Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In Old World Kislev, Khorne pops you!

I arrived on Monday around 6:40 and jumped into a 6-player game of Shadow Hunters to await further arrivals. I still am not used to the werewolf-style games, but I found this one the best of the lot that I’ve tried; there are a lot of mechanics to reveal information, and there’s enough silly dice rolling and forced slaughter to make things amusing for all. The atmosphere of the game is also quite fun, sort of Scooby Doo with serial killers. The game went pretty quickly, with the forces of darkness getting totally crushed, failing to kill anyone despite identifying the forces of light fairly quickly, possibly due to the forces of light having a chainsaw. (Note to self: when playing a horror game, make sure to acquire a chainsaw.)

Next up was Chaos in the Old World, with Brian, Dennis, and Tiffany. Way back about 20 years ago I got a copy of “Realm of Chaos: the Lost and the Damned” for the Warhammer roleplaying game for 25 cents; it covered Nurgle and Tzeentch, two of the chaos gods and players in the game. So I had inside intel!

Chaos features unequal sides with different powers and goals, and different paths to victory. Helpfully to me as a newbie, I drew Khorne, god of bloodshed, which is the simplest side to play. Khorne’s strategy is to kill early and often, and ignore all other considerations.

The trickiest part to master in the game is the interaction of the various chaos cards which players can use, and the abstract nature of the movement. You get a nice region map, and pieces travel from adjacent region to adjacent region, but they don’t actually move, they are “summoned”, which means a piece can be picked up and moved to the other side of the board. It also costs the same to bring a new creature into being as to move an existing creature, which is an odd mechanic. There are a lot of cards which block battles, teleport creatures, block entry into territories, and prevent corruption, the main goal of most sides -- it’s pretty easy to spoil someone’s plans, although you generally have to spend actions in order to do it.

The basic turn sequence is the most interesting part of the game: each player takes one action in sequence and can choose to take “stalling” actions, leaving multiple actions available at end of turn to adjust to the new board conditions. Watching opponents develop their moves and strategies can leave you with some potent countermoves at the end. Since the player who has the most effective turn gets a bonus, if you have a strong move lined up it behooves you to mess with anyone else who has a strong move, which is an elegant hose-the-leader mechanic entirely appropriate for a game about Chaos.

One problem I had with the game was that the victory conditions were difficult to gauge from observing the board. Each player has dials that can advance them to victory -- but the number you see when you look at the dial does not tell you how close they are to winning; you have to look at some faint sector markings along the side of the dial. The game can be ended by regions being ruined, but it’s not immediately obvious how close regions are to being ruined, or even how many more ruins will end the game. The game can be ended by victory points, but it’s difficult to gauge who will pick up how many victory points on any turn. The game can be ended by turns, but there’s no visible way to tell how many turns remain; you have to either remember or count a deck of cards. A lot of times I felt at a loss judging where we were, and I’m sure that my multiple questions about winning conditions detracted from the game, but I blame the board design for at least part of this. I’m sure that would be less of an issue with future plays. Also, in this game the last turn was mostly superfluous, which I think is not usually the case.

The game also does feature dice rolling to determine the outcome of battles, so there’s the possibility of dice luck significantly altering the outcome. I think my win with Khorne was mostly due to above-average dice luck. (I later learned that there were a couple rules that we played incorrectly that would’ve favored Khorne.) However, Khorne is really the only player in this game who needs dice luck to win, and a more skilled player could reduce the luck element for Khorne by entering more battles than I managed.

Thematically this game is a huge win. Every god has its own flavor. My cultists got seduced by Slaanesh, god of pleasure, multiple times, and I was forced to slaughter them ruthlessly as a result, which I found vastly amusing. Nurgle repeatedly poisoned large areas of the board, and Tzeentch had all kinds of teleporting fun. Strategically, the game also has a lot going for it, and I would definitely try it again.

Final game of the night was Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. It took a while to work out all the kinks, but it played interestingly. In a gin rummy game, a skilled player can build up a very detailed picture of what’s in the opponent’s hand; here, with fewer cards and more players, it’s harder, so it’s more a tactical game of assembling melds and waiting to lay them down until other players are threatening to go out, with a few interesting twists. The Jack the Ripper theme is well-developed.

However, the whole “murky endgame” problem became apparent here. I’ve played a lot of canasta and continental, so I’ve got a reasonable sense for when a player can go out, and at one point I looked around at the melds on the board and commented that I had to get rid of my cards as quickly as possible because it was likely that an opponent would go out, which the next player immediately did. Rob, who had not had much rummy experience, made a comment about my ability to foresee this, which got me thinking. In a rummy game, deciding when to end the game is a major strategic choice. Rummy is also fast, so being able to trigger a surprise endgame doesn’t alter the balance of a multi-hour session. In general, however, it’s obviously a huge disadvantage if you’re unable to perceive that a game is about to end. Until you get good at predicting endgame, this also makes the game seem more random than it really is.

Mystery Rummy was the third new game of the night for me, and the third that I’d try again.


At 7:48 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Ben said...

Great report! I'm dropping Chaos into my next shopping cart... I look forward to giving it a spin.

At 8:29 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Rob said...

Chaos is chaotic fun.

Rummy? Well lets just say that Fred was talking about me in that last paragraph about experience, and predicting when a player goes out.... things I lack. That's why i'll always steer clear of 'classic' card games. I got way late on the bandwagon.

At 8:29 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Rob said...

Oh, and I liked Endeavor even more the second time around. I felt the theme a little more (it's not just an abstract with pretty bits).

At 9:39 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Chris said...

Good session report. It was good to see you again, Fred.

I felt many of the same things that you did about Chaos, including the victory wheel issue. I have no idea how many turns any player needs to win at any given time. And the Khorne, if they get spread around, seem hard to beat, especially with cultists that can attack. But the theme is good. I like the decks for each god--they make the sides unique. If after a few games it emerges that no side is particularly handicapped, then I'll be a bit more excited about it.

I really enjoy Shadow Hunters. Just plain fun.

And I always love card games. I'm glad we got in the game of rummy, even though it was a bit late at night.

The two games of Endeavor played fairly differently, which was good to see.

At 10:06 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Tiffany said...

I want to play Endeavor again. Really!

At 10:33 PM, October 13, 2009, Blogger Fred said...

Dennis suggested that other sides can put out cheap warriors to kill Khorne's expensive warriors. Also, every side has at least one hose-Khorne card: Slaanesh can prevent battles, Tzeentch can teleport Khorne or victims away, and Nurgle can boost unit defense. I think blocking Khorne's 2nd dial advancement is viable by holding those cards until after Khorne commits his troops.

At 7:32 AM, October 14, 2009, Blogger Rob said...

I think that our bitterness with Khorne also comes from Scott's godly rolls (pun intended?). He was rolling 6's like a madman, with his 'mid-strength' units. And we were all having a hard time trying to kill those ONE DEFENSE units. It took me three turns to kill one for example.

At 7:32 AM, October 14, 2009, Blogger Rob said...

Awesome image btw.


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