Calvin’s Commentaries: CHAINS, Disc Golf Board Game

HEAD Rattling chains at the gamer table

It so happens most of those who game in our little group also happens to play disc golf – a couple of us being quite involved in the sport locally.

So it’s no surprise when CHAINS: Disc Golf Board Game came our way we were pretty interested from the outset.

The version in our hands is a prototype so what it will look like once in production – fingers crossed it hits its Kickstarter goals to go to production – but play wise this is actually rather surprising.

If you are a disc golfer you are aware trees can manage to get in the way of the best intentioned shots.

Discs seem drawn to water like bees to honey.

The wind is a disc golfer’s nemesis.

And courses have areas that are out-of-bounds, mandatories to go around, and other hazards that are integral to the game.

So how do you percolate that all down to a board game?

Well as a lover of Stat-O-Matic Baseball, it’s possible to incorporate a lot of details – baseball is rift with stats – into a sports simulation game.

And, designer Callum Mathers gets a big pat on the back for putting everything you would expect on a real course into this game.

The darned wind even exists as a nemesis.

That said, in putting the detail in, this is a game where you are likely going to need to be a disc golfer to appreciate this game. It is not exactly an all-gamer game, just because it simulates a sport so well.

Mathers does see a broader appeal though.

“Board gamers new to disc golf can expect to play with pieces they’ve never seen before; they’ll appreciate the art and will love the story the discs tell in the air as they follow their flight path,” he said via email. “Whether they know it or not, they will be learning the sport of disc golf at an advanced level. If they ever decide to play the sport in real life, they will have the advantage of being exposed to high-level strategy and all the different types of throws that can be made.”

That might be the case for some non-disc golfers, but the sweet spot here is for disc golfers gathering after a real round, or looking for some disc golf action when the local course is in under three feet of snow.

“Disc golfers can expect a disc flight physics engine that fulfills all of their hopes and dreams,” noted Mathers. “They will be able to visualize every turn as if they were on the course, and they will be all too familiar with the hero moments and the tragedies that occur in CHAINS. A talented disc golfer tells a success story with their discs, and this game will let you do exactly that.

“Professional players that bring this game on tour with them will be able to enjoy this social activity while keeping their mind sharp and resting their bodies during long multi-day tournaments.”

Certainly, Mathers comes at the game from the perspective of being a fan of the sport.

“I fell in love with the sport of disc golf during COVID; the idea of it being a board game came to me when I was touring my province, cramming 25 courses into eight days,” said the B.C.-based player and designer. “When I got home, I researched the available board games that catered to disc golfers and realized that A) the sport is exploding, and B) nothing celebrated the mechanics of the sport in a way that players deserved.”

​​​​​So Mathers said he set about addressing what he saw as a shortfall in the game sector.

“I wanted as many aspects of the real-life experience of playing disc golf to be reflected in a tabletop experience,” he said. “I wanted beginners to be able to play with ease, while advanced players could apply their knowledge of disc flight, course management, and overall tournament strategy to the game. I wanted to balance the skill players can accumulate with the randomness that occurs out on the course from wind, the direction of ricocheted discs, and all the things that can happen when you have to chance to putt, or score from a distance.”

In regards to mimicking the sport for the tabletop, Mathers did an admirable job, with lots of room to grow with new ‘hole’ pages, or add-on hazards, etc. This game can grow.

So what in Mather’s mind is the best element of the game?

“The transparent Flight Path tokens that are laid over the top of the course are the spice of the game,” he said. “They are so diverse in distance and in shape; when you realize you can flip them over for a reverse shape, and all the ways that you can modify them, you suddenly have this arsenal of throws; I stopped counting how many throw types were available after I got past 250.”

Mathers also noted, that the arrow spinners, combined with the custom dice, give output variation on wind strength/direction, ricochet strength/direction, and the results of a missed putt, adding sport detail.

“This mechanic can make the difference between landing in a great or compromised position; having to re-imagine your throw choice based on the risks of wind adjustments; or choosing whether to spend tokens to decide or modify the results of spin/roll to minimize the danger or capitalize on an opportunity to shave a stroke off the hole,” he said.

This is a game disc golfers who like tabletop games will appreciate, and it can certainly ‘scratch-the-itch’ when a real round just is not possible.

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