Like many of you my hands couldn’t put down XCOM: EU (iOS) when it first launched back in 2013. To no surprise when our Game of the Year nominees came up I quickly shouted out “XCOM” and after very little debate it walked away as the clear winner. Last year Fantasy Flight Games announced XCOM: The Board Game and it was a no-brainer that I was going to pick this one up. A board game port of the video game? Actually that turned out to not be the case which intrigued me even more. I gotta check this one out.
The tactical experience found in XCOM: EU is scrapped, instead XCOM: TBG becomes a 1-4 player co-op that falls more into a management-ish-like experience. The game is split into four roles: the Commander who keeps track of the budget and deploys interceptors (fighter spaceships), a Chief Scientist that’s in charge of research, a Central Officer tracks UFOs and keeps track of the actions that takes place (iPhone holder), last is the Squad Leader that dispatches XCOM forces (soldiers). On paper I wasn’t sure if this would capture the feeling of XCOM but after spending a couple of weeks playing this I can clearly say that it absolutely does.
After each role is assigned (if it’s a single player game then you will play four roles and if it’s a two player game then you will each take on two roles) the game will start it’s first phase: Timed Phase. Here the Central Officer will shout out what needs to be done and it needs to be done in X-amount of time. “X-amount of time” more often than not tends to be only a handful of seconds so decisions need to be made fast. These can range anywhere from deploying soldiers, assigning research, to placing satellites to hopefully shoot down enemy aircraft. This timed phase creates much more chaos than you’d expect and dumb and/or overlooked actions are bound to happen.
Once the timed phase is over (the app will tell you when it’s done), you’ll enter the Resolution Phase which will see how well, or more likely how poorly, everyone worked together. A quick example: over the course of the first Time Phase round two UFOs have been placed on Europe and you positioned two Interceptors to shoot them down. You’ll grab two blue dice and an enemy dice (red) and roll every dice at once. You roll one success (a hit) and a miss for your dice and a 3 on the enemy dice. This is great since one UFO is blasted out of the sky and you didn’t roll a 1 on the enemy dice. You can roll all of the dice again and hope that the enemy dice is above a 2 this time around. You roll again and you miss….making matters worse you rolled a 2 on the enemy dice which means that you can’t roll any more (I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to get bogged down with explaining every rule). That’s too bad since you have a UFO still up in the air which will cause Europe’s panic meter to move up by one.
If you scratched your head when I said “Panic Meter” then you haven’t played XCOM: EU (that’s okay but you need to go and play it right now!). XCOM: TBG takes on the same loosing mechanics as it’s video game counterpart. Over time countries will increase in panic whenever you fail a task. If you fail too much and two countries reach the top panic zone then you lose funding and it’s game over. Don’t worry though! There’s even other ways to lose the game such as having your home base, XCOM, be completely destroyed. In other words, like XCOM: EU, simply trying to survive is brutal.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I first opened up XCOM: TBG’s box but, I can clearly state that I did not even closely imagine the amount of modes and re-playability that is packed into this stellar game. There’s five different modes to choose from and six different types of enemies that can be selected (the enemies change from game to game) which means that no two games will play alike. Adding to this is that the iPhone is used as basically a digital version of a Dungeon Master! No one ever knows what’s going to happen which greatly enhances the experience. and…I love the app integration!
Now, stay with me here, this is a segue…
Earlier this week we checked out CGE’s Alchemist and highly enjoyed the experience. The only downside is that the game requires two players and takes several hours to complete. XCOM: TBG is a shorter experience and the actual experience changes depending on the difficulty as well as how many players you select. I spent most of my time playing this as a two player timed game (Normal Difficulty) which created a camaraderie between myself and the other player but still arguing about the plan that we should set forth. However, there were times I had downtime by myself and I played single player on Easy Difficulty. Here, time is no longer an issue (you can pause the app for an infinite amount of time) which creates a more relaxing strategy experience. The tension of time is gone and I have to admit that I actually enjoy XCOM: TBG even more when I can calmly think about my moves without the need to worry about time. In the end the Time aspect will boil down to personal preference so I’m glad that XCOM: TBG offers a variety of Timed Difficulties to fulfill the desires of all players.
We’re not traditional board game players over here at AppStoreArcade. In reality what prodded us towards board games was Golem Arcana with it’s iPhone integration. Now we’re playing board games on a much more regular basis with an emphasis towards games that uses an App to expand the overall experience. I’m completely blown away how well the App comes into play to help absorb you into the fantasy realm. Nonetheless the app would be pointless if it wasn’t for great gameplay, a beautifully drawn board game as well as fantastic components. Each game component from the dice, soldiers, to the UFOs has a nice build quality that also has enough detail in the models to keep everything interesting. This is found everywhere in the game. The cards are bursting with character and looking at the game board never gets dull. Simply astounding in every way.
The Bottom Line: If you’re an XCOM fan, like myself, then you must add this to your game collection. XCOM: TBG offers endless hours of gameplay with it’s several modes and random factor with the iPhone integration. I seriously can’t wait to play this one some more.