XCOM: The Board Game is interesting, as – factoring in an app to add time limits and so increase stress – the players can feel the tension of actually defending the world from an invasion.
As a cooperative boardgame, it shares much in common from games like Z-Man Games’ Pandemic, which assigns each player at the table a critical role in achieving a common objective against the game itself.
- The Commander sends interceptors to shoot down incoming UFOs and manages the budget, allocating cash to all of the other players. Everything in the game costs money, and money is always scarce. The commander will never be able to give everyone all the money they need.
- The Chief Scientist researches new technologies that act as buffs for other members of the team using card game mechanics. Each other player has buffs that can provide enormous benefits, but she only has so many scientists to deploy, and more scientists cost more money.
- The Squad Leader assigns specialist troops (assault, sniper, special ops) to both defend XCOM home base and achieve the missions required to actually win the game. But troops get killed in combat, and recruiting new ones or leveling them up costs money too.
- The Central Officer manages satellites and communications infrastructure. But the enemy is always targeting satellites, and new ones are expensive.
But it’s the Central Officer that sets the game apart. Instead of a traditional fixed turn order (I go, you go, the game goes), the Central Officer uses an app (iOS, or browser-based) to tell each team member what to do, when, and to relay the new information that comes in from the computer controlled AI. She also manages the satellite network to make sure that the best possible information is coming into the team. And it all happens on a timer.
Here’s how it worked in practice, in my demo game:
“Commander, assign your interceptors. You have 15 seconds.”
Africa’s about to fall into panic. Europe’s no better. I have six inbound UFOs, and six interceptors, but I’m short on cash. If I move to defend, I’ll have nothing to give my ground troops, who are repelling a base-invasion at XCOM HQ. And the Science Officer won’t shut up about wanting to get more salvage.
“Five seconds!” screams my Central Officer.
I let Africa fall, assigning three interceptors to Europe.
“Done!” I cry. He presses a button on the iPad next to me. “Squad Leader, Defend the Base! You have 13 seconds.”
It would be interesting, modifying this to a defense of an Imperial world – or even the Battle of Terra, at the close of the Solomani Rim War.