- Designer: Florian Fay
- Publisher: Z-Man Games
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 60 minutes
Apocalypse Chaos was a game that kind of flew under the radar at GenCon 2015 for me – I had seen the title on the list of games from Z-Man for the show, but I really hadn’t had much advance information about it. When I had a short meeting with the awesome folks at Z-Man, I got the elevator pitch about it, and it certainly seemed to have promise.
In short, the game is a cooperative game where players are stuck on a spaceship, and this spaceship is being overrun by enemy forces. Each player uses dice, and the cooperative part comes from passing these dice around between the players. In the introductory game, you pretty much need to find and kill all of the Boss Monsters. It’s recommended that you stick to this intro game for your first few plays in order to get comfortable with the mechanics. Once you are ready, you can then move onto the campaign form of the game. Thus far, I’m still in the intro game stage – so this review will focus mostly on that aspect of the game. I think it’s fair to review the game at this stage of experience – because, if you find that you aren’t interested in even the intro scenario to a game, you’ll not be looking for a much longer campaign version of the same game.
The intro game is set up using six room square room tiles. Four are placed on the table to form a 2×2 square and the remaining two are elevated on plastic pillars. Each player gets a Hero board, token and 5 dice in his hero’s color. The Hero Board shows the 5 actions that you can take. There is also space to track your life. Each player places their character in a different room to start the game. One vortex marker per player is placed on the outside of the grid (more on these later).
There is a deck of enemy cards – consisting of both Bosses and Grunts. Following the chart in the rules, you construct a deck of enemies – with different distributions of the two types of enemies in the top, middle and bottom portions of the deck.
The game is played in a number of rounds until either the players have won (by defeating all the Bosses) or when the game has won (when all the players are dead). There are 4 phases in each round.
1) Arrival of new Enemies – Each vortex, in numerical order, spawns a new enemy from the deck. These are placed so that the top of the new card is adjacent to the room. If you draw an Enemy with a Radar symbol on it, you add another enemy to the same Vortex token before continuing on. If the enemy deck is exhausted, you roll a die and a Fire Token is placed in a room that has that icon depicted on it.
2) Heroes Setup – Each hero rolls their 5 colored dice and places them on their mat. Then, the group looks at the results and decides how to best use the dice. Each player is allowed to give up to two of their dice to other players. Each player is also allowed to accept up to two dice from other people. Players are not allowed to change the face of the die that was rolled. Based on the icons on the dice, they can be assigned to a number of areas on the board. There are the 5 actions: movement, melee attack, ranged attack, defense, and the hero’s special ability. The more dice that are placed on a certain action, the stronger that action will be. Players can also designate dice to help with initiative or to activate the room that they are currently in. Players may also add dice to the External Support Team (EST). If the total dice allocated to the EST between ALL the players is equal to the number of players, an EST attack will happen in the third phase. Finally, dice can be placed on certain equipment cards in order to activate them.
While placing dice, remember that you cannot modify the face rolled initially – regardless of who owns the die currently. All players can use a pair of matching dice as any other face. Additionally, the star face is kind of a wild – the star can be used for initiative or it can be used for either of the two starred actions on a player board (each hero has a different combination of starred actions).
3) Global Offensive
First, see if an EST occurs – again, this happens if the players collectively have a number of dice equal to the number of players committed to the EST. If so, players can choose any of the 8 adjacent areas to the four room tiles, and all enemies (Bosses and Grunts) in that area take 1 point of damage – and this damage cannot be blocked.
Then, in order of initiative number – starting at 1 and proceeding upward in numerical order – Players AND Enemies take their turn. If there is a tie between player and Enemy, the player gets to go first. On a player turn, the player will perform all actions that have dice allocated to them in the order of that player’s choice – with the exception of Defense. The Defense dice stay on the board until the end of the phase. The other action dice are removed from the board as the action is taken.
When taking actions, you essentially look at the left-most number in the row, as long as the row has at least one die in it.
- Movement – you can move 1, 2, 3 rooms. All movement must happen at once – you only get one chance to move each turn. You may not end your movement in a room that already has 2 Heroes in it.
- Melee attack – attack an Enemy next to the room that you currently occupy. The hero chooses a valid target and deals a number of damage equal to the left-most exposed number in the corresponding attack row. Bosses may not be attacked when there is a Grunt in the same area. The attack is only valid for one target, the attack strength cannot be split amongst multiple Enemies. If the Enemy loses its last Life Point, it is defeated. The card for that enemy is flipped over, exposing an Equipment card. The player takes this, and that Equipment card becomes effective immediately.
- Ranged attack – attack an Enemy at least one Room tile away from you. The hero chooses a valid target and deals a number of damage equal to the left-most exposed number in the corresponding attack row. Bosses may not be attacked when there is a Grunt in the same area. The attack is only valid for one target, the attack strength cannot be split amongst multiple Enemies. If the Enemy loses its last Life Point, it is defeated. The card for that enemy is flipped over, exposing an Equipment card. The player takes this, and that Equipment card becomes effective immediately.
Special Ability – each Hero has a unique set of special abilities.
- Green – restore life points to the heroes
- Red – make unstoppable/unblockable attacks
- Purple – move enemies around the board
- Blue – Block the actions of enemies
As with the other actions, generally the more dice that are committed to the special action, you will get more effect or wider range to your actions.
Defense – The number of Shields visible reduced damage taken. If multiple players are in the same Room, they add their shields together and all get the benefit of the sum of the Shields (and each would take identical damage if dealt). Remember that while all other dice are discarded when the action is taken, your Defense dice stay on the board until the end of this phase.
Enemy actions are a little different. Each Enemy has their own initiative number in the top center of the card (just above the name). If there is a tie between Enemy and player, the player wins. For ties between Enemies, perform them in numerical order of the Vortex they are next to. At the bottom of the card, there are a number of actions – between 2 and 4 – and these are ALL performed in Left to Right order. These actions will cause the Enemies to move, attack, leave grenades, heal, etc.
When an enemy attacks, it attacks a Room, and attacks all Heroes present in that Room. Again, all player shields are summed together, and any attack power in excess of this shield total goes to the Heroes. The damage is not split, all players take the same damage for the attack that gets thru. If there is no enemy present in a room, but there is a room above it, the attack instead destroys one of the pillars. (* I’m not sure this is correct as the rules don’t really address this, but I have made this ruling based on some answers on BGG from the game’s designer in response to rules questions). If an elevated room has 3 pillars destroyed, the room is destroyed. Everyone on that room (or underneath that room) suffer 4 points of damage.
4) End of Round
Each player who ends the game in a room with Fire Tokens takes damage equal to the sum of the fire tokens in that room. The Fire tokens remain there to ping you next turn. Then, any player who is in a room with a Grenade takes damage equal to the number on the Grenade. The Grenade token is then removed from the board.
If all the bosses have been destroyed, then the players win. Otherwise, continue through another round as long as there are still Heroes alive to fight another day.
Also, I should note that if one of the Heroes has died, he is eliminated from the game, and all the of equipment cards that he had disappear as well. While that player doesn’t have much to do, he also won’t have very long to wait as the players only have 2 more turns after the first hero is defeated in order to win the game. Otherwise, the enemies over-run them and the game ends anyways.
My thoughts on the game
As you probably know, I’m lukewarm on co-operative games but my tolerance for them (and my enjoyment from them) have been steadily increasing over the years – almost to the point where I look forward to trying the newest one out to see how it plays. (It helps that my local group is a pretty good fit for me and co-op games as we don’t really have a overbearing quarterback player…) That being said, Apocalypse Chaos is a nice entry into the genre.
I do like the way that the dice are used in the game – players are at the mercy of Lady Luck when they roll the dice. Once you roll dem bones, you can’t change the faces, so you have to discuss with the team how to best use the die faces that you have. The rules for passing and accepting dice give you lots of flexibility, and you really need to examine the different abilities of the heroes in the game as the dice may have stronger effects on one board. For example, the Green hero has a stronger melee attack than the other 3 heroes. But, there’s more to consider than just the player boards – because if the Green hero isn’t adjacent to the people you really want to hit this turn, the stronger attack might not matter.
You also need to take into account how each player can use the star die face – trying to get the most of these semi-wild faces is crucial. This is where we often have the most discussion because everyone can use those stars, and the team just has to figure out what is the best way to employ them.
One thing that we missed in our first game was being willing to spend dice to alter the initiative ratings of the heroes. The players can change their ratings both up and down depending on the dice, and this could be important because timing is critical. You might need to use someone’s ranged attack first to take out a grunt so that a player in later initiative order is able to then use a huge Melee attack to knock off a Boss. Or – you might need to strategically move a hero around with a bunch of shields so that those shields can be added together at different times to fend off different attacks in the course of the round. We first thought that using dice to change initiative was a waste, but making sure that your team’s actions happen in the right order could be invaluable.
The special abilities are an important feature of the game that you need to use effectively in order to stay alive. They are all crucial to survival at different times in the game. However, these special abilities bring to light a possible problem with the game: I’m not sure how well the game scales. When you play with fewer than 4 players, each is supposed to choose a Hero – but if you don’t have the full complement of 4 in the game, then you will be missing the unchosen hero’s abilities for the entire game. After one 3p game, we have since decided to either play only with 4 players or to share the 4th hero in order to have all the abilities in play. Also, when I have played the game solo, I have set it up as a 4p game and played all the heroes.
The intro game pretty much forces you to be active and aggressive. Based on the enemy spawning rules, you will have at least one new enemy per player per round. That’s hard to keep up with, as there is not a guarantee that you will be able to kill one enemy per player per round! You should remember that the goal is to kill the bosses, and concentrating attacks in a single area – or moving around the enemies in the game may help you preferentially target the Bosses. Or, you could try to just kill as many grunts as possible to get the Equipment cards on their backsides to be able to use those abilities to help you along.
Thus far, I have been engaged in Apocalypse Chaos, and I have enjoyed the introductory game. We have not yet moved into the Campaign mode – there is a set of 7 missions in the rule book – though they look pretty cool. The goals are no longer to simply beat all the Bosses. For instance, in the first mission, you need to get all the heroes up to the top of a 3-level tower. At this point, I think that I’m interested in at least starting the Campaign, though to be honest, I’d also be pretty satisfied with the game if we just played the Introductory game!
More to come after we’ve delved a bit deeper – but given the time crunch before Essen, I wanted to get some impressions on the blog prior to October.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor