The Puddle Jumper skittered through lonesome space until finally docking with Smuggler’s Den. The greasy captain emerged from his vessel, stepped onto the metallic platform, and searched the bustling bay for his employer. He waved the shadowy figure over. They exchanged a little back and forth, and a few minutes later an untraceable missile was being removed from his ship. The employer grinned ear to ear and the captain’s pockets were about four-thousand credits heavier.
Xia: Legends of a Drift System, along with the Embers of a Forsaken Star expansion, is a sandbox game; meaning you can almost do anything you would want within the limits of the theme. Your goal is to earn fame points and this is accomplished through completing missions, claiming titles, participating in events, selling resources, destroying other player’s ships, exploring the galaxy, purchasing new ships, purchasing with accumulated wealth, saving a player who has become stranded in space, sifting relics, and plain luck. Wheeewww!…Sound like a lot of options? It is! But, it is an amazing experience that has many stories to tell.
There is so much to this game, that a learning curve is inevitable. Debris fields, ice fields, asteroid fields, planets, nebulas, and stars, all have conditions when you enter them, and sometimes when you exit. You will be rolling dice to determine the damage or energy drain you receive. You may even die. Each of the twenty-five or so ships also have their own unique abilities, which stack with the abilities of the ships you eventually upgrade to. It’s a lot to take in at first, but once you have a few rounds under your belt, things pick up. Your turns get more efficient. More directional. And soon, a turn that first took you five minutes, takes you two. The important thing to remember is that the players determine how long they play by setting a point goal on the fame point tracker. Our first play with three players, including reading our ships back-stories, game set up and take down (and there are A LOT of pieces), lasted four and a half hours and we stopped at eight fame points. Our second game lasted three while playing to ten fame points. I suspect five experienced players would knock out twenty points (the max) in around four hours.
The rulebook covers everything, but we honestly found this to be the weakest point of the game. There is a lot of “for more details, see page 11”. Even times when you proceed to page 11 and it tells you to go to page 13. Again, nearly every question or technicality seemed to be covered, there was just a lot of flipping around. Visually, the layout was mostly easy to read. Each section has a colored background, and while this isn’t bad, they didn’t match up with the section they were describing like you might expect. For example, Event Cards are magenta in color, but the background for these in the rulebook are yellow. Title cards are have a yellow overlay, but the background for that section in the rulebook is violet. These seem like small issue, but I would have used the same color for both to act as a visual cue when scanning for rule clarifications.
The components are outstanding. The in game currency is metal, heavy, and set in 1,000 (silver) and 5,000 (blue) denominations. Xia comes with a glorious amount of pre-painted spaceship miniatures. The paint jobs are not perfect, but you probably weren’t going to get around to painting them anyway! If you pick up both games, you will get twenty-eight miniatures in all that represent ships, comets, and the Kiln Space Station. The tiles, which represent planets and other space terrain, are thick and chunky, with gorgeous artwork. You’ll also get bright, plastic resource cubes, and markers that are placed onto your ship to represent damage. These damage markers are translucent, jagged, shards. Everything in this game screams quality….with the exception of the player boards. They are a hair thicker than the flimsy ones in Terraforming Mars, and just the same, they would do well to have an after-market overlay to keep most of the bits from sliding off them. Just be careful with your elbows. Outside of that, the card quality is typical. You are paying a premium for this game, but you are getting a full return on your investment in both gameplay and quality of components.
There are few games that accomplish what Xia does. It feels like an “experience”. The sandbox space environment is vast and many stories will develop over the course of each game. And note: there are a lot of options, but you should never be afraid of combat…it should be encouraged! You will find joy in destroying your fellow player’s ships and then looting the cargo they drop. You will scream when you blind jump to a new sector tile, only to be sucked into a black hole by it’s gravitational force. Events like these happen because Xia uses dice to determine movement, combat and border interactions. But, I promise you, while dice are a large part of the game, the expansion introduces ways to mitigate die rolls. There is still a luck element, but given the amount of options you have, it is not a large distraction from your overall strategy. This is not chess. You will have fun and (probably) love this game. Xia is cut-throat, but forgiving. If you are killed in combat, or blind jump into a star (yes, you can do that), death isn’t the end of the world. You re-spawn at a random point the next round and take a small amount of damage.
As you complete these missions and sell resources, you will acquire credits that you can use to outfit your ship with new gear; or buy a new ship altogether. The higher tiered gear takes up more space in your ship, but will use a higher number die (in game: d6, d8, d12, d20), so that you roll a higher attack or can move a further distance. The higher tier ships have bigger hulls, and usually have a higher energy capacity, which lets you recharge actions on your turn.
There is a lot more goin on in this game, but I think it’s important that you discover it for yourself.
You are presented with so many opportunities in this game, that admittedly, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. There is no specific path to winning; you decide how to pilot your ship to victory. While this is one of the things we loved about Xia, we also think a mutliplayer campaign expansion is likely in the future. There are so many tools inside this box that the possibilities are near endless. Definitely give this a play if you get a chance. Alternatively, you can even skip that Kickstarter you had your eye in and buy the game now on Amazon.