Mark Sautman
United States
Evans
Georgia
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I've had an interesting relationship with this game. I bought this game several years ago from Tanga. Based on the positive reviews, I was very excited about the theme and the possibility of heavier fantasy wargame. The original game came with a 26-page pamphlet-sized rulebook plus 10 page handbooks for each of the princes. However, my enthusiasm dropped a lot when I read the rules because of the sheer amount of bookkeeping involved with movement. While the record sheet had everything you needed, you would be writing and erasing information repeatedly. I don't mind games with a lot of rules when I feel they are enhancing the theme and strategic options, but much of this seemed to be bookkeeping for bookkeeping sake. While many aspects of the game looked interesting, I simply could not see how I would ever get this to the table. I did check out the publisher's website and he had some interesting videos on how to play the game, but it was not enough to overcome my wariness.

A few months later, I found out the publisher had issued the version 1.6 rules along with new record and reference sheets. The rules were now about 38 8.5" X 11" pages long. While the revised rules were easier to understand and provided more examples, it seemed to have as much accounting as ever. In some regards, the game seemed to be even more fiddly as you could have 5 different types of forests and 1/4 point damages. Around this time, he also issued an 18-page official strategy guide for game owners with 1 page strategy summaries for each of the princes, chaos units, as well as other combat and movement advice. While I printed all of this information out, the game remained unplayed. You will even see entries by me on geeklists about unplayed games. I suspect others shared this opinion because they started dumping this game on Tanga for as little as $8 and the average ratings started to drop.

Last year, the publisher announced the version 2.0 rules, which he promised would be much simpler. I immediately printed out the revised rules and the associated player aids, but then they sat around for another year. The publishers website went down and the forum fell pretty quiet.

While on vacation Thanksgiving week, I decided to finally read all the rules and try to play the game. When I finished the new rules, I felt they seemed reasonable and enjoyed the two games I played solo. While I do not consider myself to be an expert on the game nor I have been able to fully explore some of the options (hard to do traps and some spells solo because of hidden information), I wanted to post some feedback on the new rules because I really think this game warrants a second look. In my opinion, if the game had been initially released with these rules or possibly using these rules as an alternate, it probably would have received more attention. Now on to the review.


Overview
In Prince of Chaos, two to four players take the role of one of four unique princes battling for domination of Tae Orn.

The Board

The board consists of a 5X5 grid of terrain tiles featuring plains, swamps, hills, forests, lakes and mountains. In the center of the board is the Mourn Stone where the princes can perform powerful rituals. In addition to the grid, Chaos Gate Tiles are placed along the center of each side of grid.

Control of Chaos Gates provides you gold, mana, and other resources and is where your summoned units appear. While many wargames use hexes, in this game each tile is divided into unmarked quadrants for the individual units.

Although I usually prefer hexes to squares, the fact that you can move diagonally overcomes some of the limitations of squares although you cannot do a melee attack diagonally. The artwork on the tiles is good and they are nice and thick. Each of the player will also get a map to mark up indicating which quadrants he has explored, set traps on, or is targeting with spells like ice prisons, tornadoes, or fireballs.

The Princes and other units

In addition to the princes, there are light and heavy infantry and cavalry, captains that can hide and set traps, and a variety of magical beasts including deathwyrms, bloodmares, and flying terrors. You can also construct mines and temples to increase your production of gold and mana. Once again the quality of the artwork and the counters is good.

Reference and Record Sheets

Please note this record sheet is for the original rules
One thing that you will not find on any of the counters are any numbers or icons. As a result, every player needs to have a very detailed record sheet plus two additional reference sheets. This is especially important since each prince has different strengths and weaknesses. Some princes are more powerful in combat while others can cast more spells. Certain units are only available to specific princes. In order to keep track of all this, you need the reference sheets to identify which units are available to your prince, the cost of them, and their statistics depending on what formation they are in. Each turn you need to choose what formation each of your units is in which affects the number of movement points they have as well as their shock attack/missile attack and defense values. Formations can be simple things like rest or loose or more exotic ones like Cantabrian Circles and Tortoise. Even with the simpler rules, I would strongly recommend that you laminate the record sheets since the numbers frequently change or to use some other counters. For instance, I use yellow and blue beads to keep track of gold and mana. Similarly, I find it useful to use other beads to easily determine how many movement points each unit has. Having some cubes indicating the current formation for each unit would also be useful.

Cards


Lastly, the game comes with cards for events, exploration, and battle tactics. Artwork and quality of these are also decent.

Turns
I am not going to try to give a comprehensive overview, but will try to summarize what you do each turn.

First, each of the princes receives and implements an event card. Then each prince determines how much gold and mana he receives based on the number of chaos gates he controls, the number and location of his mines and temples, and any bonuses for having your prince in some of the buildings.

The Ready phase has a lot happening. First you assign the formation for each of your units. Then your prince can summon new units or cast enchantments and curses to affect his or his opponents units. Chaos mages can also cast spells that will go into affect at the end of the turn. Next, you can build a mine or temple or fortify an existing one. You can also build roads or buy battle tactics cards. Third, you determine the number of movement points each of your units will get in the turn. Fourth, your captain may set various traps (e.g., mud, thorn, poison, fire, snare, or explosive) for opposing units. Finally, units may be able to explore the quadrants they are in and find treasures, indigenous units, war libraries, or get attacked by orn trees or poisoned by the spoiled earth.

The Action Plase is the main part of the turn and where you get the most impact from the simplified rules. Each movement round, your units take 0 to 3 movement actions based on the total number of movement points they have. These days, movement is no more complicated than you would encounter in BattleLore or Battles of Westeros. It is as simple as 1 MP for a road or going downhill, 2 for plains or the Mourn Stone, or 3 for going uphill or entering a swamp or forest. If you move obliquely (diagonal) you pay an extra MP. You can also change facing, delay, or perform overrun shock attacks. Flying is a bit more complicated due to elevation gains, but still not too bad. Stacking rules are very simple also. What i like is that your ability to move and attack is never dependent on what cards you have in your hand. All eligible units can move each turn unless restricted by a spell or trap.

Once you complete a movement round, you perform a combat round. Combat can involve shock attacks or missile attacks. You have standard rules for line of sight and range for missile weapons. The attacker and defenders each determine their score based on their formation, a series of modifiers, and by playing a battle tactics card. The modifiers are your normal ones for leaders, terrain, flank and rear attacks, momentum, etc. While it may seem a lot to remember when you read the rules, the excellent reference sheet provides a summary of all the modifiers and it usually takes only a matter of seconds to tally them all up. Rather than use dice, the use of battle cards adds some uncertainty to combat. It also allows you to decide whether you want to invest in powerful battle tactics cards or focus on more powerful units. At this point, you compare scores to determine if any damage was received and adjust your fatigue and ammo if necessary. When a unit successfully performs an attack, they receive rank points which can allow them to become veteran or elite units later in the game.

Once a combat round is finished, you see if any of the units still have movement points remaining, if so you repeat another movement and combat round.

The End phase is where you move any hidden captains, when the chaos mage elemental spells take effect, and when the princes can try to perform rituals at the Mourn Stone. This phase is also where yo can resupply your ammo, recover fatigue, or suffer depletion if a chaos unit is occupying a chaos gate or mourn stone space.

So What Do I Think
I'm impressed with the revised rules. While simpler, I think they manage to keep most of the options available and all the strategic choices intact. I think having all of the strengths and weaknesses for each prince forces you to play each of them differently and enhances the game. Similarly, all of the variations in the units, terrain, and formations opens up more strategic options. Although the Official Strategy Guide was written for the original rules, 90% of the advice is still relevant with the version 2.0 rules. It was only when I read the guide did I really start to appreciate what you could with the game. Similarly, the various spells, traps, and other aspects of the game enhanced the theme and made it more interesting without making the game too fiddly. I really feel the latest version of the rules struck a good balance between giving you lots of options without burdening you with a gazillion rules and charts and slowing down gameplay. Deciding which formation to choose, where to attack from, whether to buy battle tactics cards, and when to use enchantments and curses all made for interesting decisions. Each of the unit types also had advantages and disadvantages depending on how you used them. It was not simply that heavy units did more damage than light ones. The reference sheets are very helpful and minimize how often you need to consult the rules. I find myself mostly consulting the rules to check on spells or flying costs, not how to do movement or combat.

At this point, I did not really find this game any more complicated than BattleLore, Battles of Westeros, or the Great Battles of History series using the Simple rules. All 3 of them have about the same number of movement and combat modifiers as this game has now. However, I felt I had more options of what I could do and never felt frustrated because I had the wrong cards in my hand or rolled the wrong dice. While the game does not have quite the army and unit variety as Wizard Kings, it is a much meatier game with a lot more strategy and much less dice rolling.

The game still has it flaws. It still requires a fair amount of record keeping. While the record sheets have lots of information on them, unless you look forward to lots of erasing and circling small icons and numbers, you may want to consider using some alternatives to keep track of gold, mana, and movement points. The use of formations may still be a bit confusing to new players and I expect to still encounter some resistance trying to talk other players into giving this a shot. I also suspect this game will play best with 2 players. With 3 players, you can do 2 half-strength players vs 1 full-strength player or do a free for all although the square board may give some players a disadvantage. With 4 players, the random placement of the tiles would likely have more of an impact especially if you had no hills nearby for your mines or swamps for your temples.

I have not played the game enough to see if all of the princes are balanced. I can say some of them favor brute strength while others require stealth attacks. Each of them has 5-8 advantages and 1-2 disadvantages. Will need more plays to see if there are any issues here.

The game is not for everybody. The simpler version 2.0 rules are still 39 pages long although there are lots of illustrations taking up space. It is still not a light fantasy wargame. I would call it medium weight at this point. It's definitely not in the Advanced Squad Leader category, but it is not Wizard Kings either. There will be a bit of a learning curve, but once you get past it you will find that the game plays pretty well and does not get bogged down with the rules.

While the publisher's website is down, you can still download the revised rules and record and reference sheets at:
http://www.princeofchaos.xtreemhost.com/
I don't think any retailers are still selling the game. That being said, you can still get this cheaply (say $10-20) through the BGG marketplace, Ebay or by trading for it. I definitely think this game is worth more than the $17 to $20 people are asking for new copies. If you already have the game and gave up on it, I would encourage you giving it a second shot.

I had been looking for a meatier fantasy wargame for some time and it looks like this might be it. I'm looking forward to playing it some more and learning how to better take advantage of its options.

I'd like to thank treeve3, sydo, and clockwirk whose images I used in this review.
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Pone McPoneface
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Dublin
Ohio
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There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow, that path is for your steps alone. Ripple in still water, when there is no pebble tossed, nor wind to blow.
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Excellent review and couldn't agree with you more about your thoughts regarding this game. I think it is an often overlooked gem, especially with the new rules. Thanks for the taking the time and energy to write this up! Hope more gamers will give this title a look and a try.
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D Clevenger
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I always thought this game had all the parts to be good but when you assembled the arts you got a Yugo when you were expecting a Corvette (or at least a Camaro). I plan to try with new rules.
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alex w
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Played this game a few years ago with a good friend. The game did not agree with us. The rules we read we're straight from the box and it was anything but helpful.

Because of that, I rated the game poorly.

If there were really a game inside I could only have wished for the improved rules to come with it.

This is one of those games that you wanted to like but let down by the rules and it's execution.
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Adrian Qually
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Gettysburg
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Thanks for the overview of the new rules. I couldn't get past the original ruleset either but I'll give it another look now.
 
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Mike Malley
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Excellent review. I *thought* there was a strategy guide, but it looks like mine walked away with my 1.6 rules, which i can't find either.
 
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Mark Sautman
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There was a strategy guide with the 1.6 rules. Let me know and I can email these if you/anybody else wants them.
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Branam
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zautman wrote:
While the publisher's website is down, you can still download the revised rules and record and reference sheets at:
http://www.princeofchaos.xtreemhost.com/


Can we not get those files on BGG. That website is the worst with its decoy download buttons and required registration.
 
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Gunther Schmidl
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Blood Demon wrote:
zautman wrote:
While the publisher's website is down, you can still download the revised rules and record and reference sheets at:
http://www.princeofchaos.xtreemhost.com/


Can we not get those files on BGG. That website is the worst with its decoy download buttons and required registration.


They're still too large for BGG, but you can get them here from my Dropbox: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/10272920/prince%20of%20chaos.zip
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Homer S.
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Even with the simpler rules, I would strongly recommend that you laminate the record sheets since the numbers frequently change or to use some other counters. For instance, I use yellow and blue beads to keep track of gold and mana. Similarly, I find it useful to use other beads to easily determine how many movement points each unit has. Having some cubes indicating the current formation for each unit would also be useful.


Wow, sometimes things are way "too easy". As I was hoping, that one day someone will be willing to provide an app, etc. to handle all that bookkeeping, I think your way to handle it, while not using a pen, now will keep this gem on my table ...
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edit:spelling
 
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