Let’s talk about poor Batt’l Kha’os. Two things here: 1) This is an abstract with a little bit of artwork on top, don’t fool yourself 2) This is living proof that misbranding by a publisher can absolutely murder a fairly solid game. Batt’l Kha’os? Extraneous Apostrophes? Sold for 2.99 on Tanga for the past two summers? This should be the kiss of death for a game…and it really has been neglected. But don’t let it fool you! This is a hidden gem.
Batt’l Kha’os is a tile-laying battle abstract that has some superficial similarities to Carcassonne. Essentially, you’re tile-laying to control majority around towers, which score you points. It makes some improvements on the Carcassonne system, though, as you’re able to draw from the tile stack, or draw a face-up tile from a market, which gives you more agency (and even lets you pick sneakily to block!) over your new tiles in hand. Also, the overall feel of placing/claiming land around the castles makes for a much more dynamic and free-flowing game state.
I first played this game in 2016 and was turned off by the essentially abstract system. But now, returning to it in 2018, I found the abstract system very engaging. There’s a lot of strategy to the timing of taking towers, and like any two-player game, you want to make your opponent do all the work of surrounding a tower, while you swoop in and win it anyways. Similarly, once you’ve secured a certain win, leave that tower alone. These sorts of tips are drop-dead obvious to abstract players, and I was able to appreciate the game after coming back to it with that background. Much like YINSH (another Get on Board abstract favorite), this game will often ebb and flow with a tight tension as you quarrel over towers.
A few magic elements of this game: every tile has both players’ soldiers on it, which forces you to make some tough decisions. Often you can waste an opponent’s soldiers by dropping them in a place where they will be lost anyways. Similarly, the tile draw lets you hate-draft and pick tiles that are very strong in your opponent’s soldiers — tiles that you can waste!
If the game were just tile-laying, it would be interesting, but Batt’l Kha’os also injects some interesting powers through the special tokens that come to each player. These can be played with just the basic tokens, drafted by both players, or used to handicap a more experienced player. These tokens let you do anything from boost your soldiers by two, double the value of the soldiers on a tile, or even take two turns in a row. They remind me of the special tokens in Samurai that let you break the rules in subtle ways.
There’s more to this little abstract/two player game than you might have first expected when you look at the bland artwork and the unappealing packaging. Give this one another look; Get on Board recommends it!