Xenoshyft Onslaught by CoolMiniOrNot makes a great first impression. The art is second to none, the cards are high gloss and the game looks great when set up to play. The cooperative nature of the game and premise of surviving wave after wave of fights with ever more difficult enemies is appealing and was enough to sell me on the game and convince me to pledge to the game's Kickstarter campaign, which is something I don't often do. Unfortunately, the game doesn't quite live up to the lofty expectations set by its first impression.
What is Xenoshyft Onslaught?
Xenoshyft Onslaught is a cooperative deck-building game in which players buy cards to add to their decks and use those cards to fight off wave after wave of angry, terrifying aliens. Played over nine increasingly difficult rounds, the game feels very similar to video games that offer a 'horde mode'. Every player has a Lane in which they will be facing at least four enemies during each round of the game. A player's "Lane" also has room for up to four troop cards. Players can not only play troops into their own Lanes, but they can also play troops in other players' Lanes in order to bolster the defenses of their weaker teammates. The game also has armor, weapons, equipment, and items that players can play to boost their troops' strength. It is really fun to work together to determine the best load-outs that will, hopefully, increase the troops' incredibly short lifespan in the face of the enemy.
Once players have finished purchasing cards and outfitting their troops, they begin fighting off the enemies, who are placed face down in their Lanes. The alien cards are powerful, and the troops, especially early in the game, are very fragile. It is nerve-wracking and tense to see the unknown enemies yet to be faced when your best, most powerful troop has just been killed, and there is only a weak militia left to face the coming horrors. Players have to work together to not only prepare their troops ahead of time but also decide when to play single-use item cards that may save a troop and turn the tide of battle. The players are collectively responsible for keeping their base from being overrun and destroyed, and the enemies are numerous and powerful enough to present many tough choices about which cards to play and which cards to keep for that just-in-case moment.
Problems With Language
Xenoshyft Onslaught's first big problem comes with verbiage on cards and unclear rules. The game uses some words interchangeably but doesn't clearly call them out in the rulebook. It's frustrating to have a card refer to a 'fight' while another refers to a 'combat' when they mean the same thing. Even more frustrating is that 'combat' can refer to an entire round of enemies in some situations while referring to a fight against a single enemy in others. The game is difficult enough without obtuse rules and confusing text causing problems. Fortunately, nearly every rules question can be answered with a quick Google search, but it's disappointing to have to depend on the internet to resolve questions that could have been avoided with better Q&A and play-testing.
The second of Xenoshyft Onslaught's issues are with the player count. The game box states that the game is for 1 to 4 players. While true that the game can be played by a single player or as a two-player game, it falls apart when played with fewer than three players. In 3 and 4-player games, players are able to work together to step in and help where the other players are weakest and strategize to maximize the effect and breadth of the cards that each player purchases. In 2 player games, the players aren't able to have enough resources to plan for contingencies and are left with gaping holes that could spell disaster if the wrong alien shows up. For the solo player, Xenoshyft Onslaught is less a game and more an exercise in feeling impotent and essentially feels like flipping a coin to see what happens. The game isn't unwinnable for the solo player (although it is extremely difficult to win solo), but it becomes entirely dependent upon the luck of the draw, which saps the fun out of the game.
A Few Notes on Xenoshyft Onslaught
Xenoshyft Onslaught is at its best when played with 3 or 4 players. Players are able to strategize and plan, and even though the game is still difficult, it feels as though the players have a chance as long as they work as a team and make the right moves. There is a lot of fun to be had with Xenoshyft Onslaught as long as you are willing to put in the legwork to find the needed rules and clarifications and play with a sufficient number of players.
A Note on 'Alpha Gamer Syndrome'
Xenoshyft Onslaught practically begs for players with alpha gamer tendencies to take over and play the entire game for everyone. This can be a problem in most cooperative board games, but Xenoshyft Onslaught is especially welcoming to this type of behavior. Because all players are able to play troops and equipment into the other players' lanes, it can really tempt one player to make all of the decisions for everyone if they feel that they know the best course of action.
A Note on “Chrome”
The art in Xenoshyft Onslaught is awesome. The enemies look scary, the troops look badass, and the items, armor, and weapons look cool. The cards themselves, while high gloss and pretty to look at, are low quality. The high gloss finish means that they scuff very easily, and the edges of the cards are prone to chipping. I decided to sleeve my copy after one play, and even then, I managed to chip the bottom edges of quite a few cards just by placing them in the card sleeves.
Is Xenoshyft Onslaught Worth Your Money?
Xenoshyft Onslaught is very fun and very frustrating at the same time. Played with 3 or 4 players. It fires on all cylinders and actually feels like a good game. Played with 1 or 2 players, the game starts to fall apart and feels less like a game and more like a coin toss. Regardless of the number of players playing, there are verbiage inconsistencies and unclear rules that cause confusion. All in all, Xenoshyft Onslaught offers a fun yet flawed experience.
The copy of Xenoshyft Onslaught used for this review was provided by the Author via a Kickstarter pledge.