In early January, I broke my New Year’s Resolution to refrain from buying any new models for the first six months of 2017. I picked up Games Workshop’s Gorechosen board game on a whim.
Gorechosen is an arena combat game, where each player controls a single Chaos Champion of Khorne (think psychopathic killer with more muscles than self-control) in a last man standing melee.
The box contains everything you need for the game, chiefly four gorgeous plastic Chaos Champion models from GW’s Age of Sigmar wargame range. These things normally retail for a terrifying £18 each, or £72 in total. It says something about GW’s profit margins that they can put four of them, plus numerous high-quality bits of card, in a box and sell the lot for £35. (Also, it says something about me that I bought the game solely for the models.) Each champion gets their own character card containing all the rules unique to that fighter, and a Wrath Track to monitor exactly how angry each of the mad bastards is. In a nice touch, the board is double-sided, with a slightly different arena on each side. One arena has four pillars blocking movement, while the other has a pillar and three lava pits (if a fighter gets pushed into one of the latter hexes, there’s a 50% chance of falling in to instant death). And then there are lots of counters and cards.
This game uses a lot of counters and cards.
The rulebook is a floppy 14 page pamphlet. The first two pages set the scene – in short, the most powerful warriors in a tribe that worships the Blood God, Khorne, climb into a pit and kill each other for their patron’s favour. Pretty straightforward. The next couple of pages give biographies of the four champions included in the box, and the page afterwards describing each champion’s unique attacks from the point of view of the poor sucker on the receiving end. There is a lot of purple prose here, as well as some medically dubious and extremely graphic descriptions of murder. Six pages of rules follow, and then, as a bonus and to add replay value, reference cards for four more champions not included in the box. I’d scan these in and print them out, rather than either cutting up your rules or trying to run them from the book (reference cards get covered in counters during the game).
The rules are simple, with certain key concepts being described in box-out diagrams in the margins. I found them a little unclear when reading the rulebook in isolation. Gorechosen‘s strength is in the interplay between different rules, most of which are presented on action cards or the individual fighters’ reference cards. Because of this, you don’t get a full view of the game simply by reading it; you need to play it to ‘get’ the rules.
The Wrath Track consists of four columns of eight squares, upon which each player places a token bearing their character’s sigil. (These sigils aren’t particularly linked to the champions presented in the box, allowing for use of other characters, but is reflected on their reference card and Initiative cards.) Actions and events in the game will reduce or increase a fighter’s position on the Wrath Track. This matters because how enraged your fighter is will determine how many actions he gets during a turn.
(As a sidenote, all the fighters in the box are male. I’ve been critical in the past about GW’s failure to incorporate a more gender-balanced society in with its modern Age of Sigmar game. It’s not like they’re adhering to a loosely historical setting since the Old World went pop. A female champion or two would have been more than welcome – although Valkia the Bloody did get a reference card in an issue of White Dwarf, along with other tabletop characters.)
At the start of each turn, each player adds a number of cards, based on their fighter’s current Wrath, to the Initiative deck. The order of play is determined by drawing an Initiative card; the fighter whose sigil has been drawn takes an action before the next Initiative card is drawn.
In a turn, fighters plays one of a hand of Action cards, each of which contains a Move, Attack or Special action. Some actions increase or lower your Wrath; cautious movement or particularly tiring or, er, cathartic attacks reduce it, while the frustration of a Desperate Swing or the piety of praising Khorne increases it.
Move is straightforward, with fighters moving between one and three hexes on the board, although many cards will place restrictions on your fighter’s facing at the end of the move. For example, a Disengage move allows you to withdraw two hexes, but you must face the last hex you left. (In other words, you’re backing away from the enemy – incidentally, you lose Wrath for that act of cowardice.)
Attack options mostly dictate the number of dice you roll to attack, along with a special effect, where appropriate. (Backstab, for example, normally grants you two dice, but this increases to four if you’re in your opponent’s rear arc when the card is played.)
Special actions vary from allowing your fighter to activate their unique action, through combat manoeuvres like ducking past an opponent, to various forms of block or parry. The Most of these are activated like any other action, but the latter category are a reaction to being hit, with various forms of effectiveness, either reducing or negating damage entirely.
Getting hit by your opponent’s axe, mace or whatever is rather neat in implementation. Each dice that hits causes a number of points of damage (and the chance of hitting and amount of damage are both affected by certain Critical Injury effects). You begin with eight boxes on your fighter’s reference card, down which you move a counter as you take damage. When you hit the bottom of a track, an Injury marker is placed over the topmost space, preventing it from being used again. Each time an Injury marker is placed, you draw a Critical Injury card and apply that result. (Incidentally, many of those Critical Injuries make you, and possibly your opponent, angrier, increasing Wrath. Very characterful.) Barring the misfortune of a decapitating Head Shot Critical Injury or being punted into a lava pit, death occurs when you finally run out of damage boxes. In effect, this gives each fighter 36 hit points, but the placement of Injury markers creates a vicious death spiral, where you draw a Critical Injury card after seven points of damage, then six, then five, and so on.
At the end of a turn (i.e. when no Initiative cards are left to be drawn), the Initiative deck is rebuilt and a new turn begins.
Last man standing wins, although the rulebook does provide some variants.
I ran through a solo four-fighter game of Gorechosen to see if the rules actually work. It turns out that each fighter has a distinct fighting style, strengths and weaknesses.
Vexnar the Reaper: Armed with an axe and hammer, he’s got a small kill zone, limited to the three hexes in front of him, and each of his hits cause very little damage, but he hits on dice rolls of 2+ and gets bonus dice if his opponent’s in the hex directly ahead. In other words, he attacks with flurries of hits from each of his dual-wielded weapons.
Redarg Bloodfane (yes, the names are all that Khorney and cliched): Redarg has a large axe that only hits on 4+ and has an even more restricted kill zone than Vexnar, but causes lots of damage. He also has a hooked buckler-type thing strapped to one arm, allowing him to retaliate when hit.
Heldrax Goretouched: He has a massive two-handed axe, not quite as vicious as Redarg’s, but which allows him to attack opponents two hexes in front of him in a nasty overarm strike and has the chance of causing an automatic Injury marker (and associated Critical Injury) on a particularly good roll of the dice.
Kore Hammerskull: Apparently, this guy’s a blacksmith, but since his primary attack is to swing his anvil around his head on a long piece of chain, his actual unique selling point is that he’s better at attacking people two hexes away than he is those adjacent to him. This, for Khornate champions, is what passes for subtlety.
The playtest went pretty swiftly, with several standout moments.
Firstly, poor positioning by Heldrax led to him being mobbed by all three of his opponents and hacked and bludgeoned to death by early in turn two. Fortunately, death isn’t quite the end in Gorechosen; a dead fighter still puts Initiative cards in, but instead of taking an action on their go, they roll a dice on a Fate of the Slain chart on the reverse of their reference card. This has various effects, most of which cause harm to the surviving fighters. Sadly, each fighter has an identical Fate of the Slain chart; personalised charts would have been a great opportunity to emphasise the different styles of the characters.
It was Vexnar that got the killing flurry of blows in on Heldrax. Vexnar was then softened up and distracted by his surviving two opponents, only for Heldrax’s post-death chart resulted in him staggering back to his feet for a single angry attack before collapsing again. Still bearing a grudge, the mortally wounded axeman smacked Vexnar for a Head Shot Critical Injury and decapitated him.
Kore and Redarg duelled for a while, with Kore backing away to optimise the distance of his swinging anvil, while Kore closed in to make the most of his shorter-ranged attack. Then Heldrax again rolled to stand up for another last swing of his axe and killed Redarg.
The winner of the match was Kore Hammerskull, but only because he was the last man standing. Kore was probably more annoyed that Heldrax had stolen two kills from him, despite being the first of the three dead combatants to fall.
Overall, Gorechosen‘s a fun little game that I’ll be taking along to my weekly wargaming sessions for when there’s time after my usual Dragon Rampant game concludes. Quite how much replay value a game as simple as this has is perhaps questionable, but ultimately, once the game’s gathering dust on the shelf, you’ve got four lovely champions to paint and use in other games…