Friday, October 28, 2011

Chaos in the Old World

Chaos in the Old World is a competitive game for 3-4 players by Fantasy Flight Games. It's widely considered to be best with 4 players and I, for one, can't imagine why you would play it with any less. The game plays in about 90 minutes, with the usual addition of 20-30 additional minutes for first time players

Before I begin, an anecdote – Last winter, some friends and I got together to play Chaos in the Old World (CitOW) on a Friday night. We started around 9pm and did not stop until 5am. We played 4-5 consecutive games and would’ve played another had we not been starving. The game hits the table very often in my group and we always have a blast with it.

Components: Normally I’d just say “It’s Fantasy Flight” and be on my merry way to the next segment. CitOW has a fantastic set of components. The cards and tokens are top notch, sturdy stock. The board is a work of art consisting of a large map of the Old World that has been etched onto pieces of skin stitched together (the game is very grimdark) and the innovative dials that track the progress of each of the Chaos *s. However, there is one black mark against the game in this category and that is the figures – specifically, the cultists. Each of the Ruinous Powers has their own set of figures and the daemon and greater daemon models are very well modeled. The cultists figures, however, are the same sculpt for each faction and have a long banner pole that is topped with a very fragile 8-pointed Star of Chaos. This banner is very thin and fragile and after a few games, you’ll likely notice that many cultists are just carrying a stick rather than a banner. I have still given the game a 5/5 for components because everything else is so good, but those cultists pieces are worth pointing out.

Rules: CitOW stands out as one of the first Fantasy Flight games that has had an easily comprehensible and well laid out rulebook. Of particular note is the incredibly well written section that gives players pointers on how to play each of the Chaos *s and how to deal with their rivals. The mechanics for this game do an amazing job of creating a setting where dark *s plot and scheme against one another and after a turn or two, everything makes sense. I’ve had a chance to bring this to the table multiple times and not once has anyone I’ve played with before faltered with the rules – it’s like riding a bike.

Gameplay: One of the best features of CitOW is that each of the four Chaos *s is unique. Though they all follow the same rules, each one has a particular flavor and sphere of influence that they can focus on for victory. After my first play through I got a good feel for how each Ruinous Power played and in subsequent games my group and I were able to leverage our strengths to their fullest. Even with new players, the game never feels like it’s dragging and the unique dual victory conditions of the Chaos dials and the victory track give players strategic options for pursuing domination.

Overall: I really don’t have enough good things to say about CitOW. The game has never let me down and is probably played more than anything else within my circle of friends. Being a fan of Warhammer definitely doesn’t hurt, but unlike other Fantasy Flight/Games Workshop games, CitOW doesn’t suffer from being exclusionary to folks who don’t know their Nurgles from the Tzeentches.

Red November

Red November is a cooperative board game for 1-8 players by Fantasy Flight Games. It plays in about 60 minutes, but can be significantly less if you have a group who knows how to play the game. That door swings both ways, though and new players should expect to add an additional 20-30 minutes for learning the rules.

Before I even begin, Red November is as frustrating as it is hilarious. I know several people who despise it because it never feels like you’re gaining any ground, but that’s what makes it so much fun for me. When you’ve got a bunch of drunk gnomes trying to keep a submarine together, things are bound to go wrong.

Components: My experience with the game was with the smaller, first edition. It is my understanding that the revised edition has a more streamlined rulebook, a larger board and new item cards. That being said, the first edition was just fine for me and my friends and had components that lived up to the Fantasy Flight Games pedigree.

Rules: Red November’s rules were a little hinky to grasp at first. The revised rulebook is laid out a bit better and streamlines many of the mechanics, but I’d still be aware that your first go through might take a little more time than the recommended 60 minutes play time.

Gameplay: The premise behind Red November is that your crew of gnomish sailors is racing against the clock to keep their sub together while they desperately try and surface so that they can be rescued. In this case, the mechanics fit the theme very well. The Red November is a hunk of junk that makes the Millenium Falcon look like a ship of the line. Using a time track along the perimeter of the board, each play has the option of committing themselves to as many actions as they please. Each action takes you a certain number of steps along the time track – which itself is dotted with various events and mishaps. As you progress along the track, you’ll be forced to decide whether or not you want to keep fixing things and moving around or stop and wait for the events you’ve accumulated so far to resolve. Often times, this leads to getting all the way across the sub to put out a fire only to have the chamber you left start flooding. As more players are added to the chaos, things can go very badly very quickly. Teamwork is key – unless of course one of your mates decides to jump ship and leave the rest to sink to the bottom of the sea…

Overall: It seems like a lot of gamers aren’t too fond of Red November, but as a portable co-op game with a fair amount of depth it truly shines. Even the new revised edition can be thrown in a backpack and set up on the fly and the game is always good for a laugh. Players almost always start panicking after the first turn and the games deft mix of tension and humor is unique for a game of it’s stature.