Review: X-COM The Board Game

XCOM The Board Game Digital App.
The Digital App landing page.

“Hello Commander.”

2 Words from the X-COM franchise that have been promising PC gamers intense strategic & tactical games since the mid 90’s. Recently Firaxis Games rebooted the series with a highly acclaimed game that’s played on almost all digital formats.

Fantasy Flight decided to bring this winning game to the table top with X-COM The Board Game.

I have many fond memories playing the original game on PC and the newer version on my Xbox. So, I have been following news of the table top version since it was first announced. Riding on the wings of hype, I collected my copy and set off to try to save the world, again.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

The specs on the box:

  • 1-4 players
  • Ages 14+
  • 1-2hrs

Opening the box reveals beautiful plastic components: 12 X-COM soldiers, 8 Interceptors and 24 UFOs. There are also over 200 cards and tokens, a large game board, 4 blue X-COM dice and 1 red Alien die.

XCOM The Board Game A Squad on a mission.
A Squad on a mission.

Everything is already in their own plastic baggies except for the tokens, which need to be punched out and then still need their own storage bag.

What is not included in the box is a rule book. There is a leaflet that tells you how to setup the board but everything is managed by the required digital app. The app controls the game. It manages the housekeeping, all of the random events and board changes based on your in-game progress.

The app is available on Android, iOS and in a browser version. As long as you are digitally connected you will be able to play.

Theme

X-COM the board game captures the feel of the digital versions perfectly. The unrelenting pressure of fighting against a superior foe from the word go. The App itself has the same look and feel of the the Fraxis version of X-COM along with the in game music.

Fantasy Flight has once again created great miniatures with high levels of detail. Each soldier represents their digital counterpart very well, and the Interceptors and UFOs are also easily recognisable.

The board itself, combined with the colours of the UFOs and Interceptors looks like a flat, 2D version of the geosphere from the game.

The app is also very well implemented. I was worried that it might overshadow the board but it fits in like any other tool and it adds to the sci-fi feel of the game.

Gameplay

In X-COM The Board Game the players have control of 4 roles needed to make X-COM run.

  • The Central Officer: This player is in charge of the app and relaying information to the rest of the players. He will also be responsible for keeping satellites in orbit to accurately monitor the situation on Earth.
  • The Commander: This player is responsible for maintaining the budget, managing crises that arise and being responsible for launching Interceptors to defend our air space.
  • The Scientist: This role is combined with engineering to research and develop technologies which allow all the players to perform extra actions.
  • The Squad Leader: Players in this role will be responsible for recruiting soldiers and then using them to accomplish missions and defend the base.

Each role can essentially lose the game if not managed properly but only the Squad leader can actually win the game by completing the final mission. The other players can assist the Squad Leader, depending on what new tech they have available. They also keep the rest of the world safe so the Squad Leader can do his job.

The turns are divided into 2 phases. The first is the Timed Phase which, as the name suggests, happens in real time, against a clock.

XCOM The Board Game Timed Phase.
The pressure starts now…

This is where the pressure starts. The Central Officer needs to relay instructions from the app to the other players and then keep them on their toes so that they do not use up time that other players need. The app will punish you for going over time.

There is a pause function, but only on the easier difficulties. It is also finite; once it is all used up it’s gone. This is great because it means that quarterbacking is largely negated and it also creates tension.

“What are my options? What’s the best thing to do? Can we afford to do it? Oh, look at the time! ARGH! I pick this option! WAIT!” *alarm sounds* “DAMN! I’m just going to do this.” These are all things that will go through most new players minds.

If a player suffers from Analysis Paralysis then the whole team will suffer. However the game will teach you to assess the situation faster.

The learning curve may seem steep but the tutorial does an excellent job of hand holding. The explanations of what to do are lengthier and the game auto pauses with infinite pause time.

For the first 2 rounds.

Thereafter, you’re dropped into the deep end and the excitement starts.

If things are going badly for you, e.g. too many UFOs in orbit, then they will scramble X-COM communications, maybe asking you to deploy your interceptors before letting you know where the UFOs are going to be! The app actively changes the game based on how well/poor the situation is.

XCOM The Board Game Resolution Phase.
Time to resolve the decisions you’ve made.

The Resolution phase gives you a chance to catch your breath and time to figure out what just happened.

Each player takes turns resolving the outcomes of their decisions. The mechanic for this is interesting; it uses a ‘push your luck’ system. For each action you roll a number of blue X-COM dice, based on how many units you assigned to the task and the red Alien die.

The Aliens are constantly trying to undermine your efforts to stop them. This is represented by a threat level. Starting at 1 and increasing every time you roll the dice. If the Alien die is ever equal to or less than the current threat level then all the units assigned to the task are either killed or exhausted. The threat level resets after each action or mission.

The blue dice have a pair of success symbols on them and 4 blank sides. Roll the required number of successes for the task at hand and it’s accomplished. Occasionally your soldiers will give their lives for ultimate success, succeeding on the same roll that kills them.

Thematically this is a great mechanic, the longer you take to do something the more time the Aliens have to thwart your plans. More importantly it leads to some nail biting, against the odds, success stories that you want to tell your friends about, which is one of the hallmarks of the digital games.

Once that is done you reap the rewards of your successes and then remove your casualties from the board.

Have 2 or more continents tormented so much by UFOs that they fall into panic and the game ends. Failure to adequately defend your Base will also result in a loss. Only completing the final mission to stop the Alien Invasion plan can save humanity.

XCOM The Board Game ways to fail.
Base damage track and Panic track are the alien win conditions.

How quickly you gain access to the final mission depends on how well you are playing. Win all the smaller missions and it will be available sooner, fail them and it will take longer, meaning more opportunities to lose the whole game.

Conclusion

I really love this game. It’s fast paced, with low downtime. Learning how to play is easy, mastering the game is not.

Replay value is very high, the app varies the games a lot and there’s 5 different invasion plans to choose from. From a player perspective, you can keep changing roles for a different experience each game or you can try to master a specific role so that you can do your bit to make your team function like a well-oiled machine. On top of that there are multiple difficulty levels to challenge veteran players.

The game captures the spirit of the digital games but does require prior knowledge of them at all. It’s a great co-op game that can stand on its’ own feet and is also a very good single player game, I’d say the best that I have played.

XCOM The Board Game.
A game in play looks like this.

If you enjoy co-op or crisis management games then I seriously recommend you play a game or 2 of X-COM The Board Game.

Can I play this at a braai?

I will play this at a braai, I will take this to my friends’ homes too. This is because the game is a lot of fun.

I don’t think I’ll take it to a bar or a restaurant though. It does take a bit of time to setup and pack away due to the number of components. Also I would not feel safe leaving my tablet or phone on a table with lots of people walking up and down while my attention was on the game board.

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2 thoughts on “Review: X-COM The Board Game

  1. I am a great fan of the X-Com computer games, and this looks interesting, but I have 2 concerns. Firstly, I am not so keen on the constant use of the app. I am sure it makes a single player game more viable, but does this not maybe get in the way of player interaction in multi-player games, or is the Central Officer’s role and the other players well integrated?
    Secondly, it seems like a game that takes a lot of (time) investment, with a lot of detail. So it seems that if you want a full four player experience, at a good level of play, you will need players that are quite committed to the game. Is this the case, or can you pick up and play a decent game with beginners?
    Thanks

    1. Hi Janco.

      The app actually works rather well. The app ads tension and the C.O will often start talking in ‘short hand’ to conserve precious seconds.

      While the tutorial does guide players along very well, I’d not recommend this game to brand new gamers who are also not familiar with the series. The pressure is on from the word go, like playing X-COM on Insane & Iron Man. You don’t start someone on that difficulty unless they can manage losing. Sometimes in a co-op game if one player is the cause of the loss the others can make it difficult for them or they can be hard on themselves and you don’t want that with new players.

      It’s a really good game that has moments of near panic and frantic activities followed by periods of calm when you can breathe again.

      If you’re in JHB let me know and I can arrange a test game for you.

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