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Golem Arcana promises to reinvent tabletop gaming via iPad

Harebrained Schemes is the indie software developer that recently brought Shadowrun Returns to life. For the company's next major effort, they're going back to Kickstarter to raise money for a new game called Golem Arcana. Golem Arcana uses the iPad and a Bluetooth stylus to enhance the tabletop gaming experience.

Jordan Weisman - the legendary game designer who founded FASA Corp., creating the original BattleTech and Shadowrun tabletop games - is Harebrained Schemes' founder. In a six-minute video (linked above), Weisman goes to bat for Golem Arcana, explaining that it's been designed to take a lot of the drudgery out of the tabletop gaming experience.

Tabletop miniature gaming has long been a staple of the Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer and strategy game crowds, but it's squarely a niche market - requiring time and investment as players make and paint miniatures and learn the sometimes byzantine rules involved in gameplay. Games can take a long time to play, and they also require gamers to be together in the same place - easier said than done for many of us these days.

Golem Arcana fixes this by making the iPad do most of the heavy lifting. An iPad app keeps track of all the game rules. Combined with a Bluetooth 4.0-equipped stylus you wield on a physical game board, the app helps you know where your units can move, how terrain affects their abilities and what attacks and defenses they can use. There is a server back end, to accommodate multiplayer games. So Golem Arcana provides the tactile satisfaction of the tabletop gaming experience without some of the drawbacks, like carrying around rulebooks and character sheets or even having to meet up physically with your opponents.

Weisman says the plan is to bundle a package that includes the stylus, several game tiles and, perhaps a bit controversially for the tabletop miniatures crowd, prepainted figurines. But then again, Harebrained is plainly targeting a different market than the typical tabletop gamer - Golem Arcana is being developed to appeal to people who, up to now, haven't been bitten by the tabletop gaming bug.

So far, the project has raised more than $140,000 of its $500,000 projected target, with a month to go to hit the target. Whether they can hit the target remains to be seen, but their previous track record bears consideration: When Harebrained raised money for Shadowrun Returns through Kickstarter, they handily beat the target by a factor of almost 5. They asked for $400,000 and $1.8 million was pledged. There's a ton more info on the Kickstarter page - check it out.

What do you think, gamers? Does Golem Arcana make you want to give tabletop gaming a try? Or are you a grizzled old tabletop grognard that thinks this is kid stuff? Sound off in the forums - I'm interested to hear from you.

  • I dunno, that Bluetooth pen is pretty clunky. I think there is a way to find a cross-section between tabletop and mobile, but I don't think this is it. I'm more excited about Eon Altar, but if you want to keep real dice in the mix, these guys should look into Dice+.
  • It's a prototype. We'll see what it looks like closer to production.
  • I played the Golem Arcana demo at GenCon, contrary to my expectations, the stylus worked surprisingly well, no lag, it was perfect, and the tactical elements were engaging. Actual gameplay with the miniatures was fast and a lot more fun than it had any right to be. I immediately wanted to play again. There's no question Golem Arcana is a win, and with the iPhone, iPad / Android phone or tablet handling the rules, my family and friends won't have to spend more than a 5 minute intro learning how the game plays, just like a board game (which they'll find of interest), with the tactical depth of tabletop miniature fantasy wargaming (which I love!) Seriously, I can't wait to play Golem Arcana again, and the Kickstarter for it looks AWESOME! ^_^
  • Also, their system is based on percentile dice (d100). I suggested Dice+ to them as well, but Dice+ is only d6 for now (that I know of). And would add a significant cost to the base game. Though, with Golem Arcana, it's nice that you can choose to either roll real dice (and painlessly input the result) or let the mobile device handle the die roll. ^_^
  • Due to the title of the article, I have to reiterate... Golem Arcana works with iPhones, even iTouchs, and Android phones and tablets, not just the iPad. ^_^ I'm very excited about this game. Can you tell?