Monday 19 August 2013

Review - Chaotic: Trading Card Game

Chaotic Starter Decks

Chaotic: Trading Card Game
Designed by... A whole bunch of people
Published by 4Kids Entertainment
For 2 players, aged 8 to adult


Here we go again.

Why do I keep doing this to myself?

The other week, I reviewed Huntik, a trading card game that was so slow moving I could feel my beard growing while I played it. I purchased Huntik because I saw a starter set in a store for £1, and I really can't pass up a game (any game) if I can get it for £1.

And that's why I own Chaotic.

I don't like trading card games. I really don't. The starter sets are always weak, giving you crappy cards so you are forced to buy boosters; and then, when you do buy boosters, you just get loads of duplicates of cards you already have. I hate that. I hate that business model.

Hate it.

But I was in my local Poundland, and I saw Chaotic on the shelf. There were two starter sets. One was all shiny and red (the Underworld starter), and one was all shiny and blue (the Overworld starter). And they were £1 each. Of course I bought them.

So what did I get for my £2? I'll tell you... I got two boxes of very nicely illustrated cards with absolutely no game to play with them.

I know how trading card games work. I know that starter sets are designed to give you a taste of the game while still being unsatisfying enough that you are tempted to buy some boosters. But seriously, the starter sets for Chaotic are possibly the worst starter sets I have ever seen for a collectable game. Ever.

Each box technically contains everything you need to play, as long as what you want to play is a strategy-free, painfully slow game of Top Trumps crossed with... with... I don't know... the Devil, I think.

You get a 48 card pre-constructed deck (pre-constructed to be dull as ditch water), 4 "highly collectable" foil cards (kill me now), a rule book (surprisingly large and clearly written), and a paper playing mat (that sound was my soul dying).

Chaotic rule book
The Chaotic rule book

(Have I ever mentioned I hate paper playing mats? Oh yeah, in that Huntik review.)

The playing mat in each box only gives you "your" half of the board, so your opponent has to have a playing mat as well. The two mats are then placed side by side. The reason you need a mat at all is because this is yet another card game where movement and positioning is important.

Chaotic player mat
The Chaotic player mat (from the Underworld starter box)

The premise is simple. You have six monsters, and your opponent has six monsters. Your monsters move from space to space, and try to kill the enemy monsters. If you kill all your opponent's monsters, you win. It couldn't be a simpler concept: Beat up the other guys. But how do you achieve this?

(Caveat: I am now going to talk about the "advanced" game. There is a basic game, but there really is no point playing it. There's no point playing the game at all, but... you know... if you have to, just play the "advanced" game. If you have to. Like, if there's no way you can avoid it.)

As well as six monsters, each player also has in his hand six "mugic" cards. These are basically spells. They are called "mugic" because they are cast by playing music (see, music and magic make "mugic"). You also have six item cards, which are placed face down on the mat (one under each of your monsters). You have a deck of 10 location cards, and a deck of 20 attack cards.

On your turn, you draw a location card. This will be where the fight will happen. A location will usually have a special instruction (like, you can't play "mugic" here). It will also have an initiative symbol. The initiative symbol will match one of four traits that each monster has (courage, power, wisdom, or speed). This is where Top Trumps comes into the equation. You see, the monster that fights first is the monster with the highest value in the trait that matches the initiative symbol on the current location.

So, you and your opponent basically take it in turns to start a fight in a new location. You move one of your monsters onto a space containing an enemy monster, you reveal any item cards the monsters had face down under them, you compare the trait that is keyed to the initiative symbol on the location card, and then the monster who wins initiative attacks first.

You attack by drawing the top card off your attack deck. As you start the game with two cards in hand (plus all your "mugic" cards), you will have three attack cards to choose from.

You play an attack card, and then you and your opponent can take turns playing additional abilities, "mugic" cards (which are cast by taking "mugic" tokens off of monsters in your team, and those tokens are very limited), and stuff like that. At the end of this, the monsters take damage. And this is where the problem with the starter sets becomes evident: damage.

An attack card normally has some base damage, and perhaps a special ability. There might also be additional elemental damage that will be inflicted if the monster you are using has that particularly elemental symbol on his card. For example, if you play "Vine Snare" you do five points of damage. If your monster also has the elemental symbol for earth, you do an additional five points of damage. That's ten points total.

After damage has been taken, damage is marked on a damage track, and then your opponent gets to retaliate by going through the attack process again. This continues until one of the monsters dies.

Most of the monsters have at least 50 hit points.

Chaotic character cards
At least the art is nice

From that description, the problem should be obvious. Fights take ages. And ages. And ages. This is because (a) the attack cards in the starter decks are all very weak (normally doing a base damage of zero or five points), and (b) most of the attack cards key into elemental symbols that are not on the monsters in the pre-constructed decks.

Chaotic character cards
Two characters with no element symbols between them

The argument, of course, is that there will be more powerful attack cards in the booster packs; and once you have a few more monsters and attack cards, you can construct more powerful decks that are full of action cards that work better with the monsters you choose.

My counter-argument is that the starter decks should have been properly constructed so the game is playable right out of those starter boxes. You shouldn't feel like you need to buy more cards right away.

The game designers tried to be clever. They designed a game where the collectable aspect is intrinsic to how well the game plays. You need to buy lots of booster packs, because you need locations that have initiative symbols that play to the traits of your monsters, and you need attack cards that play to the elemental symbols on those same monsters, and you need items that play to the strengths of those same monsters, and you need "mugic" cards that key in to the traits and elements of your monsters. All the cards interlink, and I dread to think how many cards you would need to buy to have a good, functioning, powerful deck. And if you don't have a good deck, you have what the starter boxes provide: a boring deck.

The game is a soulless cash grab, with game mechanics geared around you buying more and more cards. The intention was clearly to encourage people to buy more boosters to get the benefits of deck generation. But all the designers did was encourage me to get rid of this game as quickly as possible.


  1. This review... I don't even know what to say... it's just... horrible.

  2. had a good ideal but MTG and Yugioh crashed it

    1. I would just like to point out that the year it released it was one of the top three tcgs and beat yugioh out for it's third place spot. I would like to further point out that Chaotic's demise was more 4kids fault. It was a company that could not survive on Chaotic alone, but Chaotic obviously would not survive without a company, so they both simply perished. I am even willing to bet if wizards of the cost picked it up it would be in the top three today still beating the crashing ship of Yugioh. It was loved by many and was innovative with the online version, the pioneer in the flood of online TCGs that came after.

    2. Interesting info. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Your review sucks. Chaotic was a good game.

    1. So, why don't you share why you think Chaotic was a good game? I'm sure readers would appreciate the counterpoints to my arguments.

  4. If you hate card games so much, then why review them?

    1. I don't hate card games.

      I hate the business model for trading card games. I covered this at the start of the review.

      Regardless, this is a review site. If I didn't review things, it probably wouldn't be very interesting. Have you played Chaotic? What were your thoughts on it?

    2. I enjoyed the game.

      But I can understand why you dislike the business model that trading card games follow.

      I personally like the model because its a gamble. The odds are not in your favor to get a good card, but there is still that chance that you might get a good card. Also, I think that whole business model is what makes these cards "tradable".

      I like the idea of a 6 v 6 army, but i agree with your points about the attacks. I think Chaotic knew this, and that's why they made mugic, battlegear, and locations, to change up game play, because like you said all the monsters typically have 50 energy, so if it were just attacks, than whoever went first would win every time.
      I think if Pokemon did something like that it would be a great game, given that in the video games one can have 6 pokemon on their team, but i doubt they ever will.

      I wont sit here and tell you that your wrong like some other people here, your entitled to your opinion, and i'm actually glad that you encourage people to support their criticisms. Personally, I enjoyed the game, but I agree, it is a very slow paced game.

    3. Magic the Gathering hit like a lightning bolt when I was at school, and I really got into it. I used to love opening a foil pack to see what I found. To this day, I remember the excitement of finding a rare blue leviathan creature.

      Years later, I got interested in the Lord of the Rings Combat Hex miniatures game, and I had great fun completing sets of figures for that.

      So, yeah. I do understand the excitement of blind packaging, and I see why some people love it. But nowadays I like to know what I am getting when I buy something. I think it comes from being old and grumpy. Although, I do buy a ridiculous amount of blind bag LEGO figures for my daughter!

      Thanks for taking the time to read, and for understanding that a review is only an opinion. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on why you like the game; it's much more useful for readers to hear that then just to hear that I suck.

      Regulars here already know I suck.

  5. I can't say I agree with everything you said, but I do agree with you on how long the battles last due to Attack Cards generally not doing enough damage. I'm curious though, how would you have fixed that problem? Increase the damage the cards deal? Eliminate the Build Point mechanic? Lower Creatures Energy?

    1. It's hard to say from memory. I don't have any cards anymore, so I can't go through them and get a sense of how changing various stats would alter play. I mean, I don't imagine increasing damage output across all cards would do anything other than speed up gameplay, but... it might.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Hello, while I am a little late to the party (2 Years) I would like to say I really like this review. I have been a hardcore Chaotic fan since it came out and even still so to this day. And that being said I would like to say I appreciate your honesty with this review. I will try to be a good commenter and let you have actual feedback. Everything you said is true and very well said, I couldn't have said it better myself. I have played dozens of TCGs and these are very low ranking on my list of starter decks. I would like to say though that the Chaotic M'arrillian Invasion starters are much better and would be worth the review.(Assuming you haven't review them sorry I haven't yet looked) Even if just to point out the things they fixed. In my opinion I think they addressed all of the issues you pointed out with these starter. And I am shocked/baffled that someone has the nerve to say "your review sucks!" before they would kindly point out the fact that the better ones exist at all and call themselves a Chaotic fan. That the internet though, lol.

    Thanks for a good review!, I hope I met that with a good comment, yours truly Anonymous.

    1. Thanks for reading, and the kind words. I'm glad to hear that some of my complaints were addressed in other starter sets. I've never seen those so can't comment personally, but I'm sure it would have gone a long way to improving my opinion. I appreciate you sharing the information, as it gives people a chance to hunt down those sets if they read this review and still fancy trying it.


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