#GamesIHavePlayed – Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat
On July 4th I spent the day grilling, drinking booze and playing the expansion for Chaos In the Old World, entitled The Horned Rat. For those of you who are unaware, Chaos In the Old World is a Fantasy Flight board game set in the Warhammer Fantasy setting wherein you play one of the four gods of Chaos, Khorne the Blood God, Tzneetch the Changer of Ways, Slannesh the Horndog and Nurgle the Gross. I think I got some of those honorifics wrong, but let’s move on. Your job is to corrupt the shit out of the Old World before the heroes and people of the world have a chance to fend you off. Now, this is really a competitive game, but we play the game with one important variant:
If multiple people reach the 50 point winning point or the “win the game” point on their dials at the same time, then they all win. You are supposed to count up the points and the one with the most points past that point wins, but really? That’s not as fun.
The game has two different scoring mechanisms. The threat dial, which advances every turn if you meet a certain condition based on your god, and the player with the most conditions met gets an extra turn on the dial, but ties mean there is no winner. Khorne gets an advancement counter for each region in which he kills a dude. Nurgle gets one for placing two corruption tokens in a Populous area. Tzneetch does the same, but with magic symbols, and Slannesh does the same, but for with noble tokens.
Corruption is placed automatically by your cultist tokens at the end of a round, should they survive. Each player also has warrior tokens and one “boss” token. You are limited by the number of tokens you physically have, so you can’t summon tokens past that physical limit. Dominating a region (having total number of power points in Chaos Cards and individual units higher than the listed number for a region, 1-5) gives you as many Victory Points for the region as listed on the region (called Resistance), modified by Nobles. In the event of a tie, no one dominates. Easy enough.
Anyway, the game is really balanced in such a way that the player who plays Khorne is the timer for the game, and generally both a spoiler and the person the other plays have to semi shut down in order to win the game. Of course, other players might WANT Khorne to wreck house, so it’s all a system of checks and balances that makes every game playing experience different and awesome. To briefly go over the core rules it works like this:
1) Players select a god and then arrange themselves in a certain order (Khorne, Nurgle, Tzneetch, Slannesh) in a circle. That’s the round order.
2) Place tokens at random on the game board. The tokens to start are:
a) Warpstone – Tzneetch cares about this, and it lowers the “corrupt this region” value by one.
b) Peasants – to be burninated. Seriously. Khorne loves murdering these fuckin’ guys.
c) Nobles – Slannesh loves these dudes, and it also gives you one more point when you dominate this region.
3) Draw the old world card (this is done by player with the lowest threat number on the threat dial) – These are events or conditions in the world that are happening on that turn. If you run out of Old World cards, everyone loses the game, and you only have like 7 cards to go through. Don’t worry, it won’t matter. Some of the effects are persistent, and some are not, and are just placing of more tokens. The other token types are:
a) Heroes – kill a guy from each god in the region at the end of the turn. You cannot kill or attack heroes.
b) Skaven – lowers the target resistance of a region
c) Twin-Tailed Comet – look at the event card, resolve that.
4) Draw Chaos Cards (your sheet tells you how many) – these cards are playable once per turn, with no limit per round, and only if there is a card slot left in a region. Card slots are two per region. Each Chaos Card costs power to cast, ranging from 0 to 4. You cannot play 0 cost cards once you run out of power.
5) Each god has between 6-7 starting power. Power is used to summon tokens or cast chaos cards. The cost is clearly labeled. Once you hit 0, you no longer take a turn in that round, and once everyone reaches 0, you resolve the round.
6) You can place a token into any region to start the game, but then you must summon tokens into adjacent regions only. You can move a piece from a region on the board that has already been placed, but it’s just like summoning it anew and follows the same rules.
7) Once people are out of power, you check for fights. You roll once dice for each number by the sword icon for your token. 4-6 are successes, 6 explodes. All damage happens at the same time, unless a card or ability says otherwise. Tokens heal at the end of each round, so no damage is carried over.
8) Once fights are over, place corruption! One corruption token is placed for each cultist alive in a region. Hooray!
9) Once you have placed corruption, you check for ruination! A region is ruined if it has 12 or more tokens (remember that warpstone counts as a token!). If a region is ruined, you resolve it from the ruination cards stack, of which there are five. If you run out of cards, the game is over. Don’t worry, if you get to five, someone has won. You get points for placing any corruption at all, and then being either the first or second highest contributor. Once a region is ruined, no more cards can be played there and it’s basically no man’s land.
10) Advance the threat dials! Each time you fulfill a condition, as mentioned above, you place an “advancement” token on the dial. Count them up, the highest number gets to turn their dial twice, everyone else gets to turn it once if they have at least one counter on it, and then resolve what the dial turn reveals. This is usually “gain some points”, “place a token you care about”, or “get an upgrade!”. Upgrades let your units do different things, or give you interesting skills, like more power points, you spread more corruption, and so on.
That’s the general game play. It’s actually super easy to play, it just has a fuckload of pieces, because it’s a Fantasy Flight game. I rate this game at five smiley faces in general. I love it, it’s fun. It’s competitive, but it doesn’t really seem that way at the same time. It’s complex in terms of strategy, but simple in execution. It’s great.
Now, how do you expand this? WITH MOTHERFUCKING SKAVEN! Man, I love Skaven, they are awesome. This expansion effects the game in a number of ways, all very interesting and not what I would have expected.
The Horned Rat is the god added. He nests himself between Slannesh and Khorne. The Horned Rat cares about placing Skaven tokens and having units in an area when it is corrupted. His big skills are mobility, having a million fucking tokens, and making rat swarms. He’s kind of awesome, but he’s probably the hardest to play and I would not recommend him for a newer player. His play is very, very nuanced and requires leading other players to do what you want and capitalizing on what they are doing. He places no corruption himself, he’s just there to speed it along. Very cool theme, but he’s not easy. In fact, that’s sort of the theme of the expansion as a whole.
The Old World Cards are explicitly “hardmode” cards and you can either shuffle them into the existing Old World cards, or play with just the Horned Rat cards for a “hardmode” experience. We shuffled them in and got about half and half. It was HARD, but a lot of fun since we were all experienced players. The biggest change was an event that raised the corruption limit to 15 rather than twelve. That shifted game play dramatically when that came up. Also, all gods now have new upgrade cards and Chaos Cards! You can’t mix and match though, either all gods play with the Horned Rat cards, or all play with the standard cards. The Horned Rat obviously only plays with the Horned Rat upgrades, as he has no other choice.
These upgrades and Chaos Cards change the game dramatically too. Almost everyone now cares about Domination, which no one really did before, minus Slannesh. This is a welcome change and it adds a lot of nuance and strategy to the game that previously existed in the “corruption” portion of the game. You still care about that, but Domination is now completely viable and of interest to people. A lot of denial mechanics were added as well, particularly to Tzeetch, which is now about preventing stuff and overwriting things. This is a thematic change, but it adds a lot to the game as well. Beyond that, the expansion doesn’t change a lot more, but holy shit it plays completely differently. I wouldn’t want to play like that every time, but it was a very, very fun experience playing like that once and I would probably alternate playstyles to keep it fresh.
As an expansion it has everything you could want, an additional character, alternate game modes, new content and scaling difficulty. I would give the expansion itself five smiley faces as well. An astoundingly quality product and increase for an already astounding game.