The title says it all. If you were wondering why Chimera Isle has been missing from TGC the past couple of weeks, it is because I have been hard at work on the latest iteration of the game. This is more than a cosmetic upgrade - it is closer to a reboot. I'll summarize:
What has changed in v1.4?
Players now role-play as the chimeras directly, rather than some aloof godly agency which intermediates their struggles. This is the big change, as every other change is predicated on this one. One thing I've noticed when explaining this game to new players is that players immediately form a bond with the Chimera in front of them. The trash-talking begins in earnest, with somebody saying, "Look at my creature, doesn't he look FIERCE!", leading to loud denunciations on the part of the other players. And this is before I've even begun to explain the rules! The first thing I say is "Keep in mind you are NOT any of the chimeras on the board.", although it rarely helps. People need to have a team to root for, I guess! With that in mind, I have bent over backwards to enable this kind of role-play without breaking the game. I think the new arrangement works well. Without getting too wordy, you still have a reason to support other chimeras from time to time. Forming coalitions of players is still a key element of this game.
By "rewards", I mean the spoils of victory. The support deck is gone! When other players help you to claim a habitat, you "win". But your allies also win, by demanding favors of the overall winner. Favors include sharing the land (increase your population), becoming the "Alpha", or lead player, or even improving your "friendship" with the lead player. Yes, you can win by making friends! Friendship is magic!
Instincts are a new game element which injects a healthy dose of personality and "take-that" gameplay into what is otherwise quite a free-form and simple game. Each chimera has three body parts: a head, body, and tail. Each of those parts has unique artwork, and also an instinct. Instincts are powers that help your creature get a leg up on the competition. Lets say that my creature is a Greedy Sycophantic Parasite. Each of those things means something. Greedy means I can demand two favors where I would normally be entitled to only one. Sycophantic means I can demand favors even when I am not entitled to one (nice combo!). Parasite means I can steal population from players who have more than me. Each instinct can be activated once before being exhausted. The only way to refresh instincts is to rest (abstain from one fight), or evolve.
In quotes because if you haven't figured it out yet this ain't Dominant Species. Players who lose a fight may evolve their creatures by swapping out one of their body parts. The new part enters play refreshed, and may help in other ways. Basically, this is a fun "catch-up" mechanism.
There is now a rudimentary combat system in place to determine the winner of a fight. All players play a Loyalty card face-down and then reveal at the same time to "choose sides". You might support yourself, or another player you think is a "good bet". All players roll one d6 and add their roll to the player they are supporting. Yeah, it's pretty simple. At least the potential exists for an upset - one player might triumph over five opponents if he rolls a 6 and everyone else rolls a 1. Some of the instincts do funny things with the dice, so that's something to watch out for.
I never liked having all those paper bills for end-game scoring. I only held on to them because they were handy when calculating final scores. No longer. Scoring is a simple matter of adding up population chips and habitat cards. Simple addition! I should add that some of those population chips will come from other players with whom you are closely affiliated (AKA: "liked"). This is your reward for befriending other chimeras. This element alone is hard to read until the end, but that is by design. I'd like there to be some uncertainty regarding scoring, so that it is not immediately obvious who is ahead. Playtests have revealed some close scores, and surprise upsets.
Because this game really comes alive with more players, I have included rules to add dummy (NPC) players to the game. The dummies are aptly named, but they help to make the game feel "grander".
Now supports up to 8 players
The Territorial Expansion has been replaced with two mini-expansions, each of which adds two new players to the base game (which supports 4). I strongly recommend the 6-Player Expansion, and would recommend the 8-Player Expansion if you can contemplate having that many players at once. There's little downtime in this game, so why not? Ultimately, what you decide to buy is up to your budget.
I have been selling a "deluxe" version of Chimera Isle on the BGG Marketplace for a few months, and will continue to do so. But the TGC edition of the game now has an 8"x8" cover sticker which I think people will be happy with. The boxes TGC offers are not quite on par with what gamers may expect, but they are light-years beyond the cardboard shipping cartons of yesteryear, and I commend TGC for making progress here. Despite upgrades, the game will continue to sell for $28.99. I'm not getting rich from this.
That's it in a nutshell. The latest version of the rules is available for download from the TGC website at: www.thegamecrafter/games/chimera-isle. I'll try to update the rules here on BGG as well.