10 June 2021
It's all a bit woolly
Cushioned by a veritable rainbow of wool, let’s dive in for some competitive knitting. In Arch Ravels, players collect balls of yarn, which they then craft into standard items (like a blanket or teddy bear) which are worth points. Make the desired combinations of items, which are displayed on face up project cards, and you’ll be able to complete a project, scoring far more points than you would from the individual items. In fact, most of your score will come from completed project cards, so the available projects will drive your decisions throughout the game.
Unfortunately, these decisions aren’t very interesting. In fact, there’s really only one interesting choice you’ll make in the game. The first time you make three of the standard items, you must use the colours shown on the pattern tiles you’ve been allocated. For example, you may need two yellow and one blue ball of wool for a pair of mittens. After you’ve crafted your first items, you may choose to forfeit the item to flip the pattern tile over. Once flipped the item may be constructed from any colour wool. Whether to forfeit an item to flip the tile is your only strategic decision. Other than this, it feels as if all you can do is to make optimal decisions based on resource availability each turn.
Your player board shows four actions, but you can’t select the action you took last turn. Swapping one colour wool for another using the ‘exchange yarn’ action, is really an emergency action and may not be used at all. The other actions allow you to shop for more wool from the yarn bazaar and/or to craft wool you have into knitted items. There’s really very little choice. You can’t even decide to hoard loads of wool before you craft because if you’ve shopped one turn you must craft the next. Wholly unsatisfying. The characters have special abilities that power up shopping or crafting actions, but while this adds welcome variety, they feel unbalanced.
After your main action, you refill spaces on the game board with more cards. Most contain yarn, available for another player’s next shop action, but there are also event cards (which force randomly good or bad outcomes on you) and special requests. Special requests are unique knitting projects, some which reflect pop culture (for example, if you knit the ‘house scarf’ you’ll be awarded 9¾ points). If you uncover one of these cards, you can keep it or give it away; you can’t refuse a ‘gifted’ special request. You’ll score highly if your special requests are knitted but will take negative points if not, and in a two player game you might not have time to knit them. Each player has a particular special project that they’ll score extra points for… if they are lucky enough to flip that card themselves, because, let’s face it, nobody is ever going to give it to them.
The board changes quite rapidly, especially with more than two players, so while you can work towards projects, another player may swipe them. A close eye on other players’ progress towards projects is needed, to avoid being pipped at the post. Herein lies another problem. With wool in six different colours, it’s hard to keep track of what you need to knit certain items and it’s even harder to keep track of what your opponents need. So, while you may be thinking a round or two ahead, there are too many variables for long-term planning.
The quality of the components is good, but the artwork is ugly. The constant swapping of cards for wool, wool for tokens and tokens for cards makes the game really fiddly, but I do like the theme, which may appeal to lots of people.
PLAY IT? NO
This game is super simple to learn and to teach so it’s a good introduction to set collection and contract fulfilment. But while it might be a good gateway game for some, there’s nothing new or particularly interesting here, so if you’ve been gaming for a while, Arch Ravels is unlikely to hold your attention.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Splendor
There’s more happening in Arch Ravels, but it lacks Splendor’s slickness and purity.
Designer: Adam McCrimmon & Jordan Miller
Publisher: XYZ Game Labs
Time: 30-45 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 1 Game board
- 40 item tokens
- 4 yarn bowls
- 18 pattern tiles
- 74 yarn cards
- 26 special requests
- 4 character boards
- 108 yarn tokens
- 16 project cards
- 4 action markers
- 12 event cards
This article originally appeared in issue 56 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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