Arcane Academy is a euro-game (a board game mainly around economic/resource management) that I’ve been designing for a while now, and it’s finally reached a point where I think it needs it’s own page. I’ll give a description of the top-level features of the game up here, and then step through images and caption them with what they show.

Thanks in particular to the #tabletop community over on the Ranged Touch Discord server. The server in general is fully of lovely, smart, supportive folks, and the tabletop community there – despite being mostly interested in TTRPGs and sometimes wargames – have been very tolerant of my cube-pushing rants, my photo dumps, and my idiotic claims to have “just done a procedural rhetoric!”

Speaking of procedural rhetoric, I would say this game is intended as piece of interactive satire, but that is secondary to me trying to just make a good game with a unique theme. I love eurogames with unique mechanics, a bit of mid-game engine-building and multiple paths to victory, and I think that given my current occupation I am uniquely placed to make a game which is, under the veneer of fantasy, about how universities operate.


Designing around a theme like this always hold the challenge that you have to meet the player mid-way between the way they perceive the thing/place/system being represented, and how you want to model it. What I’m hoping for here is that players will approach Arcane Academy thinking that it is just about teaching and learning and training wizards, and walk away with a slightly more rounded and perhaps critical view of universities. If I get to the point where I need to write up more academic research papers around my own designs, I will probably be putting this process in conversation with Anne-Marie Schleiner’s “broken toy tactic” for creating political games, which you can most easily read about in an excerpted format here.


The game is played over multiple two-semester “years”, and at the end of each year, conditions are checked to see who receives what funding, and – more importantly overall – who has received the favour of the Archmage. Players win victory points for meeting certain conditions at the end of the year, and when one player (/department) is a certain amount ahead of others, the game ends with them ascending to the role of Archmage.

I know that in a lot of games, “victory points” are given out in large chunks. This allows for replayability insomuch as players who have clocked dozens of games of Carcassone, or Lords of Waterdeep or Great Western Trail are then able to compare their scores between games. While I understand this particular function of victory points, I am not particularly fond of it as a standard, and I will explain the reasoning for my use of single, chunky VPs (closer to what Catan does) a bit further down when we hit the appropriate image.


Each player starts off with two wizards (tutors) each of whom gets given a teaching die (coloured) and a research die (white). They roll these and place the teaching die in descending order left-to-right, and the white die in ascending order left-to-right.

They also start with a small set of cards representing spells which can used to teach classes.

Each player’s four starting spells can be taught in a classroom which is specialist to their subject:

  • Necromancy (black) teach in the Catacombs.
  • Destructive Elements (red) teach in the Target Range.
  • Enchantment (blue) teach in the Workshop.
  • Alchemy (green) teach in the Abortorium.
  • Illusion (purple) teach in the Lounge.

Each of these “classrooms” is really just a symbol on the board which corresponds to the player’s spell-cards too. However, every player’s school of magic shares one of their cards with another school…

  • “Curse” starts with both the blue and black player and can be taught in either the Catacombs or the Workshop.
  • “Corrode” starts with both the red and green player and can be taught in either the Target Range and the Abortorium.

… and so on. This creates a situation where sometimes it may be advantageous to “book” another player’s primary classroom to teach your class.

I won’t go into loads of rule specifics because ultimately I’m just trying to describe gameplay here rather than actually write the rules…

Eventually I’d like the board to resemble one of those kids books you used to get with a cross-section castle… so far, every time I try to focus on layout I get waylaid from thinking about rules, so it’s gonna have to wait until later!


On a given turn, a player will place both/all of the dice of a specific one of their wizards at once. Because of the way the dice are arranged, this will – at the start of the game – usually mean that they are placing their highest-numbered coloured teaching dice at the same time as the lowest-numbered white research dice, or vice versa.

Because teaching dice can only be placed on teaching spaces (booking classrooms or recruiting students) and research dice can only be placed on research spaces (writing publications or learning new spells) this creates a situation wherein going “high” on one area of activity leaves better spots open to the next player on the other area.

When players book classrooms they play as many cards as the value of the die which bare the symbol associated with the classroom. For example, a teaching die of three placed on the red “target range” classroom enables the player to play up to three cards with the red comet symbol on. Each symbol played this way with create a point of teaching power, which is used to push students up a set of towers for each of the 3 years of their “degree” in magic. Students who remain at the bottom of these towers at the end of the year become drop-outs.

Players can also use teaching dice to recruit students for the next academic year. Spending 3s and 4s in this way enables the recruitment of students who start higher up the Year 1 progress tower and therefore require less teaching. Recruiting students is important because, even if a particular player wants to aim for quality over quantity, total amount of students currently enrolled is an important way for their school of magic to get funding each year.

With their white research dice, players can write scrolls and grimoires (which correspond to journal papers and monographs in “real” academia). Enough of either can get your department regular funding, but only grimoires count towards your victory points for impressing the Archmage. Alternatively, players can use their white research dice to take new spells from a small market on the board (from spaces marked 1, 2, or 3, using a die of the corresponding value, or using a fourth space to “draw 4, keep one”).

So, each colour of dice has a couple of things it can be used for. A higher number is usually marginally better, which encourages you to use it earlier to avoid the space you want being blocked.

After each two-semester-year, players accumulate funding based on number of students and number of publications. Throughout the year, they can also spend this on:

  • hiring new staff (some of whom will be cheaper and only provide one die; teaching or research, some of whom will be more expensive and have simple special skills, such as adding to the value of teaching in a specific location)
  • building additional classrooms.
  • buying one-off reagents (mushrooms/herbs etc.) used to enhance teaching.
  • buying staff equipment to give them continuous benefits.

After funding is allocated at the end of the year, the Archmage reviews the departments’ progress, and awards VP for:

  • Whichever department has the most students who have graduated with top marks.
  • Whichever department has published the most Grimoires.
  • Which department has finished the year with the most remaining unspent funding (this is going to need some tuning to ensure players don’t exploit it by just never spending anything).

… and deducts VP for every x drop-outs in a discipline too.

As you can guess, the above is modelling the following ideas – which I think are probably an exaggeration to some extent, but as I said further up – this is a cynical satire:

  • The institution cares more about the “top” and “bottom” results than anything else.
  • The institution cares about income generation and the problem of “how do you have as much $ as possible from enrolment without jeopardising teaching?” is a problem left to teaching staff to deal with.
This is very out-of-date by now, but it’s useful for me to put here as a reminder of this process; I’ve designed a bunch of board games over the years (none published yet) but never before have I thought of just ignoring the board part out and just thinking about component density before I start drawing out the board. Seems so obvious now!
This version looks like it came later than the ones below, on account of having slightly more worked-up graphics, but it’s actually earlier. I tend to prematurely polish things, and then have to go “back to the drawing board” with a fail-fast paper prototype, but I’m the sort of person who loses motivation to work if I’m not occasionally dipping into and seeing what the end aesthetic might look like.
Back to basics prototype (mid April 2022?). More recently I find myself ignoring the idea of a “board” early on and using large cards like these to work out what the board areas would be, then worrying about how they inter-relate later. This has really sped up my process.
Prototype from the middle of May 2022; getting ready for the UK Games Expo. This is set up for 3, but I may try to make it ready for 4 or 5 before then.