Red Delights of the Arena
I can’t help but crack a smile whenever I hear somebody complain about how luck hindered one of their plans, as though plans were the most sacred thing in the world. Well, yeah. That’s what luck does.
Take Gorechosen as one of the brashest examples of the delightfully fickle nature of chance. Just a few days ago, while commanding Redarg Bloodfane — a horned warrior who sports a codpiece that bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the Polokus masks from Rayman 2: The Great Escape — I had carefully positioned myself behind Heldrax Goretouched by weaving around pits of searing magma and opposing fighters. With a sinister grin, I got lucky on my initiative draw, then continued getting lucky by having the right card in my hand. I tossed it onto the table the way people do in movies about poker games. BACKSTAB, it read. I took up my hand of dice, everyone’s breath trapped in their lungs, and sent them spinning across the table. Misses, all.
Luck. It treats plans with about as much respect as you showed that last Kleenex.
The thing about Gorechosen is that I wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the sort of game that’s at its best when it’s coming down to absurd little moments, vignettes that stick in the mind like peanut butter in the throat.
I’ll give you another example. In Gorechosen’s four-person arena deathmatch, death isn’t necessarily the end. Sure, it’s the end of your chances of winning the favor of Khorne, the chaotic Blood God of the game’s setting, but that doesn’t mean you’re resigned to sitting on your hands and waiting for everyone else to wrap up. Instead, whenever your turn comes around — and you can bet we’ll be talking about something as mundane as turns in a moment, because Gorechosen isn’t even content to let that be done in the regular way — you get to roll a die. And, like everything else in the game, the deities of dice bestow their favor on you. Sometimes that roll will mean you drag yourself to your feet for another attack, or chuck a stray weapon at one of your enemies. Sometimes you won’t do anything. The point is, however, that beating on an opposing fighter to the point of defeat has earned you a lasting enemy, and just because he isn’t on the board doesn’t mean he isn’t a threat.
Panache. This game’s got it.
Fortunately, Gorechosen has more than just style going for it. Like those aforementioned turns, for instance. At the start of each round, you shuffle together a deck made from everybody’s initiative cards. What makes this so cool is that your character’s “wrath” determines how many cards they’ll contribute to that deck. Successfully landing hits or running around the board to avoid a fight means your character’s bloodlust will diminish, while taking wounds or taking a moment to sing Khorne’s praises will get your blood pumping again. As a balancing mechanism, this is particularly brilliant, since characters that are hammered to a pulp will tend to fight all the harder.
It also helps that the card system is particularly inspired. Each turn sees you playing a single card — if you haven’t wasted them on blocks or parries. Each card provides three options: one for movement, another to attack, and a final special action that varies from card to card. This means that even a poor hand might still give you a few solid options to choose from. And that means you can spend more time setting up epic fails or shocking swings and less agonizing over how poor your hand is this round.
Other little details help make Gorechosen what it is. Critical injury cards trigger whenever your health dips below a certain threshold, and come faster as you become more battered. More hilariously, you might draw a card that causes a permanent injury, decreasing your chances of landing hits or messing with your character’s special ability, or even watch as your character gets their head lopped off prematurely.
The result of all these little touches is a game that’s undeniably dramatic, even darkly cinematic. To chart out every move perfectly would be to rob this game of its singular appeal. Once, I rolled a whopping 16 damage on my opponent, the highest quantity I’ve ever witnessed, only for him to reveal a dodge and somehow avoid all of it. And while that moment was a tremendous letdown, it was also so outlandishly silly that I couldn’t help but laugh.
Of course, that alone ought to tell you whether Gorechosen is the sort of game you’ll get along with. While the dice-rattles and card-pulls don’t determine all of what happens, a significant chunk of the outcome does come down to sheer chance. To its credit, luck is the sort of thing that works best in quick doses, and Gorechosen does provide that, lightning-fast matches that never outstay their welcome.
Ultimately, that’s Gorechosen in a nutshell. It’s fast, hard-hitting, and every bit as silly as the Warhammer setting has always been.