Sunday, March 15, 2015

XCOM: The Board Game

XCOM: THE BOARD GAME

by Fantasy Flight Games

Published in 2015

XCOM: The Board Game is something that pretty much explains itself with the title. Being a very successful video game franchise, I'm sure that most gamers have heard of X-COM and know what to expect from this game - an alien invasion.

While I haven't played the new XCOM series myself (after which this board game is designed), some of the older X-COM games are very well known to me. The theme intrigued me, and I knew that Fantasy Flight Games could probably pull this kind of a game off with style - so this game was a must for me.

So what we got here is a board game where Earth is under attack by an alien menace. An organization called XCOM is mankind's best hope to fight back and defeat the attackers. The players assume roles of the four XCOM leaders, each of whom have their own responsibilities in running the organization.
The game is played on a global scale, so the board depicts the whole world.


XCOM: The Board Game requires a digital companion application - playing the game without it is not possible. This is a thing that will probably drive away some board gamers, and I can't blame them. I guess XCOM: The Board Game is more like a hybrid between a board game and a video game.
But the truth is, the app does open up some new doors. There are 5 different invasion plans that the aliens might be using, but even when playing with a plan that you just used, their actions are always unpredictable and every game is unique.

Another major thing coming with the app is a strong real-time aspect that the game has. Each game round begins with a timed phase, where the app dictates how the invasion force behaves. But in between these instructions, the app also gives the players short time windows for reacting and making decisions based on the events that are taking place on the game board.
The players need to cooperate and make quick decisions on the fly, and often the time runs out before all possible consequences can be taken into account...

Basically, the timed phase is a cooperative resource management experience under pressure. If that doesn't sound like something you would enjoy, then this game is probably not for you.

Between timed phases the players dive into somewhat more conventional board gaming experience, where dice are rolled, (more) cards are played, and the game takes on sort of a press-your-luck mechanic.

Well, how to fight back against an overwhelming alien threat?
Each player has a few assets that they begin with, related to the role that they are playing.

Commander handles the flow of credits and commands interceptors - XCOM's aerial defense.

Squad Leader has specialized soldiers that carry out important missions and defend the XCOM base against ground assaults.

Central Officer dispatches satellites for orbital defense, as well as for some logistical actions. Also the CO is tasked for handling the app...

Chief Scientist is the one that makes sure that these few assets are not the only help that the players have at their disposal. This role takes care of research, which is a vital part of the game. New technologies give the players new abilities that will be imperative for surviving the game.

The starting assets are otherwise the same in every game, but one is different based on the location of the XCOM base. In this game, the base is located in North America. This allows the commander to build some interceptors for free, but if I let the panic in North America to increase too much, I will lose this asset...


THE INVASION BEGINS:

January:

The aliens have located the XCOM base in North America, and the invasion begins! A dangerous Sectoid Commander attacks the base.


Three UFOs also appear to the skies of North America, looking to cause panic and destruction!

There are reports of a solitary UFO over South America as well.
Muton Elite joins the Sectoid in the assault against the XCOM base.

The Squad Leader sends out some troops. Reports tell of another site nearby with some alien ground activity... An Assault trooper, a Sniper and a Heavy trooper are sent to investigate.

More UFOs appear all over the world, but the Central Officer deploys his satellites to lure most of them to North America. The Commander dispatches three interceptors to meet the UFOs there.
Some UFOs remain on the orbit, but three satellites are there ready to engage them.

A third enemy, Muton, attacks the base. Only two soldiers are available to defend the base...

Other two are sent out for a special mission with a Skyranger transport aircraft. Three are on another mission and one is taking part in the officer training program.
The XCOM scientists are working hard to come up with new technology. They make a breakthrough with plasma weapons:
High precision Plasma Cannons are now ready to be fitted into interceptors - while useless against UFOs, these cannons can be used to destroy alien
ground units very efficiently.
The orbit is cleared of UFOs, but the satellites sent there are also disabled.

A furious battle takes place in the skies of North America. Two UFOs are destroyed, but so are all of the interceptors sent there.
The remaining UFOs cause destruction all over the continent, disabling many of its aerial facilities.

Meanwhile, inside the XCOM base, the two defenders kill off the lesser Muton, but are then killed themselves by the remaining aliens.
The attackers cause some damage to the base until finally the base's defensive systems manage to get rid of the creatures.

At the end of a somewhat disastrous month, some good news are delivered by the team sent to investigate the alien assault site.

With the support of two interceptors - armed with the new Plasma Cannons - the squad resolves the mission and considerably eases the panic in North America.

Also, two of the UFOs that survived the aerial combat are shot down from the ground.

The first month is over, and Credits are draining fast... XCOM has some emergency funds hidden away, but most of them were used during the first month.



February:

More UFOs are sighted over North America. Two are also spotted in Asia.

The Squad Leader sends two soldiers to Africa, to carry out an Asset Recovery -mission. Only one lesser Sectoid has been detected on the area, so the two soldiers are expected to be able to handle the situation there...

A bizarre alien creature known as Ethereal attacks the base.

More UFOs are sighted in North America, and the Commander sends out another team of three interceptors to fight them.

The Satellite Nexus is once again used to draw UFOs away from the other continents, though one is left in South America.
The Central Officer only has a limited supply of satellites with which the UFOs can be lured away from their initial targets.

The Chief Scientist and his team comes up with new technology. An Arc Thrower for the ground troopers to stun and disable aliens, and a "Firestorm" interceptor to support ordinary interceptors in aerial combat.

Orbital combat continues with a fresh trio of satellites. The satellites are destroyed again, but most of the UFOs on the orbit are also blown to bits. One remains.

Fight for the North American skies also continue, but this time XCOM is victorious. Though two interceptors are shot down, all of the UFOs are defeated.
The UFO over South America faces no opposition, and proceeds to attack targets there, causing slight panic.

One on one fight rages in the XCOM base. The Ethereal is met by an elite Support trooper, who just returned from his officer training.

Once the Ethereal begins to gain upper hand, interceptors with Plasma Cannons show up to blast the alien away. No need to play fair when the future of the whole humanity is at stake...
The trooper survives.

In Africa, at the Asset Recovery site, the Sectoid is killed, but so is one of the soldiers. The other soldier stands down to wait for reinforcements.

The second month into the invasion ends, and the emergency funds are now completely drained.
A few new soldiers are recruited, and an elite Sniper comes back from the officer training facility.



March:


Multiple UFOs appear all around the world! The attack plan of the aliens - named by the XCOM officers simply as "Occupation" -  begins to pick up pace and the time is running out for humanity...
Once again, three interceptors are sent to defend the airspace around the XCOM base and the whole North America, but the number of UFOs is increasing rapidly, and soon there will be too many for the small fleet of interceptors to handle.

The elite Support trooper is sent to Africa as a reinforcement for the agent already there. The resources are currently spread thin all across the world, and the Squad Leader decides that no more can be invested in this mission.
Still, a budget deficit causes further panic in North America... The main interceptor assembly facility is shut down.

But budget deficit or not, all the laboratories inside the XCOM base are hard at work.

The scientists there are using killed aliens and salvaged alien technology to speed up their research. They are looking for means to generate more resources, and find Elerium - the 115th element. It will provide additional power for XCOM, and power equals resources.

Also, the scientists now promise that any alien salvage material can be turned to Credits.

Orbital and aerial combat continues. The orbit is cleared, but many UFOs lower in the atmosphere survive and cause panic and destruction all around the world - most noticeably in North America.
No interceptors are destroyed, however. Maybe, as the invasion progresses, the pilots are learning to outmaneuver the UFOs better...

An Ethereal attacks the base again, but this time the base defenses are ready: A Support trooper disables the creature with an Arc Thrower, after which the elite Sniper and two interceptors with Plasma Cannons quickly destroy it.

The mission in Africa is completed, and the two soldiers return to the base with additional resources. This, combined to the new technologies, will greatly improve the otherwise poor economical situation of XCOM.



April:

UFOs continue to appear, this time mostly over Asia and Australia. The Central Officer uses the Satellite Nexus to move some of the UFOs around, but the shortage of operational satellites poses a problem again.

The aliens are abducting people in North America. The Squad Leader and the Commander give this new phenomenon a high priority and decide to send a reasonably strong team of soldiers to take care of it.
Two of these soldiers are Elite. So far the Squad Leader has managed to keep all of his Elite troopers alive.
A third elite, the Support soldier, is once again assigned to the task of defending the base.

With the new resources, this month XCOM actually comes up with a slight budget surplus, which is used to build some new interceptors to replace the ones shot down.

The research for new technology is slowing down, but a Blaster Launcher is developed. This heavy weapon will increase the firepower of Heavy troopers.

The orbital defense is a success, once again, but the aerial units suffer a dramatic loss. All interceptors are shot down by the rampaging UFOs, and North America succumbs to total chaos!

Asia and Australia are also panicking, which will affect negatively to the next month's budget... XCOM is running out of time...
A single Muton attacks the base, but the defending elite trooper easily kills it. This is very good, since the remaining interceptors with Plasma Cannons are currently at the Abduction mission site.

The Alien Abduction -mission is accomplished, but not without losses. The elite sniper is killed by an Ethereal, and a Support trooper is also lost at the site. The remaining elite Assault soldier is saved by a Revive kit, and he completes the mission with the support of Plasma Cannon fire from interceptors.
Two soldiers had been abducted by the aliens - they were rescued and recruited to XCOM.
The successful completion of this mission also brings North America back from the state of total chaos.



May:

The situation is getting unbearable!

Countless UFOs are attacking all continents of the Earth, and XCOM only has a few interceptors to send against them.

One is sent to Australia and two to Asia.
Since all resources need to be used in orbital and global defense, all research has stopped inside the XCOM base.

But there is still hope.
The combined efforts of all XCOM departments have located the heart of the alien activity. A successful assault there could end the invasion and drive the UFO fleets away.

A squad consisting of the best XCOM soldiers is sent to attempt the Final Mission... They must succeed - the defense forces can't hold the invasion back for another month.

But are they able to hold long enough to allow the assault squad to even reach their destination in time? Very soon it will be too late and the aliens will not call the invasion off even if the Final Mission succeeds...

All around the Earth, battles are fought for the survival of mankind. Orbital defense holds, but below the interceptors are hopelessly outnumbered. Each one of them is destroyed, and while they do take some UFOs with them, North America and Australia fall into total chaos.

The XCOM base is attacked by a Sectoid Commander. The two soldiers assigned to defend the base kill the creature, paying for it with their own lives.


But in the end, it's too late. With two continents in chaos, and the air supremacy lost to the invading aliens, it is discovered that nothing can save humanity anymore. XCOM fought valiantly, and got close, but this is where it ends.
The so-called Final Mission can't change the outcome anymore...


The Earth was invaded in five months.


CONCLUSION:

A close one. If I had managed to bring down a few more UFOs from Australia and Asia, there would have only been one continent (North America) lost, and this would have allowed me to at least try the Final Mission. I think I made some bad decisions with my resource management, and I also experienced a couple of really bad rolls with the dice.
Still, a nice game that was interesting to the very end.

XCOM: The Board Game is worthy of its title, I believe.
I'd say that FFG very elegantly crams in all the necessary things to make for a strong alien invasion experience, and the companion app offers some nice new tricks and mechanics. The game is very strategic, and the limited time for decision making adds a lot to the theme: The Aliens are doing the best they can to destroy you, they're not about to grant you all the time you need to carefully weigh your options...

The quality of the game is every bit as good as you'd expect from Fantasy Flight Games. The soldier miniatures are very nice, and the artwork of the game is very sci-fi. Interestingly, the tech cards (a very important part of the game) have pictures that seem like blueprints of the different technologies, rather than the actual devices that they represent.

RATING:  8 /10

SOLO RATING:  8- /10

As a solo game, XCOM can be a handful... When the application is set to the '1 Player' mode, it gives you a little more time to make your decisions, but you are still up for a wild ride.

I personally like the rush and the pressure, but it's not for everyone. And I can admit that there are times when I simply don't want to play this game, because I'm not feeling up to it. It takes maybe about 45-60 minutes to complete the game, and afterwards I usually feel genuinely tired, as if I had just participated in a reasonably demanding math exam, or something like that.

So XCOM: The Board Game definitely works as a solo game, but it works even better with more players. After all, the game does offer the four very distinctive roles, and this gives an exceptionally strong cooperative feeling to the game.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, what a great review and a solid play-by-play recap. I've been wondering about this game for a while... As someone who loved the PC version and has put many hours into the original and expansion, it's interesting to see how they translated the game mechanics. It's also interesting to see the iOS integration, something that I think will become more common in the near future. Keep up the good work Jani!

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