Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
Fate. It holds sway in the courts of both god and man alike. It is deterministic if you can channel its energy. It is gracious if you can bend to its will. It is what has brought you to this preview. And it is what holds power over your next move.
Arcana Prophetia is a game about fate designed by The Aerie Games. Launching on Kickstarter on May 11, it weaves a backstory of fallen gods and a pending apocalypse into ten tarot-sized cards and a cloth playmat with a grid structure. It is for two players only—one taking on the role of the Fates seeking to destroy the world. The other plays as the Last Sovereign. An underdog. And our only hope.
The game of Arcana Prophetia is played over nine rounds. Setup is simple. The playmat is smoothed out onto the table. A display of ten cards is made available to view for both players—all card abilities are shared knowledge. The Fates player chooses a Face (or a persistent game power) and the Last Sovereign chooses an Archsigil (a power that can be activated during play). These powers make each session unique and provide new tactical considerations.
To begin play, the Fates take one of the display cards and place it into the left middle court of the mat. The playmat features three rows, or courts, each labeled as low, middle, and high. It also has four columns creating a three-by-four grid. After this card is placed, the Last Sovereign places their sigil tokens onto the mat. They must be placed in separate locations.
Each round, the Last Sovereign predicts the card that is played by the Fates. The Fates then select one of nine available cards and must add it to the mat adjacent to another card in the middle court. Each tarot card has two sides, either Corrupted (Fates) or Sanctified (Last Sovereign). If the choice is correctly predicted, it enters on the Sanctified side. Otherwise, it remains Corrupted. This is important as the winner is determined by who has the most cards flipped to their side at the end of the game.
The importance of the prediction determines the flow of each round. The Fates always activate the Corrupted effect of a card, even if it was correctly predicted. The Last Sovereign only activates the Sanctified effect if their prediction was accurate. Card effects vary and swing power from one side to the other. They can flip cards. Move them. Swap positions. Provide passive abilities. And even reactivate effects.
As the rounds continue, the Last Sovereign’s tactical options increase. A token called the Relic of the Dead God allows them to block a location each round. Archsigil placements augment their abilities when a card is placed on its location. Additionally, both players have access to an important rule regarding card binding. Whenever two card values adjacent to each other equal ten, they receive binding tokens that prevent flipping. If either of the cards is moved, the bind is broken. But after two rounds, the bind becomes permanent, and the two cards cannot be flipped or moved.
This is a unique tactical experience unlike anything I’ve played before. Before I get into the gameplay, I want to mention the pre-production elements of the prototype I received. The artwork on the cards and tokens is engrossing and provides deeply thematic ties to the worldbuilding. The depth of the setting, and in a small ten card game, is well-considered and evocative. Pitting two opponents with asymmetric styles of play and specific aesthetics surrounding these roles is a nice touch.
Each side of the duel provides an exclusive way to approach the tableau puzzle. I can’t say that I enjoyed one side more than the other. It is a fun challenge to step into the role of the Last Sovereign feeling like the underdog and then watching your power grow over time. It’s also incredibly fun to play as the Fates and always have an ability to activate. Each round is a battle of wills, wits, and wiles. Do you take the obvious play to bind the III card to the VII card? Or do you forego that to ensure the card enters the mat on the corrupted side? Or is that what the Last Sovereign is expecting you to do?
Expanding on the theme, each card acts as a distinctive tarot-styled event. The prototype features two sets of cards and there may be more options available in the final Kickstarter campaign. This allows players to mix and match their display for variety and potentially powerful combos. Cards feature names such as The Standard, The Chalice, The Vow, evoke the world of tarot and have effects that fit the naming. The artwork also speaks specifically to each side’s flavor.
Card effects also add a lot to each round consideration. There’s the ability to chain effects, to break bindings, to resonate your cards together, to activate a powerful passive ability. At the same time, the Fates must always consider the consequences of the Sanctified ability activating. Or will the Last Sovereign be incorrect? This may foil well-laid plans and topple the kingdom. Nay, the world as we know it.
This could’ve been a simple set of ten cards and a mat, but the forethought to include powers for each player, as well as specific rules surrounding placement and binding elevates this design. Each game also plays in about thirty minutes (more if you have AP-prone gamers around) and is infinitely replayable. There is a lot of game here and room for plenty of additional content to fill out the Kickstarter campaign or to release in the future.
Looking for a dueling card game with an engaging theme and a brain-burning decision space? If this theme speaks to you, Arcana Prophetia is an easy one to seek out when it arrives on Kickstarter. I’ve enjoyed my time learning the rules, challenging friends, and watching the ruleset evolve over the past few months. The Aerie Games team has created a system that feels both timeless and fresh. I predict that you’ll be well served to follow their campaign to see if it evolves even further. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on the end of the world now, do you?