Golem Arcana is a new miniatures game that melds physical tabletop gaming with the electronic assistance of an iPad, currently seeking funds through Kickstarter. Through the use of “microdot” encodings on the board, miniatures, and status cards, players scan items to instruct the iPad of current moves; battle outcomes can either be determined with traditional dice, or electronically. The upshot of all this is many of the benefits of iPad gaming: less required reading or rules arguments without sacrificing gameplay on the altar of simplicity.
Harebrained Schemes – the company behind the project – certainly has the right credentials to make this a success. The latest venture was a Shadowrun Returns RPG remake that was successfully kickstarted last year ($1.5 million above their goal of $400k) and now available on Steam; though somewhat short, I thoroughly enjoyed the retro game and can’t wait for some DLC. The head of the company – Jordan Weisman – is the creator of Shadowrun and BattleTech franchises, been involved with MechWarrior remakes, and has created a number of successful companies in gaming genres. In short: he knows his stuff.
That being said, not everything Jordan has put his hand to has been a storming success: Nanovor being a shining example. A card battle massively-multiplayer-online game, it was quickly shut down. The game was formulaic and seemingly trying to cash in on the success of Pokemon. The official site and the company behind it have long since vanished.
Golem Arcana however looks to be a bit more original. With a comprehensive and intriguing world of magical constructs and warring factions, it should immediately appeal to fantasy fans reared on everything from Game of Thrones to Warhammer. And by hiding complicated rules of engagement and potentially confusing stats behind the iPad’s computational power, it has potential to be accessible whilst still providing a rich and in-depth gameplay experience.
And it is nothing if not innovative. Through use of a special bluetooth-enabled stylus, statistics, positions and chances of success in combat are transmitted from physical gameplay pieces on dedicated boards to the iPad. The need for weighty rulebooks and the potential for friendship-destroying arguments are therefore eliminated, with things being automatically computed by the tough but always fair iPad app.
At time of writing, Golem Arcana is just over halfway towards meeting its Kickstarter target. If it succeeds, the base game is promised to be only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the game developers have planned next.
If the game meets the first of its stretch goals, remote play will be added, allowing all the fun and tactical challenge of tabletop gaming to be enjoyed whether you have a roomful of likeminded friends or not. Then, if available funds rise, further enhancements including augmented reality displays, constantly updated and evolving scenarios and solo gameplay against AI opponents are promised.
Backers will recompensed via a tiered level of rewards. Those pledging at least $65 will secure the base game, comprising the app, the stylus, terrain tiles, six painted resin figures and more: everything needed to play Golem Arcana in skirmish mode. Pledge more and additional golem expansion sets will be yours.
Or dig really really deep and become part of the game yourself. People stumping up $750 or more will have their likeness incorporated as one of the game’s characters. Throw all caution to the wind and become a ‘celestial’ or ‘eternal’ backer, where for $4000 or $6000 you will have a say in the game’s plot development, become a major character and even get to design your own golem for use in the game itself.
The undeniably attractive rewards for those reaching such lofty heights hint at one possible negative about the game itself, common to many collectible titles of this type. Although the base game provides a standalone experience, the game will get richer and more exciting the more expansions you purchase and add to the mix. And, with the base game costing $65 and expansions looking to come in at between $11 and $65, getting the absolute most from Golem Arcana could prove to be an expensive business.
That said, Harebrained Schemes are pushing the boundaries of tabletop gaming here. Anything which makes the potentially daunting world of measuring combat distances and working out complex combat formulas is to be applauded, and the game world looks to be original and compelling. The figures are attractive (particularly the pre-painted ones) and the ability for the game to be constantly updated with new scenarios and features via the iPad app could see it have as lengthy a lifespan — and as devoted a fanbase — as some of its traditional competitors.
As is always the case with new games — whether crowdfunded or not — the proof will not be in how much money is raised, but in the gameplay itself.