Friday, September 16, 2011

Board Game Review - Chaostle

I have been reviewing games for a long enough time that I can usually spot a really bad game just by looking at the box. I am rarely surprised, though Cambridge Games Factory surprised me routinely by having ugly games that were actually really good. Chaostle, on the other hand, did not surprise me. The art would be good, if this were 1986. The box is absurdly huge. The components are almost painfully obvious for being pointlessly excessive. These are all neon signs that add up to 'you will probably not enjoy this game.'

I sure wanted to like it. For one thing, it's friggin' huge. If you kill a midget hooker in your apartment, you could hide her body in the box. It has 16 plastic dudes in the box, including a unicorn and a dragon. The cardboard used for the character cards is almost a quarter-inch thick. There are more than a dozen plastic walls cast from Hirst Arts molds, and they look pretty cool. Somebody paid a Brooklyn fortune to make this game, and with that much money put into the production, I really wanted to love it.

Unfortunately, there's not a whole heck of a lot to love. Chaostle is like Parcheesi with orcs. Now, you could make that a playable game, but not the way this one happened. This one is just a sloppy, inconsistent, random, man-made disaster movie.

The idea behind the game is that you have a team of warriors, and you need to get them to run around this big board and get into the basement of the crazy castle so they can get to their weed stash behind the furnace. Your team is made up of a variety of warriors, like dragon slayers and rogues, wizards and minotaurs, circus monkeys and outlaw bikers (I think the monkeys and bikers are in the expansion). They all have different abilities, which are described on character cards that are used to track hit points and movement points and upgrades and stuff.

Every turn you roll one die, and it tells you what you can do. Each roll does something different, so if you roll a four, you don't have to do anything, and if you roll a one, you can put out a new hero to start his run for the middle of the board. If you roll a three, you get to go again, and if you roll a five, something absurd happens.

Various signs pointed to the game going poorly right out of the gate. We all picked our warriors, completely at random, and then we grabbed the rulebook to look up our abilities. Each character has three abilities, and we had twelve characters at the table. That means we had to spend half an hour reading aloud from the book to describe the 36 different abilities we had at our disposal. Yes, 36. Three dozen. And we were supposed to keep track of these abilities so that we could remember to use them later, when they were good for something.

Some of the abilities are very useful, like the one that lets you time-travel to the future to grab a death ray and disintegrate your foes. That's a pretty handy ability, but I have to wonder if maybe he could just jump forward to when he was already in the sanctuary. That seems like it would be more efficient.

Some abilities are ridiculously narrow in scope, like the one that gives you three extra points of damage if you're fighting a dragon. There is only one dragon in the game, and while you'll probably get in lots of fights as you play, there's no way to know if you'll actually meet up with the dragon. And since the dragon has like 40 hit points, three extra is not really all that impressive.

We were stalwart, though, determined to play this game so you wouldn't have to. We're givers. So we soldiered on and began the game, taking turns rolling a single die until one of us could get a guy on the board. This took five minutes. For five minutes, we just took turns rolling one die, looking at the result, and saying, 'your turn.' That was another good sign that Chaostle was not going to be awesome.

After about fifteen minutes, we managed to all have guys out, running around and jumping gaps and picking fights. It didn't take very long for us to run afoul of the five, which when rolled, makes you roll your die into Harry Potter's Chamber of Stupid. You might get a blessing, and suddenly make your character far more powerful, or a genie might pop out and offer to give an opponent a wedgie. You might also be turned into a pile of smoldering ash and just take your guy out of the game forever. What did you do wrong? Nothing. You just rolled a five.

We were quickly becoming more and more certain that Chaostle was an insanely stupid game. After we had been running around this plastic monstrosity of a game board for 90 minutes, we began to wonder who had tested this game. There were so many mistakes that it seemed like nobody had really played it before it went to press. So we decided to take that opportunity to examine the credits for the game.

The author of the game is credited. The illustrators are credited. The writer who created all the fluff copy is credited. Notably not credited, on the other hand, were playtesters of any sort. There was not even an entry describing who had played the game and helped round off the corners and clean up the messes. We were thus led to believe that the playtesters of this game were, in fact, nameless garden gnomes. That, or nobody actually played this one. I actually am more likely to believe that it was gnomes. Everybody knows that gnomes like rolling dice.

Shortly thereafter, my dragon made it close to the end goal by virtue of being the best character in the game. He was then attacked and killed, which sort of sucked, but also gave my opponents a great reason to say, 'hey, if we give up, can we leave?' We noted that we were of one accord on this point, and even if my dragon did manage to get to the sanctuary, he still had to battle the inanimate castle a dozen times before he could win. Which meant that had I managed to win the fight, the game still would have continued to cause us mental anguish for at least another forty-five minutes.

So we quit.

If you like games with lots of plastic, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic. If you like smart games that favor the better player, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic. If you like your games to be fast-paced and fun, well-designed and exciting, or even just not entirely horrible, well, Chaostle has lots of plastic.

I simply fail to understand how someone could have sunk such a tremendous amount of money into a game this huge without at least letting someone else try it. Maybe he was scared someone else would steal the idea (which is crazy, because nobody else could afford the idea). Maybe he did play it with someone, and they lied and said it was fun. Or maybe he just took a page from the American Idol reject playbook and, after having been told he was really bad at this, ignored the feedback and said, 'I'm going to follow my dream!' Whatever the case, the result is a monumentally expensive disaster, and while I feel bad for the creator, I couldn't possibly recommend this game to anyone with an IQ over seventeen.


2 or more players. The upper limit is a little vague.

Lots of plastic

Too many to detail. Simply imagine an explosion in an oil refinery caused by a passenger jet crashing into an avalanche over an earthquake that swallows the Titanic in a fiery nuclear holocaust.

I wanted to post a link to an image that would help to describe the level of disaster found in Chaostle, but had trouble finding any that would not cost you sleep.

EDIT: I probably should have seen this coming, since it tends to happen with small-time publishers who make crappy games. The creator of Chaostle emailed me to let me know all the mistakes we made while playing Chaostle. Here's a summary:

1. Apparently, you get to start with a guy on the board. That tidbit is not actually in the 'setup' portion of the 40-page rulebook - it comes later, in the section describing how the die rolling works - and so we missed it. So we started off a little slow. Sadly, the game did not improve once we did have dudes in play, so this was more like the difference between slowly removing a band-aid in the shower and ripping it off your leg hair all at once.

2. According to the email I got from the creator of the game, when you roll a five, you get to put a dude on the board. That was obviously our bad, but in my defense, it might be that we missed this rule on account of it not actually being in the rulebook.

3. The abilities are for advanced players. We should have just ignored them. To be fair, once we figured out that we were going to have to spend the next three hours flipping through the rulebook, we did ignore them. Our mistake was in trying to learn them in the first place.

4. According to the email, you can't actually remove a character from the game completely. When it says, 'remove the character from play,' that doesn't mean he's out of the game. Obviously, again, this was our failure to interpret 'remove the character from play', because it really means 'do not remove the character from play.' We will try harder next time, and we apologize for the misinformation.

All of these errors, however, do bring me to one point I forgot to mention the first time around - this is a very bad rulebook. The garden gnomes should be embarrassed for allowing it to go to print.

And that brings me to another point. The mistakes we made were minor compared to the act-of-God-natural-disaster that was the rest of the game. You still just roll and move like Candyland for retarded D&D fans. You still get in ridiculous fights. You still have completely game-changing events occur simply because you rolled a five. In short, mistakes or not, Chaostle is still a sloppy, disjointed, over-produced train wreck. It's just that now, I can add that it also has a terrible rulebook.


Sue G said...

"Simply imagine an explosion in an oil refinery caused by a passenger jet crashing into an avalanche over an earthquake that swallows the Titanic in a fiery nuclear holocaust."

Classic. Also the garden gnomes playtesters. :-)

Peer said...

One of my favorite reviews :-)
I will use the garden gnomes as a excuse myself next time in a review ;-)

Its weird, I saw a video introduction of the game and thought: Thats totally random! And it seems Im right. Yet this thing has a decednt rating on BGG an good reviews there - Why? Because of the material?
Its a mystery...

Anonymous said...

It's because it's random. You have to go in knowing that you're going to be playing this while smoking a fat joint and drinking heavily. It's a conversation game.

For it to be considered and played as a "fantasy adventure RPG" in a Diablo sort of way is wrong.

It's a "fantasy adventure RPG" in the Munchkin sense, where the conversations and totally random fuckage is where the fun is found.

My group dug it. Not "GREAT, EPIC", but fun. And Matt, those rules you missed...we missed them too because they weren't in the book. ;)


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Guru Sweet Pickle said...

"We recently surveyed more than 21,000 recent brides to get real reviews on the top wedding vendors and venues across the country."

So...did some of those 21,000+ recent brides pick Chaostle as a "top wedding venue"?

Matt Drake said...

Usually, I delete spam as soon as I see it. But this time, I think I will leave it, as I am amused by the Guru's response.

Sue G said...

Unfotunately, the wedding never occured because the groom rolled a five.

Chris Cisne said...

That does mean she gets to play with a new boyfriend though, so you know, silver lining.

Wiz-War said...

Damn, what a shame about this game. Other reviewers of this game felt the same way but were more polite about it. Yet I enjoy the lack of candy coating on this review simply because I enjoy straightforward candor considerably more than tap dancing around the point.

I really want to like this game since for the most part it is very pretty. And I am a sucker for games with such high production values.

I wonder if it would be at all possible to make a decent game out of this, perhaps by porting over the mechanics for Okko into it or something... Sadly, I am not rich enough to spend $70 just to find out.

Anonymous said...

I received this game as an xmas gift and love it with friends. It is loads of fun and great variety. I am surprised to see such over the top negative review of one of my favorite new games but everyone has different tastes. Maybe because this game is more fun than strategic. I am not a big fan on the resource managing games so this is more my style.I have also seen very positive review or two out there. It is confusing to know if this is a good game or not because of conflicting reviews and comments. I would suggest resaerch multiple sources and decide for yourself.

Anonymous said...

It took us a couple games before we were playing according to all of the rules. I didn't even need to finish reading your review to see that you too failed spectacularly at following the instructions. Each player starts with one character out. That would have fixed your slow start. The game gets much better with experience.

Anonymous said...

You are supposed to start the game with a character on the board. So while I can see that it was pretty dumb to spend the first several turns just rolling a die and doing nothing, you guys played that part wrong.

You might have still hated the game, but it might have colored your perception from then on out.

Anonymous said...

What kind of reviewer doesn't even understand the rules before playing? You are supposed to have a character out from the start to avoid the rolling for "5 minutes" which was probably an gross exaggeration as rolling straight for 5 minutes I find it hard to believe you didn't get a 1 or 2, especially when 3 gets you another turn. Idiots.

Gamesowar said...

Obviously anonymous is a very clever Pseudonym created by the designer of this game! I think saying they wasted time getting on the board once was probably sufficient, but repeating every 2 wks or so? Dude, get over the fact your game sucks and you got a bad reveiw.