author Martyn Oliver
Colin Thornton
publisher Monocle Games
released 1996
players 1-6
playing time 3+ hours

City of Chaos

reviewed by Moritz Eggert

Euro Games come in many forms, types and variants, and you might think you have heard of them all. But you're wrong!

In the following essays I'm going to talk about some of my favourite Euro-games in my collection that most of you will definitely never have heard about, games that are weird, downright bizarre, good or bad. You can actually still find these games at Ebay or some shops, so good luck looking for them, I hope you enjoy it!

Let me start with a game that I really love a lot, and which is in many ways unique. The game is called "City of Chaos", and was published by the short lived British company "Monocle Games" in the 90's. Yes, I know, some think that Britain doesn't belong to Europe, but I think it does, ol' Blighty is Europe!

"City of Chaos" has a huge box with an ugly screaming face on it, nothing that's particularly enticing. The blurb says "A Random World Generator" game, whatever that is.

When you open the box you are greeted with a HUGE assortment of game material, something that only recently has become standard again, but at the time of the production must have cost the producers a hell of a lot of money. There are weird fantasy pewter figures, huge map tiles that form the board, cards, cards, cards and cards, coins and a huge adventuring tome in the style of "Tales of the Arabian Nights" as well as a rulebook.

On the surface this is an "us against the game system" adventure game, in which the whole game world is handled by the game itself. Players represent adventurers who explore the ominous "City of Chaos" and try to find out its terrible secret. The goal is to accumulate clue cards that enable players to find out something about the threat. Depending on what clue cards the players gather the threat will be slightly different each time and the way to end it will also be different.

So far so "Arkham Horror", but... the game is not unusual through the game system or the game mechanics, which are partly a little clunky and involve the dreaded "I roll dice and move that many spaces" movement mechanic. It is unusual because it is - well, so imaginative! And that I am at a loss for words here really should tell you how unusual this game is.

You see, there are guilds that the adventurers can become members of, and each of these guilds offers special abilities, items that can be bought and subquests to solve (there are also many, many other subquests in the game, that you can encounter at the different locations). In normal fantasy games there would be a thieve's guild, a magician's guild and the usual standard fantasy fare. But in "City of Chaos" you can become a member of the "Pneumologist" guild, that teaches you to inhale and exhale air forcibly, or become a "Pyrotechnic" who creates fireworks and scares his enemies away. There is also a "Mesmerist" guild, which teaches hypnosis and a "Pugilist" guild which teaches you how to fist fight honourably.


And these weird and strange ideas are not only confined to the guilds, they pervade the entire game and also the beautiful drawings accompanying it. It is difficult to describe this world, I think it comes closest to what is sometimes described as "steampunk fantasy", fantasy with a technology that uses steam engines and real science but also has magic like other fantasy worlds. The world of "City of Chaos" is absolutely non-derivative, though, and extremely original, which you will discover soon after having a few adventures.

Every time you enter a building you have certain encounters, depending on what kind of building you discover. These encounters are resolved using an adventure game-book style tome, and what a weird tome this is. Players can solve the side quests to advance in power, get special abilities or powerful items. It is also possible to hurt the other players in many ways.

While you explore the city a HUGE game board comes into existence step by step as you add tile after tile, absolutely gorgeous to look at and too big for most gaming tables. The city really looks like a city, as each building card is placed on a plastic base that makes it stand upright, a simple but very effective idea. You really get the feeling of roaming the streets of a weird fantasy city with looming buildings above you.

And the city itself changes - it is not uncommon that building tiles change place and navigating the streets becomes a task in itself after a while.

If all this sounds mouthwatering to you, I have to come to the negative points, and sadly there are some. First: the combat system. What sounds good on paper is actually a bit of a chore, as some rules seem to miss from the rulebook. Are combat cards used up or do they regenerate? If the latter is the case the whole system does not make much sense, as one would never play the weak combat cards. A house rule is desperately needed here, although this would be easy to invent for geeks. The rules are also sketchy in other departments, but then they are actually quite simple and easy to get into, which is a bonus.

Another aspect that I should mention is that the game is LONG! I once played a full game with my wife (2 players only) and to really finish it and to overcome the evil of the city we actually played for several days on end. Downtime can become a serious problem if there are more than 4 players, and even then waiting time can be long. The game has an optional rule to end the game before its natural end, but that seems unsatisfying given that it is such an epic game. But you know what? It doesn't matter, really, because when you then vanquish the evil you feel like you really have accomplished something, let me tell you that!

"City of Chaos" is in many ways a flawed and imperfect game, and it has never been reviewed really favourably. Little is known about the designers and what they were up to after producing this game. But if you are looking for a really unique and fresh take on an extremely detailed and rich fantasy world you should absolutely try to get this game. It is one of the main prizes of my collection and I would never part with it for anything in the world!

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2006, Westpark Gamers