Chaostle: Sorry meets Talisman

This game came to my attention during Origns 2011.  It’s large, with big plastic walls, detailed miniatures, and intricate looking character boards.  I was more then a little intrigued.

So we got the game home and there it sat for a while, during which many other games were played and reviewed.  Why?  People found it a bit intimidating, so getting players to settle in to learn how to play it was a bit of a challenge.

Finally an evening came where I put my foot down, “We are trying this tonight!”, and I settled in to read the rules.  I’m sure my gulp was audible when I opened the box to find a 37 page rule book awaiting me.  This was why I had trouble getting people to settle in, I mused.  But determined I plowed ahead.

I found that the first few pages of the rule book were really just a written story to give the game some context.  Interesting, but with so many pages of rules ahead of me, “Skip It!”.  Then came the rules themselves, and I settled in for a good long read.   Approximately 8 pages later, I felt like I understood all the rules of the game.  Wait… 8 pages?  But the rules were 37 pages long!  After all the rules, the rule book goes into descriptions of special character abilities, alignment descriptions, etc.  Things that give the game nice flavor, but are absolutely not necessary for your first game.

Special character abilities aren’t needed for the first game?  That’s what we were told.  When I first talked to the designer of the game at Origins, he told me that your first game is best played without all the fancy character abilities.  This is because each player plays four characters, and each character has three special abilities.  So that is a total of twelve special things that each player must remember… a little bit much for a person trying to remember simple things like how characters can move.

So I gathered my players and we settled down for the game, with me explaining the rules in just a few minutes, and away we went.  So what are the rules?

Firstly the goal of the game is to get one of your characters all the way around the board, to the castle, and into the sanctuary.  Sound familiar?  It should, as this is the same premise as “Sorry”, “Aggravation”, and an untold number of similar copycat games.   So how do you accomplish this?  Well, this game has three major components:

  1. Rolling and Moving
  2. Combat
  3. Fates

Rolling and Moving is pretty simple.  On your turn you roll one die.  Depending on your roll, different things occur.  On a one or a two you can bring another character not yet in play, into play on your starting position, very much like “Sorry”.   A three is “lucky” and lets you take a turn again.  A four is optional, you can decide to move or not.  A five invokes the fates.  And a six is just a six, lucky you.   Regardless of which one of these you roll, you also move your character that many spaces along the board.

A look at a character card.

A look at a character card.

If you come close to another persons character on the board, you can choose to do combat with them.  Combat is really simple, and I like that.   Each character board has a list of six attacks that they can do, how much damage each attack does, and how close you have to be in order to be successful.  You roll one die, and find that number on your card.  If you are within the given range of the character, you hit!  Hurray!  You do the amount of damage that is listed.  Easy Peasy.  If you hit, then your enemy is compelled to attack you back.  Otherwise, they can declare the battle over and try to get out of dodge, or they can choose to smack you around for attempting to do them harm, their choice.  Once a character loses all of their hit points, they are removed from the board, they can get back on the board by rolling a one or a two and going back to start.  Also by killing them, you are allowed to “upgrade” one of your characters stats or abilities, thus making them a little bit more powerful.

Remember that five you rolled?  Well, you better hope that the fates like you today.  After making your movement, but before any battle occurs, you must roll three dice and see if the fates are on your side.  The red die in the game determines what column from the fates table you will use.  Columns 1-3 are good things, and Columns 4-6 are rather bad.   Once you know your column, you add together the other two dice, and that tells you the specific fate that has occurred.  You can then look the fate up in the rule book, and find out what fortune has befallen you.   This fate element reminded us very much of the cards in Talisman, dictating something good or bad on each move.

So by the end of our first game, we actually scoffed at why we were so intimidated by this game.   It’s pretty much just “Sorry” but each of your pawns have characteristics and stats and combat was made slightly more complicated then simply landing on each other.  The talisman like element of the fates added more bits of random to the game so that rewards and punishments could be handed out which kept everyone on their game.

The Chaostle game board.  See all the walls and characters?  Neat aye?

The Chaostle game board. See all the walls and characters? Neat aye?

So now it was on to game two, what about all of those special abilities, we can add those in now, right?  Maybe that will add layers of complexity to this situation (ya know, like an onion… or an ogre).  So we start looking at the rule book and we notice something that was more then a little daunting:  The abilities were mildly intricate, but what they do wasn’t printed on the character cards, nor were there secondary cheat sheets for each character.  This clearly wasn’t going to work.  Off to the computer!  We are resourceful gamers.  We ended up finding some that a gamer had made and published to boardgamegeek.com, so we downloaded,  printed, and cut them out.  You can click here to print your own too.

This seems like as good a time as any to pause to talk about the one thing I usually just don’t shut up about:  Components.  This game has beautiful components.  My players and I couldn’t stop talking about them throughout the game, and therefore no review can be complete without talking about them here.  Everything that comes in that box is quality, this company really didn’t skimp.  The board is large and solid, with good art.  To help you set the board up, the spaces where the walls go are numbered, and correspond to numbers on the bottom of the wall sections.  Each wall section is made of a heavy plastic and has pegs so that it locks into place on the board, no slipping and sliding.

The miniatures are nice, and are something I would expect to see D&D players using, not something a board game typically has.  Each one is simply gray and ready for an enthusiast to paint.  To mark which ones are part of your team, the game comes with a large bag of rubber bases that slip over the miniatures base.  These not only help you tell which character is which, but also helps keep the minis from sliding around on the board.

The character cards really shouldn’t even be called cards, they are boards in and of themselves, and are thicker then an average game board.  These are full color and look really sharp.  Each includes not only an artistic image of your character, but also displays the picture of the mini associated with your character, so its really easy to pick them out and tell them apart.  And to keep track of all of your upgrades and hit points, the boards are fitted with peg holes to track all of this, kinda like a cribbage board.  This works soooo much nicer then little cardboard chits.

Ok, I’ll stop gushing about the components, I swear, but I would like to give a giant heartfelt thank you to the person who decided that putting a little bit more money into this game for the nice components was worth it.  It made a huge impact on our group, and actually made the game a little more fun to play.

But now back to the downside on the components, our handmade ability reference cards.  With those in hand, it was time for game two.  This time hopefully a much more strategic game.

So game two commenced…. and it felt just like game one…. Well, that was a lot of build up for nothing, eh?   Yes we all had these great special abilities, but overall they just didn’t affect game play all that much.  The one thing they did serve to do was make combat slightly more complicated, and very off balance.   Off balance how?  Well, let me give you some examples.  One of the mages that were being played had an ability called “Cheat Death” that made him effectively invincible.   Another character, the dragon slayer, only had abilities that worked on the one dragon character in the game.  This made him useless in most instances and rather overpowered in others.  All and all, these special abilities needed some serious tweaking.

So the special abilities were a bit of a let down, but that doesn’t mean the whole game was bad.  A couple of people in my group really liked it, and were anxious to play it again.  I myself would classify this as a “lazy game”.  It’s great for a lazy afternoon, with some action movie playing in the background.  It doesn’t require lots of thought in between turns, and thus dividing your attention isn’t a problem.  When it is your turn, there isn’t a lot of extra thought either, you roll and move in the most logical way you can find.  There is often one obvious path to take.  But the game play itself is entertaining, and would be a good way to kill a couple of hours.  Every bit of this screams “Classic American Game”, and if you like that style, you’ll like this one.  Judged within that category, this game is quite good.  If however, you are a Euro Gamer, this may likely not float your boat.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 8:51 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Theme Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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