"The Great Khan is dead." So begins the rich backstory to Golem Arcana, an exciting new hybrid miniatures and computer game. The world of the game, Eretsu, is thrown into turmoil at the death of its powerful leader as the Khan's Gudanna Dominion attempts to retain its power while the neighboring Durani decide that it's time to try and seize control of a now-fractured world.
The golems in the title refer to monstrous magical constructs that each empire summons to prosecute its wars. Knights ride into battle upon these giant, terrifying creatures. Each of the factions in the game use different substances as the material basis for their golems – bone, flora, blood, stone – and this gives each of them slightly different abilities, limitations, and appearance. The materials also influence the color schemes of the armies (e.g. blood magic-made golems are red, stone golems are gray, etc.). This helps keep the miniatures straight on the board (there are also banners and banner poles that you can use to further identify your forces).
While Golem Arcana is a pretty straight-forward tabletop wargame where you build and field points-based armies, play out various attack and defend scenarios, and resolve combat with percentage dice, there is something very special going on with this game. In addition to the six gorgeous pre-painted miniatures and very lovely game components and terrain tiles, you also get a Bluetooth-connected wand which communicates with a free app you download to your phone or tablet.
The Golem Arcana wand uses infrared microdots technology embedded in the game board, character cards, and bases of the miniatures to create a tabletop/computer hybrid experience. The app acts as a rules tutorial and manual, a combat resolution calculator, and a referee to let you know if you're allowed to do what you're attempting to do. It also contains an archive of scenarios to play and it updates those scenarios, so the rules, the scenarios, and the background can evolve and change over time. The app even aggregates actual game data and the background story of the game will change over time based on the outcomes of actual games you play. Harebrained has now expanded the technology of the game to accommodate up to 8 players and they're planning on adding the ability to play against remote players over the Internet in the future.
How the game works is fairly simple (once you get the hang of it). You lay out your battlefield as indicated in the scenario and then move your golems around as you wish (attempting to achieve whatever objectives the scenario outlines), and you engage in combat as needed. To move a miniature, you first tap it on its base with the stylus, tap the action you wish to perform (shown on icons around the base), and then tap the tile or miniatures you wish to perform the action on. That's it. The app keeps track of what's going on with the board (you, of course, have to physically move the models yourself), it resolves combat and magic spells, and it gives you information on golem health, bonuses and penalties, special rules, and so on. Another unique feature of this hybrid game is the unseen characters of the Ancient Ones, the gods of Eretsu, who can be evoked to grant special powers to the players.
Another stand-out of the wand and app integration is that the app allows you to background some of the more complex aspects of the rules, but if you want to see all of what's going on, say how all of the combat statistics are being factored, touching the two buttons on the wand reveals the accounting that's going on. This allows typical non-gamers to enjoy playing Golem Arcana and for newbies to ramp up to more complexity. Once you fully understand all of the interplay of the stats for each golem, you can start having fun conjuring up your own armies. Besides the golems that come in the starter box there are many other golem model expansion packs available as well as additional map tile sets.
As impressed as I was with much of this game, it did feel at times like the "hardware overhead" was cumbersome. The Bluetooth signal kept getting lost and we had to recycle the power on the stylus (hopefully not a common problem). And touching the bases of the model to issue commands can be really annoying. You have to hold the model in place (see photo) and touch the wand to the edge of the base at a 45-degree angle. If you have multiple models surrounding your golem, this can get awkward. Luckily, the microdot-stickered Golem Cards, which contain all of the character stats, can also be tapped to issue commands. This is much easier and I think it would be wonderful if Harebrained included a second copy of each Golem Card so that both players could have their own and their opponent's cards on their side of the table. That way, you could enter most of the game commands by tapping the cards rather than having to tap out your actions on the models' bases.
For all that this game offers, including a piece of dedicated computer hardware and very lovely pre-painted minis, it's amazing that you can get Golem Arcana for only $55. The expansion packs can be a bit pricy, from $20 to $78 on Amazon, but you only need another pack or two to be able to field a satisfying number of forces as you move deeper into the game and try to claim Eretsu and declare yourself the next Great Khan.
Ages 14 and up, 2-8 players