Updated: Sep 19, 2019
I don’t often write negative reviews and when I do I try and write constructive reviews, rather than outright hate. Often if I can’t find nice things to say I wont say anything at all, that was certainly the case when I played this games predecessor X610Z.
The guys over at Quantuum Magic very kindly sent me a starter set plus 20 booster packs for the game and extra playing pieces. This should have been enough for me to at least try the game and enjoy it. X610Z is a creature summoning card game, with a board that is intended to focus the action and cause you to think more strategically.
My friend and I tried the game with the starter decks but with only 3 “Summons” per deck we were basically moving our “life bases” (the sort of King piece) one space a turn. The game was quickly abandoned after that and I opened the rest of the boosters to try and find more summons to make the game more exciting. However, after opening all 20 boosters I had found no further summons that did not replicate ones already found inside the starter decks. The problem here was that you can only have one type of Summons in play. While on the surface this could look strategic, it is actually just a further limitation on a game which suffers greatly from other limitations. After this the game was quickly abandoned and I decided not to review it as anything I might say would not help these guys who were genuinely very nice people.
Then I was sent a copy of On the Ruins of Chaos.
On the Ruins of Chaos fixes a few things. Firstly it provides you with four starter decks that are unique to each other, rather than the almost identical starter decks included in the original. It provides a clearer and more comprehensive rulebook full of examples, a properly mounted board and nicer tokens.
The game is insanely pretty and well produced, although in the few times I’ve actually handled it my box corner has already split. That said I like the layout of the box and the detachable counter container.
The decks themselves contain a vastly increased number of Summons, along with a good selection of crystals which provide your mana for summoning. This means that players will likely have multiple pieces on the board very quickly at the start of the game and fighting will ensue. Now, I have to say that On the Ruins of Chaos is a huge improvement over the original game and the change from a blind purchase (which included 6 or 7 stages of rarity) to a set purchase format is the right way to go. However, the game just does not work for me and here is why.
Existenz tries to be the first Trading Card Game that features a board that is integral to the game. However the board is a hindrance to play rather than opening up fantastic tactical options. In a traditional CCG I need to pay a large resource cost to play a tough unit, but once I do I can use that unit as I see fit, in this game I may never actually get to attack because the board dictates where and how I can move and attack. Worse still there is a card called “Battle Royal” that for the low cost of 5 mana allows my opponent to attack backwards and into safe zones for the rest of the game. This turns the tactical play of the game on it’s head.
Other games, such as Warhammer Invasion or Star Wars TCG, have successfully implemented strategic placement of units by using zones. A unit in one zone cannot attack a unit in another so the placement of units becomes a tactical and even a strategic decision. Existenz’s board does a similar thing but it does so in a more complicated way, seemingly only so that it can be a “board game ccg”
The Summons are the bread and butter of this game and there are 6 different types. The first and most important is your life base. This summon can usually move 1 space a turn and defending it is the only way to win the game. The other 5 types of summons are army, beast, berserker, dragon and vessel. You can only have one of each type on the board, which is fantastic if you draw lots of different types of Summons. However, if you don't you have to wait for your opponent to kill a unit before you can bring in another one.
Now, imagine if your current summons is way out of position and unable to attack, due to the layout of the board. Why would your opponent bother killing it to allow you to summon a new unit closer to his Life Base?
Tying summons to physical pieces on the board limits you to a maximum of 5 units in play and that requires you to draw five different types of summons. This can lead to you having a hand of cards, none of which you can play because that pieces is already on the board. In a traditional CCG this only occurs if your card is unique and only one of that card name can be in play, a usually rare occurrence.
Card Draw can be an issue in many CCG’s, usually you can draw one card per turn, although there are often cards that increase this. In the games we played of Existenz, both players ended up simply drawing a card and that was the card they played that turn, purely because they had no other option.
When the game starts dictating your move it may as well play for you. I, for example, had a Dragon and an Army in play, I had 9 mana and in my hand I had a Dragon and an Army Summons. I could therefore not play the cards in my hands and I had more mana than I needed to move and attack with all my units. Of course neither of my units had enough movement to reach my opponent and attack, so I could effectively do nothing. This continued for 3 more turns until I was finally killed.
With all that spare mana I should have been able to do something. Maybe discard a crystal for a single card draw, self destruct one of my Summons so I could bring in a new one in a better position. But as it was all I could do was move my Life Base one space and wait to be killed as it was obvious I could neither reach my end dot, nor prevent my opponent reaching his.
Existenz limits you in every way imaginable. You are limited by the board in the ways you can move and attack. You are limited to playing a single mana crystal per round. You are limited by how much mana you can generate and in the ways in which it can be spent. You are limited in the number of cards you can draw and in the ones you can play due to a physical limitation of the pieces.
On the Ruins of Chaos then is a very pretty game made by some very nice people, but I would much rather play a traditional CCG or LCG than deal with the restrictions that this game puts on your fun.