Chaosmos pits players against one another as different alien races in a dying universe, vying for the seed of the next universe knowing that which races controls it will rule that universe after its birth. Chaosmos is a hidden information/social deduction/strategy game unlike any other game I’ve seen.
The game begins with a hex-based modular board filled with planets, stars, worm holes and asteroid fields. Each player represents a race and begins on that race’s home planet. The engine that truly makes the game go is a deck cards. These card are dispersed amongst the planets. Each planet has an envelope dedicated to it inside which the cards are placed. One of these cards is The Ovoid. The Ovoid is the seed of the new planet and the win condition. Whoever has The Ovoid in hand when the game’s turn clock reaches zero wins. If no one controls it at that point, everyone loses. The game clock is usually set to 36 turns, so in a 4-player game, each player has approximately 9 turns to find and secure The Ovoid.
The game turns consist of players traveling to planets and taking control of them. Control means that a player can take that planet’s envelope and exchange cards from it with cards in their hands. The trick is that The Ovoid simply isn’t safe in a player’s hand. Combat allows players to steal cards from one another, so the clever player finds a way to hide The Ovoid until the last moment and retrieve it when no one can do anything to stop them from winning.
What keeps The Ovoid safe from protection when it’s left on a planet? Traps and Vaults. Traps cause the unsuspecting player to be blown back to their home world and forfeit the remainder of their turn. Vaults prevent a player from taking anything in an envelope unless they have a key. There are only 2 keys in the deck.
On top of this, each alien race has a boon and a bane unique to them. Each race has a special ability that aids them in some way throughout their turn. Each race also has a planet that is toxic to it, keeping that player from interacting with that planet unless they have special EnviroGear that allows them to counteract this penalty. The trick is that the races are arranged in toxicity pairs, but there is only one EnviroGear for each pair.
Giving a review of the game is somewhat difficult because there aren’t really any touchstones to which it can be compared. I have played it many times at this point, and what I have learned is that some players struggle at first because, even though there is combat, it is not a combat game. It shines best, in fact, when the interaction is focused around players making accusations and insinuations.
I really like Chaosmos. I had the pleasure of playtesting the game in one of its earlier iterations. Back then, I saw a lot of potential with some serious flaws. When I played the final product, I was floored by how much the game had improved. It is such a refreshing and unique experience that it can’t be fully appreciated without being played. Also, the game comes with multiple expansions/variants in the box adding greatly to the replayability.
If there are any quibbles with the game they are two-fold. One, it only plays four. Luckily, as I understand it, this will be fixed by an impending 5–6 player expansion with more cards and more races. This can’t come soon enough for me. The other issue I have with the game is one card, The Temporal Displacer. This cards allows its holder to remove 8 turns from the game clock. I simply haven’t decided whether I think this card is too powerful or not. Even with all the plays I have under my belt, I need more to know for sure.