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Your Turn: Minis and Megabytes

Posted by Andrew L {Avid Gamer} | 9-Jul-14 | 15 comments

Your Turn - A Discussion

Hey there, I’m Andrew; game industry professional, reviewer, gamer, fellow member and the host of’s discussion series called “Your Turn.”

This is your chance to let us know what YOU think about a variety of topics related to hobby gaming. I’ll start the conversation and then it’s “your turn” to chime in and add to the discussion. Each Your Turn discussion will have a new topic, and we may even have some special guests make a surprise visit down the road. In the meantime…

Minis and Megabytes

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Origins Game Fair in Columbus Ohio and played many great (and some not so great) games. Did any of you fans go? I was sporting my T-shirt!

Anyway, my 15 yr. old and I attended and I introduced him to a game that I had played in the 80s called BattleTech. It’s been revamped a bit but really it’s the same game that Jordan Weisman introduced to the world back in 1985. Giant robots, gotta love ‘em. We also played in the BattleTech simulator pods outside the exhibit hall, (Which Jordan Weisman also created). This is a full on sit-in-the-cockpit simulation of Mech warfare. Still cool 20 years later. So, needless to say BattleTech has held up well for the past 30 years since.


My son loved both iterations. For the miniature game, he caught on to the rules quickly and loved the fact there was a small illustration of the Mech that you marked up as you took hits to your armor and your internal structure. It’s all about climactic die rolls. He blew my Mech’s arm off! Sheesh, beginners luck.


One primary attribute of this game (and many games from the 70s and 80s) are the use of TABLES. No, not coffee tables or Chic Geek Tables… actual charts and tables. They seem to have passed out of style with the advent of another Jordan Weisman creation – Mage Knight/HeroClix in 2000. Here, Weisman believed that if you placed all the info you needed to know on the figure itself you could do away with charts and tables. That brings us to the latest creation by Mr. Weisman: Golem Arcana.

For those who don’t know, this is a miniature warfare game that uses amazing looking miniatures and a vast and deep intellectual property, along with an iPad and a stylus pen to move, attack, record damage, and so forth. The unique thing about this game is you touch the stylus pen to the figure’s base, then touch the base of the unit you wish to attack, and the interface calculates all the attack and defense values, movement and terrain bonuses and so forth. And in one click, it illustrates the attack on the iPad… boom! you turn is done. No books, no charts, no tables. Astounding. Well, sort of.


You see, my son and I enjoyed Golem Arcana, (and I won this time!) and I can see this game being successful in some circles. It combines the world of table top miniature games with a computer interface, storage capacity and graphics of a video game. But as a board game, we enjoyed playing Jordan’s 30 year old BattleTech game more. Rolling a pair of d6 on several charts to see if you hit your enemy Mech, then rolling on another chart for the hit location then again to see if it’s a critical hit. It’s all fiddly and fun. You feel in control. Conversely, for a computer BattleTech experience, we enjoyed the complete simulation that the BattleTech Pods offered. It made us feel we were actually in the driver’s seat of a Mech – total bombardment of senses. Cool Joysticks and missile buttons, radar screens and pedals to rotate your Mech’s torso. Awesome!

Somewhere in between these two experiences is Golem Arcana. Maybe this is the wave of the future, a blending of technology and board games. Many games use timers or sound effects now, but they still rely on the cardboard and plastic and usually dice to create the experience on the table. I feel like for all the good that the tech offers, it can never replace the hands on, dice rolling, klunky, head-scratching, pencil pushing fun of a good old table top mini game.

Even so, thanks Mr. Weisman for the years of fun and allowing my imagination to fly. And for letting me introduce that to my children. You’re way cooler than I’ll ever be.

Question: Is the combination of tech and board games the wave of the future? Or do you feel it takes anything away from the traditional board game experience? Does one compliment the other? Or should these two mediums, (cardboard and circuit board) stay separate in the world of Geek entertainment?

Your Turn…

Comments (15)

Gamer Avatar
Movie Lover
Book Lover
I play blue

I am a big fan of most of the electronic versions of have played. I really like the Carcassonne, Pandemic, and Ticket to Ride aps. I was not, however, a fan of the electronic version of Elder Sign. I will likely always prefer the cardboard versions of board games. But I do enjoy the convenience of playing games on my tablet.

Gamer Avatar
Dragon Clan - Legend of the Five Rings

Not everyone has a device they can use with a table top game. In your example you showed Battletech. I have played it for years and found no need for any electronic help. It is a great game without it.

Gamer Avatar
Smash Up: Zombie Faction Fan

no thanks dice and imagination plz

Gamer Avatar
8 Beta 1.0 Tester
Mythic Kingdoms Backer 2020
Platinum Supporter
Advanced Reviewer

Obviously way late to this discussion, but I agree with @Akden and all others who said so. To me, there is something much more gratifying, and fun, rolling dice and moving pieces around. I like gadgets, but when it’s tabletop time, the only thing I have my device/laptop around for is a quick random rules lookup/clarification. I’m more than happy to pay a little extra for a game that’s chock full of charts, minis and dice. 🙂

Gamer Avatar
Vanguards - Summoner Wars
Amateur Reviewer

I was a part of the Golem Arcana Beta test phase during GenCon 2013. Needless to say I was impressed with the concept of the game. For many people the difficulty in approaching miniature strategy games is the often tough learning curve; but Golem Arcana completely blows that issue out of the water. I went from never having heard of the game to becoming masterful within only a few minutes.

The bonus of the app handling all the rules is that you are able to stay focused on the task at hand; crushing your enemies, seeing them driven before you, and to hearing the lamentation of their women. After my glorious victory I made sure my name was on the list for the Kickstarter and backed it as soon as I could.

In addition to the obvious benefits of the app you have added awesome abilities never before done in a miniature game. You have the ability to control the environment, fight against moderatley intelligent AI, and easily factor in potentially tons of battlefield encounters. Now, I understand some peoples complaint that having the app do everything for you kind of kills the aspect of gaming in the social sense, but at least with this one you can integrate as much as you want. If you want to stick to rolling the dice yourself you can and then just enter your results into the app for tracking purposes.

For all of its awesomeness I have had some issues since Golem Arcana exploded onto the scene. Specifically device compatability; if you do not have a device that can run the game then you do not have a game. Its that simple really. In my case I backed it before I knew what would be compatable and what do you know…it doesnt work with my Kindle or my phone. Additionally you now have a rather large amount of components required for this game which makes its price point somewhat of an issue for someone who does not have required devices.

As for the integration of devices and gaming; I think its a great idea as long as its done in moderation and doesnt just become the dominate format for gaming. Already we saw lots of integrated releases debute at GenCon 2014, including the new FFG title “XCOM” based of the video game series. I think having this new integration gives players the chance to do things normally impossible or at least not easily performed in more traditional gaming. The added benefit to the companies is that they can provide expansions and replay value by simply using the various app markets.

Its a situation with lots of potential… I just hope that it doesnt get beaten to death by being overdone and held high as the flag of gaming.

Gamer Avatar

I was going through Twitter today and could not pass up your post. For some time now, my brother and I have been working on a graceful way to introduce technology to board gaming. As everyone else commented, a balance needs to be struck, especially on dice. I prefer dice over electronic rollers. Almost every post here mirrors the sentiment. Our final decision settled on physical dice that receive wireless energy and internally transmit the result to any tablet so it can keep up. Frankly, I cannot get away from controlling my own destiny by rolling my own dice. We “sneak peeked” the world’s first wireless energy mat for board games just this week. The biggest challenge?…you guessed it…the dice!

Gamer Avatar
Gamer - Level 5

Hey, always a place for great games, no matter what the format. Pure cardboard, pure tech, or some combination does not matter. The only problem is when tech is used to cover a poor game.

Gamer Avatar
Tide of Iron fan

I have played Battletech since the 90’s, and still play from time to time, although not as often as I used to. I use a computer and a couple of programs to generate mech sheets for the game. I like gadgets and have a couple of dice programs on my ipod and smart phone, but when it comes down to face to face gaming, I prefer to roll those clunky plastic polygons every time. I can see where this new type of gaming would appeal to the video game junkies of today, but I am old school. I play Memoir 44 solo a lot (due to a lack of players in my area) and only use my Memoir 44 dice apps to roll for the “other” player. When it is my turn, I roll those cubes! I think this might, however, bridge the gap between video-gamers and table top gamers, and could bring some of the video-gamers over to the table top side. But, I suspect that there wouldn’t be many that would make the switch. Video gamers like the immediate feedback and lack of “luck” involved. They see video games as taking more skill than luck, whereas there is a certain amount of luck in table top gaming due to dice or cards used.

Gamer Avatar
Jungle Elves - Summoner Wars Beta 2.0 Tester
Summoner Wars Fan
Unicorn Clan - Legend of the Five Rings

I agree with Granny and Artem. There’s something about rolling dice and moving pieces around a board in a social setting that really makes boardgaming special. Adding a digital portion seems like a cool idea, but will it be that much different from video games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity? They revolve around a similar idea, but instead of moving your characters around in physical space, you just use a variety of figurines to change your characters in the game.

Golem Arcana looks pretty awesome, and I was pretty close to backing it on Kickstarter, but I have a lot of video games, and until I see it in action, I’ll remain on the fence. I definitely feel there will be a place for the game, and lots of people will love this idea, but I’ll have a hard time giving up my dice and plastic miniatures.

I still have all my Battletech stuff from the 80’s as well. You gott love the whole idea of giant battling robots!

Gamer Avatar
Professional Reviewer
I play black
Silver Supporter

I believe the resurgence of board games as a social entertainment medium is mostly due to the overabundance of technology in our lives today. Board games in their core mode offer an opportunity to socialize face to face, enjoying the physical presence of people and the tactile sensations of the game pieces and dice. In the day when you look at a screen for work for 8 hours a day, adding same for games becomes redundant.

As Granny points out I don’t think technology serves to improve this experience, only to dilute it.

I personally find the merger of technology and boardgame awkward at best, but that’s in theory. I look forward to trying out Golem Arcana to form more concrete impressions. Technology being what it is has a way of seeping into all aspects of our lives with time, so perhaps this is unavoidable and is the way of the future. For me – if I’m looking at a screen I might as well play a videogame with all of the benefits it brings to the table.

Gamer Avatar
Platinum Supporter
Petroglyph Beta 1.0 Tester

I definitely think there is a place for technology as a possible mechanism for board games. However, I’m not sure it will catch on with my generation. I was a part of a team that tried to use tablets for tabletop RPGs. Everyone liked the idea, but it tanked on Kickstarter. There were a lot of people who felt they were giving up something…whether it be dice rolling, suspension of disbelief with a screen on the table, etc. It just didn’t appeal to them.

Now, I pride myself in being somewhat of a techy. I build my own computers, and used to be a Web developer (still do some programming). My job is on the computer. I’ve moved to streaming music through Spotify and Pandora, and haven’t bought a DVD in years. However, I still like books. I like the smell, the feel, and how the size of the book gives me an actual representation of the length of the story I’m reading. I’ve tried Kindle. I didn’t like it.

Now, I have enjoyed board games on my tablet…but they feel like mini video games to me. They just aren’t the same. Even when I play with someone else…passing the tablet back and forth…it doesn’t feel like cardboard. I play board games, for the tactile difference from video games. I play them because I can be face to face with my opponent, and see the look in their eyes while they make a move. It’s not so much a suspension of disbelief that occurs, but there is something different about being in a room with a human intelligence that makes it feel just a little more “real.” Because, it is.

So, what about a hybrid like Golem Arcana? Where does it fit in? I don’t know. I like the idea of a computer crunching the data for me, and maybe it can work for a science fiction theme with mechs. But, would it work with a high fantasy game? Or, would it tear you out of whatever thin bubble of imagination you’ve created in your mind? I watched a run through of Golem Arcana, and felt the pen was a little clunky as the man tried to click in the right spot. I think that might kill it for me.

“…but your kids are gonna love it.” ~ Marty McFly

Gamer Avatar
Professional Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
Silver Supporter
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan

Someone is always going to push the edge of technology, and they should be allowed to do it. It’s because of technology that we can experience our traditional experience more due to cheaper and more efficient manufacturing processes. I have no problem with someone trying to “innovate” boardgaming. Some ideas are going to be great and others are going to flop. It will be fun to watch these ideas continue to evolve.

I remember the demo’s of the Microsoft’s Surface digital table (not tablet) where they had Settlers of Catan on it. I found it fascinating to see how players could hide their cards from each other on the screen and move their pieces around all digitally. I certainly wanted one, but I could never afford the 20 grand price tag on it.

Of course, who can forget the first Star Wars where Han Solo tells Luke, “Let the wookie win” over the holographic game table. These are ideas that I believe could potentially add to the traditional experience, and not necessarily take away.

I can understand your point about no die rolling in the Golem Arcana, and how that took away from the experience for you. I know that I enjoy the roll of the die and the drama it can add to a game. However, the designers can learn from that and later someone could invent a RF encoded electronic die that the tablet can read as it rolls to a stop so that you still get the joy of rolling the die. That’s the part of the process innovation!

Either way, I look forward to what comes next.

Gamer Avatar
Old Bones
Sentinels of the Multiverse fan

I have very fond memories of playing Battletech in the late 80’s with my cousins over summer break. All the time spent outfitting our mechs and having huge battles that lasted late into the night. You nailed it with the comment of being in control and enjoying the fiddliness of Battletech.

I have also tried the pod based Battletech simulators as there was one open for a bit in Newport Beach and I was fully immersed and had a blast.

As far as the blending of technology and board gaming, I am looking forward to more games offering apps that help track all the tiny modifiers, one game in particular for me is Sentinels of the Multiverse. If they ever get the Android version of the App to look anything like the promise in the insert that comes with the game, I will spend the $5 just to not have to keep track of all the damage modifiers and health points. I will miss the pen and paper tracking system somewhat but if it makes it faster for old timers or more appealing to new players who’d rather play a video game then I say bring it on.

Gamer Avatar
Miniature Painter
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester

I am a big fan of combining my phone/tablet/laptop with my board games, but not in this capacity. I like to make spreadsheets to maintain my Necromunda and Warhammer Quest characters, for example.

I also find portable tech indispensable for complex rulebooks and looking up errata. Being able to search for a keyword or term and warp directly to it is incredibly useful in my opinion. For what that is worth, I also now prefer digital versions of book-based RPGs for the same reason.

As far as errata goes, it is not uncommon for something unusual to come up in a game. Chances are, if it happened to a group I am playing in, it has happened before to others. Easy access to the internet on a mobile device paired with a Google search can get very quick answers to perplexing problems.

Love the article. I am totally going to look closer at BattleTech. That sounds right in my wheelhouse.

Gamer Avatar
Bronze Supporter
Novice Reviewer
Mask of Agamemnon

I love BattleTech and I can’t wait to get my grubby mitts on Golem Arcana. I have never been a fan of the large scale miniatures wargames, but Golem Arcana has me hooked to try it.

I believe there is a place for both styles, depending on the tastes and moods of individual players, but in the long run, I feel the introduction of tech is likely to be the “wave of the future”. But just as there are digital dice rollers of all flavors, I do not believe that tech will ever truly eliminate pen-and-paper. Just as ebooks have not totally eradicated true paper books. There is always room for the nostalgic in Geek culture.

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