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XCOM: The Board Game

by on August 25, 2016
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The Good

It's XCOM in a box in an abbreviated form.
Genuinely tries something different and implements the app in an interesting and non-gimmicky way

The Bad

Very group dependant.
Very stressful with lots of luck.
Where are those missions, and why can't I name my marine...
It has an App! oh no its the end of times! But what happens when we go to windows 222 and it stops being supported... Get a grip.

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Summing Up
 

This certainly plays to a very specific type of gamer.
Fans of real time mayhem like Space Alert and Escape from the Temple will find lots to enjoy. Anyone looking for a serene and thought provoking experience need not apply.
If you loved the original games, just be aware that this is more a homage to them than a faithful board game representation.

 

EvolutionWith the announcement from FFG that we’d finally be getting an expansion XCOM: Evolution, I was inspired to pluck this one back off the shelf where it’s languished for most of the last year.

Having now vigorously revisited this, I’m rather glad I didn’t write this review on my initial close encounter, time has, in this case, allowed the game and my opinions on it to mature like a fine wine.

Coming out at the same time of Alchemists the ‘other’ app game of 2015 despite initial enthusiasm this struggled to become a regular table fixture. This was in large part due to my group’s numerous hang-ups, Ben is a co-op game grouch and will pull a face whenever we try and play one and Paul who is incapable of making snap decisions due to his terminal AP levels. These factors killed this alien invasion faster than Jeff Goldblum with a MAC ultimately returning to its mother ship with a disappointed sigh.

Despite coming from Mr. Lang, the board game equivalent of Elvis in his jump suited heyday and a franchise that I love this just wasn’t getting my gamer juices flowing. In truth, XCOM came very close to the trade list but something held me back, and I’m rather thankful that it did.

IMG_1788Flash forward to the summer holidays 2016 and spending some time with the brood, I decided to crack this one out again. It had the App which is a better sell to a teenager as they have buttons to push, and it’s an excellent camouflage to get them playing one of dad’s boring board games.

Having now managed a bunch of games over this period and even a win I think I’m ready to take this on.

And at first, let’s broach, another of the reasons this fell so flat on its first outing. Fans of the PC game series need to park their expectations before settling down to play. This is an abstracted version of the theme, story, and style of XCOM, it’s jettisoned probably one of the most beloved parts of those games the missions these, and much of the rest are still present but in cliff notes like glimpses of its software sibling. If you’re expecting the joy of getting attached to your grunts as you name them and nurture them on those early missions before weeping like a lovesick panda when they don’t make it back, then well that’s just not here.

Instead, players assume roles of the commanders and officers running the entire XCOM facility during its last ditch effort to resist the colonisation of the evil alien overlords. All of the good stuff that you’ve come to love about XCOM is still here, battling the UFO’s developing tech, and the missions but in the equivalent of small little nibbles.

It literally is a game of two halves.

IMG_1800The first part is played in real time, during a frantic five minutes, the players must react to whatever the APP is throwing at them either UFO’s popping up across the globe, attacks on the base, advances in R&D. Everyone is forced into snap decisions over what tech to develop next, assigning troops to defend the base, how many interceptors to scramble against the alien menace it just keeps coming at you like a needy child in an ice cream parlour. One poor soul, the Commander is also responsible for balancing the books overspending will result in the various continents your protecting falling further into crises, so this unwitting fool must play den mother to the military industrial complex during a fire sale.

pic2387149_mdThis whole stage effectively does away with any chance of quarterbacking discussing any form of strategy is impossible as every few seconds the APP throws a new dilemma at the team. Adding to the mayhem is that each player has individual abilities at their disposal that only they can utilise during this timed phase or the resolution, these are ways to mitigate some of the chaos. The Central Officers role initially is little more than Sigourney Weaver’s part in Galaxy Quest (to repeat the computer), but it slowly develops as the tech is unlocked into someone who can look at the broader picture and move units and troops about to react to the mounting carnage or compound it.

IMG_1786The second stage of the game the Resolution Phase is where you deal with the repercussions of your decisions through rolling dice. The game comes with four blue custom XCOM dice, and one Red D8 (the Alien Die) both rolled when resolving a task. Perched in one corner of the board is a threat track that slowly creeps up from 1 to 5 with each successive attempt and whenever the Alien roll is equal or below that number, then the attempt is a loss and the units involved are either destroyed or incapacitated.
It adds a punishing push your luck to tasks, with the XCOM dice so weighted against success with only two of their six facings a result means that you’ll always be gambling as to whether that one more roll will pull off that miracle you need games will often have multiple standing dice rolls. Dependant on your opinions on luck, chaos, and dice is whether you’re going to be thrilled by this mechanism or appalled. It’s a brute and uncaring device for ratcheting up the pressure and tension, it’s certainly not subtle, but it works.

pic2335425Eventually either through completing enough of the missions or if the app has grown tired of batting at you like a tiger with a ball of twine then it will announce that the final mission is available, and you can attempt to complete that to win the game by accomplishing it or likely dying in the attempt.

This is the equivalent of Pandemic on steroids with a quadruple espresso it’s remorseless and at first can seem that the odds are ridiculously stacked against you. And on my first encounters with it, I would and did dismiss it as that. But now having had the luxury of letting this percolate, there is a lot to be impressed with; all the tech is well balanced to give an edge against the chaos. And it never feels gimmicky the app is integral to the design and helps to create this tension-filled first half that no amount of sand timers or stopwatches could ever have achieved.

IMG_1797It’s not perfect the lack of manual I’m sure deemed revolutionary in a board room somewhere is a drag. Yes, the app does an excellent job of teaching that first play, but it’s a ball ache not having something physical to reference as a reminder if you just want to quickly refresh your brain as to how things play out.
As I already mentioned the merciless luck dependant second half can with a run of bad rolls just feel like some sadomasochistic punishment, it is to some degree mitigated by the tech cards I mentioned, but I get that for some players it’s not enough.
This is definitely one of those try before you buys and is very group dependent, but with the right gathering and the correct mindset, this can be an exhausting but thrilling experience.

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