A few years back a new trend hit the world of board gaming; the integration of apps. Still to this day people argue over whether this is something good for board gaming or if this means that these games will only be relevant for the life of the supported apps that they are designed to work with. I would plant myself in the camp that the use of apps in board gaming is something amazing and something that I am a fan of. For me it opens up more possibilities in games, allows for less time having to book-keep, and lets us keep on playing and having fun. One of the game companies that has really jumped on the “app-train” is Fantasy Flight Games. They have released many games that require the use of an app as well as having gone back and created apps for existing games for players who want to turn a 1v4 style game in to a true cooperative event where one of them doesn’t need to be the bad guy.
The first game that I purchased that required the use of an app was a board game that peaked my interest immediately upon announcement, as it was a game based on one of my all-time favorite video game series, XCOM. I have sunk hundreds of hours in to this franchise and still often boot it up to save the world from the invading aliens. The opportunity to be able to do this sitting around a table with friends was an experience I knew I had to have. However, as I began to read more about the game, I noticed that the largest part of what made the video game series so amazing for me (the tactical turn-based combat), was missing from the board game iteration. This was a pretty heavy blow because when I think "XCOM", I think of squad-based tactical combat. So the question became, would there still be enough in the board game iteration for me to fall in love with like I had with the video game series?
In XCOM you each take on the role of one of four branches of the XCOM governing units, including the Commander, who deals with budgeting out the limited resources and having to constantly make difficult decisions in the form of crisis cards. You can be the Chief Scientist who spends the game researching new gear for each player in the hopes of dealing out enough upgrade and new tech cards to finally give you the edge in stemming the alien tide. You can be the Squad Leader who is in charge of assigning soldiers to defend the base from attack as well as sending soldiers on missions (how you ultimately win the game). Lastly, you can be the Central Officer who is in charge of the app and maintaining a constant stream of information to the other players reminding them of the ever-dwindling time and constant growing threat. Each of these roles plays very differently, but they each really let you feel like you are part of something larger, all fighting with your backs against the wall to save the world.
While the game does come with a lot of different mission set up cards that the app uses to determine your starting set up, the real bit of replayability comes from the four different roles you can play. Each combination of rotating players around the different roles in between games will greatly alter how well you will play as a gaming group. You will find that you all will feel most comfortable with a specific role, but forcing yourself to take on a different role each time you bring out the game is what keeps it fresh and exciting.
Learnability & Difficulty
There is no rule book in XCOM. The app has a tutorial that walks you through each of the two main phases of the game and what each role does. As someone who has taught this game to a large number of people, I do find it to be a bit difficult for some people to grasp the concept of a real-time game where you can not stop to discuss what options you should choose mid-game, so I often find running a practice round of the “Timed Phase” and then resetting is how best to teach this game.
XCOM: The Board Game is a fantastic way for board game designers to implement technology in to their games moving forward, in my opinion. The pressure that the app puts on you to keep making difficult decisions in a fraction of the time you would have normally wished you had is what makes this a great gaming experience. Right from the word "GO" you have your back against a wall and are wondering how you will ever climb out of the pit you start in, but with good communication and the ability to make quick decisions you will slowly see yourself beginning to tread water and make progress toward saving the world and sending the aliens back to wherever they came from.
Suggested Sand Box Gaming Products
XCOM Blog Bundle
1 Single Card Insert
1 Single Mini Card Insert
1 Double Drawer
1 Sand Box