XCOM: The Board Game review

My failed foray in the world of tabletop gaming: XCOM: The Board Game

I’m a big fan of turn based tactical games. Titles such as The Temple of Elemental Evil, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Disgaea and of course XCOM are all right up my alley. Any game really that features an elaborate turn based battle system where you control a squad of characters and can spend minutes pondering your turn.  When I recently got the chance to try out a board game adaptation of XCOM, I was naturally thrilled. Much to my dismay, it turns out that the two mediums are quite different from one another.

XCOM: The Board Game follows the same basic premise as its video game counterparts. The earth has been invaded by aliens and it’s the players mission to defend humanity. Players have a limited resource pool which must be used for researching and developing better technology, fighting the alien threat and so on. As the game moves forward, the panic rating of different continents rises. Should it exceed a critical level, a continent will drop out from funding the XCOM project. The game is lost when two continents reach this stage.

Where the board game adaptation differs from its video game brethren is in its focus. Combat plays a rather insignificant role in this adaptation. There are various enemy cards that correspond to certain unit types, battles are determined with a simple die roll. That’s a far cry from the tactical planning seen in the video game adaptations, which are based on a dualistic gameplay loop. In the video games, you play missions where you control a team of combatants tasked with dispatching an alien threat. Doing so nets you resources which you can then use at your home base to develop technology, better your squad’s equipment and so on. The system interweaves the turn based tactics of squad based combat to the turn based strategy of base building and management brilliantly.

Due to this streamlining of the combat system, I didn’t find any joy from this game. I realized at the 90 minute mark that up to that point, I had performed three (3) actions during the entire span of the campaign up to that point as the squad leader. And I had no real input or choice in any of those actions, I simply picked up enemy cards and placed them on the board and did other things of that nature. Needless to say, I was extremely bored throughout the game. The game is very convoluted and full of different kinds of tokens, cards and figures. Trying to keep up with all the different rules was an ordeal my concentration ability is not built for. The game even requires a laptop application in order to be played, which just goes to show you how complex it is. But the question that rose to my mind instantly was; if I need a computer to play this game, why wouldn’t I just install XCOM on the computer instead?

I’m no tabletop game aficionado and it obviously shows. As an XCOM fan I can say that this game was a disappointment to me. Your mileage may vary, depending on whether you prefer strategy or tactics games and how well you can tolerate sitting around waiting for your turn.

Designers: Eric M. Lang
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Release year: 2015
Players: 2-4
Playtime: 1-2 hours