Over the years I’ve tried to build up a resistance to impulse buying the latest hotness. Often I fail miserably. Somehow I managed to not purchase Golem around Essen time, despite it being from the designers of my favourite games like Barrage, Grand Austria Hotel and and Coimbra. Instead I busied myself with Bitoku, Ark Nova and Boonlake.
Golem entering my collection was inevitable, but those three games above present a high quality line to meet in terms of my enjoyment. Could these clay lifeforms become another hit in my collection, or would they be left in the dust?
Golem sets it’s self in Jewish myths of clay humanoids mysteriously brought to life by Rabbis. These Golems can be put to work in aid of their human creators but only if they maintain control of them. To do this each Rabbi has three assistants that attempt to keep up with the ever advancing Golems. The assistants walk the streets while the Golems mooch through the shadows called the block. At the end of each round you will have to pay knowledge for each Golem that is ahead of one of your assistants in each of the three streets.
Knowledge is one of three main resources in the game. It not only pays to control the Golems, but is also used to study adding books to your player board for bonuses and scoring. Clay is used to build your Golems, and upgrade your Golem making facilities, while gold coins are used in the building and upgrading of artefacts.
Each of these is represented by one of the streets, and it’s own area on your player board. Blue relates to knowledge, so the street that is blue is the place to pick up more of that resource. Red is related to clay, and yellow to gold. This neat colour coding runs through the whole game.
Creatures Of Clay
This is a fairly complex game with a lot going on but once you have the rules nailed down the card sized player aid keeps you on track. In fact after two plays I was able to teach the game from the player aid without referring to the rules.
After a little upkeep the first thing that happens is all the golems on the board move. Each player will have a golem movement number which they must use the whole total of, although it can be split between all your golems on the board. Generally building golems makes this number higher and killing them slightly lower. But it is also influenced by the current rounds character card which adds an amount of movement on for all players.
Choosing how to move your golems is a delicious decision of balance and reward. Each block has a number of spaces with different bonuses the golems can earn with a work action. However moving your golems to fair can incur heavy penalties and woe betide you if you reach the end of the block…
The next stage is strange but fun. You see Golem contains marbles! And not dull muted coloured marbles but bright yellow, blue, red, white and black marbles! There is a cardboard synagogue structure that you build and put on top of a plastic tray with 5 rows. When you drop the marbles into the synagogue they randomly roll into the rows. Each row is linked to a marble action.
Players then take turns choosing a marble or a Rabbi action until everyone has done three actions, two marble and one Rabbi. Marble actions have two significant things to think about on top of the action you want itself. First of all the colour of the marble may move one or more of your assistants forwards in their streets. Red, blue and yellow move the assistant in the matching street forwards, whereas black lets you move two assistants of your choice forwards. White marbles don’t move any assistants but act as a wild marble for later on in the round.
The other consideration is the amount of marbles in the row you take from. The more marbles there are in a row when you choose one the more resources you will get, or the bigger a discount. Three of the five actions work broadly the same. You take resources equal to the strength of the action and then are able to upgrade one part of your player board, and possibly take the relevant action.
My Precious (X2)
Actions are building Golems, writing books and discovering artefacts. Which are all paid for by the matching resource, clay for golems, knowledge for books and gold for artefacts, as well as the action you may perform an upgrade in the matching area of your player board. You will often want to do both but only be able to afford one which creates a nice tension of choices.
The other two actions allow to to ‘work’ your golems on the board, meaning take the action above them and lying them down. Golems will stand back up when they move next and lying down means they can’t work. Lastly you can pay a coin to copy another action at the current strength of the copy action.
Rabbi actions are defined by tiles that change every round and determine player order. This adds some good variety and also makes choosing which actions to prioritise agonising. Having a marble action weakened or a Rabbi action blocked because you chose the other can be painful!
Now remember I mentioned the coloured marbles having another use? Each of the four rounds has a character card assigned to it. This character will offer certain benefits but only if the marbles you used match the marbles on their card. After this you will earn income based on the main board and your player board.
Then you must maintain control of your Golem, paying knowledge dependant on how far in front of your assistants each golem is. There are heavy penalties if you can’t pay too! All of this can be offset a little depending on how you upgrade your player board. Upgrades can be pricey but can also bring permanent upgrades and all tie in to the end game scoring.
Upgrades will often uncover menorahs that multiple against certain in game actions, like books and golems. As I say it is a lot but it all comes together well and can be taught from the player aid after one or two games.
Golem has been an instant hit for me because of the way the systems intertwine and work. Moving your golem is a frustration as moving assistants is much harder. This means you will need knowledge to pay for control of them, but you receive income before that so you can push it a bit right?
Add to this the pressure to work out your opponents priorities and try and time your actions accordingly. Nobody wants to take a one marble action… which brings me to passing. Passing words very similarly to Grand Austria Hotel. Players who pass will take order tokens and get to reset the marbles minus another marble. It’s not great odds but it might work out better for you…
Scoring is linked to how you upgrade the sections of your player board and objective cards which do something neat I’ve not seen before. Namely the more unique objective cards you score the bigger the bonus you get. Of course it’s easier to stack similar objectives than to diversify but the rewards are worth it if you can pull it off.
You Don’t Clay
Golem is a brilliant game. There are many elements but they intertwine in a pleasing and thoughtful way. All your actions are important and nothing is wasted, but you are also regularly rewarded.
This of course can lend itself to the dreaded analysis paralysis but as actions are all rewarding and making a couple of less than optimal plays won’t ruin your chances it’s forgivable here. It hovers just above mid weight simply for the sheer amount of things going on, but in practice the flow is easy to grasp.
Iconography is consistent but does take a little learning. Thankfully there is an excellent appendix in the back of the rules. As usual with Cranio, components are mixed. From the brilliant to the puzzling. The synagogue structure just about goes back in the box built but building it was stressful and it threatened to bend at every stage.
These are small blemishes on an otherwise excellent game that will be a winner for all fans of euro games. It’s not one to whip out for those new to gaming but for those looking to get their teeth into a couple of hours of satisfying and rewarding game play will find a new favourite here.