Played: once, 4 players.
I have been wanting to try Chaos of the Old World for quite some time. This is Han's game and he has played it before. It is a Top 50 game at www.boardgamegeek.com. The tricky thing about bringing this to the table is it is ideally played with 4 players, and we seldom have the right number. We didn't want to settle for second best. Then on 25 Mar 2011 when we joined the Friday night session at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras, we decided to bring Chaos in the Old World, and finally managed to get it played.
In this game, players are evil gods trying to exert influence in the Old World. They summon their minions to fight one another, to corrupt people, to kill peasants, to seduce the human rulers, and to completely ruin entire regions. They compete to be most successful in destroying the Old World. However, if the Old World survives, then mankind wins, and the players all lose.
During the game, the players play Chaos cards (which have various effects) onto the regions on the board, and summon their minions. Some minions can attack others' minions. Some will add corruption tokens to the regions. When a region gains 12 corruption tokens, it is completely ruined. There are two ways that a player can win - by victory points or by advancing his Threat dial. Victory points are gained mainly by dominating regions and by ruining regions. The game ends when a player reaches 50VP, or when 5 regions are ruined. Other than accumulating victory points, depending on the evil god being played, a player can advance on a Threat dial by fulfilling specific conditions, e.g. killing enemies, corrupting populous regions. A player can also win by reaching the end of the Threat dial.
One of the most praised aspect of the game is how different the four factions are. The conditions for advancing on the Threat dials make the four evil gods very different. Many other things also differ, e.g. distribution of minion types, characteristics of the minion types, the effects of the Chaos cards, the upgrades available. The four evil gods have different strengths, weaknesses and objectives. The rulebook has two pages of strategy advice on how to play each of the factions, including which victory condition to attempt, and how to deal with the other factions.
Allen, Han, George and I did a full four-player game. All of us were new except Han. George played Khorne, whose units were very strong, and who thrived on killing opponents' units. Allen played Tzeentch, who specialized in magic and thrived on corrupting regions with warpstones and other magical elements. Han played Slaanesh, temptress and seductress, who thrived on corrupting regions with nobles. I played Nurgle, lord of the plague, who thrived on corrupting populous regions.
Being Nurgle, I had to focus on placing my cultists to corrupt the populous regions. However that also meant it took longer for me to build up enough presence to dominate (and thus score) them. Han and Allen picked "kampung" (village / rural / backwater) regions to start, which were easier to dominate. However they were on the fringes of the board which meant it was more troublesome for them to spread to other regions on the board. George also started near the centre of the board.
Throughout the game most of the time most of us were able to fulfill our unique requirements to advance on our Threat dials. In fact we worked hard to stop one another from advancing double steps, by making sure no single player fulfilled his requirement more times than everyone else.
Scoring seemed to progress rather slowly. There really weren't that many points gained from dominating regions. When regions started getting ruined by too much corruption, scoring accelerated. You score for having contributed the most or second most corruption tokens, and also for having contributed in the current round. My score pushed ahead of the pack by mid game, because of my investment in the populous regions which were worth more points. Gaining points was the strength of the Nurgle.
George's Khorne was advancing well on the Threat dial, being able to kill units every round. In mid game he upgraded his cultists so that they now had attack ability too. Normally cultists could only cause corruption, and only Khorne cultists could be upgraded to have attack ability. Everyone tried to avoid him, to avoid giving him too many kills.
I, being the apparent leader (why do I always suffer this fate?!), was often the target of attacks. Thankfully my warriors were cheap to summon, so I summoned all onto the board to deter others.
Han upgraded his units to have stronger defense, which discouraged others from assigning hits to them. This meant other players indirectly became victims. Single hits would be wasted if assigned to his units, so they were assigned to others' units. Allen had many nifty cards, often negating others cards already played, which was annoying for his victims.
Towards game end, we realised George was getting close to his Threat victory. Throughout the game most of us had been avoiding him. So his units seldom got killed and they were all over the place. In hindsight we should have confronted him more even if it meant getting our own units killed. His units were more expensive to summon. I was doing well in victory points and was close to hitting 50. Unfortunately I was just 2 points short. So in the last round, it boiled down to whether George could advance double steps on his Threat dial to win. If he couldn't, I had the best odds to win by victory points, since I was ahead of everyone else. The only way to stop George was to minimize his kills. The difficult thing was he had units almost everywhere so it was hard to completely avoid him. Killing his units wouldn't help because battle was simultaneous. He just needed to kill, and losing units didn't matter so much by this point. At the same time the rest of us also tried to fulfill our own Threat dial advance requirements as many times as possible by corrupting the appropriate regions.
Cultists and warriors had been summoned, Chaos cards played. Now it was time for the dice rolling, i.e. battle resolution. We knew that odds were George would fulfill his Threat requirement more times than the rest of us. It was a tense moment. In one of the battles where he had 4 dice to roll, none of them scored hits (4 to 6). We all cheered aloud, without remembering (or caring) that we were fully-grown not-exactly-young men in a public venue. Sometimes you just have to love dice. But still, the dice gods were fair. Miracles don't happen all the time, else they wouldn't be called miracles. George scored more kills than any of us corrupted the right regions, and double advanced on the Threat dial to win.
We realised that we had played a rule wrong. In a round where a region is going to get corrupted, it should still be scored for dominance. Dominance scoring is skipped only after the region is ruined. In our game we had skipped the dominance scoring during the last round before a region was ruined. I might have won if we had done it right. Aaarrgghh... okay, sorry, I'm a sore loser.
The most praised aspect about Chaos in the Old World is how unique the four factions are and how well these combinations of strengths and weaknesses work together to make an interesting game. I fully agree with that. The game will get better with more plays because familiarity with the factions will allow players to cooperate and compete more effectively. Oh yes, sometimes you do need some form of cooperation to hold back the leader. The game is best with four players, so that all factions are in play. Although I have not played with three, I think it will be much less interesting than with four.
I had thought our game would take about 1.5 hours. It took more than 2 hours. But with experience 1.5 hours is very achieveable. With 4 players there are only 7 rounds, and you don't really get to do that many actions every round. The first game took longer mainly because we needed to get familiar with not just our own factions, but also others' factions.
The possibility of all players losing is interesting. If the game ends without anyone managing to achieve a victory condition, that means the Old World survives the corruption of these four nasty gods. So sometimes if you find that winning is not likely, you can still work towards denying everyone else the victory. That is interesting dynamics. The event cards that are revealed every round also create some uncertainty and variety. Their effects vary, some drastic but mostly not too much so.
One other interesting thing is sometimes it's just fun to play the bad guy, to take a break from being goody-goody. In this game every player is super bad. Evil Mwahahahaaa laughs are highly recommended.