A Closer Look at XCOM: The Board Game’s Unique Companion App

Fantasy Flight Games has released some more details on the app that will accompany the upcoming XCOM Board Game, which many of us are impatiently awaiting. One of my favorite video game series of all time. Her is some of what they had to say:

The alien invasion has already begun!

The initial response to our announcement of XCOM: The Board Game has been positively overwhelming. Our demo tables were packed at Gen Con Indy, then again at PAX, and fan sites have since set the net abuzz with news and reviews about both the game and its use of a free digital companion app.

Why does XCOM make use of a digital companion, and what does it add to the game? These are the questions we’ll address today, as we launch headlong into the first of our series of previews.

Researching New Technology

In XCOM: The Board Game, one to four players work together as department heads of the elite military organization XCOM. It is up to you and your friends to thwart a full-scale alien invasion. This invasion is controlled by the app.

Our goal was that XCOM’s digital companion app would allow us to create a gameplay experience that would go well beyond what would be feasible without it. Accordingly, it is an integral part of the game and drives your play experience. It controls the alien invasion, coordinates hidden information, adds to the game’s tension, distinguishes player roles, and promotes a fully cooperative experience. Moreover, the app, which is available for free as both a downloadable app and an online tool, teaches you the game, guides you through each turn, and serves as your rules reference, one that is always immediately at hand.

XCOM’s digital app compresses a wealth of information into an easily digestible format. Furthermore, it keeps the game’s rules immediately at hand. You can learn about the active action simply by clicking on it, and the menu button allows you to access the full rules in just two quick clicks.

Coordinating the Alien Invasion

Each round is divided into two phases, the timed phase and the resolution phase. Throughout the timed phase, the app creates alerts that pop up onscreen and indicate which actions the players need to take. You may need to place UFOs on the board, assign scientists to research new technologies, or choose which global crisis your team will address.

Whenever an alert pops up, it is accompanied by a limited window of time within which your team can act.

After the app triggers the last of these real-time alerts in the timed phase, you enter the untimed resolution phase. In the resolution phase, you are no longer pressed by time limitations, but you face new tensions as you roll dice and push your luck to resolve your research, missions, and global defense. Even in the resolution phase, the app guides you through your turn sequence. Then, at the end of the phase, you input the results of your efforts, the app calculates the aliens’ next tactics, and the next timed phase begins.

By handling all the calculations for the alien invasion plan, the app greatly streamlines the game, and by serving as your timer, the app also helps to amplify the game’s tension. However, the app does far more than reduce your setup time and track the progress of each round’s timed phase. Those elements are useful, but they don’t truly indicate how the app characterizes your experience.

Promoting a Fully Cooperative Game Experience

XCOM: The Board Game is a fully cooperative (or solo) gameplay experience, and this is one important element of the gameplay experience that the app enables. XCOM’s app handles all of the hidden information for the aliens, directing the deployment of each round’s UFOs and enemies, as well as the number of crises that you and your team are forced to resolve. These decisions are made semi-randomly, based upon the game’s invasion plan, its difficulty level, and your ability to deal with the invasion from round to round. In fact, the app’s ability to respond to your actions means that XCOM permits an experience that’s more intelligent than a deck of cards, without requiring a player to assume the role of the aliens.

It’s thematically important that the players in XCOM are all working together to save humanity from the onslaught of a strange and unknown alien menace, but it’s also important for the game’s mechanics. The app introduces two innovative game elements that are critical to your XCOM experience: forecasts and scrambled communications.

Forecasts appear during the timed phase, flashing across your screen as yellow transmissions, and they give you advanced warning of the alien invasion plan for the round before UFOs appear in orbit or enemy strike teams arrive at your base. The information that these forecasts provide is almost always accurate, but the fullness of its intelligence depends upon how well you can maintain your satellite network. In fact, if too many aliens remain in orbit, your satellite network will deteriorate to the point where you might lose your forecasts altogether.

An example of how the app can forecast the arrival of UFOs. The forecast on the left indicates the future arrival of four UFOs (marked in yellow): two in orbit, one in Europe, and one in Australia. The alert on the right shows the arrival of three of these UFOs. Because forecasts rarely lie, we can generally expect that the UFO forecasted to arrive in Europe will arrive later in the round.

This brings us to the idea of scrambled transmissions, which contribute to one of the most remarkable aspects of the XCOM experience. In XCOM: The Board Game, the app doesn’t just play the role of your rival, it’s also your “game manager.” It teaches you the rules in its tutorial mode and then continues to serve as your one-touch rules reference. However, it also prompts you to act. In fact, there is no turn sequence listed in a rulebook because the app manages your turns, and while you’ll recognize the basic patterns of your turns – receiving forecasts, deploying resources, tracking alien movements, and responding to global crises – there is no one, single turn sequence.

Instead, the app tracks the order in which events occur and weighs your team’s actions each turn, and if the aliens are outpacing your satellite network, the app will start scrambling your transmissions, forcing you to deploy your Interceptors before you know where the UFOs are appearing in orbit. You may even have to deploy soldiers to your mission and base before you have any idea what the aliens have planned for the turn.

For the full article, visit the Fantasy Flight Games Website

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The Voice of E is me! E for Elliott that is. I'm a Geek Journalist featuring Board Games, Video Games, RPG's, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comics, and Movie News and Reviews.