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.