To be completely honest, when I was first contacted by Harebrained Schemes to meet with them at GenCon and talk about Golem Aracana I was intrigued, but I didn’t get my hopes up. I figured it would be a gimmick, a board game that used an app for some flashy lights and sounds, and some cool graphics, but in the end the meat and potatoes would be in the books, board, and miniatures. I intentionally didn’t read a lot about it. I didn’t want to know too much going in to avoid copying what other people had written, but also so I could convey what I saw with fresh eyes, without a lot of preconceived notions. Other than the ones I already had of course. I’m happy to say, I was wrong, very very wrong.
Golem Arcana is a tactical miniatures game that takes place in the fantasy land of Eretsu during a great war between two magical armies. The weapons of choice are massive golems that are controlled by human sorcerers. It very much has the feel of classic Battletech, with a fantasy bent. The story is integrated into the scenarios that download right to the app for free on a regular basis, and the great part is some battles can affect the future for everyone involved in the game. The outcome of battles are saved to the servers, and can filter down into future scenarios, changing layouts, armies, and story for everyone. It’s the first game to really tie the technology of a mobile app with a tabletop game in this scope.
So, I got a chance to talk to Ray Winninger, who has done work with TSR, Mayfair Games, and West End Games, and he gave me an exciting rundown of the Golem Arcana, how it works, and what to expect for the future.
Play starts by choosing a scenario from the app, which tells you how to lay out the tiles and your pieces. Everything is fed from the game board to the app using a Bluetooth stylus they call the TDI stylus. There are no rule books, the app reacts to your actions, giving you choices, returning results of combat, and handling all the bookkeeping that goes with games like this. You have cards for your miniatures, that detail stats and abilities. The miniature base itself has several sides with icons and information, and the game tiles play a big role as well. A player would touch the stylus to a piece, the tile, or something on the card, and the app reacts, returning information based on what you give it. It takes care of all the mundane tasks like remembering rules, modifiers, abilities, and damage, which speeds up play considerably. Ray tells us that a typical game can be played in about twenty five minutes.
Something I found interesting is the ability for the app to deliver a story over top of the tactical play. The scenario designers can work elements like lost artifacts, special effects, and even NPCs into the scenario to give it a bit of an RPG feel along with the miniature combat. Not only do these scenarios download automatically, they are planning to implement the ability for players to create their own scenarios in the future, to give their players more to do, and act as a more traditional game master. Ray described just such a scenario they had at the Con during a demo.
I was playing a game yesterday and as our opposing armies entered the battlefield a popup came up on the app that indicated there was this strange mist that was hanging over the battlefield and you don’t know what it is. It was pretty ominous so we kept going, marching through, and then the first time one of our golems used a fire based weapon we learned the mist was actually flammable and the entire battlefield caught fire so we had to adjust our strategy. As we went further another golem entered a square where they found a shattered artifact that was the source of the mist and the app gave him a choice that he could either pick it up and put out the fires, or just let it go.
Needless to say, as more of an RPG guy, who flirts with miniature gaming from time to time, this piqued my interest. I play games for the story element, whether they are tabletop or video, and flashy lights and cool graphics only go so far with me. When I saw how much the app is integrated into the game, along with how good it looks, and the story element involved, I was definitely interested. Sadly for me, and good for them, they sold out everything on Thursday, had to gather more copies from all over, and sold those out by the time I got there on Sunday. I’ll definitely be picking this up in the future, I just have to budget it in. It’s not cheap, but honestly with so many miniatures games out there this one stands out enough, and offers enough to justify it.
In your box, you’re going to get 6 board tiles, each broken into a 3×3 grid, which lets you set up a large play area. 3 golem miniatures from two factions, for a total of 6 pre-painted minis. The TDI Stylus, the app, cards and dice. The miniatures are the focus of course, and they are very well done. Pre-painted miniatures are almost an industry standard now, but each company seems to have a wide range of quality when it comes to delivering. These guys put just as much effort into the miniatures as they did the graphics on the app, which is a huge plus considering the price tag. Looking at them at GenCon, I could tell I wouldn’t be wanting to touch them up or repaint them myself like I have done with other miniature games in the past.
There are plans to expand this technology into other types of games, as well as expand the Golem Arcana game itself. As a long-time player I could see this type of thing used in traditional RPGs, and modified to work with our classic lives like Battletech or Warhammer. With Golem Arcana I believe we are seeing an entirely new way to game, and endless possibilities for us as players.