With Golem, a board game has appeared on the market that shows how an abstract set of rules can be forced into a thematically appropriate corset - in such a way that the topic plays a noticeably relevant role despite the strong focus on mechanics. Golem was published in German by Asmodee in this country. 

Admittedly, Golem as a Euro board game doesn't really focus on the topic - there isn't enough depth to be felt in the implementation for that. Nevertheless, the idea of ​​creating clay creatures pushes itself to the fore again and again, so that you don't want to do without the setting in this proven expert game. 

The Golem of Prague: A Legend Board Game

The work by the authors Flaminia Brasini (including Lorenzo il Magnifico, Coimbra), Virginio Gigli (including the Grand Austria Hotel, Alma Mater) and Simone Luciani (including Barrage) quickly sends out a first signal. It reads: A real chunk is waiting here. This becomes visible as soon as the game is set up. Golem is at least extensive in terms of the material and the set of rules - at times one could even accuse the board game of wanting to hide weaknesses with the jumble of tiles, balls, markers and figures. Spread out on the table, Golem gives off an enormously colorful picture - you probably wouldn't expect that with the chosen topic.

Golem test board game

The instructions indicate it: There are many details that you have to remember or look up. Photo: Volkman

It goes back to 1584 to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. More precisely: It goes to a synagogue. More precisely: in their attic. The basic religious theme is not far-fetched: for centuries Prague was a metropolis where Czech, German and Jewish cultures met. Well, the thing about the golems that come to life is an invention after all, but it's excellent for knitting a board game out of. Why? Because the premise is pretty fresh in the scene. There were of course clay figures here and there, but being able to create them yourself is new.

The board game is even based on a legend: that of the Prague Golem. Rabbi Judah Löw, who comes from Worms, not only appears on the box text, he really existed. He is closely associated with the legend; the first tale dates from the 1830s, later became part of a collection of Jewish fairy tales, and later still part of literature. Earth, water, fire and air should have been necessary to create a golem - Rabbi Löw took over the wind, his students the other elements.

At dawn, the group dug clay from a pit on the Vltava River, formed a figure, and brought it to life. "Joseph" was there, first naked, then dressed in the robes of a synagogue servant. The golem sat motionless in the corner, he had only one task: to roam the city at night before the Passover festival and stop those who were carrying a burden to check whether they were carrying a dead child. Again and again the Jews of Prague were accused of using the blood of small children for ritual purposes. 

Golem board game review

Colors, shapes, symbols - on the game boards and cards. Photo: Volkman

Visually, the idea of ​​the golem can be found on the player boards - anyway, the optics of the golem are convincing despite the strict focus on the mechanics. It is clearly the focus: you watch over your flock of students, collect and manage resources and ultimately create the clay creatures. It is also clear: Golem offers players a fairly comprehensive experience - there are many tasks, decisions even more. The latter are forced, because after four rounds with three moves per round, the game is over.

That sounds terribly short for such a complex board game, but in the end it levels out at around 100 minutes. One of Golem's strengths is that it concentrates the decisive moments in such a way that you don't have to play four to five hours to have fun. The trio of authors does something right with the limitation that many complex board games of modern times often get wrong. It is not uncommon for authors to overwhelm a group of players with complicated rules in order to exhaust the playing time of a game to the point of boredom. Golem bypasses the problem. It forces an end. 

Variable structure supports replay appeal

It is the variable structure that provides variety and encourages new games. The game is played on the central game board including side structure as well as on the personal player boards. The participants are required to keep an overview. That is sometimes a challenge. Thankfully, Golem is the colorful game that it ultimately is. That may not always fit the gloomy setting 100 percent, but it helps immensely.

Golem board game test

The theme of the legend of the Prague Golem is reflected on the game board. Photo: Volkman

The trick for the colorful marbles that tumble out of the synagogue is extremely successful. Among other things, they specify how powerful actions are. Additional detailed rules ensure that you will keep the game setup part under constant observation. Taking a marble or moving Rabbi is one of the main basic decisions in Golem - the colors are also relevant to the game, because they are directly connected to the main board. The three actions per round are divided into two marble actions and one rabbi action at the end - it's the absolute minimum rule, from then on it gets complex. The ruleset itself introduces players well to Golem. However, the game remains a chunk. 

Plan, plan, plan

Colors here, shapes there and then symbols, all divided up on different panels – that means not only entertainment, but also effort. You can hold out for about two hours, at the latest then your concentration suffers enormously. As if the authors had known it, they step on the necessary brakes themselves by means of a set of rules. This makes Golem challenging, but never overwhelming. And in the end, Golem does what similar genres do: they call for tweaking scores, because that's what it's all about. 

Advance planning is absolutely necessary, because Golem only settles at the end. In other words, how well you played is particularly noticeable in the final ranking. This keeps the games as exciting as possible, which motivates. Golem encourages players to reconsider the mistakes they've made and be smarter about the next game. Subsequent games will follow, at least once you have warmed up to the board game concept.

Golem review board game

Balls instead of cubes - the principle behind it remains the same. Photo: Volkman

This is supported by the enormous variance in the structure: some tiles are rarely seen, the marble colors change constantly, and differences per game are also the order of the day on the main board and the player boards. In short: every game is different and unique. 

Points, points, points

One cannot therefore accuse the authors of only using the amounts of material for the sake of sensationalism. Each tile has its place and somehow also its use. Again and again there are moments of decision at the level of detail: this is represented by bars. Here, too, Golem follows the path of its genre competitors.

Players advance small placeholders for point values ​​and symbols. In the end, Golem is new, but not reinvention. The board game does its job very well in the combination of mechanics. Added to this is the constant feeling of having missed something, of having done something better differently. Actions are valuable - this message resonates with every move. The result is not always immediately visible: long-term strategies are therefore not only relevant, but absolutely necessary. 

Golem board game review

Naked as he was created – the clay figure on the player board has space for tiles. Photo: Volkman

Of course, at the end of the day Golem is also a Euro game, with all the weaknesses that the genre can bring with it. Many symbols cause a lot of confusion, so getting started is correspondingly tough. You first have to find your way into this all-encompassing experience – without that it doesn’t work. Sometimes several players at the table read the rules so that you don't miss an important detail. Despite the comparatively moderate playing time, the preparation time is enormous, especially when the board game lands on the table for the first, second or third time. That red is actually green? Forget it, you get used to it. 

Info about Golem

Number of players: 1 to 4
Age: from 14 years
Playing time: 90 to 120 minutes
Difficulty: high
Long-term motivation: good
Classification: expert game
Core mechanisms: worker placement, engineering building, resource management

Authors: Simone Luciani, Flaminia Brasini, Virginio Gigli
Illustrations: Francesco Ciampi, Roberto Grasso
Publisher: Asmodee Germany, Cranio Creations
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2022
Language: German
Cost: 60 Euro

Conclusion on Golem

Simone Luciani, Flaminia Brasini and Virginio Gigli – anyone who reads the names of the authors carefully and goes through the works they have published to date knows roughly what to expect from Golem: a board game that is at times unwieldy and that, after two or three introductory games, contains every possible move getting better. There is a lot to try out, a lot to plan, and the requirements are always changing due to the variable setup. However, Golem is not an infusion of Grand Austria Hotel, but has a different focus: it is essentially about optimizing victory points, the choices and decisions are the means to an end. The golems that give the game its name and the theme are also sensibly integrated into the game concept. 

The consequence trio of marble, rabbi, or pass ultimately leads to one important thing: it almost completely eliminates the element of luck. Pretty good for a board game that has at its core a mechanic to find random ball outcomes. 

In the course of the few moves, an engine develops that ideally generates more and more points step by step. In any case, the authors have mastered their craft, and they let the players feel that – in a positive sense. One thing is clear: the increase in personal gaming performance is noticeable. You get better game by game, you can anticipate the consequences of decisions and not just guess them. And can thus devote himself to the core of the game: points, points, points. Golem is not an outstanding representative of the genre, but the board game does not make any gross blunders in return. The overall fresh basic theme pleases.  

What is absolutely necessary with Golem is the patience to familiarize yourself with the board game. Work is to be taken literally here in parts, because constant rule checks will be part of this process. If everything fits - including the almost infinite number of symbols - at some point, you will have a lot of fun with this board game and its mystical-religious setting. The mixture of golem, ingredients, artefacts and supervisory staff is successful - as always not necessary in a Euro game, but in this special case it is definitely beneficial to the gaming experience; even if you don't always notice it because of the partly abstract presentation. 

In addition, there is the good material concept with colorful, clearly visible color variants and clearly distinguishable areas on the game boards. The dice alternative in the form of the "marble run" is also part of it and is refreshing, although not absolutely necessary in the new format. But: You try to innovate on the lowest of all levels, with most Euro board games you look in vain.

Golem turns out to be the presumed expert board game, makes no secret of it, so it addresses the target group accurately. The required training period is not to be understood as a flaw, but as a first opportunity to be able to approach the game concept step by step. There's no other way to play Golem anyway - you get better, act smarter and more purposeful, but only after a few games. At best, the board game is played with two or three players. Alternatively, you can also go solo, and you should use that too, because Golem is also a clear solo recommendation.

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