Friday 2 October 2015

Playing: Chaos in the Old World

Power Gaming. The epitome of power gaming is surely playing a god. No? But even gods have restrictions, and in the case of the Ruinous Powers of the Warhammer settings, the nature of their portfolios binds their actions and ambitions far more tightly than the fates of any mortal.

Or something like that.

Before we began a protracted house move we played a few games of Chaos in the Old World. We'd bought D the game for his birthday quite a few years ago, but it never seemed to make it onto our table. It seemed, at a glance at least, to be so complex, and so full of components, and so there was always something familiar, or less fiddly to learn, or, or, or...

But then we did get the game onto the table, and we found it to be much more straightforward than we had feared. We were helped by the fact that - as we now embrace the 21st century - we were able to have a copies of the rules summary sheets produced by the Esoteric Order of Gamers as well as copies of the rules on each of our iPads. That didn't entirely stop C trying to put the wrong tokens in the wrong spaces at the wrong time, or the need for the creation of a new meta-rule for our group. We already have established that if C asks if it his turn, it almost certainly is his turn. Now, we have it that if I ask if it is my turn, it almost certainly isn't.

This must be a sign of my failing mental faculties, as Chaos in the Old World is a tightly structured game.

What makes this game really good, and provides plenty of replay value, is that each of the 'factions' - Khorne, Nurgle, Tzeentch, and Slaanesh - have different ways of winning, although they all can win by amassing victory points by taking part in the general ruination of the Old World. Khorne advances its Victory Dial by killing things (obviously), Nurgle by using its cultists to corrupt the highly populous regions, Tzeentch by corrupting regions which contain warpstone or magic, and Slaanesh by corrupting regions in which nobles or heroes reside. So each Ruinous Power has a distinct set of interests, which involves tangential rather than direct competition with that of the other Powers. This also means that if you want to deliberately frustrate your opponents you have to understand what  it is that their faction has to do in order to win, and sometimes to sacrifice the pursuit of your own goals to ensure that the power of a particular rival doesn't grow too great. 

Well, that's true for all the Powers except Khorne, which can be played in just as boneheadedly brutal a fashion as you would expect from the Blood God. And this is a good thing, as the rules capture the fiction of the Ruinous Powers - this isn't just Risk: Chaos Gods, after all - but it is the case that in our three games so far, Khorne has won XZ times. This is because, in killing the cultists of other Powers, Khorne advances its own Victory Dial while preventing its rivals from corrupting the Old World. Plus, Khorne has a couple of 'f- you!' Chaos Cards that can prevent any new Corruption Tokens being placed in a particular region, which can seriously handicap the ambitions of the other Powers. As if killing off their cultists wasn't enough. 

Khorne, therefore, is the easiest to play, but I have a suspicion that when more experienced players take control of the other Powers they will be able to frustrate Khorne - moving cultists away from its murderous minions, using magic to prevent battles from taking place, and so on. But they'd have to be disciplined in the early rounds, as once Khorne has moved its Victory Dial round a handful of 'ticks', even its mere cultists - the cheapest piece in its retinue of minions - become able combatants. As long as one of the other Ruinous Powers is played by an inexperienced player, Khorne will have plenty of opportunities to end the Old World in a tide of blood and gore.

So, there is plenty of replay value is rotating the role of the Ruinous Powers, and in learning to adapt to both playing a particular Power, and in frustrating the ambitions of the other Ruinous Powers with the capabilities afforded by each distinct role. But there is also tremendous replay value in the Old World Deck, which creates a series of randomised events which create new conditions and rules. In our first game, for example, killing peasants seemed to be continually rewarded. In the second there were outbreaks of Skaven activity - which lowers the Resistance of regions making it easier for a Power to Dominate a region and win victory points - and a wave of Heroes, who killed off minions belonging to the Power with the highest Threat. But while these were very different games, and while we had rotated seats to play different Powers, I got a very real sense that our understanding of the subtleties of the game was growing, producing more a more satisfying game as a result.

And, importantly, a keen anticipation of the next game.

Documents: Rulebook, FAQ/Errata (Fantasy Flight Games), Rules Summary (Esoteric Order of Gamers).


  1. Excellent write up. I thank you - but my wallet probably won't.

    1. Yes, sorry about that! But if you have four players available, you ought to get your money's worth across a few evenings...

      But don't buy FFG's Horus Heresy - I picked it up from eBay for what felt like a steal, but I haven't been able to get it on the table yet. Whether or not it *is* a complicated game, it certainly feels like one, the rulebook, terminology, and sheer size of the thing intimidating me into packing the damn thing away and playing Pandemic instead.