XCOM: Evolution Review - Hello Again Commander!

UFO'S DETECTED! DEFEND THE BASE! LEARN TO COUNT COMMANDER! X-COM: The Board Game has provided me with a lot of great times mostly shouting to my team-mates as the Central Officer, but also taking the brunt of abuse as well. Not content with being one of the few games currently able to earn my coveted (in my mind) 10/10 rating and hit #5 in my Top 100, it has also being my poster child for preaching how important it is that apps be allowed to support a good board game. Mansions of Madness has done exactly that with its brilliant inclusive app, but the market is still dry on the matter for now.

X-COM recreates the same theme and tension that you got from the classic PC game franchise with an app that brilliantly controls the game, provides an ever-changing AI and dishes out authentic picture and sounds. In fact it's only flaw is that it's not optimised for landscape mode on a tablet, which is a pain when you want to cast your screen to your bigger TV on the wall! Fantasy Flight, can you do something about that? #firstworldproblems

I almost thought we would never get an expansion though given that Fantasy Flight usually can't wait to dish expansions out every waking moment. But last year I was estatic to find out about this upcoming Evolution expansion and it's been a long, long wait for its release. Was it worth it?





Designer: Eric Lang / Samuel Bailey
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Age: 14+
Players: 1-4
Time: 60-90 Minutes
RRP: £23.99


From Fantasy Flight Games

Hello, Commander. The war continues – at great cost. We now believe another force is at work against us. If not dealt with swiftly, it could destroy us…
XCOM: Evolution is an expansion for XCOM: The Board Game that complicates your war effort with new missions, enemies, and invasion plans, as well as mechanics that make your struggles more dangerous than ever. As the alien forces spread and peril increases, the sinister humans of the EXALT seek to take advantage of the chaos to infiltrate and destroy XCOM from within. Their treachery leads to new challenges, and you'll face new crises, you'll find your work subverted, and you'll have to deal with new threats to the very resources you need to win the war.
Fortunately, your team has also made some advances since the war began. The discovery of the mysterious alien substance known as Meld promises to unlock some astonishing breakthroughs in the field of biomechanics. And XCOM: Evolution allows you to pursue some of these advances, potentially bringing formidable new weaponry to the field in the form of MEC Troopers!

Even though a lot of the game is taken care of by the app, X-COM still gave players a lot of tactile components to mess around with including many cards with cool artwork, decent miniatures and tokens a plenty. Evolution adds more variety to each of those roles by adding to the various decks and tokens they had. As a result I'd suggest not teaching the expansion to new players straight away, but each addition can be easily separated out thanks to an expansion symbol on the relevant cards.

On top of that you have two new scenarios to attempt, one of which "Annihilation" is portrayed as a long and brutal war and the ultimate challenge. It certainly isn't an easy venture as it takes longer to reach the final mission, meaning you are constrained for resources for longer than before and many times you were literally on your last legs if you ever won X-COM so good luck with this one! I would have liked to have seen more than two though and maybe some extra variety in what happens during a scenario like having to extract VIP's or protect civilians. Or even better, maybe have a campaign setting over multiple games. Hopefully this is yet to come and is possible within the confines of the game and the technicalities of the app, but maybe it's a pipe dream.


EXALT INTERFERENCE


The Central Officer, previously thought to be the least popular role due to their limited scope outside of the app has now been given the responsibility of dealing with the new EXALT tokens. The app will constantly call for these to be placed on the board in various stations. These make the tasks "dangerous" which brings the threat die down to a D6. You want more tension, here's how you do it.

Except that you don't know where these tokens will go because they're face down to begin with unless the Central Officer uses satellites to flip them up. It's an important task for the Central officer and a welcome one to give them more to do whilst also being very thematic - you're effectively scanning the world for Exalt activity and anticipating raids in advance.

Small tip for the Central officer actually - if you haven't noticed already, look for a flashing red symbol on the app during the timed phase. That's actually a radar blip that allows you to see incoming UFO landings in advance! I honestly hadn't noticed that before!


MAKE THE TOUGHER DECISIONS


The Commander has probably the smallest upgrade in the box, but then to be honest they already have to manage Crisis cards, audit the Budget and handle Global Defense. That's enough on their plate already so they really didn't need much more. However they do have a larger range of Crisis cards to handle though it's not uncommon for you to run through the whole deck still in one game.

The only new addition is a set of Destruction cards that trigger when the base is damaged. Flipping one of these will result in either a loss in Emergency Funding or something being permanently removed from the game including even satellites and scientists who you thought were safe before. It makes Base Defense a lot more important than it already was, but other than that it's a minor addition.




TECH UPGRADES


The Chief Scientist was always one of my favourite roles having a collection of cool gadgets and weapons to research for the rest of the team, but also the ability to perform some fun shenanigans with their deck to pull some handy emergency effects. Well now that deck of cards just got a whole lot bigger adding to their already decent variety.

In addition they now begin with a Cybernetics Lab that allows you to spend salvage to recruit MEC Troopers for the Squad Leader - more on these bad boys a little later. Other than that though there are no new tasks as such, they basically just have more toys to play with and now each game will ensure that you always see a different range of tech cards.


SHINY NEW SUITS


Like the Commander, the Squad Leader has only had a minor change overall, but boy is it good to look at! They now have access to MEC Troopers, who are soldiers wearing these hulking cybernetic armoured suits and packing a serious punch. They're fun to use in the PC game and just the models alone make you want a trio of them on every mission, they look so cool!

Their in-game effect is that they are specialised for every icon that appears on tasks and enemies making them incredibly versatile, but not overpowered (not every enemy has a specialist bonus on it. Don't squander them though as recruiting them requires you to make friends with your Chief Scientist with spare salvage. So you want a nice shiny new suit? Go kill some aliens first!

As well as more mini's they also have more mission cards to pick from, some of which have the MELD resource from the PC game. These represent an additional bonus that you can gain if you're quick enough to complete the task/kill that enemy on the first turn the mission appears. If you're too slow, it goes away, just like in the video game. Some good tactical decisions have been made debating on whether to put our resources in obtaining that MELD bonus.

My only beef is that Fantasy Flight missed a mark by not having EXALT specific enemies show up like in the video game during missions. That would have been pretty cool, but no big deal.



VERDICT ON X-COM EVOLUTION


This expansion doesn't add much in the way of complexity, though I would still avoid teaching this off the bat to a new player as it's important to get them accustomed to the basics of the timed phase and the different requirements of each role. However if you're versed in the X-Com mechanics, then this is a great little addition to your game. Each role gets more variety in the assets they have at their disposal, some more than others, to balance them all out.

The added difficulty of the EXALT tokens and Destruction cards is balanced out nicely by the extra goodies the players get, though if you want an even harder challenge the Annihilation scenario is there for you to have an epic time, but it is a slight extension to the game length.

Evolution is one of those "more of the good stuff" expansions. It's not an essential purchase, but if you're a fan of X-Com and want more cool features from the PC game, it's most certainly a highly recommended buy.




BROKEN RATING - 8 Geared Up MEC Troopers




YOU WILL LIKE X-COM EVOLUTION IF:



You love the base game and want more variety for each role.


You want to try the Annihiliation scenario for a long, brutal war.


You want the extra nostalgic feeling of having more of the PC game elements present.




YOU WILL NOT LIKE X-COM EVOLUTION IF:



You were hoping for a more substantial change such as an extra role.


You don't want to make X-Com any harder, though it's pretty balanced out.


You're not sold on the original game - this won't bring an unwilling player around.

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