I had heard rumours that X-COM was considered one of the the hardest video games around, though I’d never experienced it first hand. So, when I had the opportunity to play the board game for the first time, I was prepared for a challenging strategy game that would at the very least test us. With the game on the table, beginning set-up, my friend flicked through the upcoming enemies and a knowing look was exchanged between my friends who were familiar with the PC game – little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.
X-COM: The Board Game is a space-themed strategy game for 1-4 players. Players cover four different roles, each with a unique set of tasks which contribute towards the team’s survival.
To start with is the Central Officer. This role is in charge of managing the app which comes with the game. The app informs players about incoming attacks, and prompts players as to when it is their turn to play. This game is so complex that it would be a challenge to play without the structure the app provides. Plus, it unquestionably adds to the fun to have a themed app assisting us – it adds to the sense of authenticity and urgency, especially as most turns are timed! The Central Officer is also responsible for managing any UFOs who have spawned in orbit; if these aren’t tackled they can move down to Earth, which is where the Commander comes into play.
The Commander is the only role I have played to date, and so I’m probably biased by saying it is the role with the most tasks and responsibility. As Commander, I was responsible for managing the team’s budget – literally having to keep tabs on expenditure because there were frightening penalties for overspending. This meant negotiating with the other roles and working together to prioritise where the money should go, as any pieces on the board came with a cost. It is also the Commander’s job to defend Earth from UFOs that have slipped through from orbit, and to make sure enough combat units are purchased for the Squad Leader.
The Squad Leader is the only player who can win the game. Using different kinds of soldiers, the Squad Leader defends the base from ground attacks, and also completes missions. Reaching victory requires the Squad Leader to complete the Final Mission, which is reliant on the whole team surviving long enough to get there…
Lastly, the Chief Scientist works on upgrades for the whole team – it’s difficult to win without getting these right. For example, one upgrade I received which helped us tremendously was a card which enabled me to add additional money to our emergency fund pot, meaning everyone had more room for spending each turn. The two (and only) times we have won this game, we had this card in play!
If you’re following so far, you might think it sounds fairly straightforward – just a lot of team work and a Final Mission to complete? Well, yes, you could say that, except for the two ways the game can beat you. Firstly, continents are understandably a bit worried by the aliens, and it isn’t hard to worry them further. Lingering UFOs, crisis cards (which the app prompts the Commander to draw every round) and overspending on the budget can all push them towards panic, and if two continents reach panic then the game is over. You can see some areas creeping close to panic at the bottom of the board above!
Secondly, the game can end if the base is overrun. Whenever the Squad Leader fails to eliminate all ground-based aliens at the base, the base takes damage. If this happens seven times throughout the game, then the team loses!
This is an intense strategy game that you simply can’t win without staying focused and working as a team. There is a random element with all combat being reliant on dice rolls (which can be punishing), but the right upgrades by the Chief Scientist and a sensible distribution of the budget can balance this out for the most part. You need to be confident in debating tactics with your group, and speaking up your concerns, but these things just make it all the more rewarding when you finally, finally get a win.
Ever played X-Com: The Board Game before? Did you find it as challenging as I did?