Dale Yu: Review of Chaosmos

 

Chaosmos

  • Designer: Joey Vigour
  • Publisher: Mirror Box Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 60-90 minutes
  • Ages: 13+
  • Times Played: 3, with review copy provided by Mirror Box Games

chaosmos

I had not heard of Chaosmos prior to Origins 2015, but the booth at the convention was getting steady attention and demos.  I had been contacted by the designer prior to the show, and had a nice conversation with him in Columbus.  The game is a labor of love for Mr. Vigour as he has been working on the game since about age 10.

The story of the game is fairly simple. The universe is ending, and the remaining races of the Universe are vying to take control of the Ovoid, a mythical something-or-other that will give its owner the chance to somehow survive the end of the Universe.  Whichever player has possession of the Ovoid at the end of the game will win.

The bulk of the game is in the equipment cards – one of these is the mythical Ovoid.  The entire deck o cards is in play in each game.  The universe is created by putting a number of planet tiles together (8 in the starter game, 10 in a regular game).  The Chaos Clock is the game timer, set for 36 turns in the beginner game, 48 turns in the full game.  Each player selects (or is dealt) an identity card which tells you what race you belong to and what sorts of special abilities that you have.

The card that you want, but that... you might not ever see

The card that you want, but that… you might not ever see

The cards are shuffled up, and the all of them are distributed somewhere.  Each planet has an envelope which keeps the cards on that planet secret.  When cards are placed in the envelope, they are generally placed facedown so that you can’t even accidentally see the cards. 6 cards are placed in the “Cosmic Pool”, a face up display – if the Ovoid is revealed, it is replaced with another card and the Ovoid is shuffled back into the deck. Each of the starting player planets get 10 cards and the other planet envelopes get 4 each.  At this point, all the cards in the game should be in play somewhere.

Starting with the first player, each player takes their turn which involves three actions. Players can choose freely among the different options and they may repeat actions.  The options are: moving, controlling a planet, attacking and playing cards.

Moving: you move one space. Each planet, star and wormhole on the board counts as a space.  Thus, in order to move from one planet to an adjacent one, you’ll need to spend two actions, one to move onto the star between the planets and then one more to move onto the second planet.  You could spend a hyperspace token (you get 3 to start the game) with your action to move to any planet.

Control a planet: IF you are on a planet, you can spend an action to take control of it.  When you do this, you can take the envelope of that planet and look inside it.  You first check to see if there is a face up card (called a “flip card”) on the top of the stack – a Trap or a Vault card (more on this later).  If there is not one of these special cards, you can take the whole deck of cards and freely exchange cards from your hand and the envelope.  When you are done, you are limited to only having 7 cards in your hand.  Additionally, you must always leave at least one face down card in the envelope.

Modular setup for the base game

Modular setup for the base game

Attack another player: If you are on the same space as another player, you can attack them for an action.  Both players then roll a pair of battle dice (with faces 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, mirror) and the rolled value is their starting battle strength.  If you roll a mirror, it takes on the identity of the other die.  If you roll a pair of mirrors, you automatically win.  Now, the player who has the lower battle score gets the chance to play equipment cards from his hand to either tie or take the lead. Then the opponent gets a chance to respond. This goes on until both players pass on playing more cards.  At this point the player with the higher battle value wins and can either take spoils (look at the loser’s hand and take any single card from the hand) or banish the loser (send the planet to a planet of their choice).  Additionally, the winner of the battle takes control of any planet envelope that was in the control of the loser.  If the battle ends in a tie, it is a draw and nothing happens.

Playing cards: though a lot of the cards are used in battle, there are some cards that stand alone and can be used at the cost of an action – you simply play the card and follow the directions written on it.

There is one other option – and it does not cost you one of your three actions – You can trade a single card with one of the face up cards in the Cosmic Pool – however, you can only do this is you are on your home planet!

Once you have taken your three actions, you end your turn by moving the Chaos Clock down by one notch.  The game ends when the Chaos clock reaches zero – and whoever has the Ovoid card IN THEIR HAND wins!  If no one has the Ovoid card in their hand, then everybody loses.

So, what about those flip cards?  There are two varieties – Trap Cards and Vault Cards.  There is a limit of only one face up flip card in any particular envelope.  Trap cards, when revealed, banish the player that found the trap to their home planet and causes them to lose the rest of its turn.  Vault cards do not prevent from looking in the envelope, but it does prohibit you from taking cards out of the envelope unless you posess the Magnetic Key card which unlocks the vault.  Vault cards also do not prohibit you from putting cards into an envelope – you just can’t take things out.

Examples of the flip cards

Examples of the flip cards

My thoughts on the game

So that’s pretty much the gist of the basic game in Chaosmos.  You travel around the universe looking for the Ovoid.  Someone might be dealt it from the start, or maybe it’s hidden on a non-home planet to start the game and is discovered by the first person to explore that planet.  The game is a combination of luck (possibly getting dealt the Ovoid), deduction (using your brain to figure out where it is based on where you have NOT seen it), psychology (reading the meaning behind the actions of your opponents to divine where the ovoid is), and a bit of bravado (bluffing other players).

The board seems big at first, but it really isn’t when you take into account that you get 3 Hyperspace tokens for each game. In the basic 4p game, the clock starts at 36 which means that each player will get 9 turns over the duration of the game.  If you get 3 hyperspace moves in your 9 turns, that really gives you a lot of flexibility to move about the map.  Yes, it would be a smaller proportion in a 3p game because you’d then get 12 turns – but then again, you also get 3 more turns in that game to move around so it evens up.

The chaos clock near the end of the game

The chaos clock near the end of the game

But, while I’m talking about the turns, that is definitely something you need to keep in mind – you really don’t have that many opportunities to make your move in this game.  Again, in a 4p game, you get 9 turns at most.  I say at most because there is a card in the deck called the Temporal Displacer that will turn the Chaos Clock down by EIGHT spaces – which means that you could get as few as 7 turns in a basic game.  Seeing as there are 8 planets and three other opponent hands – you must realize that you can’t make it to every location.  You’ll need to try to use your deduction skills to figure out which locations give you the best chance to find the Ovoid.

holding the envelope... what is inside?

holding the envelope… what is inside?

It's a TRAAAAAP!  Your turn is now over.

It’s a TRAAAAAP! Your turn is now over.

This is one of the parts of the game that I don’t like.  For a 70 to 90 minute game, only getting 9 turns is a bit slim.  In one of my first games, I had an unlucky turn of events where I managed to hit 2 envelopes with Traps in them – which essentially short circuited my turn without anything happening – and someone played the Temporal Displacer card which meant that I realistically only had 5 actual turns during that particular game.

Compounding the problem was the fact that I never saw the Ovoid nor did I really get a great clue as to its whereabouts in that game.   That game was pure torture for me.  It took over an hour, I only got 5 turns, and I never felt like I was doing anything meaningful other than randomly exploring.  In fact, in all three games that I’ve played, there was at least one player who never saw the Ovoid nor really had a great feeling as to where it was.  In all occasions, the lost player pretty much had a crappy experience because you just fumble about hoping to run into the Ovoid on a planet or in someone’s hand – but it’s really hard to come up with a meaningful gameplan when you have so little information to go on.

Now, before it sounds like a dogpile on the game, I will say that I had a very good experience in the next game where I was not dealt the Ovoid, but I found it hidden behind a vault on the second or third turn.  Having some knowledge about where the goal card was – it was a lot of fun, both trying to figure out how to get it off that planet as well as trying to disguise my actions so that the other players couldn’t figure out what I was trying to do, lest they end up at that planet with the Magnetic key to get the Ovoid. But, as I mentioned above, while I was having a good time, there was at least one player in the same game who never sniffed the Ovoid at all.  It’s really hard to feel like you’re a part of the game when the game doesn’t give you enough to go no.

The artwork and component quality are well done, and it is evident that someone has spent a lot of time trying to create the universe of Chaosmos.  There is a bit of backstory in the rules and there is a bit on each of the player screens.  Unfortunately for me, a lot of it simply doesn’t make any sense.  Below is an example of the flavor text on one of the player screens…

Just try to make sense of this

Just try to make sense of this

Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read this one – it was surely during that game where I only got 5 actions and didn’t know what was going on at all – but I honestly can’t make heads nor tails of what this text is supposed to be conveying to me themewise.

There are a bunch of optional components and variants that are included in the box, but we’ve only tried one of them – this was the Counterfeit Ovoid rule.  In this variant, you add another Ovoid to the deck so that there is an Ovoid and a Dark Ovoid floating around.  There is also a Cipher card which tells you which one of the two Ovoids is the real deal.  At the end of the game, the player holding the true Ovoid wins the game.  This game was a bit better because with two Ovoids in play, everyone got a chance to interact with at least one of them – though due to some luck and skillful play, only one player amongst the four of us ever saw the Cipher card.  But – in the end, that game was a bit better because we all felt like we were working towards some goal in a meaningful fashion.

The components are well done, and the game looks like it’ll hold up to a number of plays. The artwork is very good as well, especially the card art.  For a first effort from a publisher, I’m impressed with the quality in both construction and graphic design.  I was a bit worried about the card envelopes because they are handled almost every turn – but they still look very good after our games so far.

Examples of card art

Examples of card art

So, after my three games, I have had 1 good game, 1 truly awful game and one OK game (the counterfeit Ovoid game).  In the current market, with so many games being released each year, this isn’t a high enough hit rate for me to want to choose this over other options.  Heck, after my first game which was the 5 action, know-nothing game, I could barely be talked into trying it again.  In the end, I’m glad that I gave the game another chance as I was able to see some of the positive aspects of it, but the fact that there is even the possibility of such a bad experience for one of the players will keep me from wanting to play this one or recommending it when looking for a game to play.  For my Euro-gamer sensibilities, this one just isn’t a good fit for my style.

But, just because the game isn’t for me, that’s not to say that it didn’t have its fans.  The game will probably still get some play around here – just not with me.  The neighborhood boys seem to like it enough, and at least one of the gamers in my regular group thinks it’ll fit in well with his other group – one that has less of a focus on Euro-styled games.  This is more of a mismatch between the style of game that I prefer to play and what this game has to offer.  I will try to hand this off to another OG writer over the summer and see if they have any different experiences.

 

 

Advertisements

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2015, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.