So I’ve now managed to get in on a couple of games of this:
Disclaimer: Not My Photo, Not My Friends, But Don’t They Look Like Lovely People?
It’s called Chaos In The Old World, and it’s a new boardgame set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe by worryingly prolific tabletop game studio Fantasy Flight. If you read this blog because you’re what we call a videogamer, don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll find what follows enthralling enough.
This boardgame caught my attention when Rab said on DowntimeTown that it might be the best boardgame he’s ever played. I like Rab a lot, so if he’s going to throw around that particular statement then I’m going to feel duty-bound to salute and chase it up.
Chaos In The Old World is about playing god. Chaos gods, specifically- the Warhammer world’s wonderfully imagined forces of corruption. 3-4 players take on the roles of Khorne, the blood god, Nurgle, god of pestilence, Tzeentch, weirdy magical god, and Slaanesh, stopout pleasure god, and you’re all racing each other to see who can infest the world with their own particular brand of nastiness fastest.
The game itself is an incredible piece of design. It boasts what I’m going to call slow-burn magnificence. To begin with exposure to the game and its neat playing-pieces merely warms you, like a fireplace. Quickly you get to grips with the very simple mechanics and then all these options and tactics start unfurling in your head like a flower. Finally a flare goes off in your head and you see the beauty and complexity of what you’re dealing with.
I’m just going to guide you through three of the most interesting ideas at work here.
First: the dials.
There are two ways for anyone to win Chaos In The Old World. You can win by victory points, which everyone scores the same way (broadly: by deploying lots of units in the same area of the map and keeping them there), or you can win by rotating your God’s dial all the way around. Now, everyone spins their dial on different conditions. Khorne, for example, needs to kill units, while Nurgle needs to invest resources in the areas on the board marked as “Populous”. If no-one’s paying attention you can advance your dial fast, and the more you rotate it the more powerful your God gets.
The reason the dials are so exciting and such a good idea is that in practice they give the game a fearsome inertia. They mean that you can’t just think about winning, you need to keep an eye on everybody else. You have to avoid fighting with Khorne, and you have to defend those populous regions from Nurgle. But then that’s a waste of your resources, so really you want to get someone else to do it for you, don’t you, you Machiavellian bastard.
Every time someone puts down a unit or plays a card you’re wondering if they’re doing that for victory points, or dial advancement, or to screw you over, or to screw someone else over, or as a bluff, or to stall for time. It’s a game you play with narrowed eyes, for sure. Let a God advance his dial too far and suddenly the entire game for the rest of you begins and ends in stopping him at any cost with advancing your own cause a secret second objective. Unthinkingly coming together with people you’ve been wrestling with for the last hour is really, really fun.
That stalling for time is the second thing I want to talk about. During a turn you all take it in, uh, turns to spend points either placing a unit in a region or playing a card which changes what happens in that region. Any number of units can be put in a region, but each region only has two card slots.
That means whenever it’s your turn to act you have to weigh up whether you want to sling down something cheap and useless so you can see how the board continues to develop, or you ACT, deploying powerful cards and units while praying the other Gods either won’t notice, won’t care or will decide their own cause is more important than putting you down. The longer you wait the less points you’ll have to action your plan and the less card slots there’ll be free, but the less chance you’ll have of someone muddying your waters. It’s brilliant risk/reward stuff.
Finally there’s how the game deals with losers. First you need to ask yourself if you’ve lost. I mean if you’ve really lost, Hitler in his bunker circa April 1945 style. Say you’re lagging so far behind in your dial, victory points and on the board that you haven’t got a chance in Hell of coming back. But there’s freedom to be found in acceptance. Specifically, the freedom to have fun screwing everyone else over.
See, if no-one wins by the end of turn 6 then the Old World itself is said to have survived the forces of corruption and ‘won’. That sure beats one of your brother Gods dominating, so it becomes your job to ensure nobody else can get any of their plans off the ground. And that’s fun too.
If you’re interested in learning more about Chaos In The Old World you can download a .pdf of the rulebook (officially!) here. If I’ve totally sold you and you want to buy it, do it here if you’re in the UK or here if you’re America (for less than the same price in dollars, what the fuck).
Oh! Oh! And my review of The Void went up, as well as the epilogue! And a new Battle Klaxon talking about Red Orchestra! It’s Christmas in October! Except, you know, a Christmas where all your presents are WORDS!