Gen Con 2014: Golem Arcana Review
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There are plenty of table top miniature games out there for gamers to choose from. Whether they have rules that require measuring, like Warhammer or Warmachine, or if they play out on more of a standard game board like Heroclix, there has always been plenty of choices to entice gamers. Probably the biggest barrier of entry for many gamers is all the fiddly rules that go into things like range, movement, and line of sight, along with a million other rules that you have to keep straight. Golem Arcana, a new game from Harebrained Schemes (the Shadowrun Returns PC game) and designers Jordan Weisman (Heroclix, MageKnight, Shadowrun), Seth Johnson and Michael Mulvihill, looks to enter the miniature market with an exciting new game that seeks to remove the need to memorize rules and go straight to gameplay through an innovative mobile app that streamlines many facets of the game.

In Golem Arcana, players field armies from one of several different factions fighting for control of the world of Eretsu. Players’ armies are made up of Golems (the actual figures that you move around the game board), relics (physical cards that players use to enhance their army), knights, and Ancient Ones (these are digital characters stored in the app that is needed for gameplay). Once you have your army assembled, you set up the game boards that come with the base set and get to fighting.

Now, there are plenty of rules for the game, just as there are with any other game, but the innovation of Golem Arcana is the use of the Tabletop Digital Interface stylus that players use in conjunction with a free downloadable mobile app that calculates many of the things that other games have the players figure out themselves. Want to know if you can shoot that figure across the board? Tap on the base of your mini with the stylus, tap on the base of the mini you’re trying to shoot, the app does the rest and tells you if you have the range or if there are any other models blocking line of sight. The app keeps track of where each model is on the pre-printed maps that come with the game and will tell you if the mini is in some kind of cover, gets a boost in range from being elevated, and other status effects. Having played the game, I can tell you that the system is incredibly intuitive. After a couple of turns you’ll be comfortable with the stylus and the app. It’s cool to see how the app keep tracks of everything on the fly and eliminates a lot of elements of other table top games and lets you focus on strategy and speeds up the game.

Before buying, you should be aware that you will need a phone or tablet that supports Bluetooth 4 LE devises in order to play, a list of which is available on the Golem Arcana website here. I’ll come back to this issue later, but you don’t want to drop money on this game and not be able to use its signature feature, so check before you buy.

In terms of the models that come with the game, they are all pre-painted and look pretty solid. Pre-painted minis have come a long way since the early days of MageKnight, and all of the minis in Golem Arcana are bright and unique from each other and look great on the table. There’s one large mini that is currently available, and it looks particularly good. There aren’t plans currently to produce non painted versions of the minis, which may turn off hobbyists who like that aspect, but if you just want to play the game, pre-painted is probably the way to go. There are currently four factions available, with three minis per faction (excluding the one colossus also available now), which isn’t a ton, but there are plans to release new figures each month, so the options for each army should grow shortly.

So, with Golem Arcana, you get a fun miniature game that is super easy to pick up and looks good on the table, but there are a couple of drawbacks to the game. First, like I said, you have to have a compatible device to run the Bluetooth-enabled tool that is kind of the whole point of buying the game. Second, while you could argue that gamers pay more for other miniature games over the long run, the base game will run you $79.95 (currently $63.95 on Amazon), with each of the expansions running you $35 ($27-$30 on Amazon), and you’re not getting a ton of minis, so price may be a problem. The main box comes with 6 minis and each expansion comes with 3 each, although each base figure is mixed with a knight to make more variation in the game. If you can go in with someone and split up the price some, it may not be as much of an issue, but you’re going to have to ask how much variety you want out of a game.

Overall, I had a good time in my short time playing Golem Arcana. I’m down for playing it more, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the line. The implementation of combining board games and mobile apps looks to be something that we’ll be seeing more going forward, and Golem Arcana is certainly at the forefront of that movement. You wonder if this is the game that will move this implementation forward or if this is just a stepping stone to something else that takes the gaming world by storm. If you want a miniature skirmish game that you can use to introduce non-gamers into the hobby, this is an ideal game for you. The ease with which you can pick up the game and play is its greatest strength and makes this a game worth picking up.

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