Chaosmos: Tips and Strategies

In our mythos, the universe has been discovered to be a vast living organism and the planets are connected via an amniotic nerve reticulum…. In other words, wormholes between stars are connective webs of the Biocosm’s nervous system. Somewhere out there is an embryonic universe that is hatching soon… the Ovoid.

Powerful microscopes can stare deep into the embryo, revealing infinitesimally small swirling galaxies and nebulae, ready to burst forth.

But the creature who possesses the Ovoid will imprint onto it, and the next universe will be created to the will of the alien who possesses it when it hatches.

Chaos is not the same thing as randomness. It’s easier to poison Ghengis Khan when he’s still a young soldier than it is to defeat his massive Mongol hordes 20 years later.

You can’t control very many aspects of Chaosmos simultaneously– if you find an inactive Trap, you can set it immediately, but of course that doesn’t really help you, it just prevents others from getting it. You can remember where it is and leave it there, but then someone else might end up using it against you. If you carry it with you, it has now become a part of your strategy… or it’s just filling up your hand.

Part of the mystery of the game is the tough choices you must make about what aspects of the game you want to control, and when.  Do you want to hold several planets at once using Bases? Do you want to lock off one planet with a Vault and hide the keys? Maybe you want to spend time controlling the enviro-gear, preventing the other players from going to particular planets. The whole while you will most likely need some weapons to protect yourself, and to find and take the Ovoid before the end of the game.

Cataleptic Fog and Temporal Displacer are the two most powerful cards in the game (other than the Ovoid). They cannot be recovered after use, so try to save them for the end game.

DON’T ACCIDENTALLY REVEAL CARDS. Open envelopes under the table, or turn them in such a way that the bottom card is not revealed to the players across from you. This is game about control of information, and information is far more powerful than weaponry.

Don’t use the same weapons too many times. Someone probably has already picked up the counter cards, and is planning a little surprise.

Don’t waste Hypertokens.

Your opponents’ enviro-gear become more valuable to them in the final turns.

Pay attention when it is not your turn. It shouldn’t feel like there is ever downtime between turns. The player who figures out what the other players are doing has a huge advantage.

Find the Ovoid. Don’t forget the goal of the game.

While the goal for the end of the game is to have The Ovoid, players may differ in their strategies during gameplay. Here are some different strategies a player might employ during the game. These strategies, other strategies, or a combination of strategies might be employed.

• Building up an arsenal of weapons, so as to be nearly unbeatable in combat. The idea here is to let others find and control The Ovoid, and then take it from them near the end of the game.


• Spores and Imps can be Nano Fabricated, like any other combat card.


• Gathering the Environment cards other players need to travel to certain planets, and stowing the cards on those planets, rendering it difficult for the other players to access them.  If the necessary Environment card is on the planet along with the Disguise Selector (a universal Environment card), then the player cannot access the planet at all, unless another player helps them get one of the cards needed to journey there.  [Therefore in a two-player game, such a strategy while controlling The Ovoid is a way to end the game prematurely, since the second player cannot access the planet to win it for himself or herself.]

• Setting up Vaults on planets to protect cards stored there. Anyone can lock a Vault, but only the player with the right Key can discard the locked Vault or take cards from an envelope protected by a Vault. In addition, players might save Keys they find in their journeys, in case they come across that color Vault. Or they might take an unlocked Vault and move it to a planet of their choosing. A player might even save an unimportant Key on their person as a red herring to fool other players into thinking the Key might be important. (See Vaults and Keys.)

• Protecting cards on a planet with one or more Traps. (See Traps.) Traps may be set in combination with a Vault, but an armed Trap always goes on top of a locked Vault.

• Using the Temporal Displacer card to end the game early or delay the game longer.

• Using Hyperspace cards or the Booster Rockets to avoid other players from engaging you in an Interstellar Space Battle (combat). (See Hyperspace, also Booster Rockets.)

• Squatting on a planet with strong resources, defending it against attackers. Cards in an envelope that a player controls cannot be accessed by the attacking player unless they win a battle (and therefore, control of the planetary envelope).

• Misleading other players by traveling to unimportant planets, or by holding onto unimportant Keys.


Selecting a Secondary Planetary Envelope

Be sure to note which planet is ecologically unfriendly to yourself and your opponents. Also note where your home planet lies on the board–far away planets will be harder to explore without expending your precious Hypertokens.

Designing your opening hand

At the outset of the game you will have about 12 cards with which to create your hand and determine an opening strategy.

• Do your alien powers lean towards exploration, politics, warfare, etc? This might change your plan.

• Do your envelopes contain multiple Imps or multiple Spores? Those combine to create powerful weapons.

• Do you have a Vault or a Key or both? Did you start with the Ovoid? Perhaps you should carry these cards with you until you can find a planet to hide them on.

• Is there anything in the Cosmic Pool that you can use? Scrying Prisms let you peep other players’ hands or far-away unexplored planets.

• Do you have a Telethwarter?  This can be set as a trap, but it might be more valuable as a way to get you home quickly in the future to access the Cosmic Pool.

• Which planets are already explored? Which have not been explored yet? In a 4 player game, only 2 planets are unexplored at the beginning, and (since players start the game with an envelope and can reach a second on your first turn, that’s 8 of the 10 planets) quickly controlling a third planet will net you 10% more knowledge about the location of critical cards.

Good luck!

5 Ways to Design a Killer Board Game


So you want to design a board game? Hooray! It’s a wonderful, rewarding experience. Here’s 5 ways to make it unique (and hopefully innovative), while remembering that is has to be fun to play.

1. Don’t just clone other games.

If you think a deckbuilding game is fun, then play more deckbuilding games and decide what you can bring to the genre (if anything). You don’t really want to make another clone of Dominion, perhaps what you really want to do is tweak or house-rule or re-theme that game. That’s awesome! But if you want to make a unique game, dig deeper and find inspiration. You should avoid adding a paint job to an existing game. Even if you make improvements your game probably won’t achieve much notice or replace a popular game. Most games use the best ideas of other games in new ways, so seek something new, or a new spin. Maybe be inspired by a movie or a book or a family story, and find mechanics to fit.

Most games exist in a pseudo state where the only thing limiting their design is your imagination. Don’t think of the gameplay like a rigid set of rules that must remind you of other games. Your gameplay foundation should be more like gravity… there are ways to supercede gravity, but it still exists to prevent us from flying up into outer space.

Dune. Machinations and treachery and hoarding spice! There are some light area-control elements (from many other games) and variable player powers (from Cosmic Encounter, the designers’ previous game), but the rich theme and player interaction, and combat system, was a revolution. The design team was inspired by ideas of political backstabbing, and one of their favorite books, Dune.

Unique ideas don’t have to be epic. There’s a game I saw recently that you play with a balloon and an iron-maiden style headpiece with spikes that goes around the balloon. You take turns slowly screwing the spikes deeper and deeper into the balloon until the balloon pops.  This is pretty new, but it seems clearly inspired by Jenga and similar games. The game doesn’t look fun to me, but it definitely evokes a real-life feeling of dread.

Evoking emotional reactions is one of the most powerful things a game can do. Lots of people make fun of Pretty Pretty Princess (a game where you dress up in plastic jewelry and tiaras). There’s a reason that game has lasted: it’s because some people find it fun.

Which leads us to:

2. Find true inspiration from your own life.

Games are more powerful when they are rooted in the human experience. I’ve read in game design forums many times “Should I pick a theme before or after I design the mechanics?” Those are both bad places to start. There are plenty of great games alreday published, more than you could ever play in your entire life. Why would you want to make “just another game?” If you want to design a game about pirates, stop thinking about pirates in terms of what they DO (plunder, hoard, sail around, fight) and start thinking about what YOU love about pirates. Was there a movie from your childhood that spoke to you? Do you love the sense of freedom pirates enjoy? For me, Merchants and Marauders is a good board game not because it perfectly captures the pirate “theme” (although it does admirably) but because it offers you a large amount of choices on your turn.

3. Game rules are like city ordinances; things get fun when you break them.

Once you are inspired, you need to not limit the game by the basic rules (or at least playtest the possibility of breaking them). I personally like when each player has unique game-breaking abilities, but there’s also other ways to break rules. Sometimes entire games are about breaking rules (Fluxx is a game in which the victory goal of the game keeps changing). Some great ideas for games can pop up because of an idea to break another game, but I would caution against making a new game that doesn’t inspire you emotionally.

4. Have fun designing it, and keep at it!

For me, a game is most fun when it’s in its early stages. Playtesting games can be amazing because the initial inspiration that sparked the game hasn’t been accidentally squashed yet, and it may still be possible to find some amazing way to break the game. I think part of the fun of Magic: The Gathering is that there are so many possible combinations of cards that players know it is still possible to come up with innovative decks, and uses for cards that will eventually get errata’ed. It’s a glorious journey you are about to undertake, and you step up to the challenge and enjoy it.

It’s really fun to add a bunch of new cards or rules and then try to “break it” or figure out ways to make characters or card combos overpowered. For that one perfect moment, your game became something more than just a game. It became a puzzle that you unlocked! Now you can fix the mistakes and test it again. If it isn’t fun to test your game, it isn’t fun to play it. And if you would prefer to play another game more than playing your game again, your game probably isn’t ready for primetime. It should be AMAZING. If you designed the game with true passion, then you should love playing it. Most people will never like it as much as you (even if it’s a great game) because it came from within you– it’s your baby, so cherish it!

5. Pay attention to your playtesters, but don’t listen to them too much.

Playtesters will be very supportive and offer all kinds of helpful suggestions. Write it all down and look over the notes from time to time. But don’t listen to most of it. First time playtesters don’t necessarily know what type of experience your game strives to convey, so they will automatically equate the experience of playing it with other games they have played. This is why my game Chaosmos gets compared to Clue and and Capture the Flag and Battlestar Galactica. Yes, those are VERY different games. No one really knows what Chaosmos is like because it’s something new. What you should do is pay attention to what the playtesters enjoy about the game and how they subconsciously try to make it more fun. If they play a rule wrong and have more fun than a different playtest group, figure out WHY it was more fun to play it wrong. Interpret what they are saying in the context of their misunderstanding of the game.

Good luck and happy gaming!