|Chaos in the Old World | Published 18 May 2011|
The Horned Rat Expansion for Chaos in the Old World will scurry onto store shelves next week! Today, we’re pleased to present a look at this highly anticipated expansion by designer Jay Little, who agreed to share his insights into the new fifth power.
Designing The Horned Rat Expansion for Chaos in the Old World was an exciting challenge. The core experience is a tightly balanced game that blends asymmetric goals and multiple paths to victory in a way that keeps players engaged throughout the entire game. Adjusting the four Ruinous Powers was daunting enough – it took a lot of work and playtesting to capture each Chaos God’s unique play style and theme in a fresh way that remains balanced.
Adding a whole new fifth player… well, that presented an even greater challenge. Researching the lore and history of the Skaven was key to making sure the new player power felt distinct from the original game’s Chaos Gods. On the surface, there are some similarities between Skaven and several of the Ruinous Powers. The plague monks and diseases of Clan Pestilens have a Nurgle vibe, while Skaven society’s fixation with warpstone and the powerful magic of the Grey Seers is reminiscent of Tzeentch.
The first step in the process was to define those aspects of Skavendom we wanted to represent mechanically in the game. Three themes soon rose to the surface. First, the idea of a seething, verminous horde and the overwhelming numbers the Skaven can bring to bear. Next, the Skaven’s skittishness, and how it sometimes manifests as incredible mobility and quickness. Finally, Skaven are notorious for trying to steal credit from each other and claim victory from another’s efforts, and are equally quick to blame others for their own failures.
Several of the Skaven’s Chaos Cards play up the concept of outnumbering their opponents. For example, Strength in Numbers increases Skaven figures’ defense when they outnumber another player in a region, while Verminous Horde makes it more costly for opponents to summon units or play Chaos Cards in a region crawling with Skaven. Skaven work well when massing together in regions.
The sheer number of Cultist units the Skaven player has to work with (eleven!) also plays to this theme. And the Skaven has plenty of ways to bring all of these forces to bear.
Breeding Like Rats...
Skaven have the most units of any of the player powers, and they’ve got the tools to get them on the board quickly and efficiently. As you may recall from an earlier preview, the Skaven’s dial advancements include the ability to summon figures directly to the board – a reward unique to the Skaven player.
Additionally, the Skaven Grey Seer Chaos Card allows them to quickly get their Cultists into play, letting them lock down a valuable Chaos Card slot while getting two Cultists for the price of one. And if that’s not enough, the Clan Rats Cultist Upgrade allows the Skaven Player to potentially summon one additional free Clan Rat when spreading across the Old World. This combo can potentially allow the Skaven player to summon six Clan Rats into the same region during a single Summoning phase for only three power!
… From a Sinking Ship
An earlier preview showcased the Skitterleap Chaos Card, a signature power in the Skaven player’s arsenal. Skitterleap lets the Skaven player send his seething mass of verminkind sweeping across the map, potentially setting up some pretty interesting combos. While potent on its own, the Skaven player greatly increases Skitterleap’s usefulness (and improves his overall versatility) if he acquires The Under Empire upgrade.
A complex network of tunnels running below the Old World, the Under Empire allows the Skaven easy access to regions across the board. And with several ways to influence the placement of Skaven tokens, the Skaven could potentially Skitterleap from Norsca to the Badlands, or move their figures out of a ruined region into another region on the opposite side of the board – for free.
Stealing Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
Early on in the design process, we knew we did not want a fifth player placing corruption tokens on the board. But corruption and the victory points for Ruination are too integral to the Chaos in the Old World experience to keep the Skaven from interacting with those elements. We also wanted to create incentive for the Skaven player to summon units into the thick of the action, rather than always running away with his tail between his legs.
By having his units count as corruption when scoring a ruined region, the Skaven player can earn a lot of points by summoning a few units into a region with his last few power points. Thematically, the Skaven jump in at the last minute and take credit for all the hard work the other powers have done tipping the region into ruin.
But by doing so, the Skaven player also paints a big target on his units. After all, if the other players can knock all the Skaven units out of a region the turn it falls into ruin, the Skaven player will miss out on any potential ruination scoring. The decisions on where and how many units to summon may have greater implications for the Skaven player than any of the Ruinous Powers.
Even the Skaven’s dial advancement condition reflects the Skaven’s self-defeating nature. The Skaven player earns one dial advancement token each time he dominates a region with one or more Skaven tokens. Since each Skaven token lowers a region’s resistance by one, it actually makes it easier to dominate regions with Skaven tokens. But it’s easier for everyone, not just the Skaven player!
If the Slaanesh player has Fall From Grace or the Keeper of Secrets upgrade (or both!) he’ll be more than happy to invade regions with Skaven tokens, as he’ll be able to quickly rack up points – potentially dominating a high-yield region with a single figure. Nurgle’s Infested Colony upgrade makes regions with Skaven tokens tempting targets, as well – the Infested Colony allows Nurgle to place two corruption in a region he dominates!
And if Khorne didn’t already have enough incentive to perform some pest control, two of Khorne’s new upgrades make domination more attractive. The Bloodsworn upgrade lets Khorne count each cultist as two figures when determining domination, while the Crimson Tide upgrade allows Khorne to draw a Chaos Card each time he dominates a region.
On the Right Track
I knew we were getting closer and closer to achieving the right balance after reviewing the trends over months of playtesting. There were a number of nail-biting finishes, and more and more games ending with multiple players “crossing the finish line” during the same round. We were also very pleased with how often each of the different powers were able to take advantage of both dial advancement and victory point strategies.
Playtests were ending closely. Some players were reaching the end of their Threat Dials the same round other players crossed the 50 Victory Point threshold. We saw Khorne racking up Victory Points. We saw Nurgle get four dial advances in one turn (advances, not just tokens – if he can pull off the combo, Nurgle actually has the ability to gain five dial advances in one turn).
In one particularly memorable playtest, two players hit the 50 victory point threshold at the same time. Nurgle ended up ahead of the Horned Rat 52-50 after scoring Ruined regions, and thought he had the victory wrapped up. Then when threat dials were evaluated, Tzeentch was able to double-tick his dial, with the second tick revealing the Score 5 VP advance -- taking him from 48 points to 53 for the win! Slaanesh was close behind with 45 points, and Khorne one tick away from a dial victory.
The Horned Rat Expansion aims to retain the delicate balance and player interaction of the original game, while adding some interesting combinations, synergies, and tricks to master. We hope you find this addition to Chaos in the Old World as exciting as we do.
Chaos in the Old World is a board game of conquest, pitting 3-4 players as the Ruinous Powers of Chaos against each other for control of the Old World. Players must out summon, out play, and outwit theirs rivals to ensure their domination of the lands for ages to come.
@Aquahog How about bait? You drop a couple of cultist in an area with that will earn you some domination points or "steal" them from another player. That player in turn invests more in that area and you can drop a warrior in there.
While I haven't seen it in play or thought of any combination effects, the cultist upgrade seems a bit weak for only 4 cultist...
Ooooh! Right, so, learned a few things. Looks like the horned rat will be similar to Slaanesh, in that he will be able to move skaven tokens through abilities (and not through upgrades, ala tzeentch). His potential for mobility is... quite staggering.
What I also find interesting... and it's suggested in the article... is that the Horned Rat may in fact be a way to encourage non-khorne powers to build combat units for reasons more than to just whittle away khorne. Considering the huge danger the Horned Rat will pose to players going for Victory Points, and the nature in which the Rat will achieve them, he will definitely encourage players to build combat units to kill off his cultists.