Convention goes out the window…
Today, I am going to do things much, much differently. I like to write my reviews with a certain structure but there are times where something epic happens which causes me to flip everything on its head. Something like Chimera Station for example.
So first things first, I have a confession to make. I actually waited until 2018 to write this review because I didn’t want Chimera Station to beat Anachrony from my favourite worker placement game of the year 2017.
There you go, it’s out there now; like the smell from beneath the sheets when you’re trying your hardest not to Dutch Oven your significant other. Chimera Station is so far my favourite game of this year and was already a contender for my favourite game of last year. However, now you have to keep reading if you want to find out why.
If you don’t want to keep reading, then take this advice: “It’s dangerous to go alone, here take this”. No, wait, that’s somebody else’s advice. Oh yes, I remember now: “Chimera Station is great, go and buy it”.
Come on Chimera!
While I’m on the subject of confessions, I’ll also admit that I have been excited about Chimera Station for a long time. I saw the Kickstarter campaign way back in the day and thought to myself that Tasty Minstrel had a really good idea on their hands. The question at the time though was “can they actually pull it off?”.
Let’s not mince words, this game is ambitious. Worker placement games are nothing new, and trying to come up with fresh ideas within the genre is not easy. So, when TMG said that Chimera Station would have workers which you could “splice” different abilities to, I was cautiously optimistic.
But maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Usually, I wouldn’t explain too much about how to play a game; just what I thought about it. But, Chimera Station is a unique beast so it’s more necessary than normal this time.
Chimera Station is a worker placement game where you play as one of 4 different races trying to outdo the others in a… actually, you know what? I have no idea what you’re thematically trying to do. What you’re actually trying to do is trying to score more points than the other races, which in the WP genre isn’t anything new. There is going to be no ground broken on the part of Chimera Station for this facet of the game. That doesn’t mean it’s stale or anything like that, just not surprising.
Each of the 4 races starts off with a different player mat and slightly different starting resources. The races are: Bullies (red), Brainiacs (purple), Eco-Friendlies (green) and the Weirdo’s (yellow). As well as the resources gained from your players mats at the beginning, every player also gets to choose from starting resource cards to get a few extra things to help you on your way. These can give you various things including food for your workers, money and even additional body parts which you can splice onto your workers later on in the round. You can also use the starter resource cards to swap out the worker placement spaces later in the game as a one-off ability.
Each race also has an affinity toward specific body parts, which are conveniently colour coded. The Bullies have an affinity to claws. Brainiacs have an affinity for brains. Eco-friendlies have an affinity for leaves and Weirdos have an affinity for tentacles; just like in real life.
Splice Splice Baby
Chimera Station consists of 5 rounds which are broken down into 3 phases. The placement phase, the splicing phase and the feeding phase. There are also bonuses for building in the 3rd and 5th round where you get double and three times the amount of victory points from anything you build in these rounds.
For the placement phase, there are worker spaces down one side of the board which will net you “normal” things like food and gold. However, there’s also a building space where you can buy and then place another worker space onto the main board. Because there are a tremendous amount of these spaces which come with the game, it would be impossible for me to explain them all, but trust me; all of them are useful in one way or another. Also, the decision of where to build the placement space is pivotal in Chimera Station as you receive a bonus from the space you build on which can vary from more food or gold to extra body parts, depending on where you decide to build.
The splicing phase is also pretty straightforward. Assuming that you have a body part to attach in reserve and that you place a worker in the splicing lab on your turn then you’re able to add these body parts to your workers. But what’s the point?
The tentacles once attached will net you another resource when you gain one, so if you get gold or food from an action; you get 2 instead. The brain will enable you to gain victory points from any worker space the brainy worker is placed on. The claws allow you to bump another player’s worker from a placement space and the leaves mean that the worker doesn’t have to be fed in the feeding phase. All of these can also be doubled up to give you additional benefits; as if you didn’t have enough choices already, or you can mix and match any 2 different body parts to have both active effects.
Once all of your placement work is done, any workers which do not have leaves attached to them need to be fed. If you’re unable to feed them then you will firstly lose a body part if they have one and if they’re unable to lose a body part then you will lose victory points for each worker.
There is also one thing I didn’t previously mention, which is the science advancement track on each of the player mats. This is how you net yourself perks and extra workers. You can place workers on to the “Laboratory” worker space, and by giving up a body part, you can then increase the science track giving you an edge over your fellow players.
Perks not Irks
The perks in Chimera Station add another facet to what is at its core a very simple to play worker placement game. There are 3 perks dealt out at the beginning of the game, and another 3 brought out in the 3rd and 5th rounds. There are 2 different types of perks too. Blue ones which will gain you a private worker space which cannot be used by anybody else, and red ones which give you game changing rules and avenues for end game scoring.
As with any game, the perks in Chimera Station have varying degrees of use, but some of the particularly special ones allow you to keep collecting any bonuses which have not already been covered up on the building board or allow you to swap two food for 6 gold, or they can give you something useful like the ability to have 3 body parts spliced on to the same worker.
Playtime isn’t always over
That in a nutshell is how to play Chimera Station. So why does it tickle my pickle so much?
Well, I have to admit that explained in the way it has been, Chimera Station doesn’t sound that great. Broken down to its core mechanics, it doesn’t sound anything special; but believe me, it is. I have not played a Worker Placement game in some time which was so approachable from the offset. I was able to understand and teach the game with around 5 minutes of having the box open, and for me, that truly is something. All of the iconography is simple to get to grips with and so are the rules.
Not only that, Chimera Station is fun to play. Some WP games become a slog after a while due to pernickety rules or just running too long, but Chimera Station has none of that. For example, I love Terraforming Mars. It’s a great game. But, it can often run on just that little too long. When you’re getting toward a play time of 3 hours, I’m usually burned out and half asleep. But Chimera Station plays in 90 minutes or so consistently, and that mean it’s always going to see more table time than something double that length.
Choice! So. Much. Choice.
Another thing beautifully demonstrated by Chimera Station is that for me, one of the most important things in any worker placement game is choice. Otherwise it will grow stale really quickly. Something like Euphoria is great (and still sees table time) but if it saw too much then it would get pretty old because you’re trying to do the same things each time.
With Chimera Station though, I can’t see that ever being a problem. As I briefly touched on already, there are a crazy amount (40 to be exact) of placement tiles to put out in each game which helps, but also there are perk cards which come out in the first, 3rd and 5th rounds which shakes up the game and offers your even more choices; like you didn’t have enough already.
180! Or maybe more…
One thing that caught me by surprise when I first opened the box, is that each of the races also has a token with a 100 and 200 on it, so that once you had gone around the board once then you could still keep track of your score. I thought that being able to score over 200 points would never happen surely? Wrong! It is definitely possible. In the first game that I played, one of my gaming group managed to net themselves best part of 40 points in one turn so 200 points is definitely on the cards.
As I have honestly come to expect from TMG, the component quality in Chimera Station is perfect; there’s not a bad word to be said about any of it. The card stock is sturdy, the workers and the way they come apart is firm enough that they can’t just pop apart, but not too firm that they’re impossible to take apart. The only thing that struck me as a bit odd was that the player mats are pretty thing (Terraforming Mars thin) but I guess they don’t need to be any thicker for what they’re used for, so it doesn’t detract from the game any.
One of my friends mentioned something which does deserve to be said though. The artwork for Chimera Station is a little… cartoony, and had they not been virtually forced to play it, then they never would have picked it up for this reason. Oddly though, I find that the Chimera Station artwork lends itself especially well to the game. It’s not a serious game by any stretch of the imagination and the light tone serves as a good reminder not to take things too seriously.
So now the question… What score should I give Chimera Station? Well, I have mentioned before that I love a lot of TMG games and when they do something well, they do it fantastically well. Has it beaten Anachrony? Sorry Viktor Peter, but yes, it has.
I give Chimera Station a frequent table gracing, weirdo tentacle loving 9.8 out of 10. Like I said at the beginning: Just go and buy it. It’s totally worth it.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.