I played my first game of XenoShyft Onslaught a few weeks ago. The full release of the game was May 1st but I got a copy a bit early as I backed it on Kickstarter. It’s a co-op, card-building base-defense game; heroic / mercenary corporate troopers hold off waves
of ravening mutated aliens in desperate, heroic battle.
Or they all get mangled, killed and eaten. And not necessarily in that order, either.
If you’ve read a few of the other bits of writing on here, you can guess how my friends and I did….
The game itself is pretty straight-forward and elegant. There are 9 rounds the players have to survive for; if they make it till the end of the 9th round, they win. At the start of each round the players deal themselves 6 cards from their decks; in the decks are a mix of resource cards (“money”), troops and equipment.
Between all the players is a play mat with a collection of troops and equipment; players can spend their resources to buy as many cards as they can afford which then go into their hands. They then play all their troops and equipment to four spaces in a ‘lane’ in front of them.
Once everyone is done buying, four random monsters are played face down to other spaces on each players lane. The monsters are turned face up one at a time (starting with the one nearest the players troops) and they fight until one is dead. Then the next rank of the loser’s side is pushed up to fight. If all the monsters are dead at the end you’ve held and the next player can fight. If any monsters are left however they do damage to the base and get removed. If the base’s health gets down to 0 the players all lose.
This sounds straight-forward but there are a number of wrinkles. First, the monsters each have a unique effect on their card. For example, a monster might fight the back row of the players troops instead of the front. Or destroy all equipment on the front rank when it’s revealed. Or do damage to the first two troops instead of the front one.
Because you don’t know what the monsters are when you’re deploying your troops and equipment it’s pretty tense when the monsters are revealed. Luckily, you get cards that can be played in response to monsters being revealed and, most importantly, you can play these (or the special abilities on troops) on any players turn. So you can use your medics to heal a team-mates troop who’s gotten into trouble or to play a grenade to kill a monster as soon as it’s revealed.
As the game goes on it progresses through three waves. Both the monsters attacking and the available troops improve. There’s a lot of strategy to how you spend your money; buying a lot of equipment early is good because equipment is useful all the way through the game (it doesn’t improve as the waves progress). That’s unlike the troops where wave 1 troops are pretty-much useless near the end of the game so you don’t want your deck clogged up with them. On the other hand, guns and armour can’t defend on their own so if you skimp on buying troops you’re going to let the monsters through and be behind when the really nasty critters appear in wave 3.
There are lots of cool ideas to increase the fun factor too. For example, you start with a certain number of resource cards in your deck which you can use to pay for troops and equipment. Rather than just rely on drawing these cards you also get one additional resource card per round. This means the amount of resources you have scales up as the game goes on but it also means you’ll always have at least one resource card to play a round.
The equipment available every game is a randomised pool of 9 types of kit; every game will start off differently and you’ll have to modify your strategy on the fly. As types of equipment are exhausted a new, random equipment type is added as well so the game moves in unpredictable ways. Additionally, each player specialises in a corporate field which gives you special powers on each wave and additional cards in your deck. So a medical division player gets better heals and two med-kits in her deck to begin with, for example.
While there’s lots of re-playability the game itself is no pushover. We started off pretty badly; by the second round we’d lost almost half of the base’s health. As our decks improved we managed to slowly staunch the bleeding but it was looking like it would be too late. Ironically, as we started to assume we were going to lose we performed better. Players would burn abilities and instants on other people’s turns, assuming the game would be over before it got to them. This meant we survived 3 rounds at the end where the base was basically a smouldering ruin. Even with our awful start we managed to claw it back so that we died on round 8; not bad for a first go.
The game moves quickly; each player’s combat is fast (though it slows down a bit near the end where every player has many abilities to play) and you normally have something to do even on someone else’s turn. There were plenty of knife-edge escapes and last-minute saves but also some some horrible turn-arounds as an already weakened player revealed a boss monster in their lane.
Looking forward to playing it again 😀