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Cardboard Children - Golem Arcana

Board. Screen. Board. Screen. Sonic Screwdriver.

Hello youse.

Golem Arcana is a weird one. It's certainly cool. There will come a point, during the game, where you will go: “Haha! Cool!” You will have moved one of your wee men on the board, and moved him on your tablet, and you'll see him fight and all the stats stuff will just happen. And you'll go: “Cool!”

And then you'll scratch your head and say: “Um.”

Golem Arcana is a miniatures game that takes place on a board and on a tablet of your choice. The app is free. You download it and then you sync it up with this big magic pen thing that comes with the board game.

The thing looks like a Sonic Screwdriver. It's a bluetooth enabled magical “reading stuff” pen. If you touch it to the base of a miniature, you can see all the miniature's stats and abilities on the screen of your tablet. What the hell is going on?

Okay, let me try to explain how all this stuff works.

You choose one of the missions from the app. It shows you how to lay out the board. You place big cardboard tiles on your table, choose your faction, and place the appropriate miniatures. The miniatures are lovely big things, by the way. Well-painted, and reminiscent of the baddies from the game Bayonetta. They're like big angel things with wings and metal faces. And people ride on them.

Now, let's say you are playing a simple player vs player “kill all opponent miniatures” type of scenario. Your board will be set. A couple of minis on one side and a couple on the other. Your tablet will be beside the board, mirroring what is there.

Here's where it gets cool. You tap your stylus on a square on the board, and the tablet will tell you all about that part of the terrain – how much movement you need to spend to go through it, and what kind of advantage it gives a miniature on that space.

Now, every unit has its own card. You don't have to tap a miniature with a stylus. You can tap a card instead. You tap your unit's card, tap WALK on the card, and then tap a space on the board. Your unit, on the tablet, will move. You can then mirror that move with your physical miniature. If you want to attack, you'd tap your miniature (or card), tap another miniature that is in range, and the app will apply all the variables and give you a number you need to hit with a die roll. You can let the app roll for you, if you want. If you prefer physical dice, like a rational human being, you can roll real dice and then tell the app what you rolled by tapping an input card with the stylus.

So you roll. Take the input card. Tap 6-9 for a 69. And then the result is applied on the tablet's screen. You will see the unit's health bar take a hit. And then your attack will move into “cooldown” - this is tracked on the tablet's screen too.

Wow. You with me?

Okay, so let's get this straight. You have physical miniatures. Beautiful miniatures. You have a game running on your tablet. Everything you do on the board is mirrored on the app. This feels unbelievably weird.

There's a strange disconnect between the two things. It fades after a few plays, sure, but it's always there. You're always going:


And that just feels odd. It feels as if you're constantly distracted. But maybe it's just because this experience hits you as entirely new. It's so... weird.

Here's what's amazing, though. The way the app tracks stuff, like health and cooldowns and conditions and effects, is hugely exciting. Golem Arcana, by using the app to take charge of all that process, does things that a board game couldn't do. (Well, a board game could do it, and they often have, but you're talking about games of much higher complexity. Golem Arcana allows for lots of cool stuff with the absolute minimum of book-keeping, which makes it very accessible.)

Is the game good? Yes, it's a solid miniatures skirmish game. It's nothing remarkable, but there's plenty to get your teeth into, and the app's supervision allows for a lot of cool abilities and effects to be strung through the flow of gameplay. What really excites me is the potential for the game further down the line.

I told you that in the setup of the game you choose a scenario and the app tells you how to lay it all out, right? Well – the app can allow for any one tile, or any one space, to be anything it likes. In one scenario a space might just be a hill. But in another scenario, the same space on your board may be of greater significance. It might award power, or points. A space, any space, can pretty much be anything. The use of the “second screen”, on the tablet, allows for a huge amount of variety and freedom in scenario design. I'm keen to see how this gets exploited.

Man. But it is so weird.

Take a look at this video. It explains it all pretty well.

If it's cool with all of you, I might revisit this game on these pages in a month or two. I want more plays, to see if that strange sense of detachment goes away completely. Is this a board game? Or is it a miniatures game? Or is it a computer game? Do we need the board? Why do we have the board? Do we need the minis? Why aren't we just playing on the app? Because that wouldn't be cool?

Golem Arcana is worth checking out, for sure. And if you do check it out – tell me what you think.

It's just so weird. And cool.

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About the Author

Robert Florence