Res Arcana is one of my favorite games. I reviewed Res Arcana quite positively a while back, and after the game was released on Board Game Arena, I figured it was time to write a little bit more about the game. Res Arcana strategy is like an onion, and after getting to play it online as much as I have, I’ve continued to peel back the layers.
This guide is mainly about two player games, since I think this game is strongest at that player count, using the drafting variant, and all the base game’s rules. Since Board Game Arena uses the full monument deck, I’ll assume you’re playing with the full monument deck too (although I do believe the game is more fun with the 7 card monument deck introduced in the expansion).
Most players start playing with the mindset that this game is all about constructing the perfect engine. It is not. This game is a race to 10 points, and every path there is messy.
It might be an exciting idea to play all 8 of your artifacts, but unlike most other engine building games, more isn’t always merrier. If you spend all your turns ramping up your resource production, you’ve spent a ton of resources doing it, and you’ve spent very few of those resources on scoring points. And that’s not how you win a race.
So what is the alternative? Discard cards for resources aggressively, aim for points as quickly as you can, and play assuming the game will end on the fourth round.
So going in, have a plan. In general, you’ll either go for a place of power to generate most of your points, or you will find a way to make lots of gold and get most of your points through monuments. There aren’t many other ways to score, so at the beginning, decide what your cards lend themselves to do, and go for it. Choose a place of power, and purchase it as quickly as you can.
In this game, since it generally only lasts a few rounds, your essence producing cards will only have a few rounds to be worthwhile. For nearly every economy card in the game (that is, cards that just increase your total number of essences), you will have to play it on the very first turn of the game to see a positive yield at all.
Since the game almost always ends on turn 4 in competitive circles, you can calculate exactly what the yield will be by the final turn. Magical Shard, a card that taps for a single essence, has no cost, so you might think that it net’s you an essence on the first turn. However, since cards can be discarded for 2 essences, there is an implicit cost of 2 essences on top of every artifact card’s actual cost.
So the Magical Shard still will net you 2 essences, but only if you play it in the first round and use it each round after.
Every card I list in this Res Arcana Strategy Guide will assume the implicit cost of 2 essences added to each artifact.
Res Arcana Strategy for Artifacts
So one of the most important aspects of this game is understanding artifacts: how to use them, and which ones are worth using. So, I ordered every artifact in the game by their strength, broken into tiers. In this Res Arcana list of cards, I will rank them in tiers, and give a short review of each card.
S Tier – The Very Best Artifacts in Res Arcana
I wouldn’t call these two cards unbeatable, but they’re very good. Having one of these cards increases your odds of winning by just a bit too much. I would not blame you for taking them out of the deck, especially the Philosopher’s Stone (since it’s so consistent and repetitive).
Horn of Plenty
This card is great. Both abilities are worthwhile, but the top essence-making ability should be your bread and butter, since that’s the ability that makes this card great.
When you start with this card, try to nab the Reanimation spell book because that’s just bonkers good.
This card wins games by itself. It doesn’t even need to be in play early to win the game with it, which isn’t really true of any other artifact in the game.
Basically, if you have this in your deck, your strategy should be to make as many essence of one color as possible. Play this card by your fourth turn. Then turn all of those essences into gold and buy the entire monument deck. It’s as simple as that.
A Tier – Always Take These Artifacts
These cards are all cards that I’d pick in a draft regardless of what else is going on in my game, because they’ll always be good, and I never want my opponent to have them. I’m happy to first pick any of them, and I’m very happy to get any of them as a second or third pick.
While this card might look innocent enough at first glance, it’s actually pretty broken. Let me direct you to its second power, which looks modest enough at first glance, but when you realize that it can sacrifice itself, it starts looking bonkers. It breaks even on its initial cost by sacrificing itself on your last turn. But on top of that, it gives you a passive income, and a repeatable income ability?
This is the only economy card that is worthwhile to play on any turn. Even on the last turn of the game, it managers to filter resources from one kind to another, while breaking even.
This card is interesting because it has two powerful abilities. One, it’s the cheapest attack in the base game, by quite a bit.
But it also has the second ability, which is honestly just great. Drawing a card is worth a little more than two essences, so if you play it on turn one, it’s not just great at finding the card you need, but it’s also a pretty good economy card in its own right.
Most of the time, you’ll want to draw a card with the Elvish Bow, but having the flexibility to go on the offensive with it is worthwhile too. If your opponents don’t have any green essences, it could be worthwhile.
This card just has solid numbers. By the fourth turn, it will net you 5 essences.
When playing this card, you’ll typically want to leave the gold on it until the fourth turn, when you’ll want to cash out on your gold.
The Athanor at a first glance might just seem like an alright card. It gains a net of 1 essence each turn, and the second ability looks like it requires jumping through too many hoops to use.
But it’s worth jumping through those hoops. Imagine the game where you focus entirely on producing as many essences of one type as you can, then converting them all into gold on the fourth turn. In the average game, you should easily be able to buy 10 points of cards from the monuments deck.
The downside is that this card can be hard to get much use out of if you play it on the second turn (you’ll need to find a Reanimate effect before the fourth turn), and impossible if you play it on the third.
This is the sort of card that you’d take Divination to dig for, since you really want to play it on the first turn in order to get any use out of it.
B Tier – Always happy to have them
Our bread and butter economy card. Black essences are probably the best color in the game, and it gets you a lot of them.
Essentially, as long as you’re making better use of your essences than your opponent, the card goes from good to great. For example, if you’re planning on turning all your black essences into gold with the Philosopher’s Stone, then giving your opponent a black essence for 3 gold doesn’t seem like a half bad trade.
The second ability won’t come up as often, but it will be clutch when it does.
And on top of all that, it’s worth a point? What a deal.
Disappointingly, the Fiery Whip’s second ability can’t destroy itself like the Crypt can. But it’s still a pretty powerful ability, especially on the final turn of the game when you have economy artifacts that aren’t useful any more.
But the bread and butter will be the first ability, which is essentially a repeat of the Jeweled Statuette. A ton of red is a little harder to spend than black, but the same logic stands.
Ring of Midas
While it’s unfortunate that there aren’t a ton of ways to generate a ton of green essences, there are still enough to make this card great. Even with the tap ability alone, it more than pays for itself and is worth a point to boot.
Activating the top ability even just two or three times makes this card go from good to great.
Hello Sacrificial Dagger! The first ability by itself will barely break past even if you play this on the first turn, so in order for this card to live up to its B tier rating, you’ve got to find a use for its second ability. Thankfully, the Dragons exist, and discarding them to the dagger is probably the best use for them.
You don’t need to even wait until the fourth turn to use it’s destroy self ability, it’s good whenever as long as you have a good card to discard it.
Chalice of Fire
This is an economy card you’ll want to play on your first turn.
The tap ability of this card is really strong though. Obviously, it’s stronger if you have something to take advantage of it with, such as a Place of Power or monument that taps, or a card that produces 3+ essences on tap.
But it is not hard to find out how to make your own personal Reanimate effect good in this game.
Not only does this card have one of the better dragon centric abilities (that you probably still won’t end up using very often), but the first ability is actually great. While it looks like an ability that just gains 1 essence per turn, it feeds into itself. If you use its ability twice on the first turn, you can use it 3 times on the second turn, and 4 times on the third turn, and that’s assuming you don’t produce any red in any other way. With one other source of red essence, you can be looking at using this card 8+ times on turn 3.
The best use of this card is with Philosopher’s Stone or Athanor, since a ton of red essence isn’t the easiest thing to spend otherwise.
This card is excellent, and is one of the few economy cards that are worthwhile played even on the third turn, where it won’t net you any essences, but it will give you a good amount of essence filtering.
You’ll primarily use the first ability, but when you use the second ability, it will seem like the best card in the game. For example, when you make a ton of red essence with Athanor, then turn it all into black for a Catacombs of the Dead win.
While it’s not quite as good as Prism, it’s honestly not a ton worse. I wouldn’t be as ready to play this past the second turn, since I don’t expect to get as much value from a few wild essences as you’d get from the bigger filtering of Prism, but it’s still in a league above many of the other economy cards because it is still good even on turn 2.
Red is one of the colors that players end up with huge amounts of (say hello to Athanor and Treant), so the surprise factor of this card can be really powerful.
Additionally, it’s one of the cards that gets quite a bit more powerful as the player count goes up, since the more opponent’s you have, the more likely someone is to have a bunch of an essence.
It’s not always going to be great, but it will always be decent, which is why I’m comfortable ranking it so high.
Be aware of the subgame this card makes too: once an opponent sees it, they won’t want to make red until after you tap it, or they’ll spend their red as quickly as they can. But more often than not, an opponent won’t really be able to do much about it.
If your opponent isn’t going to be making any red at all, (maybe they’re going for a Catacombs of the Dead win), then this card isn’t worth playing.
Everything above applies to Treant too, except the Treant is even more situational, since it costs an extra essence to even play.
But hoarding black is even better than hoarding red, so I expect this ability to gain you a little more on average in the games where it’s good.
This card is solid if you get it down on the first turn. It doesn’t net you a ton of essences, but an easy source of gold is worthwhile even it it’s not a big economy jumpstarter.
This card nets a modest number of essences, and you’ll probably find more uses than you’d think for the second ability. Especially if you have the Corrupt Altar or the Fiery Whip, which can both get crazy with this.
C Tier – Roll Fillers
These cards aren’t crazy, but most of them aren’t bad. They’ll usually be worth playing if you draw them early enough, but how good they are depends on what else you’ve got going on. You’ll discard these cards a fair amount, but you’ll play them just as often.
Tree of Life
This card could be a B, but I think it’d be the worst economy card listed so highly. This card is very easy to play, and it net a very reasonable number of essences. The downside is that there isn’t a great way to spend a ton of green essences in the base game.
But, if you find a way to spend these essences without jumping through too many hoops, then this card goes way up.
Hand of Glory
The Hand of Glory is an economy card that nets a reasonable number of essences, but gives your opponent quite a few essences as well. This card is worth it playing if you can find a way to make those black essences more valuable than your opponent’s.
This card will generate a modest return by the fourth turn, a net of 2 essences. Not exciting, but sometimes you’ll still play it.
Fountain of Youth
This will generally be essence positive if you use the ability a few times. If you’re going for the Sunken Reef, this card is tailor made for that. Making lots of black is easier than making blue and green.
But remember, this ability only nets a single essence each time you use it, and none of the essences it makes can be used to activate it’s ability again, so don’t go out of your way to try to abuse this card.
For the most part, these cards won’t be played very often. It’s usually better to discard them for resources outright than to bother playing them. Of course, sometimes you’ll play them and find a way to use them well, but that will be rarer than not.
The Nightingale costs 4 essences for a point, and that’s a fine rate, but I’m probably not playing this artifact unless I’ve got a creature synergy going on with a place of power.
Another economy card that will, at best, only net two essences by the end of the game. It’s not too interesting.
If played on the first turn, it will net you three resources by the final turn, but it’s almost too large an investment for only getting a net of 3 essences, especially since this color combination isn’t the easiest to spend.
This card will only net you a single essence by turn 4 if you played it on turn 1, so unless you have some synergies planned for the Creature card type, put the Celestial Horse out to the Celestial pasture.
The react to attack abilities aren’t super relevant, so this is just another card that nets a single essence by turn 4 if played on the first turn, like the celestial horse. Except this card doesn’t even give you the flexibility of the horse’s wild essences.
Oh Hawk. This card’s first ability is quite nice on the monument deck, but probably not worth it’s cost. And it’s not worth playing on your own deck, since what you draw becomes far less important after the first turn, and you don’t want to be playing this on the first turn instead of a card that nets resources.
Once again, this card could be worth it, but only if you’ve got a place of power that cares about Creatures, and you don’t have a more efficient way to score.
Chalice of Life
This card can work well with the Sunken Reef, but you’d already need a good chunk of blue to make that work, since the ability doesn’t actually net any blue essences. Otherwise, this is another economy card that will result in slim gains.
This card is really only worthwhile because it’s a relatively cheap point. The dragon ability isn’t even saving you any essences, so it’s only worthwhile for converting one kind of essence to another.
Typically, it will just get discarded, but the marginal utility of being that last point you need is worth something.
The Dragons are interesting cards, but their ability is rarely worth actually using. When the dragons are played at all, they’re only worth playing for the synergy with one of the places of power, and not for their attacks.
Now, the dragons aren’t all equal. Earth, Wind, and Sea Serpent all have significantly better attacks, which won’t come up often, but it might. The other’s are just way too easy to ignore. The bone dragon can be worthwhile because its much cheaper than the others, so it has a lower entry barrier to be used with the dragon centric places of power.
But I’d say the Sea Serpent is the best dragon of the bunch. Its high cost is a boon with the Sacrificial Dagger or the Sacrificial Pit. Additionally, it scores very nicely with the Sorcerer’s Bestiary, netting you a cool 4 points total.
Lastly, we have the cards that are useless. I can’t imagine the scenario where these cards even get played. Never say never, but, these cards might be an exception. Honestly,
Dragons don’t get played often, and their abilities aren’t used often, so that leaves the point line as the most relevant line of text here. And It’s not even a good rate for a point.
The discount ability isn’t completely irrelevant though. With the Dragon Lair, and a few dragons, it might be worthwhile, but that’s a lot of hoops to jump through, that you really don’t want to be jumping through.
This card is a card that will almost never be worth playing. Since you pay 3 essence for him, you’ll have to use his ability maybe 3 times before it starts looking worthwhile. Most games I’ve played don’t have that much attacking, but perhaps you play with someone who’s into that kind of thing.
This card is one of the cool cards that I’d really love to see work, but I’ve never seen this card be worth its cost. Maybe an expansion will make it good someday, but as it stands, this card just isn’t worth playing.
This card suffers because the game is too short. If the game lasted 6 turns, this would be great, but in competitive circles, it never does. Playing this card is a trap.
Res Arcana Strategy for the Places of Power
By far the most powerful place of power is the Catacombs of the Dead. It can win by the fourth turn without playing any artifacts at all if you have the right mage. The Dragon’s Lair can be quite powerful too in the right situation. Just remember to stay flexible, but also to know how you plan to score going in. You don’t always have to buy a Place of Power, but when you do, you should typically plan to score 5+ points with it.
Res Arcana Strategy Guide: In Conclusion
That is the basics of Res Arcana strategy. Obviously, there is always more to learn, but this should be enough to get you competitive at higher level tables. Let me know what you think of it. Do you agree? Disagree?
Perhaps you could explain why you changed your mind about drafting in RA?
Since playing the game on board game arena a lot, I’ve just been drafting it a lot more. And while I don’t think it’s a better game when you draft it, it goes by fast enough playing online to not to really bother me much.
You might want to edit this, then: “since I think this game is strongest at that player count, using the drafting variant”
Thanks for this excellent analysis, even if i do bot agree on everything (especially regarding the mermaid ☺️).
I would be happy to read an update soon because Lux & Tenebrae brings many game changer artefacts that may change your points of view regarding some artefact (Chalice of Life or Automat…)
Personally, I find the mermaid extremely useful, when combined with un-turn powers and 6 of the 10 Places of power, netting 2 or even more points a turn. I wouldn’t put it the F tier, but you need to strategize it appropriately.
Guard dog may not be as useless as you say!!
It can be used well with sacred grove by tapping them both to get a point, and then by reanimating sacred grove with another card, guard dog is easily reanimated using a red essence, and then you can tap them both to get a second point per turn out of sacred grove . . . .
Oh, and I agree about mermaid being good for putting point scoring essences on 6 of the 10 PoP . . . !
Interesting article. We love Res Arcana, and it’s always interesting to read other players’ views.
I agree with Jeannot la pinte and Any1 that the mermaid is extremely useful with the places of power that need gold, green or blue on them to score points. If you have the essences required, and a way of reanimating the mermaid, you can use her to score two points in each round, then turn the PoP, and add the “normal” number of essences needed to score points on that PoP too. And if course, she’s a creature too.
I also think the windup man can be useful if it comes out in the first round. Add one gold, and leave it on, to see it increase to three at the start of the second round. Add another essence of your choice in the second round, and it increases to three, and the gold to five at the start of the third round. Of course, if you had a way of reanimating the windup man, you could add the second essence in the first round too, and end up with five of that too. If you think the game will finish in the fourth round, then take your five gold and three others at the start of the fourth round. If you think the game is going to run another round, you could add yet another colour essence in the third round, leave the essences on the card for the fourth round, to get seven gold, five of one essence and three of another to collect in the fifth round. Especially with a bit of alchemy or transmutation to convert the other essences to gold, or to an essence you do want.