Century: Golem Edition Review

Century: Golem Edition Review Hot

MattDP     
 
2.0
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As soon as I see the box, I want it. Even after all these years of gaming, the evocative pull of good box art is still capable of stirring me, deep in my wallet. And when it comes, before I take the shrinkwrap off, I spend a moment admiring it. Looking at the golem's inscrutable face, its vast scale compared to the tiny caravans, wondering what it's doing with that tree.

Inside the box, there is a rules card. Not a book: a card. And when I move it I gasp so sharply, all my family look up and ask me what the matter is. So I show them. Beneath the rules is treasure, perfectly presented. Four symmetrical pots of shimmering coloured crystal. Ten metal coins. A chunky deck of illustrated cards.

Trading spices on the Silk Road can go hang. Here, we make Golems.

So alluring are the contents that everyone wants to play right away. So short are the rules that this is a realistic possibility. So we deal out two rows of cards. A boring-looking row of merchant cards that do stuff like acquiring new crystals or upgrading the colours of the ones you have. A stunning-looking row of Golem cards which we'll be trading in our crystals to buy for points.

At heart, this is a deck-building game. You need to get a set of merchant cards which, between them, let you generate and spend the crystals you need for Golems as fast as possible. It has one very neat mechanical twist. Rather than play your deck out, you can skip a turn to pick up your played cards back into your hand. A small extra decision point, but crucial. 

I take the first turn of our first game and the first - and thus free - card lets me "upgrade" any three crystals. And Century: Golem Edition  begins to unfold. Turns stream by so fast that we end up in a traffic jam when one player is active before the previous one has taken their crystals. My three-upgrade card proves so flexible that it wins me the game. Everyone thinks this is most unfair.

Despite their disgruntlement, we've had a wonderful ride just dealing new Golems off the deck as they're purchased. Every card has unique art with an embarrassment of character and detail. The patient bridge-Golem, its arms outstretched to bear travellers. The dutiful play-Golem accepting ice cream it can't eat from its childish charges. The wistful logging-golem, staring inscrutably at a fallen tree. Their faces have no mouths, no brows yet are expressive in the extreme. 

They are incredible. Heedless of their point value, we rush to buy our favourite Golems out of sheer delight. Then coo with anticipation to see what new wonder the deck will reveal.

Mollified by the discovery the three-upgrade card is the only one in the deck, we try again. And here it becomes apparent we have misjudged that upgrade. Getting a combination of trades, cards that let you swap high-value crystals for a larger number of lower-value ones, are more useful. The trick is getting ones that feed off one another. 

So you might bust down a blue to two green with one card. Then have another that upgrades three green to three blue. A net profit. It's all about getting as many upgrades from as few plays as possible. But you can only have ten crystals at once. This is not just a deck builder, nor an engine game, but a resource-management game too. A lot of mechanical genres for a tiny two pages of rules.

Having learned this, everyone is keen to put their new knowledge to the test. It's so quick and slick that the learning loop is addictive. But it is bedtime for the children. Time to rest and dream of the delightful golems.

There is anticipation when we gather around the table next day. Heightened by the chink of metal coins, the rattle of plastic crystals, the new and lovely Golems coming off the deck. And so we play. At first, everyone is watching the merchant cards, trying to pick up the pairs they need to power the engine. Wondering whether the ones further up the row are worth the cost. Thrilling at the capture of a favourite Golem. The first two spots on the Golem row are worth bonus points, indicated by a coin. And these we share evenly: we start to watch each other in expectation of what we'll buy next.

These expectations are rarely disappointed.

By the time the coins have gone, no one is buying merchant cards any more. Their engines are running nicely, tuned to a satisfactory degree. We all know how each other's engines run, so the anticipation changes from one of excitement to one of routine. By the time the end approaches, triggered by the number of Golems bought, we already know who's won. The last few turns feel like an exercise in repetition, leading toward the inevitable. The tally of points like the tedium of cross-checking accountancy against a total already know.

We play the fourth game and, ten minutes in, we realise we're playing in near total silence. We've seen the Golems before. We know what cards we're angling for. We know that once we've got them, we'll know how they're going to get used and we'll know who wins. Century: Golem Edition  grinds smoothly toward its conclusion with an air of resigned inevitability.

A few days later, one of the children has a friend round. Daughter grabs Century: Golem edition off the shelf and whips off the lid like a magician performing a conjuring trick. The friend is suitably impressed by the bright gems, the tactile coins, the amazing cartoon characters of the Golems. "Shall we play it?" the friend asks, eyes bright. Daughter hesitates. "Nah," she replies, and they run outside in the sun, giggling, to throw water bombs at one another.

Century: Golem Edition Review There Will Be Games

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Editor rating

MattDP
Rating 
 
2.0

Summary

Game Name
Century: Golem Edition

All the prettiness and accessibility in the world can't hide the fact that the initial excitement of play gives way to a soulless grind.


Matt ThrowerFollow Matt Thrower Follow Matt Thrower Message Matt Thrower

Head Writer

Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.

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Posted: 16 Jul 2018 00:09 by WadeMonnig #277631
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I was surprised by this review. Especially the part where you said you felt the eventual winner was apparent as the game end approaches. I've never found it that way. A two player game can seem that way but I've seen the tide turn on someone rallying a few low point cards to force a quick end and swing it to themselves. 3 and 4 player really opens it up as others may snatch cards from other players. 5 can be a bit annoying since its a bit of time between turns and planning can be for naught. Spice Road has been one of the most played and enjoyed games at my house since we got it, from adults to teenagers. I've honestly considered buying Golem edition for another, prettier version to play. I will literally be stopping my games after the 3rd card is purchased to have everyone make a prediction who the winner will be.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 02:12 by MattDP #277632
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WadeMonnig wrote:
I've never found it that way. A two player game can seem that way but I've seen the tide turn on someone rallying a few low point cards to force a quick end and swing it to themselves.

Thanks for sharing. I find it hard to understand how it's possible to do what you're suggesting most of the time since it takes a couple of turns to swing your engine round to generate the necessary crystals. Late game changes seem to just result in lost momentum.

I was really hesitant about posting a negative review: after all, I enjoyed my first couple of games. I thought I'd need more plays, a prospect which didn't fill me joy and that, in itself, tells you something. But a quick poll on Twitter suggested there are a lot of people who feel the same about it, although perhaps less extreme.

But hey, it's 2/5 not 1/5 so it's not that extreme.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 03:25 by WadeMonnig #277633
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MattDP wrote:
But hey, it's 2/5 not 1/5 so it's not that extreme.

True but Century Spice Road (and, since they are identical in gameplay, Golem Edition) is one of the few games I would whole heartedly recommend to almost any gamer, veteran or newbie. It is also one of the few games I would have rated 5/5 that came out last year. Heck, I even bought the mini-expansion direct from Plan B.

As I said, I'm going to keep a closer eye on the actual scoring midgame my next few plays.

One thing you did absolutely nail is that conversation is virtually non-existent after multiple plays. I always chalked it up to people thinking out their moves but it is one thing that I don't really like about it.

Thank you for the review. I really enjoyed reading it. I always respect your opinion and was kind of disheartened that it didn't click with you.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 07:34 by Jexik #277646
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The people I play with are usually still in the, "wow this is so cool and beautiful and more fun than Monopoly" mode. It's like Splendor with more granular scoring that reminds me of Stone Age. I'm a fan of this one; I play with in-laws and cousins at family gatherings when they seem a bit bored and want to know what cool things have come out recently. As the uncle with a game store it's kind of my duty.

The one overlooked rule that really made it better for us was when someone told me that with the "trading" cards, you can do them multiple times on one turn. I.e. if you have a GG --> BB, you can do GGGG --> BBBB, 6G --> 6B, etc. makes those cards more interesting and powerful!
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 10:12 by Legomancer #277670
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This whole crop: Splendor, Century, Azul, Sagrada, all feel to me like games for people who aren't particularly interested in playing games. (Azul maybe less so.) They feel very procedural and mechanical, there's no theme to get interested in, and no rules friction or discussion needed. You see them, you play them, you're done. Another one for the log books. Maybe you play again, because it's short, so you can get in several plays in no time at all. None of those plays will be memorable or distinct, they'll just be there. They're strictly for quantity. You can play virtually on auto-pilot because even if you end up doing poorly, who cares? Just play it again and not care all over again.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 10:54 by Shapeshifter #277677
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I played this game and was a bit baffled why it gets so much love. I understand it is very accessible and appeals to family gamers, but that said...it felt mechanical, repetitive and soulless. All you do is trade in gems for other gems. Ad infinitum. I simply didn't feel anything while playing. Both Sagrada and Azul felt more engaging.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 11:39 by Jexik #277680
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Legomancer wrote:
They're strictly for quantity. You can play virtually on auto-pilot because even if you end up doing poorly, who cares? Just play it again and not care all over again.

I haven't played Azul or Sagrada yet, but the ones I know work well for kids and family members who are interested in playing games, but I don't see that often. I think there's definitely a place for games that are easy to learn and teach. No one I've been playing with keeps track of their plays. Kingdomino is kind of better than all of them, and has such a nice small square box. (2 player 7x7's are great). BUT GEMS!
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 12:44 by Legomancer #277685
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You're probably right. I don't have an audience like that.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 13:28 by Michael Barnes #277688
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I haven’t played this game but I think I’d probably like it and I’m sure my kids would like it.

Games like this, Splendor, and Azul actually kind of fit into an awkward category. They aren’t hobby games. They also aren’t familiar, mainstream family games so who they tend to reach are hobbyists.

But in reality, these kinds of designs really belong to a sort of genre that goes back to the old 3M games, the original “designer” games. All of these games make me think of Sid Sackson-style designs. No, they aren’t “dripping with theme” and all that. They are mechanical, but also intensely focused on a core mechanic or systematic concept. These kinds of games are, also, almost inherently casual and simply can’t match up with hobbyist expectations- including with how they hold up over concentrated replay.

However, on that last note, the better designs in this area (like Azul) invite repeat play and offer enough “gray space” where skill can commingle with fixed elements, luck, and player interaction. If Century is failing in that space I can see where the criticism is coming from.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 14:34 by ubarose #277697
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My friend has a game day at her house once or twice a month. It's all mostly Eurogamers. None of these games holds their attention for more than a few months. I figure if it can't hold their attention for more than a half dozen plays, it can't hold mine for even one. Having already suffered through the Splendor and Perfum craze, I took a pass on learning Spice Road.

However, I do understand family games for playing with family. I got Sagrada, because I knew The Spawn would like it. And she does, and we've had fun playing it with her. But you take the game play up a notch, then it's too much for a family game, but not enough for a gamer's game. Spice Road seemed to me, just from looking it over while it was being played on other tables, like it was in that space. It seemed complicated, but not complex, if you know what I mean.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 15:10 by WadeMonnig #277707
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Well, my wife does refer to Century as one of "Our" games and not one of "your" games. Which means it's easy, accessible, and fun to her but doesn't get too complicated. I'll be interested in how Eastern Wonders fares because it looks like it adds complexity that might make it one of "your" games.
Posted: 16 Jul 2018 15:16 by Jexik #277708
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My 7 year old struggles to sit through it, but my wife's college-age cousins who previously only had played Codenames and ONU Werewolf with us loved it.
Posted: 19 Jul 2018 11:49 by Shapeshifter #277909
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I would definitly not call Spice road complicated.
It has rediculously easy to learn rules (which is fantastic)
and a very limited set of decissions. For me it feels somehow lighter than both Sagrada (a more taxing puzzle I find) and Azul (far more interesting decissions).
Posted: 19 Jul 2018 16:29 by MattDP #277925
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Michael Barnes wrote:
Games like this, Splendor, and Azul actually kind of fit into an awkward category. They aren’t hobby games. They also aren’t familiar, mainstream family games so who they tend to reach are hobbyists.

But in reality, these kinds of designs really belong to a sort of genre that goes back to the old 3M games, the original “designer” games. All of these games make me think of Sid Sackson-style designs. No, they aren’t “dripping with theme” and all that. They are mechanical, but also intensely focused on a core mechanic or systematic concept. These kinds of games are, also, almost inherently casual and simply can’t match up with hobbyist expectations- including with how they hold up over concentrated replay.

However, on that last note, the better designs in this area (like Azul) invite repeat play and offer enough “gray space” where skill can commingle with fixed elements, luck, and player interaction. If Century is failing in that space I can see where the criticism is coming from.

The thing is, though, this is actually becoming quite a crowded space. Designers have spotted a gap in the market and are now starting to plug it with some regularity. Arguably this might have started with Codenames. But in fact, when you go back, this is the corner of the market "German" games were edging toward in the mid-nineties.

And as the space has filled, the quality bar has gone up and up. Azul is really a pretty fun game. So is Photosynthesis, which belongs in this niche. Kingdomino is brilliantly accessible. Codenames has that fun party vibe. There are just ... much better games around in the "gray space" than Century.

I've been dissecting it a bit on Twitter in the wake of this review, especially in comparison with Splendor, which I really like. And I think they absolute key issue with Century - which I hope I illustrated here, without spelling it out - is that the game is backwards. It starts out fun and exciting and challenging and becomes less and less so as it progresses. That's the absolute opposite of how a game should be paced. A lot of modern family games have a smidge of this issue because they're designed to take the edge off the competitive feel. But Splendor doesn't, and remains rich with possibility right up until the finish.
Posted: 19 Jul 2018 16:47 by WadeMonnig #277930
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Codenames never clicked with me at all. It's our toad party game. My limited plays with photosynthesis left me feeling it was broken, please tell me I'm wrong?
Damn it, I think you may have nailed it that Century is backwards but, shhh, don't tell my family. I'm literally doing a stealth evaluation of end game but don't want to taint their enjoyment if it by being my over evaluating self.
Posted: 30 Sep 2018 21:26 by Thenomain #282516
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Legomancer wrote:
This whole crop: Splendor, Century, Azul, Sagrada, all feel to me like games for people who aren't particularly interested in playing games.

I wonder what it is you think that people enjoy games for. My game group, who on the whole scoffs at anything around the Catan or less complex level as "too casual", loves this game.

I think that you aren't interested in playing this crop of games. This is fine. Let other people enjoy it as what they are: Games.