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Xia – This World Is More Open Than Will Smith’s Marriage

Xia HeaderSo, Circusgoers, after a year of waiting, I finally ponied up and purchased Xia: Legends of a Drift System from Far Off Games. The look, the bits, the setting, and the theme all  appealed to me in a visceral way. I begged the mighty Michael Barnes  to sell  me his copy,  since he is a reliable source of both game criticism and discount games. After a year, he finally felt pity on me and offered it up, which I snapped up despite having a financial situation that is, in BGG-speak, “Less Than Optimum” (cue chortle). I tore the package open like a child on Christmas, and it was “game on” like white on rice. I had a three-person session (again, not entirely unlike Will Smith) with the game and had a blast. The only bitch I had about it was that the first game, despite the rules’ simplicity, involved figuring out just what exactly to do, which added a little downtime. Not bad, but a little long in the tooth for such an, essentially, simple rule set.

We loved virtually everything else about Xia, though, because it is the analog version of Microsoft’s Freelancer, sans main story. Basically, you just fly around doing all kinds of different shit such as exploring, mining, harvesting, and best of all, introducing opponents to your new friend, The Vacuum of Space. Before long we were sending people and NPCs to Neil Armstrong’s Duffel (the space equivalent of Davy Jones’ locker, we surmised) with great prejudice. Killing people isn’t particularly easy, either, because all attacks are contested rolls, if shields are involved, so it’s not like Star Wars where you can fire one Force-aimed torpedo and bust a brother up. Its not so much tactical as it is just shooting a lot  of bullets (laser blasts?) and wearing them down.

Xia BitsAnyhow, killing was our business, and business was pretty good, but that was only a small fraction of what went down. We were smuggling goods like some bootleg Han Solo in cheesily-named ships like Easy Tiger,  scanning and exploring, and forcing ships to abandon their cargo left and right. It’s not implicit in the rules, but we found that talking dump truck loads of shit such as “Well, I can fire my missiles at you, then fly over there and knuckle you up, or you can just jettison your cargo and you can go on to New Damascus and get some Total Recall 3-boobie chick…”. It’s not really a negotiation game, at all, but if you’re the type of group who enjoys that kind of thing, it’s packed in the box with the rest of the awesome.

Xia ShipsAll of this is helped immensely by  the fact that this game is the second- or third- most overproduced game that I’ve ever seen; Cthulhu Wars and Kingdom Death being the other two. It comes with pretty little painted miniatures, beautiful little metal coins, and a bunch of cubes in five styles, not to mention the tiles and whatnots in the box. The in-game artwork was clearly done by someone who doesn’t do artwork, but it’s not ugly by a long shot.  It’s simply not illustrated by someone  like Eric Carter or Jason Benningfield, which didn’t bother us in the slightest. Our only complaint about anything physically in the box is that the spaces on some tiles aren’t super-clearly defined, and a thin line surrounding the hexes would have looked really sharp and been fully functioning awesome-stations.

Moving back to the overall experience, we were playing the “short” version of the game, which sees players attempting to gain five “Fame Points”, which is supposed to be a 15-minute-per-player session. Suffice it to say that not only is that not really possible, even with seasoned players, but this game should be savored as a fine wine. The experience is such that you become drawn into it; your character matters to you, and his or her fate is in your hands. There is no real perma-death or player elimination in the game, so when you get blown up through enemy action or simply dumb, blind bad luck, it’s much more of a soft reset that a brutalizing, caustic experience. Unless you’ve sunk a huge amount of money into your ship, the death is pretty painless, yet you still feel compelled to be a good steward of your little space cruiser, and I found myself becoming attached to that little, yellow tugboat-in-space.

The mechanics are tight as a drum, too. Everything makes sense aside from the fact that you can gain a point by simply rolling 20 on the included d20 die. That didn’t make sense to me, until my buddy rolled two of them, back to back, winning the game; it’s because that’s something I’ll likely never forget that he got those Fame Points. The game’s character is such that he will heretofore be known as “Lucky 20 Mickey”, which has overtaken his previous title of “Boxcar Mickey” which was earned while playing Dungeonquest, when he rolled a six and whooped in delight, not realizing that it was the catalyst for his instant and brutal demise. You see, the fame that this game creates is real, at least to your game group, and so it really does make a ton of sense that rolling a 20 will give you a “Fame Point”, silly as that may sound.

Now, the next game we played was a four player session to ten “Fame Points”, and it lasted a full three hours, despite the box noting it should only last two. We played with the same three original players, plus another, but she picked the game up very quickly so the timing wasn’t extended due to her lack of grasping the game as much as it was about the amount of carnage increasing. This was largely the same experience, good times had by all, but waiting 8 minutes on average to take your turn can really kind of suck the life out of the party. Playing with fewer players and a larger-valued goal is the way to go if you want to find balance in the world of Xia.

Xia BoardThere have been valid comparisons to Firefly and Merchants and Marauders, which are both fine games in their own right, but I think that I like this game far better, primarily because it’s much more accessible, despite having slightly longer individual  turns. The rules are laid out so remarkably well that I’d love to see the Far Off people contracted to write  rules for other people. Where Merchants  and Marauders can be opaque, and Firefly can be repetitive, Xia offers a compromise between the two and delivers a truly unique, fun game experience that we highly recommend to people who would like this sort of thing. And the bits…..for fuck’s sake…..the game just looks absolutely fantastic.

Why I Wish I Could Pronounce The Name Properly:
– The production quality is astounding
– The rule book is one of the best I’ve seen in 30 years of gaming
– The open-world concept is executed spectacularly well
– The replay value is almost infinite
– Great stories emerge organically whilst playing
– Community- and publisher- mod support is outstanding

Why Xia Would Also Be A Fine Name For A Stripper:
– The downtime is longer than some people can tolerate
– The board art is a bit on the dull side
– So.Much.Dice.Rolling. might piss people off
– I’ve owned cheaper modes of transportation

Overall:
While the downtime can be a little much, and the open-world concept might have players wondering about how to develop a cohesive strategy, this game is fantastic in almost every way. The bits are nothing short of spectacular, but along with that comes a hefty price tag. If you like lots of die-rolling and don’t need rails to guide your play, this is a real gem.

Rating:
4.5/5 Stars

Learn more about Xia: Legends of a Drift System here: www.faroffgames.com

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