(Previously on XCom: Updates Within…)
In space, no one can hear you scream.
The same is true here on the planet Earth after the aliens have landed, but that’s because everyone else at the table is screaming along with you. Better put on your brownest trousers, because things are going to get messy. Let’s talk about XCom: The Board Game.
Spawned from the remake of the ancient Microprose PC Game by Firaxis and 2K, the first thing you have to know about XC: TBG is that it’s not just a straight port from PC to Tabletop – it would have been pretty easy to slap a few dozen models into a box, print some unit cards and have something vaguely reminiscent of the Hasbro Dungeons & Dragons board game – which was fun in its own way, but just as that wasn’t D&D, a straight-up slugfest wouldn’t be XCom.
Instead, Fantasy Flight’s take on the XCom franchise sees you and (ideally) three other unfortunates tackling the alien invasion from all angles. You don’t quite get the despair of being caught out of cover by Mutons in this Tabletop edition, but it’ll make you delightfully dismayed in other areas instead. With four roles to choose from; Commander (budget and interceptors), Central Officer (satellites and relaying info from the game app), Chief Scientist (HOW ARE YOU SPENDING THE BUDGET SO FAST?) and Squad Leader (deploys the right unit for the right mission), the game will keep you interested across many runs.
So let’s talk about playing it. You need the app to run it, which basically does the job of telling you what dangers you’re facing this turn – where the UFOs are detected, what flavour of bad they’ve dropped off and what the people of Earth are panicking about this time. The app is key to the role of Central and also serves as the game’s rulebook. Despite its way-coolness, I would have also liked a conventional rulebook and random dice-roll table to spawn enemies from.
In my game, I was a very excited Commander, with a smartphone-equipped Central Officer and sleepy Scientist who’d both played the game once before, joined by an XCom uninitiated Squad Leader who I think initially would rather have been playing Munchkin or Arkham Horror. I say “initially” because this game will suck you in like a Mass Effect Biotic. The first hook comes when you realise the budget will be tight – and everyone needs a slice of that pie to actually do the thing they want to do, be it putting satellites in orbit, squints in the lab or boots on the ground. I misjudged this initially and ended up with a lot more UFOs still hovering over South America than the Brazilian government were comfortable with. The budget is always a compromise, and they say the mark of a good one is that nobody goes away happy.
Dice rolls on a d6 and d8 are used to determine success in actions, be it dispatching an interceptor after a UFO or sending a Heavy and a Sniper off to one of the game’s Missions; the responsibility of the Squad Leader. The d6 has two chances for success, and the d8 works as a threat-o-meter. Roll the successes you need on the d6 before you roll underneath the ever-increasing difficulty threshold on the d8, as relayed by Central. This is a pretty simple mechanic to wrap your head around once you’ve seen it in action, but it’s not all about rolling dice.
Certain Soldiers and Elite Soldiers get bonuses to their skill checks on-mission, meaning more dice can be rolled to get their success (matching the right Soldier to the right skill required also helps!), and the Science Officer can cultivate a suite of abilities for the Officers to use, like giving Command more interceptors, researching new weapons for the Squad Leader, and giving Central’s satellites the power to effectively battle the UFOs in Orbit – presumably with deadly lasers.
The combination of easy to learn, hard to master, challenging difficulty and engaging social side mean that I heartily recommend XCom: The Board Game for your collection, and can’t wait for a chance to play it again. If you don’t have a smartphone, get a Central who does!