Have you ever been punched in the nose and thought, “Man, that was awesome. Gimme 2 more!” Xenoshyft Onslaught is going to kick you in the teeth, steal your lunch money, stuff your limp body into a locker, look amazing while doing it and you are going to love every painful second of it. Thanks Cool Mini of Not.
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NorTec, a mega corporation has set out to mine the rare material, Xenosathem. You, the players, have been employed to each command a different NorTec division to defend the mining base. From what? Giant nightmarish alien bugs who are set out against NorTec’s strip mining. The more Xenosathem that is mined, the more vicious it mutates the alien bug menace. NorTec has instructed the commanders to just hold off the alien menace until their major reinforcements arrive. In other words; the only good bug, is a dead bug!
So, what is Xenoshyft exactly? Well, it’s a bit of a snow flake to be honest with you. XS brings a lot of interesting elements together for the first time. Co-Op is nothing new but the way XS creates a sense of urgency and edge of your seat gameplay, even people who do not like Co-Op get sucked in. Deck-Building, one of the strongest genres in the market, plays a part in the experience of XS but is not the core mechanic. There are even some programming elements to be found here. Tower Defense, something uncommon in table-top game play, is the core of XS.
Tower Defense games are generally seen in video games and are quite a common and popular genre. The basic premise is you have bad guys walking across your yard and you have to throw whatever tools you have in your shed at them. The bad guys die and you win…that round. Each round, the waves become bigger and stronger and so does your “kitchen sink”.
I Hear You Got a Bug Problem Ma’am?
Each game is broken up into 3 Waves, with each Wave kicking you harder than the one before. A Wave contains 3 rounds, giving a full game of XS a total of 9 rounds. During the player’s turn, 1-4 players will buy equipment or recruit troops, simultaneously, working not only on their own Lane but their fellow players’ as well. After the players have populated their Lanes with NorTec soldiers and equipment, XS heartlessly murders them with nightmarish bug-like monsters that never lack creativity with their onslaught. The goal: Don’t die during the 9 rounds.
Alright, I may be over selling the uphill battle that is XS but it is certainly one of the more challenging games I have ever played. Me and my recently dubbed wife, thank you very much, played a game the other night and I want to walk you through our game. Let’s just see how rough it was.
Shoot a Nuke Down a Bug Hole, You Got a Lot of Dead Bugs
Setup for XS is quite simple. Take out the game board and place the troop decks and Xenosathem decks on their spots. Shuffle the equipment deck and draw 9 cards, these tell you which starting equipment you get to buy from. Each player adds 15 health to the base, so in this game we have 30 health. Then the players get their starting deck and a Division card, which is randomly drawn. Set out the 3 wave decks, get some bug spray and your ready to go.
The Division cards are one of my favorite features in XS. They represent a unique Division of NorTec and effect the way each player will play the game. Each Division will add 2 cards to the starting deck for a player and during each wave, it will unlock a new benefit. For example, Weapons Research I, added two Assault Rifles to my deck and my Wave 1 benefit will reduce the cost of any weapon card by 1. By Wave 3, I can reduce the cost of a weapon by one, bring one weapon back to a players hand from the discard AND all weapon cards played inflict an additional damage.
Wave 1: I’m From Buenos Aires, Kill ’em All!
Alright, wave 1 and we are gung-ho to kill us some bugs. I start out strong and have an Assault Rifle in my hand and luckily we have Assault Rifles to buy in the field. So, I grab one of those up at the reduced cost and give it to one of Athena’s Rangers in her lane. I equip my own and buy some Rangers. We set up our lanes and begin round 1. Athena goes through her wave of bugs with no problems. Super confident, I begin my wave and ugg…Smoker out of the gate. Smoker gives all Bugs in the lane +1 power and is moved to the back of the row. I trudge on, eventually get eaten away and on round 1…we have 4 damage done to our base.
That’s ok, it’s only 4 damage, shake it off. Round 2 kicks off and we buy up APS armor and more Assault Rifles. The APS Armor is pretty cool, it allows the wearer to look at the face down bug and keep it or discard it for a new bug from the deck. I abused this armor card for the entire game. Round 2 comes to a close and the base is unscratched. Phew.
Our goal in Round 3 is to buy the final few cards in the equipment stacks to get some new cards out there. We do that and reveal the Bio-Enchancer card which is a great little instant card you can play to give a troop +1 power and +1 health, perfect timing too. My combat wave finishes quite smoothly and I finish with a fully equipped Militia in play with some troop support. Athena however has a rough round and it comes down to a single wound she has to survive or her board will get wiped. Luckily, I had a Bio-Enhancer in my hand and play it on her Ranger, who survives the assault, kills the bug, but will die at the end of the round. Close call but we finish with no more damage on the base which is at 26 health.
Wave 2: Never surrender. Never retreat. Never give up.
Ok, Wave 1 went well with only 4 damage to the base. It’s time to start upgrading my Xenosathem and Soldiers. During Wave 2, you can trade three +1 Xenosathem cards for one +3 Xenosathem. Conversely, you can trade in Militia and Ranger cards to reduce the cost of now unlocked Wave 2 troops. I start right away by swapping out my cards and get some Storm Trooper and Field Medic cards. A Storm Trooper can do 2 damage to any revealed bug in your lane. A Field Medic can prevent up to 2 damage to your troops.
Coming off a strong round 3 finish, I am pretty set for soldiers and equipment. I am going to lose most if not all my troops, which is fine, because I need to make room for my new soldiers. We both start to gobble up a card called, Scout Drone. It allows you to swap the place of any 2 troops in the same lane. This is great to help juggle the inbound damage. Round 4 and 5 go pretty smoothly for us, only taking a minor 2 damage. We even unlock one of my favorite weapons, the Grenade Launcher. Which does splash damage to more than just one bug every time you attack with it, BOOM!
Let me vent a little here. Hands down my least favorite bug to see is the Deathmaw. This guy, he-he…this guy is a jerk. The Deathmaw, when revealed will take the closest troop in your lane, discard all of his equipment and then use the troop as a shield. What the…haha. Like I said, this guy is a jerk and I find to the be the most dangerous bug in the game. This jerk winds up finishing off Athena’s lane and delivers 2 damage to the base. J. E. R. K.
Round 6…yeah, this is when things fall apart. Well, you see, in the wave decks, there is one Boss card shuffled in for every player. I happen to draw a Boss card on the last bug card in my lane, with a full row of troops who have all abilities spent and damage spread across most. This boss is a particular surly mess, every time it kills a troop, it deals the base 2 damage and heals for 3. It goes right through my entire lane in one swoop and does a total, 14 damage all by itself. We end Wave 2 with a whopping 8 health left on our base. Wow…
Wave 3: MEDIC!!!
I am not going to lie, starting off wave 3 with only 8 health is bad, very bad. There are several bugs who do 10+ damage by themselves. That’s before they get all psychotic and grow extra face-punching limbs. I also have the chance to get some great new Wave 3 troops as well. Both Athena and I just shuffled our decks, so it’s going to be awhile before we can benefit from the +6 Xenosathem cards. Already, the decks are literally stacked against us. Let’s see what we can do though, maybe we can last…maybe.
Nope. A big old nope. Un-uh, nope. Not going to happen. Better luck next time. Let me break it down for you, the very first bug I get is a Bomber. They do 10 damage by themselves and every time I damage it, one of their swarm explodes and does 3 damage to the base. I manage to take it out quickly with an Assault Rifle ability, which lets my troop do damage first. 5 Health left.
Next up in my final lane is a lovely Swarm Caller. Which if damaged but not killed, discard it and add 2 more wave 3 bugs to the lane. Now, I have a full row of bugs again. The next card in my lane…a Swam Caller. Oh goody, he has a friend. I am so glad he has someone to talk to when he leaves for Jerkstown after dropping off his 2 drunk bug buddies. Now, I have 5 bugs in my lane.
Next up, Bile Slug, this guy is great at parties. For every troop he kills, deal the base 3 damage. I have 5 left. Bile Slug has 8 health…8! Oh yeah, he kills 2 of my troops and BAM, the base has been broken. He also killed the rest of my lane after which he and his pals have a kegger in my Weapons Research division. We finish with -15 health at the top of round 7.
We Thought We Were Smarter Than The Bugs
Man, that ended very violently. It really came down to both our decks being pretty bogged down with smaller infantry we did not cycle out during wave 2. It is a really brutal game and I wouldn’t change anything about it. I have also played several solo games, which are more challenging with only having access to one NorTec division. Xenoshyft is not going to do you any favors or offer forgiveness. You have to fight for every inch you get.
I have played with someone who professes constantly, they do not like Co-Op games but really enjoyed Xenoshyft. It sucks you in and really brings the players together by allowing them to play cards on to each others lanes and thus, adding cards to their decks. The suspense from each revealed bug card keeps players engaged during others turns. I have barely even mentioned the card art, which is fantastic! The theme is right up my alley, being a fanboi for Starship Troopers and Roughnecks. For me, this was a VERY easy sell. It’s something I can play over and over again with my friends and strive to become better each game. AND, we get to nerd out while playing, quoting one of our favorite movies.