Fantasy Flight Games has finally released it’s long awaited revolutionary board game, XCOM: The board game. One of the first board games to take advantage of an app as a game mechanic. But is this new development a boon or a bane to the tabletop industry? Is the game actually any good? Read on my nerd lifers, I’ll give you the details in my review of XCOM: The Board Game.
The object of XCOM is for you and up to three other team mates to take on the role of different department heads of the extraterrestrial combat team, XCOM. By fulfilling your departments duties you will, hopefully, probably not, good luck, stop the invasion of a menacing alien race looking to conquer our lovely little planet. Why are aliens attacking Earth? Don’t know, really. But we’ve got guns, satellites, science, and a little bit of rapidly depleting pocket change and we’re gonna blow em up!
The different roles that each player takes on will determine how they will aid in the combat against the aliens.
This is the app that will control your game and your sanity. You may want to get damage protection because the urge to throw this thing across the room will happen. A lot.
The Central Officer controls the app which in turn controls the game. Most of the time this player will be shouting at all of the other players to do their jobs faster before the timer runs out and game penalties get applied.
While doing this the officer will also be tasked with putting more UFO’s into the various countries and managing a small minigame where you place satellites into orbit that can destroy other UFOs in orbit that can possibly jam up the way the app works, thus making the game infinitely more insane, or move UFO’s to other places on the map in an attempt to stall the rising chaos caused by people shouting “Oh my God, there’s an alien spacecraft hovering above my city!” Basically just think of the game as the first 30 minutes of the film “Independance Day.”
This is probably one of the worst jobs of the game however it is also the most important. The management of the app is crucial to how the game works and good management, explanations, and encouragement from a Central officer can make or break a team.
This is your crack squad of soldiers that will protect your base and go on missions to defeat the aliens. Don’t bother naming them. They tend to die at the most inopportune times. So maybe name them after your enemies...
The Squad Leader is quite possibly the most heroic of all the playable roles. This player gets to send elite strike forces that fight the alien menace with guns and rocket launchers. Throughout the game the app will be sending aliens to attack the XCOM base of operations. The defense of this base is extremely important since if the base blows up, you blow up, and you can’t save the world from aliens if you’re all blowed up.
The Squad leader will have to find the right match of people to fight the different types of aliens by matching the symbols representing their units strengths against the aliens unique weaknesses. If an attacker can’t harm the aliens by not having the proper symbol things are going to go very badly.
The squad leader will also send these troopers on a variety of missions. Each mission consists of three tasks that must be completed to gain much needed bonuses for the rest of the team. The completion of these missions also speeds along the occurance of the “FINAL MISSION” that you must complete to drive the final spear into the heart of your extraterrestrial foes. The longer you dally on completing these missions means that your teammates will have a much more stressful time stopping the invasion inevitably making your job more difficult. This mechanic adds a huge sense of urgency to the game on top of the time limit stress already imposed by the app. Hope you work well under pressure soldier.
Ahh private sector science, just kick back buddy, no one expects much from you.
The Head Scientist role works a whole heck of a lot like a real scientist role does. You offer valuable inventions that benefit all of mankind but no one really appreciates you and your government doesn’t want to spend very much money on you, or even pretend you exist. Sigh…
As Head Scientist it is your job to create new inventions by reverse engineering the corpses of aliens that the Squad Leader hopefully brings to you by the dripping bag full. These inventions will give amazing game breaking bonuses to your allies and help them all do their jobs waaaay more efficiently. The problem is that you need scientists to research these technologies, and scientists cost money, money that buys soldiers and jets and satellites that blow up aliens. So often times science gets a little bit neglected when all you want to do is save humanity.
Scramble the jets commander! It’s time to vent your frustration with your teammates!
Finally the Commander role ties all of the team members together. It is this players job to keep the XCOM budget balanced by paying for all of the soldiers, scientists, satellites, and fighter jets. This. Is. Maddening. The app gives you a small pittance each turn to spend on all of the support units you require to keep your team ahead in the game. Each turn you will have to explain to your team why they can’t have a team of 9 scientists working on alien technology AND a full battalion of soldiers to attack the aliens that are beating down the door. These decisions also need to be made in an incredibly short amount of time.
The game designers anticipated the stress involved with this job so they threw in an extra job which involved control of the fighter jets that can kill all of the invading flying saucers. Which is a pretty good way to vent your frustrations concerning the budget. This however is another huge job because any saucers left over after combat will cause the public in countries containing saucers to go crazy and increase the panic level. If two countries reach maximum panic the game ends and the aliens take advantage of the destabilization of the human race and take over. No pressure.
The gameplay revolves almost exclusively around a push your luck mechanic involving dice. Each combat, mission attempt, or attempt at scientific progress requires the players to roll two sets of dice. The first set consists of the blue d6’s which determine the amount of success you can have. The second is a red d8 that you will learn to hate with a fiery passion. Each time you roll the red dice you run the chance of all of your units involved in that roll being destroyed. With each consecutive roll you make the difficulty to continue increases. For instance on your first roll you need to roll greater than a one on the d8 on the second you must roll greater than a two and so on. This results in a lot of units being destroyed by a simple stroke of luck, often times at the most inopportune moments.
The miniatures look an awful lot like the miniatures from Star Wars Imperial Assault…
aaaand the figures from Gears of War…
The components are of a good quality. The plastic miniatures that come with the game will feel very similar to other fantasy flight miniatures. Actually everything about this game feels like fantasy flight and offers a cohesive feeling of brand familiarity. The small crisis cards, large tarot size cards and cardboard game pieces are exactly like the small cards and cardboard pieces are very reminiscent of those found in Xwing, Elder Sign, Red November, etc. Though the quality is fine and I understand the financial reasons it does give the feeling that Fantasy Flight is sacrificing creativity for cost in the component department.
The most frustrating thing about the components included is the complete lack of a rulebook. A small setup guide is included in the box but everything else is based on the app which does a very poor job of introducing rules in a clear order. Doing the tutorial mission is time consuming and leaves out a lot of particulars. For instance I had no clue what to do with the special ability cards that were given to each different role, which caused me to get completely destroyed in the most basic version of the game.
Also only get this game if you intend to play with 4 players. Anything less causes way too much confusion and chaos and playing single player is impossible since the timer moves way too fast for someone to run across the table back and forth to keep track of everything.
The game itself is fairly interesting given the use of the application. Having every event be a complete surprise without the use of books, cards or other charts really streamlines the gameplay and is a welcome feature that I would like to see used in other games. Seeing this feature used in a game like Arkham Horror or Mice and Mystics would cut down on so much time spent organizing cards and eliminate a ton of wasted box space. The timer function really isn’t anything new to games but it does seem to help the game by creating a lot of tension in a game that otherwise would basically be a pretty formulaic dice roller.
Though this game is receiving a lot of buzz due to the use of applications and exhibiting the potential they have in the tabletop hobby, the game itself does not seem like it will have a lot of staying power. The theme isn’t incredibly heavy and many aspects of the game seem to be pretty generic and pasted on from the XCOM video games without the soul of its parent series shining through. The use of the app, though handy for organizational purposes doesn’t bring anything truly new to the gameplay either. XCOM will most likely be remembered for paving the way for using applications in board games but will not be seen as a standard for what can be done with the medium. I look forward to playing the new games that are following suit and driving this trend like Alchemists by Matus Kotry which will use an app to take a picture of an assembled amount of ingredients to discover recipes for magic potions.
A look at the upcoming Alchemists game that dares to take a more innovative approach with applications in board games.
I did like playing this game and would suggest playing it if you enjoy team puzzle games akin to Pandemic or if you want a chance to try something a little unique in the multiplayer co op department. Purchasing this game however is a tougher call to make. I’ll admit that I got a little swept up in the hype surrounding this game and my love of the XCOM video game and the very similar megagame “Watch the Skies” got me excited for what this game could be, but the hype just didn’t deliver.
Posted by: Levi @levithepirate