3-5 players, Competitive, Sandbox Space Game
Designer: Cody Miller
Artwork: Cody Miller
Publisher: Far Off Games
Overview of Gameplay
In Xia you will be traveling all over space doing all kinds of stuff. And when I say all kinds of stuff I’m not joking around. There are a plethora of actions that are at your disposal to take depending on exactly what your ultimate goal in the game is. The reason there are so many actions is because there are just so many different things to do! Ultimately you are trying to gain a certain amount of victory points (you set the amount at the onset) before any other players.
So you will be moving around exploring new tiles and unique locals on said tiles, attacking other players or NPC’s and becoming a space outlaw/pirate, harvesting space materials, going on important missions, buying and selling cargo to different planets, salvaging jettisoned space cargo and yes you can even HELP other players by rescuing them from dire straits. And every single one of those things will gain you victory points in some way or another.
Win Condition /Length
At the start of the game you set yourself a VP limit that you need to reach to win. You can go for a short and sweet game of 5 VP’s (although I wouldn’t recommend it) or you can shoot upward and go for the full on 20 VP long game, OR you could meet in the middle and do a 10 VP game. Basically the game really sets you up to make it however long you want it to be. To really get a taste of everything that game has to offer though I highly recommend at least doing 10 VP’s, that way you can at least upgrade your starship before the game ends. At 5 VP’s you really don’t have time to experience everything but it’s a good starting point to learn it in any case.
Once the rules are fully learned a group of 5 can blaze through a 5 VP game in an hour or so. However be prepared for it to take much longer than that if having to explain the rules, like I said earlier there is a ton going on here. Also each additional player you add over 3 drastically increases the game time. Because of the bookoo of actions that can be taken each players turn can be a decently long affair. During a 5 player game I played I spent plenty of time waiting before it got back around to my turn again. The downtime is horrendous for higher player counts, however if playing with 3 it’s not too bad at all. Because of the downtime be prepared to spend 3 some odd hours with a full player count if playing at the higher VP win condition.
Setup is pretty beastly. There are so many things to lay out and keep organized, just be prepared to spend a really good chunk of time setting this up the first time you play. There is an included insert that…kinda…helps but not really, more on that later. Oh and make sure you have plenty of table space! You start with just a few tiles laid out but as you explore you will quickly find that you need more and more and more space not to mention the plethora of tokens of all varieties and cards and the metal coins…so many components. Now about those components………….
Pretty much some of the best components I have laid my eyes on, and the variety! The numerous amount does increase setup time considerably but man, these things are good. Let’s start by discussing the space ships, all 21 of em! Well you get 18 completely different ships to choose from to play as as 3 of them are NPC ships but good lawd what a haul! Did I mention they are fully painted? And they come with some really neat clear plastic stand thingy’s that hold them up for ease of movement on the tiles. Really, really cool. Beyond the ship minis there are metal coins that you use for the currency, plastic colored cubes for the cargo, little orange jewel-like tokens for the damage markers and a variety of cardboard tokens and pieces as well. Everything is high quality even the tiles for the game board are a good thickness, didn’t have any problems with bowing or warping tiles. Heck even the cards have a nice linen finish and feel nice.
The ONLY thing component-wise that I think could be improved upon are the ship player mats. They are thin and flimsy and I sorely want them to be dual layered for ease of placing your upgrade tokens and tracking your energy. Of course everything else is overwhelmingly high quality and this is a very minor quibble and not something I would down rate the game on at all.
The game board consists of 21 different sector tiles that you flip over and add to the ever growing game play area as you explore. These tiles are really cool and all have some neat space effects like asteroids, nebulas, space debris, different planets with planetary shields, warp gates and of course the games namesake, Xia. The deadly Xia star that takes up an entire tile itself and is just ready to gobble up those foolhardy explorers blind-jumping around.
So the box is actually extremely sturdy and gorgeous. The artwork and colors on the box are superb and it was the first thing I noticed when I took the lid off, how sturdy and beautiful it was. As I mentioned earlier the game does come with a couple of plastic inserts. There is a black decently sturdy one that holds the four batches of different ship outfits (upgrade tokens) and the tiles. This one isn’t terrible bad. The other is a clear plastic thing that has spots for the cards and, I think, the tokens. This one is just terrible. The spot for the cards doesn’t have a notch that goes all the way down so the cards get stuck and you end up having to push from the bottom of the insert to get them out. And the token spots, if that’s even what they are, don’t hold them well at all.
On top of that once you get everything situated and the rule book in the box there is still a pretty big gap between the lid and the components so if you store the game on its side, everything will spill out everywhere. The box is also just a tad too long for your standard Kallax shelving unit so it protrudes out about an inch which isn’t the end of the world but something to be aware of. Because of the insert issues I ended up tossing the inserts and just bagged everything like I do with so many games anymore. That said this is a game that sorely needs an insert to help speed up setup time.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually the game is stunning. The artwork is grand and the colors on the tiles are amazing. And theme-wise, well you can make the world your oyster. You want to be a feared space pirate? Sure. Perhaps you want to be a famed space explorer? Sounds good. Heck why not be the very best purveyor of trade the galaxy has ever seen. You can do that too. It’s just so much fun jumping in and seeing all the different paths you can take and each one is arguably just as good as the next.
The Rulebook has me torn. On one hand it does a good job of explaining the game and all the finer details. It even color codes sections to make them stand out and differentiate them from one another. But on the other hand, everything is jumbled up. The order in which all this information is presented is so oddball. A prime example is your standard player turn structure. You don’t find that until page 10 and even though looking back at it now, I can see why they structured it as they did it isn’t the best choice of structure. Going in they want you to read the entirety of the rule book before playing but this is just the worst way to teach. From all the rulebook methods that have been used and I have had the pleasure of going through, by far the best method is learning as you play a mock game. Component list (with pictures) > Setup > Turn Structure and a breakdown of actions, etc etc etc. Now all that being said, this has got to be the best rulebook as far as ease of finding info goes. Because of the color coded sections and the way they only start new sections at the top of pages instead of somewhere in the middle, well that makes this rulebook super easy to traverse.
Table Talk/Fun Factor
The game is great fun but the fun lags at higher player counts. Because of the sandbox nature of this game you will quite often find yourself just tending to your own devices and forgetting about the other players entirely. This is supremely evident when you have a full 5 player game going and you just finished your lengthy turn and now have to wait upwards of ten minutes before you can take another turn. Granted this time will differ greatly depending on knowledge of the game and those with Analysis Paralysis but it’s not that big of stretch especially when players buy those movement upgrades. They can move all over the place exploring new tiles and flipping tokens, initiating combat and so on. It’s all great fun while you are doing it but you come to realize you really just don’t have that much player interaction.
Enter the NPC’s. These sweet little devils have neat personality cards that dictate their behavior on the map and they can directly affect the other players and because they are NPC’s you don’t have to feel bad about attacking them! I mean if you are the type that doesn’t like direct conflict in your games that is. There is a merchant that basically just flies around the map hitting up different planets and gaining coin that stakes on his card. A very tempting merchant to attack once he’s acquired a decent haul that is. There is and outlaw that just flies out to the closest innocent player and attacks and then runs away like a coward, of course if he destroys anyone he gains a bounty and that can add up as well…..And then you have the Enforcer which is basically the very opposite of the outlaw who will hunt down outlaw ships and try to take them out. These are super fun additions to the regular players and add a bit of flavor to the overall game.
Oh and I can’t neglect the most fun thing in the game, the Blind Jump. This alone cemented this game as one of my favorite games, and it’s so simple! Basically when you come to an edge of a tile you have a couple options ahead of you. You can either stop your movement, spend an energy and lose the rest of your movement and “Scan” the system. This allows you to draw the next tile and place it so you can see what you can move into before you actually make the move. OR. You can take that leap of faith and Blind Jump. To Blind Jump ( I keep capitalizing it because it’s so elite) you keep all your movement, save your energy and just place your ship mini off the edge of the tile on the spot you are “jumping” to. Then draw the tile and place your mini on that spot on the new tile and continue your movement. Who knows what shenanigans you will find yourself in! You might Blind Jump into a debris field littered with nuclear mines or smack dab into the side of a planetary shield like a bug on an windshield. Or you migh be in open space in the clear. OR, you might get really unlucky and draw the big beast itself, the star XIA. Instant death that one as it takes up the entire tile. Needless to say the tension the Blind Jump conjures forth from me and my groups is palpable.
Speaking on death a little, it’s really not as bad as you might think. You do lose any active missions you might have been working on and will drop any cargo you have been carrying for some other passerby to probably snatch up, well, unless you plunged into the star. But you get to keep your money and you just respawn your next turn at a random location based on a die roll and go on about your business. Of course this delay may just cost you the game……
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
3 player all the way. The horrendous downtime that you get from larger groups is a super buzzkill for me. And add on the fact that there really isn’t that much player interaction to be had, I would always opt for a 3 player game over 5 in this instance. That said I did set the game up and played a 2 player mock game by myself and had a freaking blast! So if you are not averse to controlling a couple of different ships and exploring space all by your lonesome then you should snatch this gem up.
Replayability is just off the charts with this one. I mean 18 different ships to play with that all have completely different abilities and storage. Each one acts different from the next and going in if you have a notion to be a trader of goods you might want to grab a ship that holds more cargo or even the abilities might make it better for hunting down other players. Beyond the ship selection since you draw from a facedown stack of tiles, you never know what tile you might be coming to next. Every game will unfold differently and because of this your strategy will always be changing. Last game it was fruitful to by and sell cargo as the planets that required these goods was close to the one that sold them. Well in this game they are super far apart….but there is that warp gate over yonder that might prove useful….
Positive Final Thoughts
I love it so much. From the components to the art and colors to the sheer amount of choices you can make. The gameplay is fantastic and exciting with that touch of tension when you discover new tiles or roll to see if you successfully harvest minerals or set off a space nuke and wipe out everything on your tile. It’s all good stuff. You can upgrade your ship from a level 1 all the way up to a level 3 with much more cargo space and new abilities, so cool.
Negative Final Thoughts
Now with all my love for the game, it isn’t perfect. It is highly random in almost every aspect. You roll to move, for combat, to harvest resources etc. For those that don’t like a high level of randomness in their games you probably will not enjoy this one as much. For me, this creates tension which I just love. The storage is meh and the rulebook could use some organization but for the most part this is as close as you are going to get to a perfect sandbox style space game.