Thursday, August 11, 2005

Triumph of Chaos

The last two new wargames I've played, Grand Illusion and Empire of the Sun, left me feeling respectively slightly underwhelmed and extremely frustrated. So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on Triumph of Chaos, the new card-driven game from Clash of Arms based on the Paths of Glory engine. It's set during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1921, a confused affair involving almost anyone who could hitch a ride to the vicinity – not just Ukrainians and Finns and Cossaks and Tajiks, but French, Poles, Americans, Czechs, Japanese ... you name it. Anyway, the game looked quite cool, but the rulebook had typos. Some fairly serious ones. As I always say, if you can't use a spell-checker, what are the odds you have the attention to detail required to get all the details of a complex game design right? But in the end, I'm glad I tried it, and after an admittedly brief play it seems like the most promising new game of this type since Paths of Glory. It might even be able to cash in on the promise that even Paths of Glory itself couldn't quite fulfill ...

Triumph of Chaos can be described fairly easily, for the Paths of Glory fan: it uses the basic Paths of Glory engine, with some minor touch-ups for the time period (like planes, tanks, and cavalry), then adds a bunch of special rules for all the various factions for what should probably be a 4 or 5-player game. Of course, if you played with 4 or 5 players, most would have little to do most of the time, so for practical reasons you need a 2-player game ... which means keeping in your head a number of special rules for the Poles, Ukrainians, Finns, Central Powers, and so on. These rules daunted me and were my main reservation going into the game. They still do, and I still do have some reservations ... but they were not so bad once you sat down to play. It's just a fair amount of look-up when they come up. It's compensated for somewhat by the fact that the actual moving about of counters should be very familiar to Paths of Glory fans.

I think the coolest thing about Triumph of Chaos (other than the situation, which is inherently interesting and undergamed – Reds! is probably the best recent attempt, but I found that game underwhelming) is the tweaks that have been made to the card deck. Not only do you have both historical and hypothetical events, something I've always wanted in these games, but also many of the single-shot cards present you with a choice. For example, several White cards offer reinforcements, but you must choose whether to bring in (say) Czechs, Poles, or Brits. Once made, the card is removed, and the other options are lost for the game. Or you have to choose between troops and political events. Several cards enable one future event but prevent others. This added level of decision-making allows for interesting choices, and also allows the game to develop in more varied ways than Paths of Glory. This is a simple, rules-free upgrade and I like it a lot. Perhaps after a ton of play it will become clear which options are best, but for the moment it's fun to choose.

My only complaints about the game are functional. First, the map, while nicely done and on heavy paper stock, is going to wear rapidly just folding it and unfolding it. The heavy card used by Columbia, or by GMT in Europe Engulfed and their new "deluxe" maps is a vastly better solution. For a game that's potentially a real winner, I'd much prefer a durable heavy card map. Secondly, the faction reference sheets are a little weak. They are large and with a fair amount of wasted space, and keeping track of the faction special powers is critical. I'd much rather have had smaller, index-card sized reference sheets so you could keep in front of you just the ones you control.

Anyway, I liked Triumph of Chaos, and look forward to playing some more.

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