Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 30-45mins
Play Time (Goof): 20-60mins
Producer: Plan B Games
Designer: Emerson Matsuuchi
Every now and then I play a game which everyone seems to enjoy. Every time I sit down at the table to play Century: Golem Edition every person at the table comes away talking about how much they liked the game and would be willing to play again- sometimes right away.
So why is Century: Golem Edition so beloved? Can it be that the perfect tabletop game has finally been created?
Before we get started, I am aware Century: Golem Edition is the… Golem Edition of Century: Spice Road (say that ten times fast). And this version is less accessible to be purchased than Century: Spice Road. So why aren’t I reviewing Spice Road? Well… because I don’t have it. In fact I’m borrowing this one from the personal collection of our friends over at Tabletop Wonderland. I could go out and get a copy of Spice Road. But stick with me in this review and I’ll explain why instead of doing that, I’ve got a copy of Century: Golem Edition on order.
Something I’ve noticed when teaching games to people at events such as Boarding School or Meeple Meetup is the more options you give a player on their first turn, the harder the game is to grasp. I don’t think all games should limit their opening turns – if there are no choices in your opening move then you might as well skip the first few turns and make them part of set up. However one or two options which open up players to various strategies and ideas are fantastic. Giving them a chance to set themselves up for future turns. Reminds me of Ticket to Ride: Europe where most of your options are blocked off not by rules, but by a lack of resources. You tell people the goal and from there it’s really clear cut. The choice then becomes which cards do I grab, not which action do I take until the game has been going long enough for players to get a clear feeling of what to do.
With Century: Golem Edition, you’re building an engine. I can get two yellow crystals which can become two greens with this card, or one blue with this other one. Well this other card I have turns one blue into a green and a yellow. And all I need to complete this Golem is a green and a yellow. Hmmm… is there a faster way I can do it? It’s a mechanic I love so much in games such as 51st State, but here the goal is clearer and the theme more accessible. I find myself going down the rabbit hole of planning several turns ahead and then forgetting which step I was up to. It’s like mental aerobics.
Having just talked about doing brain backflips, Century: Golem Edition is easy to learn but hard to master. There’s absolutely more skill than luck involved, but the fact it’s all pattern recognition and forward planning has meant I’ve watched my eleven year old sister whoop my Dad with some clever plays (she’s modest too, only told him where he went wrong while jumping around the table a single digit number of times). It’s simple is my point. But there’s enough to really sink your teeth into at the same time.
In most point-salady Euro games, which Century: Golem Edition certainly is, there’s very little player interaction. And when there is – if you look at a game such as 51st State – it’s often directly confrontational and mean. Century: Golem Edition actually manages to have a bit more player interaction than it would seem at first glance, but none of it is a direct action of hostility. It’s more about who is willing to spend more than others to get certain cards, and racing to compete over the best Golems. In more than one game I’ve taken cards I don’t need simply because others have been putting gemstones on them which I could use. So you’ve got to consider what gems are on what cards before you decide to purchase something. It’s all indirect conflict, which leads to less feelings of animosity and my table doesn’t get flipped.
For those of you expecting a perfect score, I’m sorry but unfortunately I’ve still got some gripes. Primarily the imbalance in some of the cards. One of the aspects I enjoyed so much was the engine building. The cards which work best for the way you’ve built your deck won’t always be best for others. But when a card comes up and a couple of you start shooting glances around the table, it becomes about who is willing to spend the most to get it.
When you’ve got a card which outright produces a single blue, and another which outright produces a single pink, there’s no question about which is better. Even if you’ve largely been working towards combinations with blue, the ability to get a pink is worth more points. There are very few cases where I would ever take the lesser of the two options. I think a bit more balancing would have helped. But it’s something I’ve only really noticed in the production cards.
Pros: +Snowballing, +Engine Building, +Accessible, +Easy to Learn/Hard to Master, +Non-Confrontational Player Interaction.
Cons: – Card Imbalances
I adore the theme of Century: Golem Edition. When you look at the cards in the game, with the Golems performing so many necessary and beneficial functions in the lives of the citizenry, it makes sense there would be a valuable booming gemstone market (gemstones being the power source of the Golems themselves).
When you’re putting a card down to produce gemstones, the artwork shows a character delving deep into the earth to find them. When you’re trading your gemstones for others, the artwork shows the people you’re bartering with. And when your gemstones are in your inventory, they sit in your little caravan ready for transportation along the road to where your next business venture awaits.
All I want right now is to wake up on a weekend morning, pour myself some cereal, and then sit on my couch and watch the latest episode of a cartoon based in this world Plan B Games have created. A show where Golems exist, and they play both an important role in the world building as well as central characters to the various stories. I’m a bit sad such a show doesn’t exist.
I honestly can’t think of a single thing wrong with the theming in Century: Golem Edition. It’s not the most immersive of games, I do often play and just look at the colours and pretty artwork without feeling as though I am a trader travelling through this fantasy world. But this lack of necessary make-believe does make it more accessible. Just be aware this isn’t going to be a deep dive into a world of pure imagination (Gene Wilder’s voice is in my head now).
I’m not sure if this next point is a well thought out theming point or not, but I’m going to assume it is and give credit to the designers here. But the fact the copper coins are worth more points than the silver ones makes a lot of sense in a universe where metals, stones, and gems are used to bring to life the most useful and powerful creations. It’s a nice touch (although I have to remember the copper ones are worth more every time I open the box to play)..
Pros: ++World Building, +Artwork/Gameplay Synergy with Theme, +Copper Coints
Cons: Why is this not a cartoon?
Before the game is fully unpacked, people are gawking at the pretty colours of the crystals, the intricate design of the coins. Century: Golem Edition is the prettiest game I’ve ever seen.
When I look at the artwork, I’m instantly transported away to worlds like Avatar: The Last Airbender or other Saturday morning cartoons. These worlds filled with childlike laughter against a backdrop of wonder, friendship, and drama. The Golem’s each having their own distinct role is one of the most clever ideas in the artwork. The Golem remains front and centre, and doesn’t get lost in the backdrop. But the backdrop exists to increase the importance of the Golem and place its existence into context of a much larger world. Often times I’ll see artwork in games fail horribly because they don’t fully grasp what players are hoping to see. When I purchase a sword in a game, I don’t actually give a shit about some random on the card using the sword I’ve purchased to kill 1000 dudes. I care about the thing I’ve purchased looking cool, and my imagination running away with itself. If the sword is the purpose of the card existing, then the sword should be the main thing on the card. Century: Golem Edition seems to get this.
Even in cards where there’s a couple people trading or discovering various gemstones, the gem amounts are consistent with what’s being traded or found. A lot of love and care went into these cards. Attention to details which I appreciate, even if I struggle to draw a stick figure. Because they enhance my enjoyment of the game, or at the very least don’t intrude on my thinking while I’m playing.
I was talking with Josh over at Tabletop Wonderland recently about box inserts, in particular the new ones coming out for 51st State. I’ve always thought of box inserts as a nice little extra but never thought about spending money on them. Maybe making my own occasionally, if I liked the game enough. But a couple of inserts is often the same price as a new game. And even then, when I think about how much I like the Lords of Waterdeep standard insert and the issues even it has, I never thought they were worth the money. Oh boy has Century: Golem Edition brought me around on this idea.
Setting up a game of Century: Golem Edition is effortless and takes all of about two minutes (at a leisurely pace). Just think about how long even something like Ticket to Ride: Europe can take to set up. Sure, it’s not overly complex. And maybe it takes five minutes instead of two. But the finicky-ness of all the various cards, trains, tickets etc… With Century: Golem Edition, you just pull the gems out, smack the coins and cards on the table and you’re basically away. It’s got me really wanting the 51st State insert now.
Whoever was in charge of making decisions in relation to card sizes over at Plan B Games – thank you. Thank you from here until the end of Carvania. They’re so easy to hold, and the additional space gives you a really good look at the artwork. I can imagine there was a suggestion at some point along the line to use those really tiny cards, because the information needing to be conveyed is really minute. And I hope that person got put in the naughty corner to think about their actions. These cards, and the card stock they’re on, is really good.
I stopped for a moment to think about the card backs. They’re quite interesting, but I had to think on why I care less about the card backs in this game than I do the artwork on the front. And I realised it’s because Century: Golem Edition is one of the few games where you see the backs of the cards less than the front of the cards. Cards are never drawn from a deck into a player’s hand. Information is practically fully known (not fully transparent at all times, but you see every card every person ever gets). Which means the front artwork is actually more important than the reverse. I don’t know if this warranted a paragraph to discuss, but I thought it was interesting given how much I’ve complained about card backs in almost every review I’ve ever done.
I feel like I’ve written more about the production of Century: Golem Edition than any other game to date. So I’m just going to really quickly throw this in here because it’s worth noting, but unless you’re super into stationary you’re probably not going to overly enjoy reading about it. In the past I’ve gotten pretty frustrated with rulebooks, especially when they’re more Rule Pamphlets. But here, the rules are printed on a single page – which is more than there needs to be. And there’s a nice little bit of flavour text at the top. I think what works here is actually the thickness of the page it’s printed on. It’s a nice quality cardstock. Which makes it great for quick referencing when you need to remember how much coins are worth.
The one issue I have with the design of Century: Golem Edition, is actually also something I really like about the game (I know, I’m a difficult man sometimes). The colour of Century: Golem Edition is eye catching. It makes the game pop and sparkle on the board. But it can also be a little overwhelming. When everything on the table is trying to grab your attention then nothing really does. Honestly it can sometimes make my head spin a little bit. This is one of those times when I’m glad that as a reviewer, I’m only expected to point out things I do and don’t like about game and why, because I really don’t have an answer for how you fix this while keeping the game so attractive (and I’m not even sure I want them to). But if I was any more easily distracted, I don’t think I’d be able to fully participate in the game because it’s colours are so overwhelming.
In the introduction I wrote about how I’m not going to go get a copy of Spice Road. And see the thing is, I know all about how interesting a concept Spice Road is in terms of combining it with the two sequels in the series (you can combine them in different ways to give yourself more variety in your games). And the idea really does appeal to me. But the moment I tried to think about this game with wooden cubes and cardboard tokens instead of the gems and weighted coins, I just couldn’t imagine it capturing the same sense of wonder and magic I get from Century: Golem Edition. I’ve talked about it already but did you see the artwork in Golem Edition? So if the choice is either the magic of the Golem Edition, or the intrigue I have of combining various games together: I pick feeling like a child at Christmas.
The question this raises is this – is Century: Golem Edition actually a good game or have I been suckered into the glitz and glam? And the unsurprising answer is (drumroll please) – it’s good. If I played Spice Road first, or if I had a copy of Spice Road and never played the more deluxe edition, I’m pretty sure I’d have been satisfied. It kind of reminds me of Jaipur, another game I really enjoy. But if Jaipur had an edition where I could be purchasing golems with gems instead – I mean it doesn’t take much to realise which edition would hold more sway for me.
Pros: ++Artwork, +Rulebook, +Box Insert, +Card Size, +Colour Pops
Cons: -Overwhelming Colour
The more I wrote this review, the more I realised Century: Golem Edition falls into the same sort of category as a lot of really beloved tabletop games – Ticket to Ride: Europe, Qwirkle, Love Letter, Tsuro, Sushi Go… players are able to jump in and get involved in strategising within the first couple of actions. The longer you need to spend learning the basic rules of a game, the less people will actually bother to do so (I’m sure there’s a Goof’s Guide in there somewhere).
I give Century: Golem Edition:
Century: Golem Edition is a game I imagine I’ll play many more times in the future. And seriously, Plan B Games, have you given some thought to a cartoon series? I’ll happily provide terrible voice acting for you.
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