Monday, 23 February 2015

XCOM: The Board Game

So there's an XCOM board game now and it uses an app. 

Okay, XCOM the boardgame is strange and not just because it uses an app. In XCOM, gameplay is cooperative but players play VASTLY different roles. Each player picks a role from Chief Scientist to Squad Leader to Commander to Comms Officer. And each role is totally different in what is required of it, which is strange because most games usually have players starting out in similar roles and then branching out later. But not XCOM. 

And then there's the app, which is downloadable on iOS and Android and also playable on a web browser. The app basically decides most of the random events in the game, deciding when enemies attack the base, when crisises pop up and so on. Oh, and it also has a time-limit for each action so it forces players to think quickly. And it basically does all of the internal calculation, like calculating what happens if players fail to do things on time or if players leave UFOs in orbit or so on. 

The gameplay itself is fairly simplistic. As I said, each player is in charge of different roles. The Chief Scientist can research up to 3 tech per turn and that's basically all he's good for. Tech are usually just cards that you can tap or 'exhaust' to provide momentary benefits for certain roles. The Squad Leader is the one in charge of base defense and missions, assigning soldiers to them depending on what criteria the mission needs as each soldier type can perform different things. Then there's the COMMs officer who's in charge of the app and satellites. Then there's the Commander who's in charge of the interceptor airplanes, global defense and the most important part; managing the budget of the XCOM program. Seriously, do NOT go over budget. 

Everytime you need to perform a task; whether it's researching tech, killing UFOs or killing aliens, you roll XCOM dice and 1d8. The number of XCOM dice depends on how many scientists/soldiers/satellites/interceptors are assigned to that area. The d8 is there to see if you fail. Basically, you can perform a task as many times as you want; provided you didn't roll a fail on the d8, but the difficulty increases every time you do it in the same round, meaning it becomes more difficult not to fail. Overall, the gameplay is fairly simplistic as I said but the fact you usually only have 20s or less to ponder over your actions per event means that most people will generally feel pressurised when playing the game. I can understand why there's a time limit though, as the gameplay really isn't deep enough without some sort of artificial constraint to help make it more difficult. 

Despite all that, the gameplay can be particularly brutal at times simply because rolling a fail on the d8 during global defense or missions or base defenses means that all the soldiers/interceptors assigned to that just end up dying. So not only do you fail to prevent the terror level from rising, but you also lose a fair bit of your precious resources. And considering there's almost no turns where you have a large surplus of money, it makes it hard to replace those resources. Plus whenever the terror level rises, countries end up giving you less money. So it's a bit of a double whammy at times. 

Having said that, I feel that the roles given to players are quite uneven in terms of the responsibilities expected of them as well as the pressure put on them. The Scientist and the Comms officer pretty much have it the EASIEST, with the scientist just being in charge of researching tech and the Comms officer putting satellites and UFOs. The Commander however has to manage the budget as well as put interceptors into play while the Squad leader has to manage the missions and base defense, both of which are critical. So it's more like you have 2 support roles, 1 midfielder and 1 very crucial attacker. 

Overall, I'm a bit disappointed in this game. The real issue here is that while it's fun to play and the time limit does add a fair amount of lulz to the game, there's no real interaction/depth between players other than people asking the Commander 'I need this much money, can you spare that?'. In fact, one person could play all 4 roles and the gameplay would not change at all.

As a further clarification, there are always certain steps that will occur during any turn. The scientist will always have a chance to research 3 techs and assign scientists to 3 researches. The Comms officer will always be able to assign satellites to orbit. The squad leader will always be able to assign soldiers to base defense and missions. The commander will always have the opportunity to assign interceptors to global defense. These will never change, no matter what anyone does. All the app does is randomise the bad events.

Also, there's one huge issue I have with the boardgame, which is the lack of a proper rulebook. Instead, they give you one piece of paper; a cheatsheet if you will, which summarises some things but doesn't say everything. Instead, you're supposed to play through the app to understand the rules, which I feel is total BS. If you're too lazy to put a rulebook in every copy, at least make one available online so that players can download it and read it.