It was love at first sight for Earthenwar and I. As soon as my gaze fixed on the ceramic playing pieces I was smitten and had to know more. Investigating further, I found out about the theme of the game and was hooked.
It wasn’t the easiest game to get a prototype preview copy of, but I managed to snag one. Albeit a little bit later than I would like. I knew I was willing to break my own reviewer rules for this one. It turned up just before I drove 7 hours to visit my best friend, and this went straight into the overnight bag.
After a moderately heavy night out we played this over breakfast. Reading aloud the introductory text sent chills down me. I was what the game describes, a mystic, a spiritualist, a crackpot.
It was my responsibility to control the clay golem, born on the bleak battleground, to combat the enemy using my mystic sensitivities. I was there, in the moment and immersed. My mission was, as the rules suggested, simple: Destroy the Enemy Golem.
Learning how to play was straight forward, although I had read the rulebook already while waiting for the game to arrive. It is a good rulebook and everything you need is in there. Earthenwar takes about 20 minutes to play.
Earthenwar is a two player duel set during the first world war. Players use their own personal control board grid to move their golem and attack on the main player board. On their turn players will move through four phases. This repetition makes the game relatively easy to learn.
The first phase is always to ‘Refresh’ any dice you played on the previous turn. You can then ‘Improve’ a die. This is either gaining a new die for your control board or changing the value of one die up or down one pip. You then get the opportunity to ‘Swap’ the position of one die with either another, or into an empty space following the lines on the Control Grid. This is restrictive, but intentionally so, and all the better for it! The final phase of a player’s turn is to ‘Use’ the dice on your control board. White dice are used for movement, you move the number of pips on the dice in the direction that the die is placed. Black dice are used for attacks in the direction that the die is on. A one pip will hit the opponent’s golem in a square adjacent to their own. Two or three pips will launch a ranged attack and then reset the dice back to one. All dice have to be used for their full value, so you cannot use a two pip dice to only move or attack one space away. This adds another little puzzle to the play.
When you deal damage to an opponent, a tile is placed on their control grid in the corresponding area of their control board. If a damage tile is already in place you roll a black and a white dice to get a coordinate of where the damage will be dealt. If you can get three damage tiles in a row, like tic tac toe, the golem is defeated.
In the box are also some scenarios to further mix up play. The scenarios include ‘Over the Top’ which sees a meeple soldier attempting to get across the battlefield and across enemy lines while avoiding the golems and opposing soldier. This adds plenty of replayability. Although I must admit because of time constraints I haven’t tried them all.
Can you tell me more about the game?
The game is published and designed by Lazy Poet Games, a tag team partnership between John Stephen Richards Power and Peter Kissick. The superb box art and other artwork is by Pol Amaya. Credit must also go to Canadian sculptor Jessica Sallay-Carrington for designing the amazing golems crafted by Kinver Ceramics in Worcestershire, England.
In an industry dominated with injection-moulded and 3D-printed plastic miniatures, the clay figures in Earthenwar are instead produced by a team of traditional local craftsmen and women in the heart of England, using experience passed down over hundreds of years. In terms of environmental impact, ceramics are far better compared to mass-produced plastic parts and I think they are even more awesome too!
Final thoughts on Earthenwar
After my first three plays, my friend and I were staring at the board and the ceramic golems. A little bit dumbstruck and both exclaiming how clever and tactical it was. I was sold and completely invested. On our final play the golems were dancing around one another, ducking and diving, dodging and dealing damage. It was a beautiful ballet dance on the battlefield and we were thoroughly enjoying it. Hitting, running and positioning your golem in the least vulnerable place possible. In doing so consideration had to be made as to what dice would be available so your golem didn’t languish out of position with the dice on the control board in the wrong place.
This bruising boxing match really reminds me of the tactical planning you find in chess, it feels like a game of chess with one piece! The merry dance around the board is reminiscent of the Unmatched series while the overall vibe of the game is similar to Santorini. This board game is beautifully simplified, yet strategically complex.
So if you haven’t gathered it by now, I really, really like Earthenwar. My friend, Ben, exclaimed at the end of our third game “that is good, I would buy it, and you can quote me on that”, so I have. However, I need to add some balance to our effusive positivity. My wife was not a fan at all. She dislikes Santorini and chess and as a result, this board game was not for her. We all like different things and I am very fortunate we have similar tastes in many games. However, I am even more fortunate that my teenage son generally loves the games my wife dislikes, he liked this one, so I will still get plenty more plays of this fabulous title in the future.
Earthenwar is a poised and polished board game. Moving the ceramic golems about added serious gravitas to the experience. For me, these aren’t a nice to have, these are a must have. The standard edition comes with a couple of wooden golem meeples which are frankly nowhere near as good. There is something about their caricature appearance that mutes the game. The ceramic add-ons of the Kickstarter campaign are for me, essential, and I hope they stay for a deluxe retail edition at a later date. I realise they are almost as expensive as the game, however, they really finish it off impeccably. The ceramic golems have rocketed into my top five game components of all time, and I can’t think of any that would stop them from being number one off the top of my head!