One of the games that made a big splash at last year's Essen fair was Khronos. Khronos is a rather unique game for two to five players by Arnaud Urbon and Ludovic Vialla. It's played on three identical maps, each of which represents the same countryside during a different epoch (or age) in time. What makes this most interesting is that actions that are taken in earlier ages can ripple forward into later ages, altering the game balance and introducing additional scoring opportunities.
Khronos comes in a large box that is stuffed full of colorful playing tiles printed on heavy linen-finished card stock. There is also a large and very attractive tri-fold game board, several cardboard coins, a deck of special cards, and ten molded plastic figures (all unique!) in five colors, two for each player. The box itself is divided into four large compartments that are more than large enough to hold all of the many pieces.
The only complaint I had with my copy was that some of my plastic figures came slightly bent, but a short soak in very hot water softened them up enough to correct that.
All in all, it's a first-class production that should satisfy even the most picky gamer.
Gameplay involves playing cards from a hand of four in order to carry out a number of actions that allow the player to construct buildings, control areas on the three maps, and improve opportunities for scoring.
The deck is made up of an equal number of orange, purple, and blue cards. The colors correspond to the three types of buildings which can be built by playing the cards: orange military buildings, purple religious buildings, and blue civic buildings. Each building type is made up of three different sizes of building tiles: small 1x1 tiles, medium 2x2 tiles, and large 3×3 tiles. Naturally, the larger buildings are more powerful and require more cards to build.
Each player controls two pawns. Each pawn may be used to play two cards during a turn which can only be used to carry out actions in the age where that pawn is located. Pawns may be moved from age to age as often as a player likes (even in the Middle of a turn) but each time a pawn is moved the player must pay one coin. Coins are victory points so players have a strong incentive to be as efficient as possible.
Victory points (coins) may be earned throughout the game by building large buildings or upgrading to them, but the primary way that they are earned comes at the end of each player's turn in each of two scoring rounds. The game lasts for seven turns. Scoring occurs after turns four and seven. Each of the three ages is scored using a different method. What's more, each player only gets to score two of the three ages, the ones that currently host his pawns.
On the first map, representing the Age of Might, players score points for each domain (connected group of building tiles) that they control through military strength. On the second map, which represents the Age of Faith, players score points for each domain that they control through religious strength. And on the last map, representing the Age of Reason, points are awarded to players who have majority control over civil buildings.
On the first two maps, domains are controlled by the player who controls the single largest building of the appropriate type. All domains must follow a set of rules, one of which is that the largest orange and the largest purple building must each be unique within their domain. The only way to take control of another player's domain is either to build a larger building in the domain or to use blue buildings to merge his domain with a stronger one of yours (similar to an external conflict in Tigris & Euphrates, for those of you who may be familiar with that game). When that happens, one of the two largest buildings will need to be downsized.
Perhaps the most clever, and most difficult to master feature of the game is that all medium and large buildings ripple into later ages. Build a large orange building in the Age of Might and you will also be building a large orange building in the Ages of Faith and Reason. In fact, the only way to build in the Age of Reason at all is to build in an earlier age and to have it ripple through time into the Age of Reason. This rippling can be very cool and it's the defining feature of the game but it also creates enough difficult situations that the rules need to very carefully address them all. This leads to some rather complicated and, dare I say, fiddly rules. The good news is that the rulebook does a reasonably good job of explaining those rules and has plenty of clear examples. Also, all of the rules are logical and necessary so it doesn't take very long for them to become second nature.
Khronos is a unique and fascinating game. The time-altering aspect of the game makes this one that every serious gamer should want to try. Still, it's not without its flaws. I've already mentioned that the rules can be a little daunting. What's more concerning to me is that this is the type of game that encourages some players to take a very long time to consider their optimal move, particularly on turns four and seven since scoring will take place as soon as they are finished with their turn. This can become a real problem with a large group of players and, coupled with the fact that the board can change so much between turns, it's the main reason that I really don't recommend that this game be played with more than three players. However, with three players, this is a truly fantastic game, one that I am always happy to play and one that I will often suggest.
One other thing to consider is that, while this is definitely a moderately heavy strategy game, actions are strongly governed by the makeup of the cards in your hand. No matter how good your strategy may be, it can all come undone with a poor card draw. For this reason, I highly recommend that the game be played with the ''Hold-em" variant described at the end of the rules, which gives players a little more direct control over the makeup of the cards in their hand.
If you are looking for a solid medium-weight strategy game with a smattering of luck, a unique theme, and some truly original mechanics, then you really should give serious consideration to Khronos. This is one game that should stand the test of time and is sure to be played throughout the ages.