Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
If you were to take the Cthulhu Mythos, add in some Steampunk, and make it into an cooperative board game, you’d end up with Machina Arcana. Now in funding on Kickstarter, Machina Arcana drops players in a world of horrible monsters, awesome weapons and a strong need for survival. There are already a good amount of Mythos based games out there for you to spend your gaming dollars on. So how well does Machina Arcana fit among the other games in this genre and is it worth your time? Read on to find out!
Machina Arcana is a cooperative exploration game for 1-4 players that plays in 45-120 minutes (depending on the scenario). Machina Arcana plays best with any amount of players.
At its heart, Machina Arcana is a scenario based exploration game. Players must work together to achieve the scenario’s specific goal. To accomplish this end, each player will have a number of stamina points to use during the game to move, attack and explore. Along the way, a number of different monsters from the Mythos legends (in addition to some original ones) will show up to try and make the player’s lives miserable. Players start off as relative weaklings that will probably run from the monsters to just stay alive. But eventually, the players will find some decent weapons and other equipment to take the fight back to the monsters. If the players can grow in power enough and hold back the onslaught of evil to accomplish the scenario’s goal, they’ll win the game together. If they all die for fail the scenario’s endgame, it’s game over and evil has triumphed.
How to Play:
Once you get a solid understanding of everything you can do in Machina Arcana, the game flows surprisingly well. Each player first choose one of the games unique characters to play. Each character has different stats and a special ability. The game is setup by choosing a scenario, shuffling the different decks of cards and placing the starting map tile. After that, it’s time to explore.
Each game turn is broken up into 4 parts:
1. Explorer Phase: The explorers take their actions here. Most explorers have 6 stamina to work with (at least in our prototype). Anything an explorer wants to do will cost stamina. Movement costs 1 per square, attacks cost 2-3 points, using an action space ranges from 2-3 as well. As explorers move around the board on their turn, they will be trying to collect items and weapons, draw explorer events (good events!) and restore their essence (by looting treasure, killing monsters and drawing events).
Essence is very important in Machina Arcana. It can be used in a variety of ways, the most important being either sealing monster spawn points or lighting the chapter space. That’s how the story is advanced. Once players light the chapter icon, they can progress to the next chapter in the scenario and get one step closer to winning!
2. Monster Spawn Phase: Each player rolls a 10 sided die and hopes to roll under the monster spawn number. If not, they draw a monster card and place the corresponding monster on the nearest spawn point.
3. Horror Phase: 1 Player rolls a 10 sided die. If the number is equal to or above the horror value on the scenario card, a horror event is drawn. These are all bad for the players. An interesting thing about the horror events is that some are actually ongoing. They will stay in effect until a new event is drawn and placed over it on the discard pile. So some turns you might actually want a horror event just to get rid of a particular nasty, ongoing event.
4. Monster Action Phase: Just like explorers, monsters get to take their actions now. The monsters have a fairly simple mechanic for how they work. If they can attack a player, they do so. If not, they try to move forward towards the nearest one and attack. Each monster has their own stats, special abilities and stamina. They move and attack with stamina, just like the explorers.
Combat in Machina Arcana works really well. There are 2 types of combat dice, white and black, with the black dice being the stronger of the two types. To attack, a player/monster spends stamina equal to the attack cost. Then, they roll an appropriate number of dice based on their weapon. If the total number of pips on the dice equals or beats the defense value of the target, they score a hit. If the amount hits ever equals the target’s life, the target is slain. Easy enough.
The game will progress in this manner until the players have advanced the story enough to reach the endgame. The endgame uses a special tile and has a sort of mini game to determine the final outcome of the game. It’s pretty neat. I should also point out that the game has a monster tracker and, as the game progresses, the bad guys get tougher and tougher. So sometimes speed can be king.
For those looking for the short of it: I’m really enjoying Machina Arcana. It hits all the right spots for me in play style, theme and challenge. The game drops you in a world where you aren’t the biggest and toughest guy out there. For the first part of the game, you will be running scared and praying to find a good weapon. Machina Arcana makes not bones about that fact that this is a horror game and you need to work together to survive. And maybe have lady luck on your side as well (more on that later).
Speaking of the game world, the minds behind Machina Arcana really went all out with the theme of the game. There is so much story on the cards in that you’ll be hard pressed to not feel completely immersed in this world. Almost every card has some back story to it. Each scenario card paints a picture for you. The explorer and horror event cards also describe a scene for you before telling you the in-game bonus. For any players who love a deep theme in their game, than this is the game for you.
Another cool thing about the game is that a lot of the weapons can be upgraded and augmented using a neat matching system in the game. Many weapons have symbols on the edge of their cards. Find an upgrade/augment that matches and you can make your weapon even more powerful. This works really well in the game and makes for some really interesting combinations. Sure that brass umbrella is a neat weapon, but it’s even better with a crossbow attached to it.
When I mentioned lady luck earlier, I wasn’t kidding. From the dice rolling to the card draws, there is a decent amount of luck in this the game. Players will be rolling dice for attacks, skill checks and horror checks practically every turn. While this seems to work pretty well in Machina Arcana, it can make the game prone to wild swings of luck. If you don’t like that in your games, be warned. We’ve had a few games where we’d spawn a monster almost every turn (and promptly got beaten to a pulp). We’ve also had some rough starts where we could not find a weapon in the treasure draw piles. But sometimes when luck is on your side, you’ll get a turn or two breather from the monsters or draw that great weapon you’ve been looking for. Those moments can be a godsend in Machina Arcana.
And you’ll need those moments, because Machina Arcana can be a meat grinder at times. This isn’t your heroic fantasy game, at least not at the start. At times, Machina Arcana will have you running scared and you’ll feel like you are barley treading water. Even after you’ve upgraded your weapons and armor and finally start to feel tough, the monster level increases and a whole new crop of baddies enter the arena. But that’s one of the things I love about the game. I don’t want my cooperative games to be easy. Since there is no other intelligence working against me, sometimes those bits of cardboard and plastic need a bit of an edge.
If you can handle the challenge, Machina Arcana is a ton of fun and looks stunning (at least from our prototype components). From building up your character’s items to smacking down those annoying monsters, Machina Arcana will keep you coming back for more again and again. I really look forward to seeing all the scenarios in the base game. Between the solid game play, the great theme and the engaging story, Machina Arcana is worth a look for any fans of the genre.
If you are interested in the game, it is currently in funding on Kickstarter and scheduled for delivery in April of 2014. A pledge of $50 will get you a copy of the game and any appropriate stretch goals. You have until Tuesday, Dec 24th to become a backer so head over now.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.