Tabletop Tuesday

Tabletop Tuesday: XCOM The Board Game

Welcome to Tabletop Tuesday! Every Tuesday I'll be posting a review of various tabletop board, card, and role-playing games. Some will be newer games, some will be classics, and some will just be games I like. Today's review is...

XCOM: The Board Game

Players: 1-4    Format: Cooperative    By: Fantasy Flight Games

How easy is it to manage global defense against an alien invasion? The video game XCOM: Enemy Unknown asks that question over and again, where every decision is about picking between two terrible options and watching as the world is destroyed and assimilated around you.

XCOM transfers to the tabletop with XCOM: The Board Game and manages to emulate the same feelings of urgency and dread associated with the video game, placing you and up to three others in the seats of the elite team who organizes and executes the global defense organization known as XCOM.

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Component Quality

As with all Fantasy Flight productions, XCOM: The Board Game is made up of dozens of different components, from plastic figures to multiple decks of cards to custom dice and cardboard tokens. Each component is high quality, and while the plastic tokens are a boring, unpainted gray color, they are still sturdy and difficult to break. The dice feel smooth and chunky, the dozens of red UFOs are frighteningly easy to place on the board in large numbers, and the cards are of various sizes, and all have a thick, card-stock feel of most FFG board games.

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The XCOM: The Board Game mechanics are shockingly simple, but that doesn't mean this game is easy. You can learn the game within minutes - in fact, the necessary, free mobile app will teach you the game as you open the box and set it up.

The app will control the pace and the actions of the game, presenting players with small windows of time in which they must complete their tasks and make their choices. There are four roles; Squad Leader, Central Officer, Commander and Chief Scientist, each of which have their own focus (completing missions and defending the base, controlling communications and logistics, deploying interceptors and defeating UFOs, and researching and distributing upgrades respectively). The game passes in two phases: The Timed Phase and the Resolution Phase. During the Timed Phase, the app will present, one screen at a time, an action, the player who must complete that action, and countdown timer between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. If the action is completed before the timer reaches 0, the Central Officer hits Next and earns any unused time into their Pause timer. If the timer reaches 0, the app immediately skips to the next action.

The Central Officer, who is running the app and communicating it to the other players, has the option to pause at any moment. The Pause Timer, however, will countdown to 0, and when it reaches that, if the app weren't unpaused yet, then it will automatically unpause and resume the original action. However, the more actions completed early, the higher the Pause timer will climb.

All actions in the Timed Phase serve the instill the feeling of creeping dread as the players set up the board with pieces and tokens and cards, seeing things falling into place as the UFOs invade, assault their base, and other crises pop up around the globe. There is a veritable feeling of "look at all this stuff we're going to have to deal with" as the enemies and cards fall onto the board. Once the Timed Phase finishes, players have a few moments to make any last minute choices, and then play proceeds into the Resolution Phase.

During the second phase of the round, players take turns rolling dice to resolve the actions they set into place during the first phase. The dice mechanic is the only real game mechanic in XCOM: The Board Game. Players roll a number of blue XCOM dice, between 1 and 4, and a red Alien Die in unison, with the symbols of the dice determining the outcome of the test. The players want to see multiple XCOM symbols on the blue dice while rolling as high as possible on the red die. They may attempt their tasks any number of times, but each time they attempt, they must increase the Threat of the test, making it harder to succeed with the red Alien die.

In an example: The player is trying to destroy UFOs in North America. They have two interceptors deployed to NA, so the player rolls two blue dice and the one red die. The Threat starts at 1. The first roll, the player rolls two blanks on the blue dice, and a value of 5 on the red die. The test was inconclusive, and the player chooses to roll again, increasing Threat to 2. During this second roll, the player rolls one XCOM symbol and one blank on the blue dice, and a 1 on the red die. The one XCOM symbol destroys one UFO in North America, but since the number on the red die was equal to or less than  the Threat (of 2), then all Interceptors in North America are destroyed.

There are special abilities, upgrades and cards can mitigate and alter these results, but every test in the game follows the same basic mechanics. Roll more blue dice, get more XCOM symbols, and gamble it further and further before you roll low on the alien die.

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Average retail price for XCOM: The Board Game is $49.99, and you can find it for anywhere between $40.00 and $55.00 from various online stores. If you pay more than $60.00, then you're overpaying for this product compared to any number of other retailers. And is it worth it? I'd say yes. I've played about two dozen games, anywhere from solo to four players, and I have to say it is challenging and fun, and the varying difficulty within the game will offer up many different ways to play the game.

If you like cooperative, challenging board games, or if you're a fan of the video game, then I'd have to recommend this title for your game shelf!