Seeking the Horror in the Ice with a Machina Arcana Journey

October 3, 2020 | Sessions | 2 comments

Venture into the realm of dark horror with the brave explorers and terrible monsters of Machina Arcana.

My idea of scary tends to barely scratch the surface of actual horror, or go completely towards the silly side! Yet with Machina Arcana: Premium Edition, I was intrigued enough to give this darker horror a chance. Maybe it was also the fact that it was my husband who picked it out… How else would it get played regularly if not at my solo table?! Ha!

Content Warning

Please note that this not a board game for everyone. The concepts are much darker, as is the artwork. I focused my photos mostly on text-based cards, along with some of the more strategic elements. Nonetheless, there are some frightening images below. The game also includes some nudity, though the only instance below is censored.

It’s also early to judge the storylines and how dark those may be. Most readers likely know what this game offers, yet I like to prepare anyone for what’s ahead. Nothing cute and cuddly here, I’m afraid! Feel free to skip on by if you like.

Game Overview

Game Name: Machina Arcana: Premium Edition
Publication Year:
2020
Designer:
Juraj Bilich
Artist:
Aleksandra Bilic
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game

Several scenarios feature interconnected chapters to form a handful of unique storylines. Explorers, or the rather brave lone explorer, descend into a dungeon filled with horrors and monsters. Yikes! The setting also includes steampunk elements and a clever inventory system with upgrades and augments. I was ready to go! Kind of…

Into the Cold and Icy World of a Machina Arcana Scenario

Cardboard Order

This is a board game that includes cardboard standees, rather than miniatures. Some may prefer one over the other. However, this gave me an easier way to organize!

Included in the bottom right area of these UberTrayz are all of the monster standees from the base game. 

There aren’t a ridiculous number of components, yet the game has a lot to offer. More on that very shortly.

Also, note the fantastic custom dice that are included! Very nice, particularly since unique designs sometimes don’t look as good as they could. Very, very pretty!

Finding a Neat Way to Keep the Components Organized in Machina Arcana

Cards Upon Cards

Hurray for my custom card holders! These have been working out nicely. Even here, with some oddly shaped cards, I could still keep everything in order.

Most decks feature cards of different levels. Level 1 is where everything begins, including the monsters.

Items provide a ton of variety, particularly with the way many can be combined. Upgrades and augments can be amazing! But it takes time to find items in the dungeon.

Genius photographer just missed showing the explorer and horror decks… Those were practically overflowing!

Making a Neatly Organized Area for the Cards of Machina Arcana

The Lonely Explorer

All of the base game characters include short backstories on the reverse side of their cards. Simply excellent! I liked a lot of them but ended up settling on Kim Richards.

The general consensus often recommends 2-3 explorers for the best way to experience the solo game.

However, with a lot of rules to learn, I wanted to limit all of the things I needed to keep track of. True solo was going to be a challenge, but I understood it might be subpar.

Still, I was so excited to begin! Beautiful components and this mysteriously dark atmosphere pulled me in…

Starting Off as Kim Richards as the Lone Explorer in Machina Arcana

Exploring from Afar

The main play area consists of map tiles, of course! This is classified as a dungeon crawler, and that it is.

However, there’s a clever concept that actually scrolls the map. It will never exceed 2×2 map tiles. If an explorer goes further than that, it’s onto a fresh new row or column.

In this way, there is always something new to explore without having to worry about an enormous play area.

All of the standard map tiles are double-sided, too, adding a lot of possibilities! Shuffling them was a little tricky. Then, I looked out across the entrance to the dungeon.

Into the Darkness with an Interesting Map Tile from Machina Arcana

One Last Look

So it began. Kim looked back at the dwindling light. She had crossed the threshold and the only way to go was forward. Or maybe to a few sides. But generally forward!

The tunnel took many twists just inside the entrance. But without any equipment, Kim knew she needed to search.

Yet the sputtering lanterns barely pierced the darkness. She was no fool. Somewhere in the endless dark were monsters unknown, and horrors unimaginable.

With a resolute sigh, Kim gingerly took her first steps. The muted footsteps echoed, calling out her presence.

A Wistful Look at the Last Point of Safety in Machina Arcana

Required Reading

Let me interrupt my own narrative to agree with many comments before me… The rulebook is a nightmare. It acts as a sort of rules reference, but without any order.

Nowhere does it actually explain how to play. It’s a myriad tangle of definitions, concepts, and cross-references. Most ideas require flipping all over the rulebook.

Enter the Official Player Aid! This 2-page document has a list of available actions, as well as a sequence of play.

Funny story: My printer ran out of yellow ink after page 1. So I had to look at the second page digitally. Ha ha!

A Most Useful and Necessary Player Aid for Machina Arcana

Facing the Horror

After Kim started to explore the area, she huddled against a wall to regain her stamina and plan her next move.

This first turn was kind on the spawn phase… No monsters were lurking out there just yet! Thank goodness.

But the horror phase was different. Physical enemies may have left Kim alone, yet the dungeon itself looked like it wanted to toy with her. And she was in the perfect spot.

This rhyming text almost made me think of Jumanji with its turns. Only a little. Kim tried to leap out of the way, but the magical spear caught her shoulder.

An Eerie Kind of Rhyme and Terrible Horror in Machina Arcana

The Sound of Horror

She knew how to fight. Kim seethed with anger over the unexpected attack. There was no time to reflect, though.

A thick trench coat was a fortunate find. Questions of its origins never passed into consciousness. Nor did Kim wonder why it was so neatly folded. Waiting for her.

Eyes darted from side to side. She kept her distance from the walls, wondering what else the dungeon had in store.

Then, a melody emerged. Just a whisper. It grew in strength, beautiful and powerful. In an instant, it unleashed a soundwave that blew the trench coat away.

A Deafening Sound and a Temporarily Lost Trench Coat in Machina Arcana

From the Depths

Kim was shaken. But not stirred? She smirked as she straightened and gathered up the rumpled garment. Fine.

This was going to be more than just a physical battle. She would have to ward her mind against this nightmare. Besides, it all wasn’t too terrible so far. All was well.

Kim’s head instinctively snapped to her left. It was only a slight sound. Merely a rustle somewhere out there in the darkness. But if it was anything, it would be something.

So began the entrance of the monsters! This Byakhee wasn’t too terrible, yet it also wasn’t a being to ignore.

No Longer Alone in the Labyrinth of Machina Arcana

A Memory of Power

Sufficiently equipped and armed, Kim shifted tactics. No longer could she waltz around in search of useful items. Now was the time to strike at whatever it was out there.

Unfortunately, she found herself in a small alcove. She thought she caught the outline of a wing for a mere instant. Just her imagination? Kim’s heart pounded.

Without warning, a memory from her past flooded her mind. What was it? How did it end?! She shouted it.

The monster relaxed, as though Kim wasn’t there. Lurking almost within range. The incantation worked!

Perfect Timing with a Vision from the Void in Machina Arcana

Crumbling Ruins

Kim wrapped the trench coat closer around her shoulders. Its main use was certainly to provide protection from attacks, but in this icy land, the warmth was welcome.

Her goal was not far off, but horror was hardly taking a rest. On the coattails of a chill wind came an ominous sound. She was fortunate to dodge away from the debris.

The fallen ceiling collapsed on an area of protection. Kim could almost hear the settling beams laughing at her.

Did I mention how enormous the stack of explorer and horror decks are?! What a great way to add little stories!

The Horror of a Terrifying Ceiling Collapse in Machina Arcana

The Witch of Darkness

This card is, rather obviously, in perfect condition. I simply added a bit of censorship since the nudity was a little unnecessary for me. Just ignore that for now!

Actually, the main thing that came to mind with this duo reminded me of something… Namely, a classic scene involving an accused witch, a duck, and a former newt.

Note that monsters are very easy to operate. The player aid I mentioned above is especially useful for explanations.

At this point, though, Kim needed to start moving towards completing the chapter. Lurking monsters are bad…

Another New Monster to Contend with in the Dungeon of Machina Arcana

Remaining Ethereal

Owing to a lot of nearby chests and events, Kim had a lot of essence to spend. She was nearing her maximum limit.

Lucky for her that a chest contained an amazing find! The crystal figurine nestled inside a pocket of the trench coat. Very convenient. And so it was: She could be ethereal!

This is an amazing effect that makes a unit untargetable. Monsters will ignore ethereal explorers, not even moving towards them nor attempting to attack.

Yet when this horror event showed up, I was conflicted. Was Kim attacked since she wasn’t a target? Hmm. 

A Very Useful Arcane Object and a Howl of Insanity in Machina Arcana

To Overcome Horror

As with all resources, Kim was all too aware that her essence was dwindling. She couldn’t use the crystal figurine as much as she wanted to. And the Byakhee…

But then, horror struck in an odd way. She saw her target and felt an odd pull towards it. Beyond, the real pull originated from the glowing symbols of the depths.

I took the long way around and started to double-back in order to complete the chapter. This event actually helped!

This may have been more luck than strategy, but I was still really happy. Always nice to turn the bad into good!

An Interesting Way to Use the Lure of the Dark as an Advantage in Machina Arcana

Session Overview

Play Number: 1
Solo Mode: Included in the Base Game
Play Details: Chapter 1 of Horror in the Ice
Required Play Space: 44″ x 28″
Setup Time: 10 Minutes
Play Time: 50 Minutes
Outcome: Win

Ignore my play time: A lot of it involved learning how to play. Just like this StoryWorld card, Kim made it through this hallway. Yet there were many chapters ahead. Could she survive? I almost continued on, despite my tiredness.

Another Rather Accurate StoryWorld Crossover with Machina Arcana

%

1 Play

Affordability

Price & Value

6

Functionality

Challenges & Mechanics

10

Originality

Design & Theme

6

Quality

Components & Rules

4

Reusability

Achievement & Enjoyment

10

Variability

Distinctness & Randomness

10

+ Pros (Positives)

  • A set of interconnected chapters form the foundation for scenarios to feel like a connected campaign.
  • There are an enormous number of explorer and horror cards, thereby adding a lot of variety into each play.
  • The concept of scrolling map tiles ensures that the play area remains manageable with endless exploration.
  • Combat is certainly an important element, but battles are more strategic and not always the best choice.
  • Being able to upgrade or augment equipped items adds another layer of gameplay with inventory optimization.
  • The sequence of play uses randomness that is fair but interesting, particularly in the spawn and horror phases.

– Cons (Negatives)

  • This is a very minor complaint, but the standees are double-sided so they always face the same direction.
  • All of the artwork is excellent, yet the inclusion of some nudity seems unnecessary since the theme is so strong.
  • Despite having a nicely designed insert, not all of the content neatly fits in the wells and requires some creativity.
  • It may not need to be repeated, yet the rulebook is written in a way that doesn’t teach how to play the game.

More Machina Arcana

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Continue the Conversation

What are your thoughts about Machina Arcana: Premium Edition? Or maybe just the standard edition… This just includes the first few expansions! Do you like dark horror? This still isn’t quite in my wheelhouse, yet I really enjoyed this introduction to the scenario. There are many chapters ahead that will continue on from here. I’m excited!

2 Comments

  1. Nice review. I’ll have to check out the KS and see if the rulebook concerns are addressed.

    Correction, looks like the current KS does state a new tutorial guidebook. The creators must have heard the concerns.

    Reply
    • It’s great to see that the concerns are being addressed! I probably should have spent a little time looking for the updated rulebook before I started. No matter: The learning process is often lengthy for me, so I’ll just continue to review everything. Thanks for pointing this update out, too!

      Reply

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