“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” – Oscar Wilde
What a perfect quote for this post. In what now feels like ancient history, I’m coming back to talk about my first experience with Chaos in the Old World, a game I pretty much instantly fell in love with. I’ll start this off by saying I’m not historically a fan of the setting of this game. Warhammer never held much appeal to me. I’ve never been able to really get into any miniatures games. With my inner circle of nerds, this tends to make me the odd man out. I tried Clan War when it came out, being in the thrall of Legend of the Five Rings at the time, I played Mageknight a handful of times (though I am guessing that miniature games purists will decry that it doesn’t count) and once I wrote up an army for a Warhammer Fantasy campaign…and never actually played. No Malifaux, no 40K, nothing. My friends swear that if I gave it an earnest try, I’d love it. They could be right, but getting over that hump has proven very difficult. It’s an expensive hobby to get in to, requires a very specific type of play area, and whereas it’s not the only game guilty of this, takes a lot of time to play. These are barriers that are very difficult to overcome for me, but I’m sure eventually I will give in and give it a try.
Back to where I was, I was setting up a game of Thunderstone, when a friend of mine approaches me and asks if I would like to play Chaos in the Old World. I ask him what it’s about, and he tells me that we play as a collection of evil gods trying to corrupt the world, but only in our own style, and not the styles of the other gods. Intrigued, I abandon Thunderstone to learn more. I’ll admit, when I saw the Warhammer logo, my brain winced reflexively, but was quickly mollified by the Fantasy Flight logo. I haven’t played all of Fantasy Flight’s games, but I haven’t played a single one I didn’t enjoy.
I’ll start with some of the base mechanics then get to the goods. In the base game, there are four Ruinous Powers (which you have to admit is a cool name). The game has several end conditions. The first god to spin their accomplishment dial to its final space (accomplished by completing tasks specifically to your god’s agenda). The second is to score 50 Victory Points, primarily obtained through the corruption and subsequent destruction of the world. Third is to destroy five of the board’s regions, and lastly is for the deck of Old World cards to run out, signaling that the commoners have successfully resisted the collapse of their society among the conflict of four gods. Three games in (with many more planned) I have not seen the people escape their thorny doom.
OK, now onto what makes this game awesome. Each of the gods has a playstyle that is distinctly their own. In three games, I have played as three different powers and had vastly different experiences. The Old World deck, which determines how the people try to stave you off changes each time, adding further replayability. Being a Fantasy Flight game, the materials are top notch. This game didn’t make me want to get into Warhammer, but the flavor of this game was so potent that it inspired me to venture out in the wastelands of the internets to learn more about our fearsome foursome. First up is Khorne, the Blood God. All this guy cares about is murder. He advances his special victory dial by killing as many opposing figures in different areas on the board as he can. Khorne’s playstyle is straightforward and brutal. Some argue that he is unfair, as he’s not playing the same game as the other three (Khorne doesn’t care about corruption, only about killing things), the other three have to alter their strategies to deal with him. Having only played a handful of times, I would counter that while Khorne is pretty straightforward, and his existence can make things really difficult for the other players, it’s not too difficult to play around him. A successful Khorne player is largely indiscriminate about who he butchers, so unless he’s got some grudge against you, just run away. Other players may do the same, and it’s in his best interests to see who is most likely to win the game and focus on chasing them that turn. If that’s you, well, there’s a tax to be paid for doing so well, and sometimes that tax is paid in skulls. Khorne also doesn’t get to play the numbers game like the other players and is forced to rely on dice for his success. Even the most cunning Khorne player can be laid low with bad luck. After Khorne, we have Nurgle, the lord of disease. Nurgle’s worshippers are all plague-ridden. Nurgle does not make his followers well, but he does ease their suffering. Due to his twisted patronly stance, he’s often referred to as “Grandfather Nurgle”. Nurgle’s focus sits on the regions of the board marked Populous, where he can infect the greatest number of people. Unfortunately for Nurgle, these are also high value areas, so the odds of him being left alone are pretty slim. Nurgle’s dial is the longest, which makes his victory via dial pretty difficult, but he’s arguably the best at setting up camp somewhere and holding off intruders. From Nurgle, we move to Tzeentch, (pronounced “zeench”) the Changer of Ways. Tzeentch’s thing is magic. He gains power by corrupting places where powerful magics have occurred. Tzeentch is very interesting to play as many of his powers involve movement, allowing him to be fluid, where Nurgle is stagnant. His warriors are not powerful, and his magics are subtle in their potency. Tzeentch is constantly moving, constantly changing, which is par for the course for he who weaves the threads of fate. Lastly of the four we have Slaanesh, the Dark Prince, who glories in lust and decadence. Slaanesh gains power by corrupting areas with people of influence. His orgies literally destroy cities. He is similarly limited like Nurgle as to where he needs to focus, because it puts him at a disadvantage to not to corrupt areas without nobles. Slaanesh takes the party with him though, once Sodom is destroyed, he brings all of his entranced nobles to pick the celebration right back up in Gomorrah. The Horned Rat Expansion allows for a fifth player to play as the verminous Skaven. As they are not a true Ruinous Power, they are not interested in corruption, but they are all about destruction and making sure everyone knows they were responsible when cities fall.
The replayability of this game is pretty amazing. Each god is balanced in a unique way and feels flavorful while completely different from the other gods. It deftly juggles competitive and cooperative as you fight to advance your own unholy agenda while helping the others to keep runaway leaders in check. After playing this game for the first time, I immediately played it again, and when I got home from the convention, I looked into acquiring it for myself. The nerd level might be a little high, so be gentle when introducing to non-gamers. I found Chaos in the Old World to be all kinds of awesome and find myself constantly trying to schedule new plays. I strongly advise anyone to grab it or find a friend with it.