Golem Arcana: What?! No Tape Measures?!

  • Posted by
  • at

Golem Arcana promises to bridge the gap between digital and traditional table top gaming. See how in my demo review.

The Future of Gaming, Huh? 

I typically enjoy combinations of things. Sweet and Sour? Delicious, yes please! Peanut Butter and Chocolate? Best combination ever! Fire and Ice? Winter is in fact coming! Digital and Traditional gaming though?Something about that combination always seems unnecessary. Both mediums offer their respective players– which admittedly oftentimes overlap– a unique gaming experience that exist inside their own scopes. Bridging the gap between the two mediums feels like it would result in a game with removable parts and hamfisted frills implemented solely to entice the other crowd. I’ve thought this since Golem Arcana was in Kickstarter, and always wanted to be proven wrong. Sadly, my demo of Golem Arcana just reinforced my suspicions.

 It All Starts With a Wonky Looking Wand. 

That giant hunk of plastic is the heart and soul of Golem Arcana. That stylus is how the physical game interfaces with an application that is run on your tablet or smart phone. All of the cards, boards, and game pieces contain microdots which the stylus reads and interprets into in game moves or decisions.  Want to move a golem? Smack the golem with your stylus, then touch the space you want him to move, and the app will record your decision and you can move him in real space. For the most part the stylus worked well, responding when placed various angels and  touches. It seemed to have the most hiccups when trying to connect with the figures themselves. Each figure has a small micro dot strip on their base that the stylus was very finicky about reading. It was much easier to simply touch the character cards in order to activate a golem.
The application–which I couldn’t take pictures of for fear of the game being represented as a video game–is like a digital rule master. It figures out line of sight, terrain effects, armor effects and even does your dice rolling for you.  I was informed that I could roll real dice, and then input the result on the card above. Therein lies my problem with Golem Arcana: the application does everything for you. Aside from the social interaction,  I found that the physical elements to the game only served to slow the game down. Moving pieces on the board feels hollow, as you know the real game is inside the application.  I asked the person administering the demo if I could play Golem Arcana offline and without the application. His response was telling, “Yes, but why?” Throughout the demo the application was propped up and touted around  as “taking care of the messy bits” of war-gaming. The rules are the messy bits of gaming?While I agree that the application might alleviate any rules arguments, it feels like Golem Arcana doesn’t want you to learn the rules at all. The physical portion of the game is essentially a watered down board game, or a stripped down version of Krosmaster Arena. I’ll concede that it’s mechanics might allow younger players a foot in the proverbial wargmaing door. Yet, I play wargames for the “messy bits”. We connect with our armies because we control and calculate every aspect of the traditional wargames.  We graft to games like MERCS for it’s Snap to Cover rules, or Warmachine for the Focus system. Golem Arcana doesn’t have any rules hooks or anything that makes the game-play memorable. It presents you with “dudes” to go smack other “dudes”, that you can never call your army because the digital overlord is controlling everything. So veteran wargamers are not going to enjoy this game, while board gamers and new players will. 

The Pieces! Oh the Pieces! 

Moving past the application, Golem Arcana does present players with a rich world and some interesting gameplay ideas–albiet I still feel the game is more suited for a digital only release. The fluff of the game pits rival factions against each other, struggling to fill the power vacuum after the king died. What’s interesting though is that while there are factions–such as the above Gudanna facton–each faction can use every golem. Here is an explanation from the mouth of Ray Winniger from Harebrained Studios:
For now, our fantasy world–Eretsu–is dominated by two factions: the Gudanna Dominion and the Durani Empire. Eretsu is also home to dozens of Zikia tribes and Urugal clans. Some of the tribes and clans fight for the Gudanna, others for the Durani.

What that effectively means is that, regardless of the Faction you choose to play, you can use three of our four basic Golem types in your armies.

I know what you’re thinking: “If there aren’t hard faction lines, where is the story?! Where is the drama?!” Well it was explained to me by the person administering the demo, that there are plans to allow players to craft their own stories. They acknowledge that prepainted miniatures takes away the hobby aspect from the game.  They are attempting to inject that back into the game, by focusing on player created fluff. Players will create the histories of their armies and–no idea how this will actually work–shape the grand storyline themselves. It seems like a good idea if they can secure a player base that is willing to play ball.

Players can also customize their factions by using different “riders” or “ancient relics”. These objects will imbue Golems with various powers and be combo’d together for devastating damage outputs.They take a portion of your “AP” to use though. Players only get a certain amount of Action Points to use per turn–so you won’t be able to activate every model per turn. So while riders are passive abilities given to golems, relics are activated abilities that use AP points. It’s the deepest level of strategy I saw from Golem Arcana. Players have play a resource management mini-game, as they choose how to spend their AP. Still, the game lacks a level of flair or volatility that games like Malifaux or Warmachine have.  Also, the riders are digital only objects, while the relics are on cards, and are hints of the micro-transactions that are inevitably coming.

I would lying if I didn’t’ say I was worried about the prepainted miniatures. We’ve all seen WizKids paint jobs, and surprisingly these don’t look any better–a couple base paints on the model and then throw in some dip. It feels like they are pushing the game towards the casual gamer. Strip away the heavy rules, the painting, the critical strategy, and you’re left with a prepackaged game perfect for families. Yet, games like Rivet Wars proved that war games can be family friendly, but still provide the engaging game-play craved by veteran gamers. Golem Arcana is too obsessed with being on the technological forefront, and loses the intimate, personal touch that makes tabletop gaming work. Now, this isn’t to say that Golem Arcana is bad. It was moderately fun and I can see people enjoying it, but I don’t see the merit of it being a hybrid game. It would have made more sense to follow the Krosmaster Arena model. Players buy models and receive codes to unlock those characters for the online version. So players can play the online game, hone their skills and test teams, but are consistently funneled back to the retail version. It’s the same separation that Wizards of the Coast made with Magic Online, or Pokemon USA with Pokemon Online. It allows you expand your scope to both digital players and tabletop players, without sacrificing mechanics to appeal to both. Golem Arcana has a solid basis, but loses focus and merit by trying to do it all.

The starter set for Golem Arcana–which comes with 6 models and everything you need to play– is slated to be released in August for $79.90.

That’s kiddos! Let know how you feel about Golem Arcana in the comments below. Check out more from me here.

Comments are closed.