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Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Review

March 23, 2015

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Publisher Fantasy Flight
Genre Cooperative boardgame
Number of Players 1 to 4
Play Time 1 to 2 hrs.
Initial Review Date 3/22/15
Last Updated 3/22/15
FAQ
Files/Tools Official Rules

Xcom: The Board Game, is faithful to the original xcom series. It conjures the same emotions and intensity as some of the best moments of the electronic games. Additionally, it features asymmetrical gameplay that helps each player feel important. Also, there is enough randomness that when things go bad your teammates are more likely to groan in agony with you, than at you.

GamePlay

The game board is divided into 5 basic sections. You have a central map of the world where you can track information such as locations of UFOs, locations of xcom interceptors and the location of your primary base. Then Each side of the board features spaces that relate to each role. The game also requires an app (which can be downloaded for free from the FF website) that coordinates the progression of the round. Each round is divided into 2 main parts.

Timed Portion

During the timed portion, each player is responsible for specific phases that relate to their role. These can be very simple such as flipping over a single card and placing it into an appropriate spot on the board. To more complicated decisions such as deciding where to deploy solders or figuring out which technology should be pursued next from a hand of cards. During this portion of the game the app will indicate which phase needs to happen. Once that phase is done the player in charge of the app (the player playing the central officer) will press next and announce the next phase. These phases are timed by the app and while you can take as long as you like, completing this section quickly will give everyone an extra phase. This extra phase (when it is available) allows players to make use of any “timed phase” abilities they may have. So, being able to make quick (but good) decisions rewards players by giving them more options.

Resolution Portion

During the resolution portion, each player takes turns resolving the actions they are responsible for. In all cases these actions either happen automatically or they require a roll. When rolls are required, the player will roll a number of blue xcom dice (based on how many they are allowed to roll, more is always better) and the single d8 alien die. The xcom dice are d6s that have 4 blank sides and 2 sides with the xcom symbol on it. xcom symbols are successes and blanks are well, nothings. The alien die is a standard 8 sided die which corresponds to a threat bar on the board. Threat starts at 1, and increases each time the dice are rolled. you are allowed to continue rolling so long as the number on the red alien die is never equal to or less than your current threat level. In this way you can potentially roll many many times ultimately achieving the number of successes required for what you’re attempting to do, or you can fail on the very first roll without making any progress at all. When a failure occurs generally you lose something as a result (soldiers get killed, fighters get shot down, satellites blow up, scientists die) and time and/or money is required to recover the lost resources. While at times this may seem harsh, this keeps the game intense and honestly more fun. Since every throw of the dice could spell disaster or conversely due to a string the good rolls the underdog some how makes it.

While in some ways the resolution phase is more relaxed as you aren’t pressed for time to make decisions, the dice rolling is quick enough yet at the same time engaging enough for the whole table as to not feel boring or tedious.

Roles

There are four roles in the game and they are as follows.

The Commander – The Commander is responsible for keeping track of the XCOM budget and deploying Interceptors to repel alien UFOs.

The commander basically does two things. The commander is the banker, prioritizing who gets how much money. It’s best to let the commander know how much money you need this turn to do minimal activities and how much would be required for you to do everything you want to do. Then the commander can decide which activities need to be prioritized and they can better fill everyone’s needs. There are major penalties for going over budget and so it’s their job to try to get the biggest bang for their buck (quite literally sometimes).

The second thing the commander does is they handle the planet’s air defense. they figure out where to deploy interceptors and during the resolution phase they take command of said interceptors to attempt to shoot down hostile ufos.

The Chief Scientist – The Chief Scientist is responsible for researching technology and upgrading the XCOM forces.

The Chief Scientist basically is a pure support role. They decide which technology to pursue and how much money to throw at the research of said technology. A balance must be struck figuring out what tech will best benefit the group and how to get it quickly without spending too much money. Blowing the budget on a few items that don’t really help much is a quick way to lose the game as you’re taking money away from defenses such as soldiers, interceptors and satellites. However, being too stingy means your comrades may be overwhelmed before you can get valuable tech to them to make their jobs easier.

The Central Officer – The Central Officer is responsible for controlling the app and relaying important information to other players.

Like the commander the central officer has two things they are responsible for. To begin with they control the app, meaning they basically control the flow of the game. They need to clearly announce the information they are given and relay information from the players back to the app (mainly in the form of telling the app that a particular phase is complete).

The second responsibly the central officer has is satellite deployment. They can use their satellites to destroy and manipulate the location of UFOs, in this way they probably work closest with the commander in order to coordinate an overall air/space defense against the UFOs. Like interceptors though, satellites can be lost to UFOs via poor planning or just unfortunate die rolls. Some technologies can augment the central officer’s abilities allowing them to also support ground forces by manipulating die rolls.

The Squad Leader – The Squad Leader is responsible for leading the XCOM forces on missions and defending the base.

The squad leader basically determines which troops to send out (as limited by the commander’s budget) and where to send them. They need to be sure not to send too many troops to a location (thus wasting money) but at the same time need to be sure they aren’t sending so few that they can’t defeat the enemies they’re up against. soldiers are expensive to replace and its particularly painful when the solider your losing is an elite. This role probably supports the chief scientist more than any other role in the form of salvaged equipment. Like in the electronic game defeating enemies gives you alien gear that can be sent over the science team for study. In this game, the salvage works as a sort of research credit. When I was playing the science role I was always happy to see salvaged gear come my way since it made researching easier.

Ending the game

To beat the game, the players will at some point (as determined by the app) be told that the final mission has been unlocked. This final mission is a mission that will require solders to be sent to complete a series of tasks. Once the squad leader successfully completes the third task, the game is won and the aliens have been beaten back. Until then you mostly play a game of attrition trying to keep the country panic levels down and keep your base from being destroyed (in this game the aliens are quite aggressive and attack your base every round, thus this is a substantial and constant threat).

Conclusion

This is a fast paced cooperative game. Each role has unique challenges and nuances but thankfully, during a given game you only have to worry about the role(s) you’ve been assigned. So, it’s not as overwhelming as it could be.. The asymmetrical gameplay not only helps make each role feel different but it means that if your group has slightly varied preferences, everyone will find a role that is appealing. I played 4 games, filling the research role every time and I had a blast. Sure I didn’t get to fight the aliens, but I felt like santa clause. Every resolution round I got to hand out shiny new toys to other players that made their jobs just a little bit easier. I had to laugh a bit at one point when upon pointing out a particular tech I was working on would benefit the commander, he immediately lavished money at me to try to get that tech quicker.

Fans of the series (such as myself) I think will love this game, but I think it has a lot to offer players who have never played the original game as well.


Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Review
Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Role Strategy (Commander)
Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Accessory (Commander Balance Sheet)
Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Role Strategy (Chief Scientist)
Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Role Strategy (Central Officer)
Fantasy Flight – XCOM: The Board Game – Role Strategy (Squad Leader)
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