Chaos League – Digital Jesters review

frantic American football style fantasy game
Photo of Chaos League – Digital Jesters

It’s easy to sit back and scoff at the likes of Beckham. He gets thousands of pounds a day for turning up and having a kick about for an hour a week, not even including the dosh the beggar rakes in for preening himself with a particular brand of razor on national telly. Bah.

Chaos League players really earn their gold pieces. They’re not just running the risk of a freak broken metatarsal, you see, but the risk of a freak detaching their head from its traditional shoulder-mounted spot. Much like that old Games Workshop tabletop game, BloodBowl, Chaos League is an ultra-violent version of American Football played with RPG stereotypes such as ogres, dwarves and elves.

Although it’s a fantasy sports game in character, Chaos League actually plays more like WarCraft 3 than Madden. Yes, the idea is to get the ball into the end-zone, but the only rule is that there are no rules. Actually, that’s not quite true – you aren’t allowed to stamp on an unconscious player. Well, not unless you bung the ref to look the other way.

The matches are mainly about micro-managing the battles your nine players get embroiled in, while trying to keep the ball safe until you can break through and engineer a pass or run into the scoring zone. For the strategists out there, the game comes with two different turn-based modes of play, while there’s a real-time mode as an alternative.

Using the turn-based system there’s breathing space to pause and plan your movements, whereas with real-time you’re in at the deep end, clicking madly around trying to co-ordinate your team, blocking for the ball carrier, attacking opponents in other areas of the pitch while activating all the powers your players possess. This is no mean feat, which is why Chaos League recommends turn-based play for the novice.

And herein lies the problem. We found ourselves rather strolling through the turn-based strategy gameplay. Starting a team of third division dwarven maniacs, the Anarchic Anklebiters, we went the whole first season of 10 games without a loss, going on to win the cup as well (beating a Premiership team no less).

On the other hand, the real-time mode feels somewhat overwhelming to the amateur Chaos Leaguer, requiring a pretty exacting level of fast clicking concentration. Warcraft 3 micro-management veterans won’t be phased, but your average Joe gamer is in for a steep learning curve. We can’t help but feel that the difficulty levels could have been pitched with a bit more care.

It also doesn’t help that the interface, while of generally sound design, can be unresponsive at times. Missing a beat in those mad click-fests due to not being able to click on the ball first time can be very frustrating. But before we get swept away with these criticisms, it’s worth mentioning that there’s actually a fun and still playable game here.

Blundering your ogre around the pitch, casting savagery spells on him and activating his psychopathic “ground hold” ability (whereby he carries on pasting a floored opponent) is just pure, good fun. Then there’s the tactics side which allows you to engineer a screen pass down the left flank, from quarterback to runningback, for example. It’s quite a buzz to pull off a good move, or to bring down a fireball spell on the opposition receiver when he’s two feet from the end-zone, striking him instantly unconscious.

The balance of ball-related tactics and bludgeoning is augmented with extras like substitution options and crowd support levels (the more you fire up the spectators, the more special tactical abilities granted to the team).

On top of matchday antics, there are also some backroom management decisions to be made in the career mode, with players to recruit and experience points to spend. By developing certain player characteristics you can build a team with a certain style (or lack of it, if you opt for the psychotic thug route).

Aside from the main career play, there are options for scenarios and one-off matches, along with a multiplayer mode that lets six partake of the Chaos League experience (up to three on each side), across a LAN or via the developer’s Internet gaming forum (GameCenter).

Company: Chaos League

Chaos League is good, most definitely unclean fun. It boasts decent visuals and a palatable mix of WarCraft 3 style stomping and spell casting with a sporting influence. On the downside, the sometimes niggly interface and skewed difficulty of the various gaming modes doesn't help its cause for promotion.