Designers: Régis Bonnessée | Players: 3-5 | Playtime: 90-120 minutes
When I first bought Lords of Xidit, I immediately dumped out all the components for a classic evening of box organization… which is just our way of excuse to play with a new toy. While attempting to build an insert for the game, I realized that there are so many components and physically no space for the inclusion of 5mm foamboard dividers within the confines of the box. There are a ton of bits. That’s generally a plus for me, but more on that later. For over a year I’ve had an unplayed copy of Lords of Xidit sitting on my shelf just waiting for a chance to wow my gaming friends with all its component-driven mechanics. What better time to slide its lid open and discover the fun within than during a string of programming game reviews?
I would liken the basic premise for Lords of Xidit to a game of Lords of Waterdeep, but with the programming element being the avenue for recruiting resources and achieving missions. There’s a bit more to it, but imagine an action drafting game where your player piece moves along the board and takes simple actions that either gathers the appropriate resources (like the cubes in Waterdeep) or defeats a particular monster with previously gathered resources (like completing missions in Waterdeep). Add in the chaos that comes with turn-based, programmable actions and we have Lords of Xidit.
WHAT I LIKED
The quality of components and artwork really drew me to this game. Instead of Waterdeep’s cubes, there are loads of tiny figures that you collect for your fighting resources. They are color-coded for ease of identity and I was very proud to show these off when we got the game out.
Toward the end of the game, it started to get very tense as we began to predict what other players were doing. This is classic programming related tension and the end really came down to how well we were positioned and could predict our fellows’ actions around the table.
The scoring mechanism ended up being my favorite part of the game and I hope to see it implemented in another game sometime. As some of the scoring elements are obscured from sight, you have more of a “feel” of where you stand during the game rather than the concrete knowledge that comes with a scoring track. There are 3 different kinds of rewards that players may choose from when defeating monsters and 3 corresponding scoring assessments at the end of the game (their order chosen at random at the beginning of the game). The player with the lowest score for the first assessment is eliminated from victory regardless of how he/she fared for the second two assessments. The lowest scoring of the remaining players is likewise eliminated during the second assessment resulting in a fraction of participants considered for the victory conditions of the third. What this forces players to do during play is spread their efforts among the scoring elements so that they are not overly focused on any one particular aspect.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
The strength in programming games can also be their weakness in that during the chaotic action phase that ensues each round, plans often work out differently than hoped or players are denied their plans altogether. Xidit tends to deny actions more than alter and the result tends toward disappointment rather than unexpected outcomes.
What began as excitement over all the game bits became an exhausted exercise in tedious meta-management during gameplay. There are a lot of moving pieces and constant game-state updates that took as much time-per-round as planning our player moves. Some of this became routine and memorable (filling city spaces with required units/monster) but the instructions were necessary throughout the game when knowing how to deal with exhausted monster tiles and when to refill from the city stack and how they flip and move down the pipe and when titan spaces are used… Unfortunately, it drew us out of the game too often in a potentially immersive experience.
Stepping back from the last point, there are a lot of mechanics and good ideas included in the game that result in… a lot of mechanics in the game. So while we have our basic move/action programming and our resource gathering/spending, we also have a semi-scoring round every 4 turns (called a census) and the meta-management already mentioned (which feels like an entire phase of the game itself). While most monsters (objectives) work a particular way, there are titans (also objectives) that are eventually triggered and add their own set of peculiarities to the game. 2 out of the 3 scoring objectives are a kind of race in magnitude while the third sets limits to player exclusivity and a cap per location. All these moving parts are well-balanced but they add a complexity to the game, not of strategy but of mechanics, which just seemed disproportionate to the depth the game provides.
The number of players changes everything. While I expect a 3+ player count for programming games, I do not expect further restrictions beyond a player cap. But the 3 player game is structured entirely different around a dummy player board. In a game of complex parts, this was another barrier for me to getting the game to the table as I felt I’d have to learn another piece to the game if we were to play with fewer people.
Sometimes a game will have a bunch of mechanisms that are put together in a complementary way that bespeaks of a seamless work of art with a feel of intuitive elegance. And sometimes we have a bunch of mechanisms stitched together that, while balanced, reminds me of the typical high school yearbook collage. Xidit is on latter side of that spectrum. There are a lot of single great elements to Lords of Xidit, but taken as a whole it didn’t come together well. There is too much meta-management that has nothing to do with your turn in the game but required nonetheless to set the stage every round. As its various elements are similar to other games, I found myself yearning for those instead of being engaged in this one – i.e. Waterdeep, Colt Express, and Relic Runners have similar elements.
There is something to be said here on how to approach complexity and mechanical design. The first pump-action shotgun was the Winchester 97, which mechanically worked but was a mess of moving parts and very complex compared to our common streamlined Remington 870 today. While designing this original pump-action, every time they’d run into a snag they’d add a piece to make it work. This could happen in your game design as a result of playtesting: as feedback is received and the game is balanced with an added fix enough times, we’re left with a game that is far too fiddly for what else it offers. Sometimes it’s best to know what kind of game you’re trying to make and strip things away rather than add to them. Not sure if that is what happened with Lords of Xidit, but that is the impression I get. We have a very workable, balanced game that is just unapproachable. It’s not a complete bust, which is why it get’s the 2 mugs from me, but it’s not one I intend to break out again.
THOUGHTS FROM THE PUB
I’m going to try to not repeat too much of what Bryan has already said about this game as I agree with everything above in his review but I did want to add my experience as well.
Like Bryan, I’ve only played Lords of Xidit once. This was one of the games to hit our Pub Meeple unplayed games of the month night. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this game other than the brief synopsis I’d looked up online. The one thing I liked initially was the end game scoring. Also, the idea traveling around the map to collect resources intrigued me. Like a more thematic version of worker placement. I’ve been toying around with a game idea based on something like this so I was curious to see how well it worked.
I also wasn’t really sure how well I’d like the programming aspect because I typically like knowing information beforehand and have stayed away from games like RoboRally because of this fact. Simultaneous action doesn’t really bother me. Messing with others’ plans doesn’t even bother me, if it’s on purpose. But planning out an entire round only to be negated by someone else’s non-interactive planning did not excite me at all. Actually, there isn’t any direct interaction with other players. It’s like playing a long, convoluted solitaire game that constantly gets interrupted by random events. The best way I can explain the feeling I had is to compare this to something like Candy Crush. You know what you want to do but you can’t because the game just won’t let you.
All this chaos led to me absolutely hating the two things I was looking forward to the most. Going around the map to collect stuff I think is still a neat idea. That is if we were each able take an action in turn order like typical worker placements and then adjust based on what the other players did. Too many times my programming led me to either gather the wrong resource I wanted or flat out get nothing at all. I abhor wasted turns a la the UNO skip effect. (See also: Ghostbusters: the Board Game)
Programming in combination with the end game scoring also left much to be desired. In the game I played, I missed out on a 2nd place finish because of ONE move I made at the very end. Gary ended up knocking me out of the first scoring assessment because he’s apparently a psychic and snagged what I needed one action before I did. Had this been another worker placement game I could’ve gone somewhere else to maximize my scoring. Nope, not in this game. I continued on. My piece stood there like a buffoon, staring into space not doing anything. Because, well simultaneous programming sucks as much as I thought it would.
So there you have it. I didn’t like this game at all. Too many borrowed mechanics. Too many fiddly bits. Too much micro-management. Too solitaire feeling. Too chaotic. Save yourself the torture and just walk the other way. The potential is the only reason I gave as many mugs as I did.