- Charlie Theel(charlest)United States
Apocalypse Chaos is an odd duck. It’s an interesting design with some really clever and unique mechanisms that’s dressed up in a visually impressive science fiction setting with beautiful components. It ticks off a lot of boxes and stirs that fire in your gut, yet it somehow never makes it over the hump.
The theme is the initial power that pulls your attention towards this title but it is decidedly not the driving force behind the design. The situation report is similar to Space Alert, where players cooperate to fend off aggressors encroaching upon their ship trying to keep the old beast together. There is even an awesome three dimensional aspect to the board with tiles stretching up into multiple stories stacked upon these slick pillars. While there is a great deal of thought and care pumped into this intriguing atmosphere, very little lip service is paid to fleshing out a narrative. The book opens with a single paragraph describing the overarching theme and doesn’t even identify what planet or organization you are affiliated with.
The enemies similarly have generic names such as Sprinter and Runner, failing to evoke any formal sense of setting. This would be fine if it could hang on a more fleshed out enemy identity from a biological or social aspect, but as-is pretty much the entire background is left to the imagination.
While a game’s theme will draw you in, the mechanics are what will make you stay and come back for more. Apocalypse Chaos did not skimp in this regard as the suite of various systems work in strong cohesion. The core engine is a pretty stellar dice assignment mechanism where players roll a handful of custom six-siders. Each face bears a special symbol that corresponds to a track on the player mat. Assigning dice to the different tracks allows players to take the listed action, with the more dice assigned the greater the effect.
This is absolutely the strongest aspect of this game. You’re rolling these smooth little dice and contemplating how to best use them to maximize your results as a team. You can pass off and receive up to two dice both ways, so discussion and planning are at the fore. Some rounds you’ll hand off a couple dice to Jeremy so he can hit the mutant in front of him with his devastating melee attack and others you’ll be gifted a couple of movement dice to get the hell out of post-apocalyptic space dodge.
What really elevates this element is the built in asymmetry between the characters. Some will reap higher rewards when shooting and others specialize in defense. This will accentuate the decision process in passing off dice and maximizing the results. Each character also has a unique ability on their mat which is quite powerful if employed correctly.
Employed correctly is the operative term here and the crux of the difficulty. While the heroes are moving around a map comprised of tiles, enemies swarm around the outskirts of your ship threatening physical harm. They spawn each round at set points from a deck of cards, and will build up quickly if not suppressed. Doing so will require timing and judicious use of the allotted actions.
The heft of the decision space revolves around spatial maneuvering to avoid enemy aggro while returning your own. These enemy cards always physically remain around the outside edge of the board, but their attack patterns will consist of meleeing the tie immediately in front of them as well as possible ranged fire against the tile beyond. If no player characters exist in the field of fire they will destroy pillars hoisting up those multi-storied tiles, which is insanely cool. All of this results in a weave of firing vectors being triggered at different times during the round according to initiative with varying degrees of fallout.
A huge wrench is thrown into the engine when you consider enemies also move. The order they perform their actions (typically just move/attack) is unique and displayed on their card. So one quick aggressor may move one position to the right, throw down a brutal melee attack, and then move to the right again. All of this coalesces into a huge logic puzzle of deducing the timing of trigger events and intersecting moments of opportunity. That is to say – play can be relatively deep.
This can be outright fascinating if one approaches the game from the right mindset. The feel reminds me of the resolution of battle and triggering of attack in the splendid Neuroshima Hex. It’s slightly more complex and involved when playing Apocalypse Chaos with four players and a huge swarm threatens to engulf your ship, but it can be equally exhilarating when cleansing the damn bugs.
I do have one distinct problem with this core challenge – it in no way appeals to me. The de-layering of multiple facets of attack vectors and action timing is something that I find more painful and workmanlike than impactful. What really astounded me was that the meat of this game would likely appeal more to a Eurogamer than an Ameritrasher.
Apocalypse Chaos does fall into that hybrid Euro/Thematic realm that I absolutely love, but the mix is a little skewed towards the left for my taste. This is highlighted primarily by the lack of drama baked into the resolution. Since all information is public and attacks deterministic, the only element gumming up the works is the action pool rolling at the beginning of the round. While the random aspect of this phase certainly has some effect, it never feels particularly exciting or empowering. You can mitigate and efficiently pass to make up for deficiencies in the dice, which is ultimately a great strength or weakness – depending on whether you’re sitting on the groom or bride’s side of the aisle.
There’s a lot going on here and the game will hold up to many plays. It comes with a strong campaign of seven scenarios that get progressively more interesting as time goes on. These scenarios open up new opportunities and throw curve balls your way, such as a crazy layout consisting of two separate ships. Apocalypse Chaos seems to be packed with stellar ideas and it comes so close to being excellent that my group has fallen into dubbing the nameless ship you’re defending the “Icarus”.
Apocalypse Chaos may not be the game for me, but for those who really dig that process of untangling causality; this title will hit home and deliver the goods.
This review was originally written for 2d6.org. To view other reviews written by Charlie Theel check out this Geeklist.
- [+] Dice rolls