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Seth
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I've never written a review on here before, but Apocalypse Chaos was my one Gen Con purchase that was a low-flier - that is to say, not having a lot of buzz. I've only played two games of it with the right rules (the Z-Man volunteer who taught my demo had several important things wrong). So I'm not going to try to give it any kind of rating, but just describe as accurately as I can how the system and some strategic choices work.

Mechanisms
Apocalypse Chaos is a cooperative dice placement game. Each player has a hero, and each hero's playmat is somewhat unique. They all have the same places you can slot dice - initiative, movement, melee attack, ranged attack, defense, a unique special ability and a sort of dumping ground for a weak area attack.

Unlike many other cooperative dice games, there is no rerolling of your dice. Instead, you trade your dice between players; you start with 5 dice, and you can give away as many as two dice (to different players if you like) and can receive as many as two dice. This does mean that the more players you have, the more likely you are to be able to find (closer to) optimal turns for each hero.

Heroes move around on the modular board, which has both tiles placed on the table and tiles elevated on plastic pillars to form platforms. Most tiles have icons on them - you can save dice on your turn, and later place them onto a tile you occupy to activate some kind of bonus. Platforms have several strategic benefits, allowing you to use ranged attacks downward and making you immune to attack unless an enemy has a specific special ability. They are vulnerable, however, to enemy activations. When enemies use a ranged attack, if they're not able to target a hero, they will target a pillar if they can, and automatically destroy it. When the third pillar supporting a platform is destroyed, that platform collapses and damages anyone on or underneath it.

Enemies are represented on cards that move around the perimeter of the board. A number of cards equal to the number of players are spawned each turn, unless you are able to temporarily disable a spawning point. Each enemy has a predetermined set of actions, represented by a series of icons. On its turn in the initiative, each enemy will resolve its actions from left to right. All enemies will perform some series of melee and ranged attacks and move, but some also have special ability icons such as regeneration.

Cooperation
To me, a big part of cooperative games is how much cooperation there is. A lot of "cooperative" games are really just each player doing their own thing toward a common goal. In Apocalypse Chaos, there are a number of ways the players cooperate. First, the dice placement each round. As I described above, swapping dice around the table is very important to try to maximize each hero's effectiveness. While each hero has the same actions, they vary in effectiveness - for example, three dice (the maximum) spent on ranged attack for one hero will only do 3 damage, whereas another will do 4. The same is true for each row. This means you don't necessarily want to do an action just because you rolled its icon, you want the hero who gets the best bang for the buck to use that die.

Additionally, survival is very cooperative. Each map setup can only have as many as two platforms, so most of the places you can be on the board are vulnerable to enemy attacks. Heroes sharing the same tile pool their defense icons together - this means carefully placed heroes with optimally placed dice have a decent chance of taking little or no damage from any attacks.

Components
I think the components in the game are pretty good. The room tiles are thick cardboard, and while I wish the artwork were a bit more different between them, I realize that could injure the appearance of a cohesive ship. The plastic pillars to hold up platforms are very cool, with some little detailing on them. The art on the hero standees and enemy cards is dynamic, although there's a fair bit of repetition in the latter. The dice are etched with the iconography and brightly colored according to hero.

Strategy
So this is the tricky part. I want to start by saying that in theory there are a lot of strategic decisions to be made. How you swap your dice around is important. Each hero's special ability adds important choices - one heals another hero, one does an unblockable melee area attack (some enemies have shields that normally reduce damage), one can move enemy cards around the board, and the last has tokens to cover up icons on an enemy card for that turn only.

Another important part of the strategy (that we were taught incorrectly in our demo) is activation order. Heroes and enemies each have an initiative rating; while heroes win ties, a faster enemy will go before you and a faster hero also has to go before you. This makes die faces with initiative pretty important, as often you will want your events to happen in a certain order - for example, having one hero move an enemy card into the same space as a few others before you deal your unblockable attack to all of them.

There are also strategic choices in your movement and placement on the board. Because platforms are fragile, you want to preserve their benefit for as long as possible, which means you want ranged attacks going toward a hero. There are also scenarios where platforms hold important rooms, so a part of that involves making sure those platforms don't get knocked down.

The possible trick is in the enemies. Unless you temporarily disable a spawn point (which is both temporary and not always possible), you spawn a new enemy for each hero each round. Mathematically speaking, one hero cannot kill one enemy each round (and the proportions are worse if the enemy is a boss card, of which there are several in the deck). That means it is impossible (as far as I can think it out) to stem the tide, and you will be facing an overwhelming and increasing number of enemies. While it's true that you can survive any number of attacks by huddling everyone together in a room and pooling defense, you're not accomplishing any scenario goals that way.

The thing that has to mean is that the game is going to be race-like, in the style of Descent. You can't survive by turtling up or destroying everything, so you're going to have to figure out how to complete your objective before you get overwhelmed. This means the game won't be for everyone, even all fans of cooperative games (I know people who don't enjoy that about Descent or Imperial Assault).

The thing it could mean, is that the scenarios could be puzzles. I haven't played enough of the game to know this is true or false, but after playing the first scenario we figured there was really only one viable strategy that could result in success. If each scenario ends up working that way, it would greatly reduce the value of your choices on your turn. Again, I do not know this is true, I only know it seemed true in the first scenario.

So far, I'm enjoying the game, and it certainly has visual appeal to make people stop and ask what it's all about. I hope I did a good job describing the different aspects of the game, and I'm happy to answer any questions.
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Dan Rolfs
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I appreciate the detailed review! I was wondering if you could comment on the various aliens that come with the game? Do they have distinct characteristics to add a great variety to the play experience or do they seem generic?

Also, the game boasts weapons and room activation. Do you have any comments on how those elements affected your game play experience?

And does the game truly feel customizable that you could and/or want to create your own missions after you finish with the 7 scenarios that come with the base game?

Finally, does the playing time and complexity lend itself to intro/medium board game players? The rulebook appears to be manageable but I wonder if that holds true during the actual game explanation and playing experience?

Thanks again for posting your first review. You did a fantastic job!
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danstep wrote:
I appreciate the detailed review! I was wondering if you could comment on the various aliens that come with the game? Do they have distinct characteristics to add a great variety to the play experience or do they seem generic?


There are a number of different types of enemies, differentiated by their health, how much they attack for, what order they attack and move in, and a number of special abilities. Any given enemy does have several copies in the deck. There are also three different difficulty levels of boss cards to add variety.

Quote:
Also, the game boasts weapons and room activation. Do you have any comments on how those elements affected your game play experience?


When you defeat an enemy, you flip the card over and gain it as equipment. This can give some valuable ability to re-roll or flip your dice, so they're generally quite helpful. The room abilities are much more situational - there's a fair variety of them, but unless they're going to make a major difference that turn (or it's the room you're in), you don't usually have dice to spare to move someplace else, activate the room and possibly have to move someplace else.

Quote:
And does the game truly feel customizable that you could and/or want to create your own missions after you finish with the 7 scenarios that come with the base game?


If you want? There are a ton of configurations you can make from the room tiles, and the scenario goals are very basic, so if you feel creative it would be simple to make up something similar to them.

Quote:
Finally, does the playing time and complexity lend itself to intro/medium board game players? The rulebook appears to be manageable but I wonder if that holds true during the actual game explanation and playing experience?


I would not recommend playing it with someone who doesn't have experience with designer board games. The rules are straightforward to explain, but the process of planning out your turn is sufficiently complex that it would likely be frustrating to a complete muggle - they'd probably be receiving so much help from the other players that they wouldn't be playing their own hero. It can especially be tricky to be thinking ahead about the order of activations and looking over the action icons on each enemy and remembering who is going to be where at what time.

Perhaps you could use it as an introductory game if you played with fewer enemy spawns than the rules dictate, but then you're getting into house variants and changing the game balance and such.
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Olivier Prevot
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Thanks for the review. This game is great ! As is his author.
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David McLeod
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I think you nailed it on the head when you reffered to AC as a puzzle game. Certainly not a bad thing. It reminds me of Space Infantry which is certainly different but has a similar puzzely aspect to it.

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Larry Schneider
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So in a solo-player game, the player loses the ability to share dice? No NPC or dummy player to share with?
 
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Seth
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I don't see why you wouldn't choose to control and roll dice for at least two heroes.
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Larry Schneider
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ATT_Turan wrote:
I don't see why you wouldn't choose to control and roll dice for at least two heroes.

I guess. Though I love it when I can focus on controlling just one hero (as in Runebound).
Anyway, I'm eagerly awaiting to see and read full reviews of this game. For me, the jury's still out until I get several opinions.
 
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Seth
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I fail to grasp the difference between controlling multiple heroes of your choice and having an NPC or dummy player Anyhow, you're really not making decisions of any significance for the specific character, the way you might in Runebound, you're just positioning pieces. It'd be like a solo game of, say, Space Alert.
 
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Larry Schneider
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Similar to the problem of playing both sides of a 2-player game solo. Every time you switch between players, you have to think to yourself, now what was I planning to do at this point? Was probably easier for me to do that in my 20s and 30s. Not so easy when you get to your 50s and 60s!
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Seth
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That's really not the case, here. Aside from keeping in mind what the ultimate goal of the scenario is, you really can't have much of a plan beyond the turn you're currently taking. The gameplay is, essentially, "This is the current situation, and we know the bad guys are doing these things this turn, and we know we have these dice to use: okay, everybody, what's the most efficient placement and order of everything?"

There is literally no concept of an individual plan. I think that's what I was trying to explain that's getting lost in translation. There will never be a switching between, because even when you're playing with multiple people the gameplay is looking at everything, not yourself.

I think if you want a game where you're cooperating with people but have an individual experience, this is simply not the game you're looking for - something more like Defenders of the Realm or Legendary Encounters. Here, each player needs to be looking at the entire state of the board.
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Larry Schneider
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Interesting, thanks. I may check this out. Hopefully, it'll get some more notice over time.
 
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Kurt R
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All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.
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ATT_Turan wrote:
The thing it could mean, is that the scenarios could be puzzles. I haven't played enough of the game to know this is true or false, but after playing the first scenario we figured there was really only one viable strategy that could result in success. If each scenario ends up working that way, it would greatly reduce the value of your choices on your turn. Again, I do not know this is true, I only know it seemed true in the first scenario.

Great review, thanks. You really answered my questions as to what type of cooperative experience this is. It sounds like I might enjoy it solitaire but not thrilled about it cooperatively.

I'm particularly concerned about the quote above. Any update (from anybody) to that comment?
 
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You may call me
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enzo622 wrote:
ATT_Turan wrote:
The thing it could mean, is that the scenarios could be puzzles. I haven't played enough of the game to know this is true or false, but after playing the first scenario we figured there was really only one viable strategy that could result in success. If each scenario ends up working that way, it would greatly reduce the value of your choices on your turn. Again, I do not know this is true, I only know it seemed true in the first scenario.

Great review, thanks. You really answered my questions as to what type of cooperative experience this is. It sounds like I might enjoy it solitaire but not thrilled about it cooperatively.

I'm particularly concerned about the quote above. Any update (from anybody) to that comment?


As you know, because of my session reports on 1 Player Guild, I've played the game twice now. Both times I played the intro mission and my experience in both games was very different. Not only because I played the first time with a solo Hero and the second time with 2 heroes but because the Bosses that got shuffled into the deck in both games had different abilities and equipment (once you've beaten them). Also the number of Vortex points were different as were the layout of the tiles. All of those elements conspired to make both games very different even though I was playing the same intro mission.

Now, if the OP means that once the game is setup that there is only one path to victory, that could be true. Could be... however in my second play, I exhausted the deck, so when you need to draw another enemy you "assault" a room instead and that is determined randomly. Also, if you compare to a game like Pandemic, where the game could be stacked against you from the start I could be convinced to agree, however just like Pandemic, each game you setup will have different paths to beat it based on that setup.

I'm going to continue to play it for next while because I've been leaving it set up on my game table, I enjoy it and it plays quick. If I do think there is only one viable strategy, I'll be the first to admit it.
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I actually can't give an updated opinion because I haven't played it again since bringing it home from Gen Con. I've brought it several times to the game meeting I run, but for some reason no one chooses to play it with me over the other games I own. I should bring it again this Sunday.
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