This game is immense, creepy, and dark…and you’ll love it. =-) Get sucked into a steampunk world full of grotesque monsters, powerful weapons, and an ever-present Horror inflicting its will on your characters’ feeble minds. It’s perfect for mid- to advanced-level gamers with any interest in steampunk, horror, dungeon crawlers, or the occult.
Work together as steampunk explorers attempting to survive through several chapters of monster-spawning, horror-invoking doom. Explore the dungeon-like maps while you pull monsters into an exploding barrel, ambush them with traps, and use powerful weapon combinations to send them back to the infernal pit from which they came. Be careful not to lose any explorers as they come back to control the hive mind of all monsters in play!
I love that in addition to monsters there is a capital-H Horror presence that feasts on the wills of the characters. Bad, bad things happen when Horror events are triggered! Many games, movies, books, etc. pit the protagonist against a physical monster or group of monsters. In Machina Arcana, the monsters, as powerful as they are, are simply doing the Horror’s bidding. The Horror is nameless, faceless, and creepy as sin. You’ll quickly find a love/hate relationship with this entity. =-)
The items (weapons, apparel, artifacts, and consumables) are incredibly cool as stand-alone items, but the real value comes when you start to merge and enhance weapons with each other. Certain items (weapons and apparel) can be upgraded or augmented depending on the fit with each other. This will yield powerful combinations that are very helpful in defeating the monsters or protecting against evil influences.
Curiosity led me to read Lovecraft’s cult-classic The Call of Cthulhu (how in the world is that pronounced?!) a few years back, and Machina Arcana’s monsters are totally this style. You’ll find the Mi-Go, Sarall, Buopoth, Urhag, the Deep One (think The Shape of Water but nastier), and the infamous Spawn of Cthulhu (just run if he gets invoked!), not one of which I would ever wish to encounter even in my darkest nightmares.
The entire theme with each game’s unique chapters and scenarios is so engrossing! You’ll get sucked into this world of evil and darkness where hope barely hangs on by a thread. Your every choice feels like a life or death decision: Do I activate the trap to kill two mid-level monsters or pull the one powerful monster into the exploding barrel? Do I take the time to enhance my equipped weapon or try and take out the monster right next to me? If you are prone to analysis paralysis, don’t think, just act. =-)
Tips & Tricks
- Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the power of item combinations! It is worth the spent stamina to trade cards to make this happen. You’ve been warned. =-)
- Take full advantage of the pits, exploding barrels, and traps, especially with the barbed whip! These are strategically placed to give you an edge…or at least a shred of hope. =-)
- Speaking of hope, don’t give up hope! Just when you think you’re a goner, you’ll play a blessed Character Event that happens to be just what you need.
Scoring & Wrap-up
Overall, I give Machina Arcana a solid 8 out of 10 for the following reasons:
- The ability to take actions (e.g., move, use an ability, attack, map interactions, etc.) is perfectly balanced via a character’s stamina. You won’t feel like each character can do too much (making for very long, disconnected turns), but you’ll also feel like your turns add value to the team with the amount of stamina available.
- There’s a lot going against you, but you’ve got a lot going for you as well. It will feel like an epic battle between good and evil from the very first round.
- You’ll love (or hate!) the progressive nature of the entire game, from the monster level to the spawn rating to the ultimate horror rating, this game is not static.
- The map tiles are so detailed and contain so much to explore.
- The monsters are flat out creepy and evil-looking. I’m not convinced that in real life any amount of the weapons used could take down even one of these horrors.
- The rulebook, while long, is truly masterful. It could not possibly be more specific and clear.
- There is a lot to take in at first. We found ourselves going back to the rulebook quite a bit during our first game, a fair amount for the second, and not too much after that. That’s just the nature of this type of light RPG-style game, however, the rulebook easily answered each question. For those of you more experienced with hefty RPG-type games, this won’t be an issue at all.
- As humans, hope naturally appeals to us. There is intentionally little hope in Machina Arcana. While victories are all the sweeter, you’ll sometimes feel like you were doomed from the start.
Overall, I would very much recommend this one for mid-level to heavier gamers who love shorter RPG-type games and are comfortable with a decent amount of specific rules and conditions. It’s deep, dark, rich, and intense and will hit the table often for many years to come!