Board Game in Review: Chaos in the Old World

A couple weeks ago, I played Chaos in the Old World by Fantasy Flight Games. In the game, you adopt the role of one of the four gods of ruins: Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Slaanesh. Not exactly names to inspire fear. Then again, the game is based on the world of the Warhammer, so I suppose that’s all they had to work with. During the game, each power accumulates victory points and builds “threat” by conquering sections of the Old World. The winner is the first person to reach 50 VP or to achieve maximum threat.

(Image from fantasyflightgames.com)

When you first crack open the box for Chaos in the Old World, the game is daunting. It contains nearly 200 cardboard tokens, dozens of plastic figurines, a set of dice, and several decks of cards. My first thought when I saw the components was “typical Fantasy Flight Game.” One characteristic of many FFG games is the fiddly pieces. I soon discovered that the components were not too difficult to parse. Most of the tokens and figurines were divided by faction—which god of ruin you were playing—so you really didn’t have to keep track of all that much.

(Image from fantasyflightgames.com)

Each player had a power sheet representing the unique properties of his or her god of ruin. These power sheets were used in conjunction with a series of cards that told you the statistics of your evil minions. One thing that became apparent during the game was the distinct flavor and gameplay of each god of ruin. The game designer, Eric M. Lang, did a great job of making each player have a distinct way of conquering. One faction might aim for corruption—turning a region to ruin through cultists—while another, like Khorne, would be focused on battle and destruction.

In addition to accumulating victory points for ruining regions, a player also advanced along the Threat track, which was basically a spinning counter that revealed different bonuses and upgrades you received. I really enjoyed this mechanic, and it seemed fairly well-balanced against the VP method of victory, because at the end of the game, I was neck-and-neck with the players who had focused on VP accumulation and not the Threat track.

The most confusing component of the game was probably the domination and ruination of the different regions. Ruination occurred through placing ruin tokens on a region over a series of turns. When that number reached twelve, the region would be ruined, and each player that had a presence in the region would gain VP based on his or her presence. In addition to ruination, the players would evaluate who dominated a region each turn through the presence of figures (cultists, demons, and the like) and cards (two of which could be played in any one region). Domination was determined by the sum of figures and your card values. If your number was highest and exceeded a region’s domination value, you gained a certain number of victory points. Sound confusing? It kind of was. Fortunately, I was playing Khorne, so I could focus on just destroying my enemies instead of domination. Despite the somewhat confusing mechanics, it was apparently well-balanced, because three out of the four players in the game were equal right up until the end of the game.

Players rolled dice to resolve battles, although few of the gods besides Khorne were rewarded for doing battle. If FFG plans on releasing an expansion, it would be interesting if they included some roles that also focused on battle. I enjoyed playing Khorne because it meant I was constantly rolling dice. Among board games, I normally prefer games with fewer randomized elements, but I felt like the dice rolling in Chaos in the Old World was appropriate for the game’s “flavor.”

In conclusion, I’d say Chaos in the Old World is a fun, well-balanced game. The choice to make the game revolve around the gods of ruin, rather than heroes, was an interesting choice, and one that makes sense for the game’s mechanics. The game felt much different from your standard heroic board game—kind of like if everyone in Shadows Over Camelot was playing the traitor. The game isn’t for the faint of heart, though. Although the rulebook is about as succinct as it could be, the game is initially difficult to decipher. One of the people in our group had played before, so that helped. Chaos in the Old World is definitely an easier system than Descent, but if you’re looking at FFG’s games, I’d recommend Kingsburg before Chaos in the Old World.

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