English language edition
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(Worth 4,395 Funagain Points!)
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The Master Clocksmith came to speak to me this morning revealing a fabulous secret... We can travel in time, my friend! Not just dreaming about it like my astrologist does, but actually going there. I can hardly believe it! There seem to be periods in our future where the strength of our walls will be nothing compared to the strength of our collective faith. Or an even stranger future epoch where the people will rule themselves. The Master Clocksmith has convinced me that our power is now limitless. Our lands and domains are ours forever. My opponents will not wait and my Lords have already started preparing for their journeys. My dear friend, come with me, for from this day forward, I will be remembered as the king who forged our own destiny... literally!
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
I’ve always had somewhat of a fascination with time travel. I can remember reading H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, and watching numerous movies that involved traveling through time. The concept intrigues me, and I’ve always felt it would make a great subject for a game. Up until Khronos, I’ve played two games using the theme – Time Pirates and Time Agent – and neither seemed to really adequately capture the theme in a smooth and exciting game. When I heard about Khronos at the Spiel in Essen, I had high hopes that this would be the game that truly did justice to the concept of time travel.
Khronos created quite a stir in Essen, with folks rushing to grab a copy of this loudly proclaimed limited edition. There was a huge crowd around the publisher’s small booth, and the mayhem resembled in a smaller fashion the absurd Nintendo Wii Christmas rush. Fortunately, no one was trampled, and there were no fisticuffs. The truly bizarre aspect to this frenzy was that I could find no one who had actually played the game, meaning everyone was succumbing to some fairly impressive hype. Would the game deliver?
I am happy to say that Khronos is a fine and intriguing game. While the game isn’t as smooth as I’d like, it does present players with decision-after-decision, and requires very careful and clever play in order to succeed. Played on a large board in three different “ages”, what occurs in one age can ripple forward and have dramatic effects on the future. Visualizing the results of one’s actions can be tough, but mastering this process makes for a fascinating game filled with skill and cunning.
The large, tri-fold board depicts three identical maps, shaded slightly different to represent three ages in time: might, religion and reason. Mountains, plains, forest, rivers and hamlets are pre-printed on the board, over which is superimposed a grid pattern upon which various buildings will be constructed and dominions formed. Forests and mountains only have an effect when playing with less than five players, generally requiring players to pay additional construction cards when erecting buildings. Rivers pose a greater difficulty, as only larger civic buildings can be constructed on river spaces. Buildings come in three varieties – military, religious and civil – and each type has three different sizes. The artwork on the thick cardboard counters is quite good.
Players each receive a batch of control cubes, 4 coins (“ecus”), 2 adventurer pawns and four construction cards. The cards are in three colors, corresponding with the three types of buildings. Players receive four new construction cards each turn, but must discard unused cards at the end of each turn. Use ‘em or lose ‘em. Players unhappy with their selection of cards may discard any number of cards at the beginning of their turn and draw fresh ones, but this costs a hefty 2 ecus. It can pay off, but is quite risky. This is an aspect of the game that has caused consternation amongst many gamers, and the designers have already put forward an alternative. Personally, I haven’t had a problem playing with the rules as written, and feel part of the challenge is doing the best with the hand of cards one is dealt.
A player’s turn consists of possibly moving his adventurers through time, and using the cards to construct buildings. Buildings are only constructed on the first two boards – Might and Religion – and never on the Age of Reason board. Rather, buildings will ripple forward to the Age of Reason. To move through time, a player simply pays 1 ecu and moves one of his adventurers to the board he desires. An adventurer must be present on a board in order to construct buildings, or to obtain income. Thus, players will generally move their adventurers several times during the course of the game in order to achieve their construction and income objectives. A player may play two construction cards for each adventurer present on a board.
Constructing a building requires cards of the matching color and in the amount specified on the building being constructed. Small buildings, which occupy only one square on the board, require the expenditure of one matching card. Medium-sized buildings require 2 or 3 cards, while large buildings – castles, monasteries and cities – require five matching cards to construct. Since players only possess four cards on a turn, a large building cannot be instantly constructed. Rather, smaller buildings can be upgraded to larger buildings by playing the difference in matching cards.
The construction or upgrading of a building earns the player 1 ecu on the Age or Might board, and 2 ecus on the Age of Religion board. When constructed, the new building may be placed on any empty space on the board occupied by a player’s adventurer, and it is marked by the player’s cube. However, the placement must respect two important rules:
Rule of Dominion. A domain is either an individual building, or several connected buildings. A military or religious building cannot be placed so that it will join two domains. Only civil buildings can be used to join domains.
Rule of Hierarchy. Within each domain, the most prestigious – that is, the largest – military and religious buildings must be unique. For example, if the largest military building in a domain is medium-sized keep, a player may not construct a new keep in that domain. When the joining of domains causes this rule to be violated, one of the conflicting buildings must be downsized. The procedure to determine which building is downsized is similar to that found in the conflict resolution process of Tigris & Euphrates. On the Age of Might board, the military strengths of the two domains are compared, with the weaker one being forced to downsize the conflicting building. The same procedure is used on the Age of Religion board, but religious strength is compared instead. The Rule of Hierarchy does not apply on the Age of Reason board.
These two rules must constantly be kept in mind when building or upgrading. They are the source of the most confusion during the course of the game, but they can also be used to cause dramatic changes on the board and affect one’s opponents tremendously.
Whenever a medium-sized or large building is constructed on the Might or Religion boards, that building may ripple forward in time to the other boards. Small buildings never ripple forward. An identical building is placed on the matching location on all “future” boards, provided this placement doesn’t violate the rules of Dominion or Hierarchy. If it does violate these rules, the building does not ripple forward.
If a building does ripple forward, it will completely displace any building that it may cover, even partially. This can be quite dramatic, as it is possible to completely destroy an opponent’s building on one board by constructing a building on an earlier board. This is a very nasty and effective tactic.
Civic buildings ripple forward intact to the Age of Reason board. However, when military and religious buildings ripple forward to the Age of Reason board, they appear as ruins, which are depicted on the reverse of these counters. These ruins can be renovated by the placement of the proper number of cubes onto the ruins. In order to do this, the player must have his adventurer present on the Age of Reason board, and play a card of the matching color for each cube placed. Renovated buildings are worth more when income is paid following the fourth and seventh rounds, so it is a task that is frequently pursued.
Aside from the immediate income earned from the construction or upgrading of a building, players must also work towards more substantial income by controlling domains. At the end of the fourth and seventh turns, each domain on each board is examined to determine income. On the Age of Might board, a player controls a domain if he controls the most prestigious military building in that domain. That player receives in income the printed value of all civic buildings in that domain. On the Age of Religion board, the procedure is the same, except the player controlling the most prestigious religious building in a domain earns the income.
The Age of Reason board is a bit different. Players are vying for control of the civic buildings. Players may place cubes onto the civic buildings, and the player having the most cubes present in a domain controls it and earns income equal to the printed value of all military and religious buildings in that domain. Thus, there is a constant struggle to control a domain, and players often spend considerable time and effort placing cubes onto the civic buildings. To place a cube onto a civic building, a player must spend a blue construction card. The limit of cubes that can be placed onto a civic building is equal to its printed value.
The driving force of the game is the formation, joining and separation of domains, as control of domains generate the bulk of the wealth in the game. As mentioned, the construction of a building can have dramatic effects not only on the board upon which it was erected, but on future boards as well. In addition, players can pay to destroy small buildings, whether they own them or not. This, too, can have a dramatic effect, and is often used to divide powerful domains. Visualizing how the construction or destruction of a building can be used to one’s advantage on the present and future boards is a critical skill, and when wielded effectively, can be immensely powerful and gratifying.
In the seventh and final round, an assessment is made after each player’s turn to determine his final income. Thus, after a player completes his turn in that round, he has no further interest in the fate of his domains. While this mechanism didn’t work in Risk 2210, it works well here. Otherwise, if a final assessment wasn’t made until all players took their turns, the final player would have a significant advantage. The player with the most money at the end of the seventh turn is victorious.
I was fearful that the game would become a brain-burner and prone to over-analyzing, and visions of a 4-hour marathon haunted my dreams. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded, as the limited number of actions a player has on his turn translated into a rather fast-moving 2-hour game. While there are ample opportunities for clever and dramatic moves, I’ve not found that players take too long to analyze their options and make their moves. These have been pleasant surprises.
Disappointments? My main disappointment is that the game still doesn’t do justice to the time travel theme. The rippling effect is dramatic and clever, but the concept of time travel is just so rich with possibilities that I can’t help but feel more can be done with it. While Khronos is a VERY good game, it still doesn’t do proper justice to the rich concept of time travel and its possible ramifications.
There are also numerous inconsistencies in the mechanisms employed. The Age of Might and Religion boards work in a similar fashion, but the Age of Reason board operates very different. Whereas controlling the most prestigious building in a domain is critical on the Might and Religion boards, a majority battle over civil buildings occurs on the Reason board. Dominion and Hierarchy rules apply on the Might and Religion boards, but have no bearing on the Reason board. Buildings cannot be constructed on rivers, except for medium and large civic buildings. Such inconsistencies in mechanisms are not the norm in most European style games, and are a source of confusion here. They are also easy to overlook, causing rules gaffes. I’m confident that in the hands of an experienced developer, a more consistent flow of mechanism and rules could have been devised.
In spite of these drawbacks, Khronos is an intriguing and clever game, one requiring skillful and creative play. I always enjoy game systems that give players a wide variety of options, but do so in a manner that doesn’t cause turns to drag on and on or feel repetitive. Khronos packs a lot of decisions and opportunities for clever play into a tight 2-hour time frame. Players must adapt their plans to the cards drawn, which, for me, is part of the challenge. Those requiring more control, however, can play with the designer’s variant, which should alleviate their concerns.
I am well pleased with my decision to succumb to the hype and “must buy” frenzy and secure a copy. Khronos is a fantastic first effort by designers Ludovic Vialla and Arnaud Urbon, and I look forward to further trips in their time machine.