Circadians: A First Look at First Light & Chaos Order

We were light years from our home, galaxies away, when we first discovered this ancient celestial body, a planet filled with intriguing, intelligent lifeforms, not too unlike our own. Some built kingdoms below the surface of the green seas, while others controlled the desert-filled plains and cliffs. Among them we found scientists, inventors, farmers, traders and fighters. While our presence has been unsettling for some, we have had very few incidents with the locals. Still, we Circadians, Earth’s famed explorers, must do what we can to ensure peace. We must respect this world and its hosts. The heads of Moontide passed down orders from above. We are to open negotiations with the three clans, in hopes of gaining their favor, along with our own security while on the planet. We must also collect organic samples for the depository on Moontide. This is new ground for all of us, but we must be brave and resourceful. The future of the Circadians depends on it.

With these words, the saga of the Circadians begins… and you as a player are right in the thick of it – collecting samples, negotiating with the clans, and competing to do so as efficiently as possible. Circadians: First Light is a benevolent exploration game – where the players function as explorers with a moral code rather than, say, the avaricious evil of the Resource Development Administration (RDA) of the Avatar films.

That’s the story behind Circadians: First Light – which was recently re-published in a second edition that updated the art and rulebook, added in the first expansion (Allies) and new leaders, and improved the presentation of the game.

But I Already Own a First Edition!

Folks who own the first edition of Circadians: First Light have an opportunity right now to get the upgrade kit for the second edition through the expansion Kickstarter. This Upgrade Kit comes in the larger, 2nd Edition box for First Light, with the new Specialists Expansion components included inside the box. Also inside are all printed components from the 2nd Edition base game, larger wooden resources, and custom insert. The only items you will need to keep from the 1st Edition are all wooden components, dice, and harvesters. The Upgrade Kit for First Light 1st Edition will not be coming to retail.
The Kickstarter ends on Thursday, January 19.

What’s So Funny (About Peace, Love & Understanding)?

The gameplay is primarily worker placement and resource management – though workers are represented by dice whose values determine the effectiveness of a particular activity.

There are four phases to play:

  1. Plan – After an event is revealed, each player rolls their dice and secretly assigns them to their garages (to transport them to various locations in the game) or their farms (to harvest more resources).
  2. Execute – After HQ dice are placed, players take turns sending dice from their garages and activating those locations).
  3. Harvest – Players harvest resources from their farms and the location of their Harvester on the Planet Board.
  4. Rest – All dice are returned (with exceptions) to the players, the start player passes to the left, and players check to make sure they have no more than 8 contract cards and 5 dice (crew).

A game consists of seven rounds… after which points are totaled and a victor declared.

That is, I’ll be the first to admit, a pretty bare bones description of what happens in the game… but clarity on game flow helps put the rest of the game details in context. (That “big picture” view doesn’t happen until page 6 of the rulebook – and then only as a graphic above more detailed information about leaders.)

The game is played across multiple boards (locations) as well as player boards (research facilities):

  • the Planet board – where players move their Harvesters into position to increase their resources and (in the late game) their victory points
  • the Negotiation board – where players permanently assign dice to collect victory points and avail themselves of the clan’s assistance. Assigning a die here can also potentially bring a reward and/or a setback, depending on dice already placed on the Negotiation board.
  • the Spaceport board – which contains both the Headquarters (a place to park dice for the opportunity to go first in the next round) and the Depository (where players can fulfill contract cards and get rewards by permanently assigning dice to the location)
  • the Laboratory – where farms are purchased for their research facility
  • the Foundry – where updated garages are purchased for their research facility
  • the Market – where resources can be exchanged
  • the Control Room – where a player moves their Harvester on the planet board
  • the Academy – where players pay for more dice (crew)
  • the Mining Camp – where players can harvest gems (the most valuable resource)

At the end of the game, players score based on the location of their Harvester on the planet board, the value of their completed contract cards, the development of their research facility, the various agreements they have with the three native clans, and the gems they have remaining.

Thoughts on First Light

This is one of those games that I find intriguing and frustrating – intriguing, because the puzzle of manipulating resources and actions is challenging & interesting; frustrating, because I think the rulebook, while complete, makes it more difficult to learn the game by the way it is structured. (I will give the good folks at Garphill Games points for including a section on first time player strategies and the Irenic Union variant.)

Speaking of the Irenic Union… the original rules require players to assign dice in order (left to right) from their garages. The variant allows flexibility… and I’m here to say it’s a much more enjoyable game with that rule in play.

I do want to put in a good word for the well-thought-out solo system built into the game… both of my solo plays have been enjoyable and fast-moving. The AI robot – literally, they’re robots – is easy to use and makes intelligent moves to both hinder you and increase its score. My victories have been hard-worn.

First Light is, once you get your head wrapped around the rules and the various strategic/tactical elements, not really a long game – my solo games ran 50-60 minutes and our multiplayer games around 75-90 minutes. There’s enough variety in the contract cards, event cards, and leaders to keep things fresh for multiple plays.

First Light: Specialists Expansion

The days on Ryh are longer than those on Earth. Yet somehow it was still 33 rotations before we encountered the Oxataya – another 12 before we met any Ahzuri. So far our negotiations have gone well. Oxataya are an ancient water-dwelling clan, full of wisdom, knowledge and insight. Ahzuri are an ascetic mountain tribe of which we still know very little. We have learnt a lot from Oxataya, and their temples, but there is still much to discover. Our new research outposts and specialists have shown great promise so far. Still, only time will tell.

What’s in the Expansion?

  • New Specialist Dice and Outposts for powerful actions and added versatility when assigning Dice
  • 2 additional Factions to Negotiate with – Oxataya and Ahzuri
  • 12 new Leader Cards, each their own unique and game-changing ability
  • 26 new Contract Cards (added to the original 36 in the base game), for even more strategies and combos to discover
  • More Farm Tiles, Ship Tiles, and Event Cards
  • Additional rules and components for the already highly-praised solo mode

The Kickstarter for the expansion is ongoing and ends on Thursday, January 19.

War (What’s It Good For?)

The initial quakes were only minor tremors, but as the land began to unravel, so did our sense of security. We watched the Cliffs of Hytazch fall into the sea. Mighty trees of old, swallowed up by caverns below. As the waters rose, a great roar was heard across the plains. This was no cry of disbelief or heartache, but of jubilance. Songs began to fill the air as our once peaceful hosts, now readied themselves for battle. On the horizon we saw what appeared as huge bolts of energy shoot out into the depths of space, before disappearing again.

Despite the inevitable shock wave heading our way, the local clans continued to cheer as they made haste towards the origin of the blaze. What could cause such elation? Why abandon caution in favour of chaos? Had we missed something – some crucial misunderstanding of this planet and its inhabitants?

Upon reaching the site, we were immediately plunged into combat. Across the landscape lay six massive structures, towering over the forces fighting below. They seemed to pulse and flicker with a golden haze. Could these be the ancient relics the Oxataya spoke of? There is so much we still do not understand, but we cannot concede to indecision. Will we stay and fight, or retreat back to Moontide?

Unlike the peaceful exploration of First Light, Circadians: Chaos Order is a very confrontational area control game with highly asymmetric factions. A faction (player) can win by either controlling all remaining Relics on the map or by completing their individual faction Fame victory condition.

Over six rounds (one for each of the Relics), factions battle to not only to control the monoliths but also to develop their faction with research, constructing buildings, harvesting resources, recruiting new fighters, and moving into position to accomplish their goals.

The really clever part of the game design (aside from the wild creativity involved in making six very diverse factions) is the first step in each round – where the players work to set the prices to participate in each function. Factions can make actions they don’t want other groups to take more expensive… or make an action relatively cheap in order to receive payment. Whatever action the faction chooses to price is free to them – so it can be wise to preference an action you must undertake that game round.

The actions are

  • Discover – research in order to make various actions more powerful
  • Build – erect buildings in territories you control
  • Harvest – gain resources from production points
  • Recruit – bring new fighter units into play
  • Move – move fighter units into new positions and/or create battles

Combat is resolved using both combat wheels and dice – and allows players to choose to prioritize defending themselves, eliminating other fighters, winning control of the territory… or some combination of those goals.

In addition to pursuing the relics, players can push the fame goals of their particular factions:

  • AI – the antagonistic robot horde. Fighting is their jam… and particularly wounding other fighters to gain Fame. (Interestingly, they are the bot “player” in First Light’s solo mode.)
  • Circadians – the human tech squad. With a movable drop ship base, their objective is to upgrade all four of their attributes.
  • Jrayek – planetary natives with definite Klingon tendencies. Battles against other leaders (win or lose) bring them honor… and Fame.
  • Leyrien – fast-moving natives who love the swamps of their planet. Improving their morale gives them Fame.
  • Oxataya – ancient clan on Ryh. Winning battles is more important than causing death – and brings Fame.
  • Zcharo – brilliant aliens who target opposing buildings… and generate Fame by gaining research.

I’m well aware that my overview doesn’t begin to cover all of the details of this expansive game. I heartily recommend Dan Thurot’s excellent (and much more comprehensive) review if you’re interested.

Thoughts on Chaos Order

By the way, “highly asymmetric” does not begin to cover how many differences there are between the factions. I’m a particularly big fan of Portal Games’ Cry Havoc (which has a similar “aliens & humans fighting over a planet” vibe as well as asymmetric factions)… and it is like taking a Music Appreciation course versus the Advanced Neurobiology class that is Chaos Order. I likened it to Root meeting the original Avalon Hill version of Dune.

Actually, the mention of Dune brings something to mind – Chaos Order is one of those games that would benefit from being released when I was in college back in the 80s. First, there were less games, so we tended to play the same games a lot of times… which would be a real benefit with the asymmetric factions. Second, I had time for the set-up/play/tear-down cycle of this game (which is not short) in a way that I as a semi-responsible adult don’t have any more. (Suggestion: this is a game that benefits greatly from the host of game night setting it up ahead of time as much as possible.)

Admittedly, I’ve only been able to play it a single time… we enjoyed the intricacies of the game design but agreed that it would take multiple plays to grok all of the complexities.

Key Points to Remember

  • Circadians: First Light is a worker (dice) placement/resource management game.
    • First Light has a well-designed solo mode.
  • Circadians: Chaos Order is an area control/conflict game with highly (ha!) asymmetric factions.
    • Chaos Order is multiplayer only and has no solo mode.
  • Despite the similarity in box art/style and thematic settings, they are NOT expansions.
  • There are expansions for both games available (along with the base games) through the aforementioned Kickstarter which ends next week.
  • Review copies of both games were provided by Renegade Game Studios.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Michael W: We’ve enjoyed First Light since getting it in the first kickstarter, but certainly not loved it. I think the publisher-related West Kingdom games are much stronger designs. First Light’s biggest problem for us has been the downtime. If you plan your dice quickly, you’re waiting for the AP players. Then when someone’s turn disrupts your plans, there’s more downtime as you figure out what order to play your dice to adapt. With not-slow players, the game is really at its best and is a fun non-confrontational game that definitely isn’t multiplayer solitaire. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

Circadians: First Light 

I love it! 

I like it. Mark Jackson, Michael W


Not for me…

Circadians: Chaos Order

I love it! 

I like it. 

Neutral. Mark Jackson

Not for me…

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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