Review – ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos

2 to 4 players, Aged 12+ with a 20 to 90 minute playing time
ExistenZ:On The Ruins of Chaos - The box artwork

Back in summer 2011 at the UK Games Expo I met a great team of Dutch guys led by Patrick Ruedisueli from Quantum Magic BV. Patrick is the chief designer in the team behind the Tradeable Card Game x610z, and its board game variant ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos. This later game has only recently been released and is the subject of this review. ExistenZ is a game is set in a post apocalyptic world were all the genes have become mingled with some very strange outcomes! This is a game where magic exists and weird and just plain strange creatures travel the land or float through the air powered in some mysterious way by crystals.

Having talked at some length to Patrick I know this is a game that was inspired by hours playing Magic The Gathering, and a desire to find something new that blended some of the best parts of CCG’s and board games. The result is a superbly illustrated and put together package that speaks of the untold hours that has been lavished on every aspect of this game. A game that they had hoped to release at Essen last year but held back from, unlike a number of others, because it wasn’t quiet finished.

What follows is an overview of the review copy (kindly provided by Patrick) of this game broken down into 5 sections: The Game Components, Setting Up The Game, How To Play The Game, What Did We Think? and finally Who Do We Think Will Like It?. So if you don't want to read the whole review scan down to the heading that interests you.

The Game Components
· A square board depicting a massive volcano and the surrounding lands this has then been overlaid with a series of dots and connected pathways. The dots come in 6 types:
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The game board

Red with grey centre - Start Dots located in the centre of the board, on the slopes of the aforementioned volcano. Your faction’s Life Base (central playing piece/Summons)) will start on one of these dots whilst the additional Summons (playing pieces) that come into play through the course of the game can appear on this same dot. These dots also act as safe areas where no attacks may take place and an additional location Summons may travel between.

Red - these surround the Start Dots and represent a safe area where players Summons can not be attacked.

White with a red centre - End Dots; if you wish to win by guiding your faction to safety then you will need to move your Life Base to the outer edges of the board where you will find many of these dots.

Grey with dark grey centre - Warp Dots offer an alternative starting location for the Summons that will appear through the course of the game as well a location that the Summons can travel (warp) between.

White with Grey centre - Quest dots have no purpose at this stage but are intended for use with future releases of cards.

White - these dots make up the majority of the board and have no special powers or restrictions and allow for the Summons to travel and interact in this strange world.

· 4 Decks of 51 cards depicting the 4 factions struggling within the game. Each deck is unique offering different strengths and weaknesses and therefore different way of tackling the game. The factions are the:
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Factions 4 Life Bases
o Arnunnian Alliance - based on speed and the ability to counter what the others can throw at you.

o Undead Legion - gain from their losses with casualties returning to the fray.

o Pirate Confederacy - seek to use stealth and deception.

o Red Barbarian Brotherhood are the most aggressive, whose strength is in attack

Each deck of cards is made up of varying combinations of:

o Summons – One of which is each faction’s starting Life Base (I guess this equates to the home city, albeit totally mobile!) that needs to either be kept out of harms way protected by other Summons as they come into play or left on a non-attack dot. The loss of the Life Base signals defeat for your faction and therefore a winning condition for your opponents.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Red Barbarian Brotherhood Summon cards
o Flux – offer various possibilities but once used are then discarded
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Red Barbarian Brotherhood Flux cards
o Catalyst – come in three types activated, triggered and continuous. Continuous have longer duration and in some cases have to be attached (focused) on a Summons.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Red Barbarian Brotherhood Catalyst cards

o Energy Crystals – represent the power source for most of what happens in the game e.g. to use a Flux, Catalyst, bring a Summon into play (or indeed move it) will take one, or a combination of the available crystals.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Red Barbarian Brotherhood Crystal cards
· Playing Pieces - 4 sets of two part cardboard player tokens (red, blue, green and purple) representing the Summons within the game; these are either the Life Base or the powerful beings (living or machine) that inhabit this strange world that players can call on to support their ambitions to escape or conquer. The most important is the Life Base and each player than has one playing piece for the Army, Beast, Dragon, Berserker and the Vessel. Each of these has different Attack, Range, Defence and Speed characteristics and will differ for each faction.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Blue playing pieces
· A set of counters with various numbers which are placed on Summons in order to record the accumulation of damage.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The damage counters

Setting Up The Game
Each player chooses a faction, takes their deck of cards, places the relevant Life Base Summons card in front of them, selects a set of playing pieces and then places the Life Base piece on one of the central Start Dots.

Each player shuffles their deck before dealing themselves 7 cards (Hand) and places the remainder face down to the left of the area in front of them.

If not happy with their Hand players may re-shuffle and deal themselves 7 new cards. If still not happy with their hand they can re-shuffle again but third and subsequent deals will be for one less card each time.

How To Play The Game
Existenz can be played with two to four individual players or two teams of two - we haven’t tried the team option but I have read good things about it.

Victory goes to either the first player who gets their life base to one of the End Dots, or to the player who destroys his opponents Life Bases. Exhausting your deck will also give victory to your opponent although in a three or four player game this may not give ultimate victory to your opponents.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Life Base playing piece in the 4 colours
During a player’s turn they may:
Reactivate cards i.e. turn any cards on their side 900 to their left (obviously not on their first turn);

Draw 1 card from their deck to add to their Hand.

Take a Crystal card from their Hand and place it in front of them.

Cast Summons, Fluxes and Catalysts from their Hand by expending the requisite number of Crystals. When used / activated a card is turned 900 to the right. In casting these cards they are first placed into a Stack which allows other players to react if they have an available and appropriate cards and unspent Crystals.

Move Summons, expending the requisite number of Crystals, remembering that warp dots can potentially be used to move from one area of the board to another.

Use any Summons within range of an opponents Summons to attack them providing that :

i. They are not attacking around a sharp corner.

ii. Any movement is in the direction of the opponents Summons.

iii. Neither party is on a non-attack dot (although there are Catalysts that allow this rule to be breached).

At the end of a player’s turn their opponents have the opportunity to respond by casting Fluxes and activating effects and abilities.

What Did We Think?
I should perhaps qualify my thoughts by stating that I have not played any CCG's or LCG's.

Ultimately this is game that could result in the exclusion of one or more players before the final victory is decided and this together with its combative nature were aspects that would probably make it a game that didn’t have a strong appeal for us. That said for those that like the game I think that it has a tactical depth and replayability that will make it a very good investment.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Red Barbarian Brotherhood Life Base - Blood Town

Having met Patrick and talked to him at some length this was a game that I very much wanted to like but sadly it left me cold.

The rule booklet is clearly laid out with large examples of the lavish artwork found on decks of cards. The symbology is relatively simple to pick up (compared to Race for the Galaxy at least) and the game mechanism can be understood and explained quickly. The artwork is evocative of the theme and much time has obviously been spent on this aspect; it seemed a shame that the space on the cards could not have been used more effectively to showcase these images.

As with Panic Station, another game we played recently, there were aspects of the games theme / setting that seemed illogical and for me this undermined the game experience further.

ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Arnunnian Alliance Life Base - City of ArnunniaThere is mention in the rule booklet that the factions are fleeing “furious lava creatures” that have risen “from the molten stone” as the volcanic land rises up in protest. This dynamic appears in the narrative setting for the game yet plays no part in the game.

If the factions had been coexisting in peace why in a time of peril do they feel the need to start attacking each other? Particularly when they have been living in close proximity and there are more than enough end dots for all factions to relocate to.

Why as they travel do they start Summoning powerful beasts etc with which to attack each other? Finding safety / a new home seems to be of lesser importance - rather the focus seems to be death and destruction.
ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Pirate Confederacy Life Base - Shipwreck RuinsWhy is it that in this strange and magical world where all the rules have been thrown up in the air we have the rule of one? i.e. each faction may only have one beast, one army etc.

These are in reality pretty petty points and for those who will like this game an irrelevance however for me they were just another aspect of the game I struggled with.

Who Do We Think Will Like It?
Given its combative nature it seems to appeal less to the ladies – I only managed to tempt one to play it and her response was “never again” (despite her being happy to commit murder and mayhem in Discworld: Ankh-Morpork.

ExistenZ: On The Ruins of Chaos - The Undead Legion Life Base - City of Ja'welGiven its heritage then potentially fans of CCGs such as Magic The Gathering will and I suspect wargamers looking for something to play when space and/or time is limited.

As with Panic Station I feel this is more likely to appeal to Ameritrash style gamers than Eurogamers.

If you liked this review then other games I have reviewed can be seen here

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