UPDATE 09/15/17: Unfortunately, Chronicles looked like it was not going to fund, so the designers have decided to cancel and review how they might revamp the product. I wish them the best of luck!
Chronicles: The Game
I was lucky enough to meet the guys from Happy Gorilla at 1D4 Con in West Virginia, and I got to try Chronicles out in a demo skirmish. Chronicles: The Game takes the traditional war game niche (like 40K, Warmachine, Hordes, Malifaux, etc) and aims to make the genre more accessible to the board gaming fans (Blood Rage, Conan, Rising Sun, etc).
Full disclosure: I am not a war gamer. I enjoy the occasional casual game of X-Wing and Imperial Assault, but I don’t play heavy miniature war games like 40K, Hordes, Warmachine or their like. Also, while I have met Happy Gorilla guys at a con, I have no other ties, personal or business, with them.
Simplicity vs. Complexity
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is a tabletop skirmish war game through and through, but the developers have tried to make the rules as approachable and lightweight as possible, while still giving the war gamers enough crunch to satisfy that play style preferences. As an example, during our demo, we played the mostly the basic skirmish rules, ignoring the terrain and cover options. The rule book in draft form (linked from their web site) is about 35 pages, but the game play is less complex than it would appear at first glace. One critique is that the number of phases in a round seems high, making it more complicated than needed, but once you've played a couple rounds, it's actually fairly smooth.
I found this concept easy to grasp as a beginner, but I could also see the deeper strategy related to unit placement and maneuvering, for those times when you want to commit certain troops while protecting others. The Kickstarter reads, “Chronicles is won and lost on smart choices and outmaneuvering your opponent, not on random dice rolls and luck.” This is somewhat true in that maneuvering and model placement plays a key role in combat… However, anytime you roll a fistful of dice (which happens fairly often), luck will occasionally swing hard in one direction or the other. The law of averages, however, should keep these luck swings within reason.
Each faction also has its own set of special powers (I’ve forgotten what they are called in game). These are basically special maneuvers or combat effects that you get to use during your special phase and vary based upon a die roll and other in-game factors. This gives the different factions a unique combat feel.
For the board gamer, the "Combi-box" gives you two factions and the rules are simple enough to teach to your friends fairly quickly. The rules are flexible enough to play just a “light” version of the game, or throw in all the typical skirmish game bells and whistles. As I noted, you can check out the draft rules on their website.
Models and the Money Train
One thing to note, the developers are not attempting to ride the model wave cash train. Unlike other skirmish games where new models constantly ramp up the power curve and put players into an endless metagame “upgrade mode” with their armies (I’m looking at you X-Wing), Chronicles is not going to perpetually introduce new models for each faction. While they may add more factions to the game as expansions, the business model is not built upon continually draining the player’s wallets on new models for their preferred faction.
With Chronicles, the goal is that you could keep playing with the base set for as long as you would like. While it may be that some new models for a faction may be added in the future, there will not be the metagame race that occurs with other skirmish games.
The models themselves are beautiful. I mean, they really did a excellent, detailed job with the sculpts. Of course, we were playing with very well painted miniatures which definitely helps with the optics, but what you see in the Kickstarter is what you will get. I have seen the actual plastic minis, not just digital renders, and they are quite nice. I think most gamers will be pleased with what one gets in a $120 Combi-box. Hopefully, stretch goal models will enhance the box even more.
Because I’m not a war gamer, I can’t speak to the community aspect as well since I’m not familiar with how other game developers engage their player base, but Happy Gorilla definitely understands the importance of a fan base in the development of a game. Their online portal is going to reward players for just being active in the community. They were clearly excited to engage with the fans and have the players contribute to the lore of the game. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I hope that the community responds to their efforts.
Happy Gorilla is a new company, and as one, they are bound to run into some of the typical fulfillment issues that any new company might experience. However, I have seen and played the game. It is complete. The models are done. The rules are written and likely only have some beta-test editing for completion. They already have all of their suppliers ready to go. Despite being new to the industry, I am pretty confident these guys can deliver what they promise.
If you enjoy skirmish war games, or strategy board games that have war game aspects, you will likely enjoy this game. If you have wanted to play a miniature skirmish game, but didn’t want the steep cost or rules learning curve associated with some of the other well known IPs, you will likely enjoy this game. If you like well sculpted miniatures, you will be pleased with the models in this game. At the very least, you should check out the Kickstarter, download the rules, and see if this is a the kind of game that would tickle your fancy.