is the creator of a game called ‘Brass’, supposedly one of the best board games in the world.
‘The Arrival’ is not a new game as such, it is a reimplementation of a 1999 game called ‘Mordred’ and has subsequently had two prints to date under its current name and theme. I checked out the most recent version of the game (2016).
The game is set in a historic version of Ireland (Erin) which is ruled by the sinister King Balor. Players take the role of seafaring tribes seeking to make Erin their home. King Balor, threatened by the players’ presence, sends his army of Fomori (supernatural monstrous beings) to attack.
Once you’ve separated all of the components, set-up is pretty straightforward. I recommend the following order:
- Stack the ‘Tactic Tiles’ face down next to the map, draw six placing them face up.
- Place the four ‘Balor’s Castle’ tokens face up on the castle locations.
- Take eight 'Fomari' tokens randomly, place four of them face up on top of the ‘Balor’s Castle’ tokens and the others face up on the locations directly attached to them.
- Separate the ‘Earning Cards’ into three face down piles.
- Each player takes a ‘Tribe Leader Card’ (each provides a unique ability in the advanced variant), two ‘Building Disks’, two ‘Blockers’ and an ‘Overview Board’.
- Place ‘Tracking Tokens’ on the ‘Honour Track’ and the ‘Corruption Track’.
- Place a ‘Round Counter’ on the ‘Round Track’.
- Chose a first player, providing them with the ‘First Player Tile’.
- Starting with the player to the right of the first player and continuing counterclockwise each player sets one of their coloured ‘Building Disks’ from the general supply to an unoccupied ‘Port Location’ of their choice.
To understand the game play it is first important to understand the win conditions. There are two potential win conditions depending upon the state of play at the end of the game:
- If the game ends and there are more locations fortified by players in total than Fomori, the winner is the playerwith the most 'Honor'.
- If the game ends and there are more locations fortified by the Fomori than the total number of locations fortified by players, the winner is the player with the lowest 'Corruption'.
The end game is triggered by either of the following:
- The final round has finished.
- The Corruption Limit is exceeded.
Each round of the game comprises of two phases: the Earning Phase and the Action Phase.
In the Earning Phase players take turns drawing ‘Earning Cards’ until each player has four cards in front of them face down. The symbol on the back of the cards indicates the most probable benefits that the player can earn with them. Players then reveal their first two cards side by side, using a ‘Blocker’ to indicate the forfeiting of one the three rows. The next card is revealed and another blocker used to forfeit another row before the final card is revealed. The row remaining unblocked indicates what the player earns. Players may earn ‘Building Disks’, ‘Sword Disks’, ‘Famori Tiles’, ‘Shield Disks’ ‘Tactic Tiles’ or Honor. An equal number of Corruption is immediately taken to the amount of ‘Famori Tiles’, any Honor is also gained immediately.
During the Action Phase payers take turns taking two actions (one on their first turn of each phase) until all players have passed, triggering the start of the next phase or the end of the game. The first player to pass, then becomes the first player of the following phase (should there be one). The actions that can be taken are as follows:
- Build - Use one of your ‘Building Disks’ to increase your area of influence.
- Repel - Use ‘Sword Disks’ to defend against Famori, battle for territories and Honor.
- Spread - Spread Fomori from a location they occupy to any location connected location by land.
- Shield - A ‘Shield Disk’ is placed in a province to protect all players fortified locations from spreading Fomori.
At the start of the game you can decide how far north you place your first fortification, this is significant as the more northernly territories are worth more 'Honor' but they are also more exposed to the Famori in the early game.
As indicated earlier, the game may end up being won through having the most 'Honor' or the least 'Corruption' depending on the number of Famori compared to player fortifications. Therefore throughout the game you will want to keep an eye on the number of player territories, the number of Famori, the Corruption and Honor, adapting your strategy accordingly.
I originally played ‘The Arrival’ as a two player game, it played well at this count however the map seemed quite spacious. I have since played a three player game which was more enjoyable as it seemed a bit tighter, more confrontational and you had to consider what both other players were doing.
Ok, I'll open with the negatives. I wasn’t a great fan of the theme, I think the original Arthurian theme or even a Sci-Fi theme would have been much more engaging. I had some frustration with the game and box design; it was difficult to tell the red ’Sword Disks’ from the red ‘Building Disks’ and the box design was poor, with only two plastic bags for organisation. Finally, I didn’t find the instructions particularly clear and I had to refer to YouTube to learn the game.
So, does that mean that I wasn’t a fan of the game? Believe it or not I actually rather liked it. It may not be the best or most exciting looking game, but its not ugly. The game is complex enough to be interesting, but not too much to be frustrating. There is enough luck for someone who has never played before to enjoy playing against someone who has. There are interesting options to be taken throughout the game and I anticipate it will have relatively high replay value. Ultimately I would happily play this game again, preferably at higher player counts, but even with just two players.