Friday, September 9, 2011

Game Brains - Chaos in the Old World

This week I had the chance to play the board game Chaos in the Old World. This game was published by Fantasy Flight Games in 2009 and was designed by Eric M Lang. Eric is actually one of the two guys that designed the Quarriors game I spoke about in episode 12.

First of all I want give a little background on my history with this game. I followed the development of this game when Fantasy Flight announced it and was really excited and knew I wanted to have it in my collection. I was lucky enough to receive it for Christmas and I opened it, punched and bagged everything, read the rules, and then stuck it my gaming shelf. And it set there for almost two years.

I don't really know why I didn't get this to the table sooner, the situation was just never right. The game does not have the option for two players and so I never had a chance to test it out with my brother or my wife. It only supports a maximum of 4 players and my regular gaming group is normally 5 or 6 guys. Scott and I do get together for game nights with our wives, but I don't know if the theme is something that would appeal to them.

And this game is chock full of theme. The game is set in the fantasy world of Warhammer, made popular by the table top wargame. In that setting there are four “gods” of Chaos and those are the guys that the players represent. Each of you take on the role of the commanders of one of the Chaos factions and each one plays slightly different which really adds to the experience. Khorne is the god of war and so he is all about combat. Nurgle is the god of decay and so he is all about corrupting the populated regions. Tzeentch is the god of magic so that is where his focus lies and Slaanesh is the god of pleasure so that player gets made fun of a lot.

The premise of the game is that these guys do not get along with each other any more than they do with the rest of the world. The game represents the four forces of Chaos vying for domination of the various regions of the world. So Khorne doesn't just want to wage war on the Old World, he wants to make sure that Nurgle doesn't get to have any fun corrupting it first.

The game is played out on large board dominated by a map of the Warhammer fantasy world. There is also a scoring track that goes around three edges of the board, and a section with four threat dials with one for each of the players. Below the threat dials are sections to keep a few decks of cards. They could have gotten away with just a typical game map but, befitting the Ruinous Powers of Chaos, the map is actually illustrated to give the appearance that it is tattooed on the splayed skin of some unfortunate individual. An awesome touch, but another reason why I won't be bringing this one to family reunions.

There is one unusual part of the set up part of this game, you actually need to determine which player is going to control which faction before you sit down. In this game the order you sit around the table does matter because the factions take their turns in a specific order. Honestly I guess you don't have to sit in the correct order but it would be a mess trying to remember whose turn it is.

Once you determine which army you are going to control you need to get your stuff in order. You get a handy player reference card that will tell you not only which Chaos God you control, but also how much power you have used for the turns as well as the flow of the game and what each of the “Old World tokens” are used for. You get a big pile of your own tokens with your symbol on them, these are corruption tokens used to track your influence in each region. You get two decks of cards specific to your faction. You get a group of 5 normal sized card that are upgrades you can earn during the course of the game, and you get a deck of 20 or so small cards which are special powers, tactics, and spells you can use during the game. On top of all that you get some plastic miniatures that represent your followers. There are three types, Cultists, Warriors, and Greater Deamons, but how many you receive of each type and what they actually do depends on which Chaos God they follow.

I enjoy games with multiple ways to win, and this game has three different win conditions.

You can win by spinning your threat dial all the way around. Each of the Chaos Gods have a different rule that lets them earn advancement tokens. At the end of each round any player that has at least one token gets to advance their threat dial. The player with the most tokens gets an extra spin. Even if you don't think you can win the game by being the most threatening you still want to advance when you can. Every time you spin your dial you get some sort of bonus. It could be something simple like removing one of your opponents corruption tokens or it could be one of the coveted upgrades. This lets you choose one of your upgrade cards to put in to play. You can upgrade one of your followers to give them a special ability or get some other advantage to help you in your fight.

Another way you can win is by reaching 50 points on the victory track. The main way that you earn victory points are by controlling regions of the world. But even if you are not fighting the other players for a region they are not always easy to control. Not only do you have to contend with the basic defense of each location but certain events can make certain regions harder to take over. There are also some events that give you opportunities to earn extra victory points.

Or you can win by ruining 5 of the regions of the Old World. At the end of each round you get to add one of your corruption tokens to the board for each cultist follower you still have alive. These go in the region that the cultist is currently in. If any region gets a combined 12 corruption tokens it is considered ruined. Each player that helped corrupt it the turn it become ruined gets a few victory points, then depending on how many other ruined regions there are the two players with the most tokens in the area get additional victory points. Once 5 regions are ruined the player with the most victory at the time is considered the winner.

But don't think it's all doom and gloom for the Old World, there is a glimmer of hope. There is a deck of 7 Old World cards kept on the board and each turn you flip over the top one and see what happens. In this way the game fights back a little bit by throwing out some unexpected situations. Since you only use a random 7 cards from a pool of about 30 it really adds to the replay value. And if you burn through the deck with no winner then all of the forces of Chaos have collectively lost.

The game is played out in a series of phases with each player taking their turn(s) within the phase in order. You get a certain amount of power to spend each turn and a certain number of your Chaos cards to use. The first main phase consists of each player in turn either summoning a follower or playing a card to a region. There is no limit to the amount of followers that can be summoned to a region, but each region can only have two cards total. So even if you don't get a huge advantage from one of your cards it can still be strategic to play one just to block the spot from the other players. Each follower and card has a cost associated with it that comes from your pool of power. Once all players are out of power for the turn you move on to the next phase.

The next phase is combat. Any region that has more than one group of followers will have a combat. Each player, in order, will roll a pool of dice equal to the combined attack of their group of followers. You then assign hits to any available targets. All models get to attack, they are not removed until the end of the combat when all casualties are taken away. Once you are done beating the tar out of each other you then check to see if anyone controls each region and score accordingly.

That is the game in a nutshell but since this is a game about Chaos...well you know that it's just not that simple. There are some random elements to the game and if that sort of thing bothers you just be warned.

While the map is fixed every game each region does receive a random Old World token during the set up. This could make the area full of lowly peasants to slaughter, the location of some sort of royalty that needs corrupting, some sickly warpstone making the area already that much more corrupt, or some other element to deal with. On top of that you have the random 7 Old World cards that I mentioned. These cause something to happen each turn of the game, from something beneficial to something that completely throws your plans off track. If you cannot adapt and respond to what is brewing in the Old World as well as what you fellow players have going on you might find yourself gaining nothing for a turn and that can be hard to make up later.

This past Sunday my weekly gaming group still met even though it was Labor Day weekend. But since a few guys were busy with other stuff we found ourselves with only 4 guys. I mentioned off hand that this would be a perfect time to try out Chaos in the Old World and to my surprise the other guys agreed. It probably didn't hurt that most of my friends are currently playing Warhammer 40k and so anything Warhammer is interesting to them. And the same four Chaos Gods appear in both settings so they were already at least a bit familiar with who they were.

Lucky for me I had already sorted and bagged everything all those years ago so set up was a breeze. I had the stuff for each player in a separate labeled bag and so was able to just pass those out. We started with the player who had one the last game we played and then just went around the table in order. The turn order starts with Khorne and then moves to Nurgle, Tzeentch, and ends with Slaanesh. I also want to point out that everything for each player is color coded which really does help tell what belongs to who as the game board fills up. Khorne gets blood red, Nurgle is sickly green, Tzeentch is a deep blue, and Slaanesh is a pretty purple.

I ended up playing Nurgle which meant that I would go second during each round of each phase. Reading my player sheet I see that I get to put a token on my Threat dial every time I put two or more corruption tokens on a “populous” region in the same turn. Remember that only your Cultist followers get to put down corruption, and Nurgle only has access to 6 of those types of followers. Looking at the board I could only find 4 regions that were designated as “populous”. My initial plan was to try to go for two of them that were adjacent in the south west corner of the map. I figured if I could corrupt both every turn I would always be advancing my dial and if I was lucky then maybe I could be getting two advancements on the turns that the other players didn't meet their advancement conditions that often.

Nurgle has access to 5 Warrior followers called Plaguebearers. These guys are minor deamons that are just basic fighters with 1 attack and 1 defense, but having 5 available gave me a bit more bite than Tzeentch and Slaanesh. The only one that I (and everyone else) had to worry about was Khorne. My one Greater Deamon was a big fat slob of a monster called a Great Unclean One. He is actually pretty beefy with 3 attack and 3 defense, but he costs 3 of your 6 summon points to bring out.

So the game begins and we turn over the first Old World event and my plans immediately need adjusting. Seems someone found a holy grail and brought it to Brettonia, which is one of the regions I had in my sights. While I could still add corruption tokens to that space, until the event card was gone all corruption tokens were removed at the end of every round. So it would take that much longer to ruin the region. So I started thinking that I would just try to corrupt and dominate the other region I was planning on using, get it ruined that much faster, and then spread out once the event was over. Plus if I was dominating that would get me some extra victory points over those I would receive for the ruination.

So we began summoning and Khorne puts a follower in the Northeast corner of the map, all the way on the other side of the board from where I was planning to strike. I was feeling pretty good about my plan so I summoned one of my Warriors the region I had my eye on the whole time. I figured I would open with a Warrior and let the other guys know that I was willing to fight for this space.

Then Tzeentch goes and summons a cultist to the exact same region that I just did. What the @#!*% Tzeentch? Apparently something drew his eye to that spot but I could not for the life of me figure out what it was. It was not a weak region that was easy to grab, it didn't have anything he needed for threat advancement, it was not adjacent to a lot of regions making it easy to spread out. The only thing it had going for it was that it was the furthest away from where Khorne set up camp.

So reacting to this I spread out from that area and begin trying to dominate some regions to score at least some sort of victory points. I did end up setting up some guys in Bretonnia just to get the dial advancements but the event seemed destined to stay out as long as it could and those regions never did get ruined. During the later half of the game Slaanesh got tired of Khorne beating his followers not in a good way and up and teleported his entire army from the North side of the board to the South, leaving me and Tzeentch between him and Khorne. So for the last few turns I ended up butting heads with Khonre but I think my guys did alright.

The game was won by Khorne when he moved his Threat Dial all the way to the victory spot. I came in second as far as victory points, but we totally messed up a rule and I think I might have won if we had been playing correctly. Khonre gets an advancement token every time he kills a model in battle. We were counting the peasant tokens he was killing as models but if we had read the rules closely we would have seen that those are clearly tokens and do not count for Khornes advancement condition. Although if we had known that he would have just come after us more so who knows how it would have ended up.

Overall this is a great game, I cannot wait to play it again. I'm glad that I own it and really regret that this gem was just sitting my shelf this whole time. Fantasy Flight games released an expansion for this game earlier this year which expands the game up to 5 players and I feel it's a must have for me. Supporting 5 players will let me get this to the table much more often.

I'm going to try to convince Scott to play this next time my wife and I are over at his house, but I'm still not sure how well the theme will go over with our wives. I think that the theme is implemented perfectly, but it's just not a theme that will appeal to everyone.

If you are a fan of the Games Workshop Warhammer setting then I think this game is a must have, so at least give it a try. If you don't mind a dark fantasy setting or playing the bad guy every once in a while, and you regularly have 3 friends over, then you definitely want to take a look. Otherwise, even though this is a great game, I think the theme is too integral a part that you could over look it.

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