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Chaos

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Z-Man Games, 3 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 20-30 minutes; $10)

 

chaosboxChaos is a clever and aptly named little card game designed by the Valentyne Brothers. Be warned, right from the start, the game packs a lot of action and your sense of order will be shattered!

The 58 cards in the deck consist of colored cards (known as “Spectrum” cards) numbered from 1 to 13 (4 of each) plus 4 Order and 2 Chaos cards. The cards are completely dealt out to all players with another stack making up the draw pile (called “The Fountain”). The cards as dealt are not evenly divided so a sense of balance (or order, if you will) is lacking. But the excitement level is not.

There are several goals to the game. The most basic is to collect sets of Spectrum cards. A set consists of THREE identically numbered cards and, when melded, earn 1 point at the end of the round. (Having the fourth card of the same number when the round ends, however, NEGATES its value.) In addition, players will score if they manage to collect and keep THREE of the four Order cards in the game. (Again, having the fourth Order card negates its value.) So how do you manage to get these cards?

 

A player begins his turn by drawing a card from The Fountain. Then, he must take at least one action and may take as many as three, ending the turn by discarding a card into the discard pile called “The Pool”. Three types of actions are possible and may be done in any order.

chaos2You may exchange a card, face down, with any other player of your choice. Your opponent may not refuse an exchange. You may “seek” by asking an opponent for a specific card. (To do so, however, you MUST have at least one of the cards you are seeking in your possession and show it to the other players.) If you manage to obtain three of a card, you then place the 3 card meld on the table in front of you for later scoring. (You may ask for an Order card too but those cards are not melded and remain in your hand.) Should your search be unsuccessful, you must discard a card from your hand into The Pool. On the other hand, should you search three times and be successful all three times, all other players must discard a card into The Pool.

When a player’s turn is over and there are five or more cards in The Pool, The Pool must be drained. Now, in turn, starting with the player whose turn it will be, all players take a card from The Pool into their hand. This continues until no cards remain. Careful consideration is important here. Should a player draw from The Pool a card matching a meld he has already played, that meld is cancelled and worth nothing! If all 4 same numbered Spectrum cards somehow manage to end up in The Pool at the same time, that meld, too, suffers the same fate!

The final action choice is “battle”. When a battle is called, ALL players choose a card from their hands and place them face down. All are simultaneously revealed. High number played (and an Order card counts as 14) wins all of the cards played. Duplicate numbers are not collected but go into The Pool. It would seem that this would be a good way to get rid of a Chaos card as they rank as 0. But if both Chaos cards are played during battle, those cards just return to their players’ hands. Chaos cards have other unique abilities too.

Order and Chaos cannot exist together. In game terms, this means that if you draw or are passed or win a Chaos card in battle, any Order cards in your hand are IMMEDIATELY tossed into The Pool! Worse yet, if the game ends with a Chaos card in your hand, you score NOTHING for the round. But they don’t call this Chaos for nothing!

chaos1When a Chaos card is discarded, whether due to an unsuccessful seek action or to end a turn, there is an immediate flurry of activity. ALL players put their hands down and the player who did the discarding chooses which direction (left or right), the hands will SHIFT! All players will now end up with a different set of cards to play!

The round continues until all 13 Spectrum card sets have been melded or one player no longer has any cards or all 4 Order cards have been played to The Pool. Then, players score for Spectrum sets played (1 point each but valueless if the matching fourth card of the set resides in their hands) and for 3 Order cards in their hand (worth 3, 4 or 5 points depending on whether these are the last cards held in their hand and if the game ends on their turn on someone else’s). The first player to score 13 points (or higher) wins!

Chaos is a game that lives up its name. Cards keep flying around the table and it sometimes seems as if you are at the mercy of circumstances beyond your control. This will, undoubtedly, make some gamers shy away. But this perception is, fortunately, not quite the reality. At least on your turn, you have significant and meaningful decisions to make regarding which actions to take and in which order to take them. Certain actions can be pure guesswork (a seek action on the first turn of the game, for example, is like playing Go Fish) but this changes. Paying attention as to who is taking what from The Pool gives you information as to where cards you may need are and who is holding them. It also lets you know what melds your opponents are working on. Passing a fourth card to a player who has already melded it is a way to slow down a high score; passing a Chaos card to the opposition and then going out can totally wreck a potential winning hand. You also need to prevent those Order cards from being collected by one player as they have the potential for a big score. (A “normal” score for a round is in the 2 to 4 point range. Add to that, the 3, 4 or 5 points a set of Order cards gives you, and your can be half way to victory after just one round of play!) Of course, if you can remember what cards you had when you pass your hand around the table, that can be a big advantage. This “limited intelligence” helps you in strategizing to maximize the strength of your hand. But don’t fall in love with your cards. Chaos is a constant factor; it is rare that you will keep your hand for long. Frustrating? You bet. Fun? For sure!

Chaos has rapidly become a favorite around here, seeing lots of table time with our group. Chaos plays well with 3, 4 or 5 but we’ve found four to be the “sweet spot” and most satisfying. Chaos and Order don’t generally go together but this is an exception. I would recommend putting Chaos at the top of your Order form when making your next game purchase.

 


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