Triumph of Chaos is a 2-players card-driven wargame covering the Russian Civil War from 1918 to 1921. One side embodies the Bolsheviks and their puppets and the other the collection of White forces that opposed the revolution. The graphical presentation is lush, actually a little too cacophonous for our taste. The game has adopted the reference “Paths of Glory” engine, with respect to the cards’ contribution to the system, unit representation, and articulation of movement and combat. However, in many aspects the structure is less generic and streamlined, with the marked desire to expand rules, differentiate units and multiply sub-system gimmicks to put forward historical chrome - at the expense, unfortunately, of general clarity. The highlight feature of Triumph of Chaos is the political inner game, during which the players attempt to gain the wavering allegiance of some of the 18 depicted factions, of variable size, political inclination and strategic importance. This sub-game is successfully abstracted and elegantly interlocked into the core card play, replicating the resource allocation dilemmas. The political duel is exciting. The tree of possible scenarios is very wide and significantly affects the course of the game. The downside of this multitude of distinct protagonists is that the rendering of the specificities of each faction requires a daunting amount of special rules and exceptions, and even then does not avoid aberrant situations. This interpretation of the Russian Civil War is flamboyant but very chaotic, which, in view of the game’s title, could be considered more as a design option than as a flaw. The focal points of military action shift rapidly through the whole map, as intermittent threats flare here and there. The game is lively, with few lulls in the pace of action, and suspense remains intact until the end, as late-arriving protagonists can bring about dramatic turns of events. This unpredictability, inherent to the theme, grants the game a high replayability coefficient, but also makes it difficult to grasp the broad strategic picture. In combination with the somewhat fiddly complexity of the rules, which moreover are sub-optimally encapsulated in the reference sheets, this presents a considerable obstacle to feeling competent with the system within a reasonable amount of time. It requires a substantial investment to digest the whole into a coherent ensemble and master the conduct of a game.
Considering its ambition, the game may well have been unplayable. Instead, it is only somewhat convoluted. It may be tainted by some designs flaws and historical inconsistencies, but it is also perceptibly a labour of love, with lots of interesting ideas and a fascinating theme.