Space is a wonderful place for a whole range of recreational activities. It can be for racing in, exploring in, fighting in, chopping off your son’s hand in, or even a great stage for preventing the scourge of the galaxy from taking over and destroying all you hold dear. Most games oriented around preventing any large threat are going to have you pitted against smaller foes and gradually get to a big bad without any pressure or need to rush. That’s not progression. Nor is it realistic; if the scourge wanted control so bad, surely it would send its top dogs as soon as it could! Luckily! X-odus: Rise of the Corruption by boardgameink recognises this and sends Avatars at you and your co-defenders within the first few turns whilst you fumble across systems, collecting mods and completing tasks as you try to save the day! Before I get started, this game is a preview. All components pictured, flavour text visible and card effects are subject to change upon Kickstarter funding and finalisation.
What Is It?
The game is based around the Corruption, an evil collection of nastiness, taking over the galaxy the moment it gets there. Your job is to find 4 Precursor Keys, get them to the Main Rift and use them to lock the big bad out for good! Easy enough concept right? Well the game is effectively on a timer of turns, and after so many it’s lights out for the happy folk in the galaxy. Actions and things you do may reduce the movement of the corruption, but they also may increase its movement should you handle any task haphazardly! On top of that, the corruption has already affected some systems, sapping them dry of their resources and making them the perfect spawning place for Avatars, which are absolutely terrible things and should not be messed with (we learned this the hard way). These Avatars are the Corruption’s head honchos, the chief distributors of sadness, the worst of the worst. No exaggeration. And these fellows don’t hang around. With no alteration to the game’s timer, one will appear within 3 rounds and they’ll immediately be on their way to take you down! They’re not designed to be defeated, they’re designed to be avoided and prevented; take one on and take any hits and it will permanently impact your ship negatively!
How It Plays
Every player gets their own unique ship with its own strengths and weaknesses, upgrades and set number of actions. Players take turns within a round to take actions that can consist of revealing a tile, moving to a revealed tile, blind jumping to an unrevealed tile, interacting with tile elements, or conducting ship maintenance. Whilst exploring you’ll interact with enemies comprised of the Corruption’s minions and, should you be unlucky enough, an Avatar. This game allows the unique play of creating a fleet, basically meaning you all move as one from the tile you started your turn on. This can be done as you pass people and all people within the fleet take the same actions, brilliant if you have to fight something nasty or do something strenuous to acquire a Precursor Key. The downside to working as a unit? All your moves are done at the same time and have to be identical, meaning divide and conquer is off the table for that turn!
Your ship is unique in the respect that it has its own pros and cons. Reading the flavour text on the back of the ship cards is usually a novelty, but in X-odus it’s a massive help! It gives you tips on how to best utilise the ship and how it can handle certain situations. Some of the ships have far more health and are specialised to specific tasks, others seem to have more balance, but no ship can take on the Corruption alone! I played as the Warship primarily, a ship heavily focussed on tanking hits and dealing pain with all its mods focussed on adding damage. When faced with a need to heal I was limited to what scrap I had and that did me no favours! Having the Drone Specialist ship alongside me immediately removed this obstacle as it was basically a flying doctor with its endless repairing mods. Ensuring your team is balanced is a must, but it’s equally as important to adapt and play to your ship’s strengths. There’s no point going guns blazing with the Explorer who’s focussed around exploration (who’d have guessed?), much like you’d rather have the Explorer to find specific tiles than slowly do it with any other ship!
Combat in this game is rewarding but tests how daring you are. You roll your ship’s allocated dice when taking on an enemy and how you roll determines your approach. To go offensive you roll with both dice, defensive with one die, or you disengage and take a damage roll. When you go offensive or defensive, you’re looking to do damage to take your enemy out, however you also take the risk of rolling misses which is when your enemy will retaliate and return the favour! You can attack continually and manage to avoid all damage, or have 5 shocking rolls and be taken out of the game! But don’t think that the luck of a die’s roll is the deciding factor in your combat! Your ship’s unique Mods will enable you to manage certain situations better and may enable you to avoid damage entirely or even protect everyone within the combat – a fantastic reason to pay attention to how to level up! Being fleeted for combat is exceptionally helpful as well; we had many situations where we dominated whilst in a fleet, but felt out of our depth when going solo against even the simplest of enemies as we didn’t have the plethora of perks to aid us! The enemies aren’t as straightforward as just generic grunts either with each having a unique ability triggered at specific times. The fantastic thing is that the enemy skills will change the flow and decisions made within combat, particularly if the enemy’s skill kicks in when it’s defeated.
Should you be terrible at avoiding damage, or like me think you can tank the hits, you’ll need to maintain your ship regularly. Ship maintenance allows you to repair one damage (heal one token) for a scrap, or it allows you to repair a damaged Mod. Damaged Mods aren’t necessarily Mods you own, but they take up a space on your ship and prevent you from doing specific things. I spent most my first game being unable to Hyperdash (move 3 for 2 actions) because I was too proud to admit I shouldn’t have taken risks and found myself falling behind everyone else in terms of levelling up. The risk/reward elements of combat and exploration are clear and it’s never unexpected when you do get hurt, but it’s worth remembering that what you do and don’t choose to do will affect the endgame.
Exploration is the other key element of the game, with every exploration card being unique in both its beautiful artwork and the ways you can take on the task! I thought it was incredible that each card had multiple options, some specific to classes of ships, meaning that I coincidentally got a better outcome for being a Warrior class ship. Of course, these bonuses are tailored to who you’d expect to get them; Warrior class ships will likely get enemy intel, whereas Scholar class ships may prevent the Corruption’s movement for a turn. Dependent on who pulls that exploration card, you may miss out on some majorly helpful events. But the exploration cards aren’t all bonuses and mods! Some systems house cultists who worship the Corruption. Not the brightest bunch but they’re pretty dangerous! They’ll lay traps, blind attack and aim to ruin your day. Any exploration cards listed as DANGER are just that, no bonuses, no buffs, just a skill roll to escape or suffer the consequences.
How It Handles
Once we knew the rules we were able to get through the game in just over an hour (a little longer with more players) and we did so all whilst discussing tactics and the best options available. The game is entirely cooperative, so player turns are best to be entirely discussed for the most desirable outcomes. You all need to be working towards getting the Precursor Keys, and in order to do so you’ll need to be organised. Once all the keys are in your possession, the Avatars will shift into overdrive and move towards the Main Rift to defend it, and you sadly can’t win if there’s an Avatar in that system! But winning isn’t impossible, though it’s a challenge. It’ll keep you on your toes knowing that every action wasted will count against you and may inevitably hinder your chances of preventing the corruption’s dominance.
As far as the combat goes, the enemies are categorised into levels and the Avatars are separate entities entirely. You start the game against level 1 enemies and more are added progressively as the Avatars arrive, meaning the longer you take the harder it is, but you can also see the challenge increasing along the timeline. This allows you time to have levelled your ship up and acquired some decent mods, but wasting time won’t reduce the movement of the Corruption. The Avatars on the other hand are not in a progressive state. They are there to stop you, not enable you to test your skills or push your luck. The skills of these monolithic ships should immediately warn you away from them, but taking one on would entitle you to bragging rights. We did manage to get rid of one, and it felt good… Right up until we realised we’d wasted an action and couldn’t get the key we wanted that turn.
The exploration is very straightforward and leaves little to be questioned. All the systems in the game are identified as one of three things; allied systems, hostile systems, or corrupted systems. Corrupted systems hold no purpose other than to give the Avatars easier access to different areas of the galaxy. Hostile systems house enemies who will take you on without hesitation unless you can manage to avoid detection, and allied systems usually house Precursor Keys, traders and some brief respite! Other galactic anomalies exist such as wormholes for faster movement and exploration tokens indicating when you can draw an exploration card, however the board is not static. It will change according to your actions and you could easily tear open a wormhole in a system or even invite the corruption onto a tile unwittingly!
Should You Be Excited?
Yes. If you’re a fan of cooperative games like Pandemic, explore and reveal games like Betrayal, or any games that are focussed on taking down an unknown threat, this game is specifically for you. I found this to be a delightfully difficult game that’s not unfair but is unforgiving. Because every game was different based on drawn tiles, mods and cards, it became more a game to master rather than win. Once we had a win, our reaction wasn’t to celebrate but to instead question how we’d have done it better!
My partner’s description for this was that it’s a more focussed, directed Xia with hints of Sub-Terra mixed in for that impending unknown. And I can’t disagree! There’s a beautiful level of balance presented through free choice and the need to do specific tasks. The exploration of space is there, and the freedom to take on your objectives as you wish is great to level your ship up, however knowing that soon the Avatars will arrive is enough to push you to keep focussed!
In A Nutshell!
This game is one of my most played over our past sessions and is already on my calendar for Kickstarters to watch out for! The game has everything it needs and is diverse enough to keep you on your toes, but not so much that you can’t track your own mistakes! There’s some real excitement whilst playing and you’re always looking forward to the next round so you can progress! I can’t praise the preview version enough and am tremendously hyped for the polished final product!