TGN Review: Chaosmos by Mirror Box Games
People often ask me what my favorite part of working at TGN is. The answer is pretty easy. It’s getting to see new games as they’re in development and trying them out before just about anyone else. I’ve been doing this gig long enough now that games I tried out when they were early prototypes are now full-fledged games on the market. One of those games is Chaosmos from Mirror Box Games. I did a review of it back just at the start of their Kickstarter, and now they’ve sent me a final-edition copy to try out.
The Universe in a Nutshell
In Chaosmos, the universe is a living organism. It is the Biocosm. Unfortunately for everything living in the universe, it is dying. And when it goes, it’s going to take everything with it. There is a small chance for a little bit of salvation, though, in the form of the Ovoid. This strange artifact is believed to be a new universe in an egg. When the current one dies, the Ovoid will hatch. When that happens, whomever is in possession of the Ovoid will imprint on it, and their race will become the new elder race of the new universe. Obviously, such a prize is highly sought after, and ten aliens have taken it upon themselves to hunt out the Ovoid. But time is short and the universe is vast. Only one can be in possession of the Ovoid at the end.
Matter, Anti-Matter, Dark Matter, Dark Energy
As I mentioned, my previous review of the game was looking at just a prototype. I remember the turn dial, specifically, being made out of card board and duct tape. Now, that’s not meant as a slight to the guys at Mirror Box Games. Every game goes through a phase where its components are basically cobbled together from what you can find. Even ones by game companies that have been around for years. Anyway, needless to say, the game has come a long way since those humble beginnings. The components now are professionally done. The box contains various punch boards and the planet envelopes, dice, minis, cards, and player screens.
The cardboard pieces are sturdy and thick. I didn’t have any major problems with pieces ripping, tearing, or fraying as I punched them out. Some of the smaller tokens could have been cut a little more thoroughly, but that’s a minor gripe at best. They still came out just fine. The cards have a good feel to them. They’re stiff without being rigid and have a good “snap” when shuffled. They have a matte finish on them and aren’t too slick, so they don’t go sliding around all over the place. The planet envelopes are made of very thin cardboard and are pre-creased so they should last a while. The miniatures are made out of slightly-rubbery plastic. They’re color-coded, so any specific tokens for a particular alien matches the color of plastic for that figure. The home planet is also that color. So figuring out what pieces belong to whom is really easy at the start of the game.
Creating The Universe
The game setup is slightly different if you just have two players, but we’ll assume you’ve got 3-4 players for this review.
Start out by taking the alien profile cards and shuffling them. Deal 2 to each player. Each player picks one of the two aliens to play. Collect the miniature and appropriate tokens for that alien. Next, take the 10 planet tiles and create the game board. The rulebook has a suggested way to create the game board, but since each of the planets are on their own hex, the game board is entirely modular. So you could actually create the board any way you choose (and the rulebook does state you can feel free to experiment with other builds after you get more experienced with the game).
After the board is set, take all the cards and shuffle them together. Take six out and put them face-up in the Cosmic pool. If The Ovoid card is revealed, shuffle it back into the deck and draw a new card. Then deal cards (10 for 4-player, 12 for 3-player) face-down into each envelope belonging to the home planets of the aliens being used in the game and place them in the planet’s corresponding envelope. Then, face-down, deal the rest of the cards evenly between the other planets and put them in those envelopes. All those envelopes then go in the Envelope Box. Next, the alien miniatures are set on their home planets. Players can now look inside the envelope assigned to their home planet and can take up to 7 cards to create their hand of cards. The rest of the cards go back into the envelope. It’s very important to always keep your hand and the cards in the planet envelopes separate, as various effects and gameplay parts will only work on one or the other. Set the Chaos Clock to 36. Roll off to see who goes first and you’re ready to play.
The Hunt Begins!
On your turn, you get three actions in which you must search out the Ovoid (or keep hold of it, if you’ve already got it). The available actions are: Move, Hyperspace Move, Control a Planet You’re On, Attack, or Play a Card.
Move and Hyperspace Move are your primary ways to get around the board. For Move, each Action you spend lets you move from a planet to an adjacent star, or from a star to a planet. Hyperspace Move is a bit more dramatic, letting you go anywhere on the board. However, you only get three Hyperspace Move actions during the game, so use them wisely.
To Control a planet, spend an action and take the Planet Envelope from the Envelope Box. You can look through the envelope and take cards from it into your hand. However, you have a maximum hand size of seven. Extra cards go back in the envelope. Players control a planet as long as they’re on the planet, and as long as someone else doesn’t attack them and take control from them.
Speaking of, attacking is the next option. Attacks are rather simple. Both players roll two dice to get their combat score. Once you see what both players have rolled, players take turns playing cards from their hand that modify their combat score. The player with the higher total wins. The winner can do one of two things to their defeated opponent. They can either look at their opponent’s hand of cards and take any one, OR they can banish their enemy back to their home planet. Either way, the winner also takes control of the planet’s envelope and can look through it, as a free action, as though they just did the Control Planet action.
The final action is Play a Card. This really depends on exactly what the specific card says to do. The cards are very good about spelling out exactly what their effects are. So see them for further details. The final thing a player does after completing their three actions is click the Chaos Clock down by one. When the clock reaches 0, the game is over and the player with the Ovoid in-hand wins.
The descriptor above is for the “basic” game of Chaosmos, and the one I remember trying back when I first played the game around a year ago. During the Kickstarter campaign, Mirror Box Games was able to make it through stretch goals in order to expand the rules to add various “advanced” versions of the game. Some of the options include Planet Effect Tokens, which are placed on each planet for an extra modifier to that planet. There’s also the Singularity Gate, which is an extra hex you add to the board and can be moved via the wormholes on the map. Then there’s the Barren Planet, which is another hex you can add to the board that has various effects in other modes of play. There are six of these extra modes. They include tag-team games, King of the Cosmos, and a special Master of Eternity mode that turns the game into a multi-game campaign.
I sometimes lament that there aren’t enough “new games” coming to my attention. By that I mean games that have a new premise, or new gameplay mechanics different from the majority of what’s out there. As such, when I see a game that really feels different, I take notice. Chaosmos is one of those games. I originally described it as a mix of Clue and Old Maid. The first couple turns, players race around the board, looking for the Ovoid or trying to find a good place to hide it. From there, it turns into a bluffing game, as players try and read one-another to see if they think the other people know where the Ovoid is. There’s a lot of intrigue that can go on during the final couple rounds as players get suspicious of one-another as they go to various planets and look through envelopes. It’s pretty fun to watch, even if you’re not playing.
I was really happy with Chaosmos when I first played it and I’m happy to see that the final version is much the same, only added-on to and better. If you get a chance, check it out. The Mirror Box Games crew will be at Origins showing it off and you can pick yourself up a copy while there.
A copy of Chaosmos was provided to TGN for the purposes of this review.