Can 4 newbs save the world from alien invasion on a Wed. night?
In other words, can a mostly inexperienced team win the cooperative XCom board game and have a good time?
At another great Wed. meetup of [toggle Gaming] hosted at Durty Nellie’s bar with plenty of space for this unique game.
This board game is a port of the XCom was an excellent one player 2K video game where players are in the role of a commander of an elite military team. XCom the board game allows for 1 – 4 players with the help of a phone app. Setup was a breeze since the game was put away with each player role’s pieces bagged together.
Now, the first interesting thing about this game is that with 4 players, each of us got a different role to play.
Central Officer – works to take out UFOs in orbit with satellites and determines turn order and alien invasion
Chief Scientist – works to research different tech that will help a player or the team in some way.
Commander – Adds any extra $ to the budget and sends jets over continents to take out UFOs.
Squad Leader – Sends soldiers into the latest mission and protect the military base from military invasions.
So, how does that work then? Well, mechanically, it’s a light worker placement with dice combat for each role. Plus, a free app tells the Central Officer where to place new alien units. So, by the end of the first turn, each player understood his role. So, we all understood we were working together, when we needed to spend money, and what each role did. Certainly, a good start.
Then, the free app also makes it possible to randomly determine turn order. Which feels…
…a little weird at first. But, why?
Well, when is the last time you played a game with a random player order? That’s right…never! We also played the first round without the timed phase. What’s the timed phase? It’s the worker placement phase plus figuring out the player. So, half a game round is a simple worker placement game BUT each player needs to make sure they leave enough money for the next player AND balance the budget before time runs out. An unbalanced budget leaves continents in panic, which is how the team loses.
So…ok..those are both weird…but why this randomness and timing anyway? Well, this way you can’t be sure that your will have the money or get the tech or resources you need. This is especially true if you have a teammate that wants to do everything they can. In addition, the worker placement part of the game is forced to move quickly. Which is….
Why? This is what gives Xcom: The Board game the video game feel and tension it needs. Then, you fight the aliens counting each symbol on black dice as a success, destroying an alien. Meanwhile, a symbol on the red die represents a loss of a resource (an exhausted scientist, destroyed aircraft, killed soldiers, or destroyed satellite). As long as a player has another resource, they can roll again, but their risk of a loss is higher. Meanwhile, a player can also use the tech from the Scientist to revive soldiers, give them armor, or gain other useful advantages.
In other words the game pretty easy to understand, except for possibly when to use the app. Xcom is also uniquely dynamic and is fun due to the light tension between players and the tension of the combat. The gameplay also has the right amount of player friction with players often discussion their case to spend more resources to keep cooperative play interesting. The time limit keeps increases the tension and limits the amount of arguing at the same time .
With a few of the continents nearing panic, as Squad Leader, I set my soldiers up for the final mission. Fortunately, we had agreed to investing in tech heavily during the early game rounds. This allowed our Commander to bomb ahead of my planned assault on the aliens. With the first aliens blown up, my soldiers sauntered to the second round of alien combat in the mission.
Then, I rolled terribly! This could have meant the end for us but I had armor for my men which gave me a re-roll. I rolled terribly again! My soldiers were again saved by tech, this time from our Central Officer. Finally, an acceptable roll, moved us onto a final combat. There were no re-rolls left though…and I rolled a success and alien damage which would kill my troops. Then, our Commander used tech to send my guys home before they were killed during the mission. We had won the day!
It wasn’t my favorite game and it wasn’t very strategic, but it certainly had enough tension building up to be fun. As a bonus, it felt like a real team effort with a theme that was central to the game. It turned out to be a fun win and an enjoyable time of killing dangerous space aliens, saving the world, and keeping both my squad and bar tabs down.
Featured picture copied from Fantasy Flight Games: Xcom-the-board-game