Review: XenoShyft Onslaught

XenoShyft Onslaught Review

Mankind has expanded beyond our solar system into the far reaches of space. Technology has continued to advance at a fantastic pace pushing us further and further. All this is made possible by a new fuel source called Xenosanthem. It is far more powerful than anything we have ever seen before.

Nortech is a company that is at the forefront of mining Xenosanthem; setting up mining operations on remote planets and extracting the precious resource. There is a problem. Once the local insect life comes into contact with the Xenosanthem they mutate into voracious beasts with an addiction to the substance. They come in droves, destroying everything in their path in an attempt to get to the stores housed in the mining facility. This is where you come in…

XenoShyft Onslaught is a base defence game from CoolMiniOrNot. They are famous for producing fine quality miniatures games like Wrath of Kings and Arcadia Quest. This one is a break from the norm; it is their first card game. It is a Co-op deck building game (DBG).

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • 2-4 players (up to 6 with the expansion)
  • Ages 14+
  • 45 Minutes

Being a card game the box is, as expected, full of cards. It also contains a pair of cardboard sheets to lay out the playing area and 4 sets of player lanes, were combat happens. These a bit cheap, I think this is exasperated by the fact that I have a Kickstarter edition to play with and it contains far superior play mats. Truth be told, after 2 games you won’t need either as the setup of the ‘board’ is really simple. The box also contains a life counter for the base health, the rules book and some counters to make unit damage and abilities that have been used and need to wait to be refreshed.

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
These cards are all sleeved in the KS sleeves so they don’t fit in the box as well as they should.

The Kickstarter edition has a few other extra goodies over the base game. It has the expansion which allows for more players and new gear. There are very pretty models representing some in-game units. It also has an art/source book and a pair of dog tags.


If you only have access to the rule book then the theme feels a bit thin as it does not contain a lot of background information. It is a shame if you consider how much effort was put into creating the universe and the game.

Once you have a look at the cards though it feels a bit more fleshed out. The art work is fantastic. The pacing of the game makes you feel like your enemies are mutating into bigger, nastier monsters and the units that you purchase in the latter rounds do feel rather badass.

The extra source book is great. It is not necessary but I’m a nutter for a good story. It helps me to build a narrative in my head which elevates a game above its mechanics. If you can get your hands on it then it is worth a quick read through and it drops hints at the next expansion of the game. It gives you more back story about what’s going on, who you are and what you’re doing there.


The players in a game of Xenoshyft Onslaught will each take on the role of a senior officer of Nortech. There are various roles each in charge of different parts of the base eg Armoury, Science Lab, Medical. Each player will have abilities unique to their role and will be responsible for the defence of their section of the base.

Everyone starts the game with a basic deck that consists of early 1 Xenoxanthem cards, thes are used as currency, and a few of the most basic starting units, Militia. Players may extra starting cards based on their role, this will be explained on their role card. The base has 15 life per player so 15 in a solo game and 60 in a 4 player game.

Next it’s time to setup the play area. It is essentially 2 grids of cards. The first representing units that the players can purchase and then 2nd is for items that they may be purchased. There are a stack of different items that can be purchased, any special starting equipment for a role is available from the word go, the rest are selected at random up to 9 different items are available at a time.

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
A 2 player game ready to go.

Each player will then receive their lanes. It’s basically a play mat with a space for draw and discard piles and then 4 spaces for units and equipment and 4 spaces for enemies to fight. Lastly you need to setup the enemy decks, 3 waves of increasingly tougher enemies. Each wave will receive a number of Boss enemies based of the number of players. You seriously don’t want to face a Boss in round 1 but it has happened.

The setup can take some time, but if you pack the box well and have things sorted out it will be minimal.

The game is played over 3 waves. Each wave consists of 3 rounds which are divided into multiple phases. As you advance in waves, the enemy, or Hive, change decks to get stronger enemies and you will have better troops available to purchase.

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
The Hyperion can deal high damage.

The first phase of a round is to draw cards and then you move into a purchasing phase. Everyone can buy items and troops that are for sale. If an Item runs out then it is replaced with a new random item. The Available troops vary based on which wave is attacking, with the most powerful troops arriving in Wave 3.

This phase happens simultaneously.  All players purchase at the same time, so some planning is needed as depending on roles players can make items cheaper. Additionally someone can purchase all of an item that someone else needed or wanted. You can play certain items into another players play area and then it becomes theirs but this does not apply to instant items that you can play from your hand to have an immediate effect on the game.

After the purchasing is done each player must setup the defence of their lane in the planning phase. They can deploy up to 4 troops into their lane. Some items can be deployed instead of troops, like a med bot which makes all the troops in the lane tougher. Other items can be attached to troops e.g. weapons and armour.

Some items you will want to keep in your hand to play as instants, as they can be used to react to certain situations. Again these can be played to aid any player, not just yourself.

Then the fun starts. Combat phase. Each player places 4 Hive cards from the current Wave deck face down in their lane. It’s time for combat.

One at a time each player will resolve the defence of his lane. He starts by revealing the first enemy in the lane. Some of them have reveal effect so will happen immediately. These can be nasty, Brain Mantis can bore into the skulls of your dead soldiers and bring them back to fight against you or another of the hive can pop up behind the enemy lines and provide a shield for all enemies in front of it. There are means to counter these with the use of certain equipment but this is where you need to start planning.

Do you blast through all of your cards and abilities right away or save them in case another player faces a greater threat? What if you allow some damage through on your side but then the other players get all of the easy enemies and you did not need to take that damage at all?

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
The trooper can use his ability to hit the Mantis for 2 extra points ensuring his survival.

Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but just take the hit and let your trooper slug it out with the enemy. Combat is relatively simple. The first enemy in the lane fights the first troop in the lane, unless he is the evil one who sneaks around and attacks from the other side of the lane!

They will each have an attack value and a defence value; these can be modified by equipment. They will deal damage to each other equal to their attack value. If they are both above 0 defence then they repeat this process until one or both are dead. Players can play instant cards or use unit abilities to aid in the combat. A first aid kit will heal a troop while a storm trooper has the ability to deal damage to any enemy on the board, but only once per combat phase.

Once a troop or enemy is killed the next in the lane moves up to take its place and the process repeats itself. If all of the troops are dead the remaining enemies deal their damage directly to the base. If all of the enemies are deal then that lane is safe, for now.

After all the combats are resolved then there is a wrap-up phase, to end the turn and rest everything for the next round.

It’s actually fairly simple to get to grips with. If you survive 3 waves of 3 round then you win. If not then you’re dead.

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
A foil version of a boss, Eater of Hope.


XenoShyft Onslaught is a pretty intense game. It is great co-op; and absolutely brutal solo. I love it. Although I won’t advise solo play unless you really like a challenge. I think my Win Loss ratio is 1:4 at the moment.

This type of game can lead to alpha gaming. One thing that I really like is that once the first few rounds are done, I find that even normally reserved players actually sit up and start suggesting ideas and tactics. Everyone becomes an alpha gamer. Team work is everything, without it you will lose.

There is hardly any downtime in the game, as the first phase of a round is simultaneous and in the 2nd round you can still directly assist others during their turn and are constantly re-assessing your options every time a new enemy is revealed. Of course if your group has a really strong alpha gamer and you end up taking orders then it won’t be any fun at all.

I thoroughly enjoy this game, it’s very easy to learn and to come to grips with and it can offer a very challenging and fun game.

Can I braai with this?

It’s possible but I won’t recommend it, because of the simultaneous playing you will not really have time to run off for a few minutes to tend the fire. So I’d recommend playing this one when you have a chance to sit down and give it some attention. It can also get quite lengthy if you have 4 or more players and you don’t want to add to that if you can avoid it.

XenoShyft Onslaught Review
From 90 down to 3!!! A skin of the teeth win!
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