Originally published on Steam

The official blurb compares this game to chess and poker, which are accurate comparisons. But they sell the game short. Chaos Reborn remains the very best tactical challenge I've played whether computer or tabletop. Make no mistake: there is skill in playing a random set of spells, most of which have a chance to fail, that summon creatures whose attacks have a random chance to succeed. New players might blame losses on bad luck, but the experienced player knows that most matches are lost by poor decisions. Julian Gollop (of X-COM fame) masterfully coaxes incredible depth out of a fairly limited pallet of mechanics.

If you read negative reviews, they tend to fall into two camps:

  1. The game rewards luck, not skill.
  2. For a game with a multiplayer component, it's sometimes hard to

    get into a match.

The developers have worked on both complaints. The crux of Chaos is managing probabilities. That can be frustrating when a bad roll of the (metaphorical) dice causes you to loose a match. Law mode, which removes almost all the randomness, eliminates that frustration. The design is exceedingly clever as it alters a small number of mechanics to make a game that feels very different. Players spend mana (instead of a random chance of failure) to cast spells. Attacks reduce hit points (instead of a random chance of instant defeat). It's not much different than standard war games except for the illusion/disbelieve mechanic. Wizards can cast illusional units that behave like real units unless the enemy wizard disbelieves them. When that happens, illusions disappear in a puff of smoke.

I don't feel this mode is entirely successful. One of the great strengths of Chaos is that neither side can relax until the enemy wizards have been swept from the field of battle. Bad luck cuts both ways. In Law mode, winning can be a matter of accumulating enough hit points to overwhelm the opposing army. It also seems as if the AI players are less competent when randomness is removed from the equation.

The new mode unfortunately splits the already tiny player base. The good news is that Chaos Reborn offers plenty of ways to play. For one thing, you can queue up for a live dual and do other modes while you wait. A highlight of multiplayer is realms, which are campaigns of wizard battles created by high-level players. Beating realms earns you experience toward reaching those levels. By accepting invading wizards, you can increase the experience gains and get to play against humans rather than AIs. Or, you can invite other wizards to become allies to defeat especially difficult opponents.

Live games are quick since there's a turn timer. But sometimes you can't spare the time. (It can also be a bit stressful to get your moves in once you have a bunch of units in play. One minute seems really long until you need to move half a dozen rats, spiders and skeletons using solid tactics.) Fortunately, Chaos Reborn is turned based and has asynchronous matches. You can set up custom matches with all sorts of match-ups from 1v1 to any combination of six players (bot or human). Or you can play league matches against 1 to 3 other players.

The first time I tried league, I thought I'd go crazy and send three challenges. But after those games got going, I realized there's no reason not to load up on matches. At the moment, I have 57 games and am thinking about starting a few more. That way, I have a bunch of turns each time I log in. The only real downside is that I might lose those games if I don't play my turn within two days. The only time that happened was when I went on vacation and didn't want to be tempted to do work online.

If you don't mind async games (and I love them) there are plenty of opponents to compete against. The benefit of a small community is that everyone seems to be pleasant to interact with. In some games there's no chatting, but other times people share tips in the in-game chat system. In the evenings, it's not uncommon for players to organize matches in the global chat room.

Recently, the developers added guilds, which have renewed my interest in the game. Honestly, the in-game support is anemic. Mostly, it keeps track of guild stats in the various modes. The real value of guilds is that it encourages more co-op custom games and mentoring. I'm part of Hegemony . Join us or be eliminated. ;-)

Bottom line: If the game looks at all interesting, please try out the very

generous demo. I think you'll want to buy if you give it a fair