This review copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated September 29, 1998 (Added Variants)

Golem is a fun little card game of mad scientists and battling monsters. Published by Rhino Ventures, it's complete in one box - a big plus with me, not being a fan of CCGs. The game is for 2-6 players, though the box doesn't tell you that. In fact, that's actually a bit loosely defined: it's probably optimum at 4 players, plays very well with 3 or 5, and is a bit rough in some way or another (but still playable) for 2 or 6 players.

I've just heard that the new box cover, which I haven't seen, states that the game is for 3-6 players.
Each of the players is a mad scientist, creating their own golem: a creature made of inanimate - or formerly animate - material, brought to life by the throwing of a switch at a suitably dramatic moment. You know the archetype ....

The game consists of 120 body part cards, 30 switch cards, and 30 special cards. There are arms, legs, heads, and torsos of three different materials: flesh, clay and iron. Flesh are the most numerous parts, and iron the rarest, and their combat value is proportionately weak or strong.

The general course of the game is to build a golem (or multiple golems, if you can!) on your slab (the table space in front of you), activate it by throwing a switch, and then send it out into the world to battle other golems - or just to survive. Since you gain victory points simply by having an active golem, there is no need to battle other golems - unless they got out there before you did, of course, in which case you have to fight them in order to keep them from amassing the necessary victory points before you do! Or maybe just because you have an all iron golem and feel like smashing other golems just for fun ...

A completed golem has six body parts: a torso, a head, two arms, and two legs. You can mix and match materials, but a golem built entirely of one material type has its combat power doubled. Not that that helps an all Flesh Golem much against even a half-iron golem ...

Each turn you draw one card and play one card. If you don't have the right mix of body parts to make a complete golem, you can throw a spare head or whatever onto your slab - in other words, get a good start on a second golem before you've even finished your first. Or perhaps have spare parts ready to refurbish a damaged golem when it comes home.

Once you have a complete golem, on your next turn you can play a switch card, which activates the golem. While active, you can battle other golems, or opt not to. It's usually wise to, unless you're prone to rolling a 1 on a d6, as that's the only way to hurt the attacker in a battle of golems. Or perhaps you just don't want to make enemies ...

A fight is resolved with a simple combat results table: compare the strengths of the golems, find the correct column, and roll 1d6. A truly strong golem can damage as many as three body parts in one blow, but one body part is a much more common result, and it's possible to swing and miss entirely. If an opponent damages a body part, turn it face down - it's value doesn't count toward combat strength until you recall the golem and replace it.

At the end of your turn, you can decide if you want to recall your golem or keep it active - an active golem collects one victory point on its switch card, while a recalled golem gets to put the victory chits into safe keeping - they are liable to be lost until a golem is recalled. A golem and all victory points on its switch are destroyed when the golem loses its last body part. In a four-to-six-player game, you can be hit by many golems in between turns, so weighing how long to keep your golem active is very important.

When recalled, any damaged body parts are discarded (unless you have a Hunchback Assistant - found in the Special Cards) and you can freely mix and match parts to rebuild your golem and hopefully send it out again soon.

You can also do Research, which is basically discarding your whole hand and redrawing. Most of my "research" in this game has not been in anatomy, but in electrical engineering - I usually need a switch card desperately when I go to the extreme of doing Research!

The special cards are very entertaining, including optional equipment for your golem, such as a brain, a club, sneakers, etc., or the ability to hide, or the ability to go grave-robbing (search through the discard pile), or scavenge body parts off of someone else's slab, or send a mob of angry villagers at on opponent, etc.

All in all, a very fun, light game not to be taken too seriously, but one to be enjoyed when in the mood for laughter and mayhem. Probably not something you'll play every night, but you'll pull it out often enough to warrant the very reasonable price. Recommended.


Of course I've created variants for this game ...

The Trading Game: on your turn, after you have played your card, you may try to trade with other players - but only items on your slab, for items on other players' slabs (such as body parts and special cards which can be on a slab: a Brain, a Club, Sneakers, etc.). (Thus, you can't trade a switch, as you can't have a switch on your slab. Likewise, you can't play a switch immediately after trading, since you've already played your card for the turn.) Other players may only trade with the player whose turn it is.

New Cards: The game comes with a couple of blank cards. Here are some suggestions for using them:

  • Research Assistant: this special card may be played as your one card for the turn. It allows you to draw five cards from the deck, add them to your hand, then discard any five of the ten cards you now hold. You turn ends there, however - you may not fight with an active golem, recall a golem, or gain a victory point for an active golem.
  • Guard Dog: when played to the slab area, the Guard Dog may (or may not) protect you from Scavenging. When a scavenge attempt is made on your slab, roll a die:
    • 1-3: Dog is sleeping, body part is stolen.
    • 4-5: Dog is vigilant, nothing may be taken - active player discards Scavenge card.
    • 6: Dog catches thief in the act! Rescues one body part, but buries it somewhere unknown - discard one body part of the owner's choice from the slab the dog was "protecting".
    The Guard Dog remains by your slab the rest of the game. It's very loyal.

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