Game Essentials – Warhammer: Chaos in the Old World
This series aims to look at some of our favorite games in various genres, and why we love them so much. These aren’t reviews. These are opinions. If you don’t like them, troll and flame away. If you do, perhaps we can be friends!
Warhammer. It conjures up images of complex, time consuming, and wallet devouring armies, battling across imaginary landscapes, usually housed in your basement or garage. The barrier for entry is perceived to be very high, and similar to something like Counterstrike, people envision jumping into it will only result in being torn to shreds, chewed up, spat out, and then ridiculed for your paint job.This is especially unfortunate, because the setting (both in the fantasy and sci-fi varieties) is extremely rich, featuring swathes of darkness and chaos, populated by small bastions of light, doomed to eventually die out. The setting is grim, to be sure, and yet in its over-the-top, decayed grandeur, we frequently find spots of laugh out loud hilarity, black comedy, and a true sense of heroism.
Several products have existed outside of the miniatures war-game for years, but since Fantasy Flight Games has been running with the license, we have seen a number of Warhammer products that might be friendly to those who don’t have the desire or the means, whether it be time or money, to pursue the miniatures hobby. One of the first of these products, Chaos in the Old World, is an asymmetrical conquest type game designed by Eric Lang.
After a long break since the last time I played this, we recently busted it out, let the chips fall, and gave the destruction of the Old World a go. Two players had never so much has looked at the game beyond the box itself, and another had only played it once. The game time required to play is advertised as one to two hours, and provided someone is playing who has a grasp of the rules, this is a very accurate estimate. After a few plays, you might be surprised to be playing a game that feels like a true conquest game, but rarely extends past the 90 minute mark.
The game itself features the four Ruinous Powers of Warhammer. Players find themselves portraying Khorne, the Blood God, Nurgle, the Fly Lord of Disease, Tzeentch, the embodiment of chaos and ambition, and Slaanesh, Prince of Pleasure. These four different forces are what give the game its greatest strength. They are truly different, unique in their particular feel and play style. This, paired with the two possible victory conditions, can make for some interesting and varied games.
You achieve victory by either advancing your Chaos Dial to the final space (which is an abstract representation of your power increasing), or dominating and corrupting enough of the Old World to acquire 50 or more victory points. The first to do either of these is declared the winner at the end of the round in which it happens, with ties determined in a specific fashion. All the while, the citizens of the Old World attempt to shine a light in the darkness in the form of Old World cards. Once the deck of cards is exhausted, the good of the Old World will have pushed back the darkness for now and all the players will lose.
The Ruinous Powers themselves are quite unique. For example, Khorne is probably the most straightforward to play. He is most likely to win via advancing his dial to the final space. His advancement condition is killing an opposing figure in combat in a territory. Early on, it behooves him to be very aggressive, slowing up his opponents and advancing his dial by picking on their lowly cultists. Later on, his simplicity becomes a double edged sword as the other gods will attempt to avoid sacrificing units to him at all costs. It becomes a guerilla war, trying to take advantage of someone spread too thin or not paying attention.
In contrast, Nurgle doesn’t play as aggressively. Instead, he tends to pursue victory via points. Nurgle will sit and let his pestilence spread, moving his taint throughout the land, slowly dominating and eventually ruining entire provinces. Once he has momentum, he is hard to defeat.
Opposed to the two straightforward powers of Khorne and Nurgle, are Tzeentch and Slaanesh. Their dial advancement conditions are the most difficult to pull off, but they have a variety of interesting maneuvers they can engage in through the use of their cards, particularly Tzeentch. They will tend to eschew military confrontation, instead sneaking their influence in via cleverly placed cards and cultists. Tzeentch can perform many tricks with very little power each turn, and uses this to direct the flow of the board whenever possible. Slaanesh tries to pervert the great heroes of the Old World, as well as seducing the worshippers of the other Ruinous powers.
The armies themselves have a finite number of units to draw on, which keeps things from ballooning. The momentum seldom drops and unless a particularly bad stroke of luck hits you, you are never out of the game, particularly if you can get a few corruption tokens on the board paired with a couple of dial advances.
This game a a real treat. It is a conquest game at its core, but it is steeped in the Warhammer setting and allows you to play as a dark god. The pacing is great, the rules simple, and the asymmetrical design makes each game unique. If you are looking for something fresh and yet familiar, or if the Warhammer setting has ever interested, you could do a lot worse than Chaos in the Old World.