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Xia: Legends of a Discussion System

xiaI’m currently messing around with some changes to the blog. This is just temporary while I find a better looking theme.

A few months ago, my esteemed colleague Jamey Stegmaier (entrepreneur and graduate of the Handsome Boy Modeling School) suggested that he and I should have some discussions about various games and share them with our adoring audiences. Well, his adoring audience and my 4 people who are plotting my needlessly gruesome end. The first one is here; we return with a second installment about Xia: Legends of a Drift System, by Cody Miller and Far Off Games.

jsblogWe’re starting this Xia conversation after only one play for both of us, but we might as well start somewhere. I’ll say this: As much as I love games, it’s very rare for me to literally tear open a box when I receive it to see what’s inside. That’s exactly what I did with Xia. I went through the box, took out every miniature, held the coins in my hands, flipped through the ship mats…I treasured it. I love that a game can do that–that’s the potential of a Kickstarter game. Any other published game, even one nicer than Xia, might have me open it to see what’s inside, but to have me truly treasure it? That’s a rarity. Did you have that same experience? Did going through the components make you excited to play? And when you got to the rulebook, did the excitement wax or wane?

 

joepicA long long time ago, there was a BBS game called Trade Wars 2002. It was entirely text-based, and in this game, you started as a lowly trader with an el-cheapo ship and a Genesis Torpedo, which you blew up to create a planet. You flew around the uncharted vastness of space, finding profitable trade routes, which you would use to build up your home world, make upgrades to your ship, or buy new ships. You could exist peacefully with other players, or you could get in fights with them. Does any of this sound familiar? My friends and I played the everliving shit out of this game. I loved it. LOVED IT. So when there comes along this Kickstarter campaign that pretty much looks like a tabletop physical version of my beloved Trade Wars, I backed it and it’s tough-to-swallow pricetag without hesitation. What can I say? Nostalgia goes a long way with me. It’s probably the reason I own Boss Monster, because LOOK IT’S LIKE NINTENDO ISN’T THAT CLEVER? WHY YES IT IS, GOOD SIR. HERE IS MY MONEY.

I don’t even really like space games all that much. The first time I played Eclipse (also the last time I played Eclipse) I was overwhelmed by the setup time, and the ludicrous amount of chits. The gameplay was long and left me cold. Nope. Pass. A lot of people love it, not me. You’d think that Xia would not be for me, but it struck that special chord. I’m getting away from your point though. The day that it showed up, I did indeed tear right into it. I punched all the pieces, I did feel the coins (they’re not Tuscany good, but they’re not far from it) and I flipped around everything except the rulebook. (It was late). I was in love. So yes, we had very similar experiences, though it was my memories of a different game more than anything else that had me excited to play, though going through the components didn’t hurt. I agree with you that there’s something about a Kickstarter, that je ne sais quoi, that a traditional publisher can’t duplicate. I didn’t really get into the rulebook until my first time playing, and at that point, my excitement had a bit of momentum behind it. It would have had to have sucked a huge amount for me to be disappointed, and I was not. I’m already excited about expansion in terms of new galaxy tiles, missions and ships. If I’m not mistaken, you also didn’t care much for Eclipse. What was your reasoning for backing Xia?

 

jsblogYou brought up a few key things here that resonate with me. The first is nostalgia. I’ve never heard of Trade Wars, but perhaps you’ve heard of a little movie called Star Wars? When I saw Xia the first time, I thought, “I can finally be Han Solo and fly around the universe in my own unique ship and do whatever I want!” That’s why I backed it on Kickstarter. I realized that I wasn’t interested in controlling fleets of ships in space–I wanted to control MY ship and explore the galaxy, gathering loot, encountering aliens, and shooting at other ships.

The second is Eclipse. I bought Eclipse in late 2013 expecting great things. It’s a Euro game in space, and it has super high BGG ratings, so I thought it would be awesome. For the reasons you mentioned here, along with a long playtime paired with the possibility that one or more players can be completely out of the game with hours to play, made me soon sell the game. However, it left me wanting more–it made me hope that Xia would fill that void (I had already backed it at that point and was just waiting for it to arrive).

So you learned the game as you were playing it the first time? How did that go?

 

joepicThis was definitely a big selling point for Xia. For the record, while you could purchase multiple ships in Trade Wars, you were still just 1 guy, so you were only flying one ship at a time. If I was broke, I chose to fly around in my ship that I had customized for trade. Big, slow, with as much room for cargo as I could make. I stayed away from trouble. If I was feeling imperialistic, I would get in my Dreadnaught class warship and go looking for trouble. In Trade Wars, you only had a set number of turns per day, so you couldn’t always go do everything. The point is, you could own fleets of ships…and all but one of them stayed in your Space Garage, waiting for you to be featured on MTV’s Space Cribs. So while Trade Wars may have been my primary source of inspiration to back this one, absolutely Star Wars played a part, as did Firefly. I haven’t played the Firefly game yet, and Xia may well scratch the itch I have to look into it.

I didn’t think of Xia acting as delivering on the promise that Eclipse failed on. Which is not to say Eclipse is a bad game. It’s just not the game for me. Or you apparently. It’s an interesting way to look at it. I can’t remember when it was that I played Eclipse, but I’m pretty sure it was before Xia was a Kickstarter campaign.

That’s really the only way I can learn a game. There have been situations where I have read a rulebook and had the “okay, let’s do it” reaction, but the majority of the time, I have to read along as I play for the things to really sink in. I brought it to an Arch Reactor event (a once a month gaming extravaganza for those readers not local) hellbent on playing, not knowing anything about the game save my assumptions about how awesome it was going to be.

As for that first game, I won, so I think it went pretty well 😉 It was definitely not a perfect experience. We might have been playing Shields incorrectly, and from what I read, combat needs a bit of an overhaul anyway. A “Roll 2, keep 1” method for die rolling may help lend some consistency and satisfaction to those who are very soured on paying for an upgrade then rolling a 1. I think there should be a marker of some sort that better references how trading might work. After a place collects so much of a resource, the demand for it goes down. This can be referenced easily with a chit whose presence indicates that selling that resource there may only yield half price or something. It’s your choice then if you want to take a lower rate for it, or search for a different port. Trade Wars had a similar mechanic, as does Great Heartland Hauling Co. I was the first one killed going into an asteroid field (immediately after announcing “Never tell me the odds!”) and while that was very mildly disappointing, it was extremely satisfying to go buy a missile and nuke the NPC twerp that had been nipping at my heels…from halfway across the system, no less.

One of the things I appreciate most about Xia is how open it is to mods. Even the designers have tools available on their website should you want to design your own ships and whatnot. How was your first game? Have you looked into any of the modding capabilities?

 

jsblogThere are certainly a lot of chits and pieces in Xia! I’m impressed by the sandbox world Cody attempted to create. The modding capabilities are very cool. I doubt they’ll be widely used, but for a small number of really passionate fans, that’s a great way to engage them.

Going into the game, though I would dislike the ability for ships to get destroyed (then respawn), but after two of us died the first turn, I actually didn’t mind it. It wasn’t hard to start over–other players didn’t gain a significant advantage from that (in fact, I ended up winning).

We played without NPCs the first game (I think maybe the rules recommended that), so you’re bolder than we were. But I’ve heard they add some interesting flavor and interactions to the game.

So, I really wanted (and still want) to like this game, but there are a few core issues I wanted to discuss with you, because maybe they’re not as big of a deal as I think they are. The first is the movement mechanism and how it impacts downtime. In Xia, if you want to move your ship, you spend an action to roll a die. Rarely do you actually just move X spaces from point A to point B, though, because along the way you might land on spaces that trigger mini-actions. So if I roll a high number, I might take 2-3 mini actions within that one movement action. And often you have enough actions per turn to move 2 or 3 times. So that’s a bunch of decisions about where to move and a bunch of mini-actions. In our game, this lead to some turns that took upwards of 10 minutes while everyone else just sat around and watched, and it also led to some turns where people rolled a 1 or a 2 when moving, and as a result, their turn lasted about 30 seconds. This, more than anything else, has deterred me from getting the game back to the table. Did you experience that downtime issue in your game? Perhaps we played it wrong, or perhaps there’s a fix we could use to avoid it.

 

joepicI think over time that I will be one of them. Questionably a passionate fan, time will tell, but if you give me the tools to make something fun for a game, I’m rather inclined to take advantage of them. Especially for one like a sandbox game like this with so many possibilities. The modding tools almost give it a “build your own expansion” feel, which is pretty cool, and not something commonly seen.

It takes a bit to adjust to the idea that getting destroyed isn’t a huge setback. I was the first to die in Xia, and I also ended up winning. The first time I played Arcadia Quest, I didn’t exactly get that either, that your people are largely expendable. In Super Dungeon Explore, a game very similar, when you’re dead, you’re dead, so I played very cautiously. At the end of that game (it was a learning game) I had accomplished exactly nothing. So with a game like Xia (or Arcadia Quest), it’s important to understand that you’ve got as many continues as you want, and that fortune favors the bold. I’ll definitely remember this notion next time I play either of these games.

The NPC’s did add something, but only one game in, I’m not convinced that they added something good. One of the most frequent complaints about the game (and I think part of this is due to it being new and people not having enough games under their belt to establish a good flow yet) is the length of turns and problematic downtime, and obviously, the NPCs didn’t help. It was another thing to have to be mindful of, and they were on the annoying side. Only a little bit mechanically, but a bit more in play. I may be a bit biased because I was being needled by an annoying NPC until I bought some missiles and obliterated him. Not gonna lie, it felt good. Over time, and getting more familiar and comfortable with the game, I think that these will definitely add a positive thing to the game.

We ran into the same issue in my game. It’s pretty disappointing getting sick of your crappy starter engine and spending your hard earned cash on a new snazzier engine to roll a 1 or 2 and have it behave just like the one you just junked. In that first game, I was extra forgiving of downtime because of it being a first game and first games generally just take longer, so I can’t really say if I felt it was taking longer than it should. The mini-actions do cause a little bit of a delay, but they are typically quickly resolved, so again, once more familiar with the game, I expect that it shouldn’t be an issue. Which brings us to the dice. The easiest fix would be instituting a roll 2 keep 1 system to improve the odds of a favorable roll. You could further mod this (ding!) to have different tiers of things with varying costs and effectiveness. You can have 1D12, 2D6, or 3D4. You could even have 6D2 if you wanted to get crazy, but I would charge a pretty high premium to have your minimum effectiveness being 50% of your maximum capability. In our game, I’m pretty sure we played shields incorrectly, and another thing people are grousing about is that shields are overpowered compared to weapons. Maybe allow weapons the upgrade but deny it to shields? I don’t know. Personally, I am excited to get it back to the table to try this and see if rolling more dice fixes the issues, and also to see if the gameplay picks up after people know what they’re doing. I’ve yet to play Firefly, but I hear the overall length on that game is brutal. One person said it takes longer to play the game than it does to watch the series.

What was the feel for your group? Do you think you’d have a tough time convincing the same players to give it another go?

 

jsblogI just finished watching the Shut Up & Sit Down video about Xia, and they also pointed out the modding tools. I agree that it’s a pretty cool concept. It’s actually something we’ll be exploring in a Euphoria expansion, but with a twist.

“Fortune Favors the Bold” should be the name of a Xia expansion.

You touch upon something else that makes me want to play with the NPCs–they’re something you can attack without feeling bad about attacking another player. Not that you have any problems attacking other players, but that may not work for everyone.

I kind of like your idea of rolling two dice and using one for movement, but I think that would lengthen the game considerably, as you’ll be taking more mini-turns within your turn. I’m sure there’s a fix for it, though I also have no business trying to fix a game after one play (especially one with such a high BGG rating–that usually indicates that it’s me, not them).

Did you watch the Shut Up & Sit Down review? It seemed very positive, with the focus being on the “legendary” aspect of the game. At the end, though, they compared it the Merchants & Marauders and seemed to lean towards that game. Have you played it? I haven’t but I’m curious about it now. Though I really just want to play Seafall.

 

joepicI hadn’t watched the video, but couldn’t very well respond to this without having done so. I haven’t gone and looked at the modding tools myself, but I am impressed as hell that they exist. And while I tell myself that I will eventually check them out and make some new content for the game, it would be closer to the truth for me to say I will eventually look up content other people have posted to BGG and maybe implement some of it. Which even in and of itself is pretty awesome, getting (more or less) free expansion material.

The funny thing about PvP aspects is that most people don’t feel bad about the aggressive action, so much as they want to avoid the inevitable reprisal. Enemies you anger raise armies, enemies you destroy fill graves. True, there are some flowerchild gamers that really feel bad about aggressive action and do it only because the game mandates it, and apologize profusely thereafter…but most people are pretty much perfectly okay with it, they just don’t want to rock the boat because the boat will rock back. And with games, it’s rarely an eye for an eye. Most times it’s an eye for an eye and an added tooth to serve as a lesson to not mess with them…which of course incites the original aggressor to get even for the additional pain, and add some on top of that. They send one of yours to the hospital, you send two of theirs to the morgue and such. I’m getting away from the point though, and I think that you raise a good point about the NPCs being a safe way to channel that aggression. Largely because the vengeance will be taken on the NPC and not the person piloting it. If the Space Cops (I can’t remember their actual name) are harassing me, I’m not going to hunt you down because you pointed them at me. Many of them have preprogrammed routines with little to no player choice anyway if I recall correctly. They just need someone paying attention enough to make their moves for them. If only they had hands…

Why do you think that the extra die roll would add to the game length at all, let alone significantly? The only reason that springs to mind is with slightly improved odds of better movement, you might get more opportunity to take mini-actions, but I don’t think that is going to aggregate into another 30 minutes tacked onto the game length. I think it’s worth trying for a game and seeing how it feels, but like you said, I’ve played the game all of one time, I don’t think that’s quite enough to start trying to fix it. Besides, rolling crappy numbers sometimes adds to the tension. When Han tells Chewie to jump to lightspeed and all you hear is that junky failure sound, it gives the Millenium Falcon character, which leads me to my next point.

What I got from the Shut Up & Sit Down video more than anything else was that if you’re not trying to get into the story of your game, then you’re missing out on what may be the game’s biggest selling point. We didn’t read our achievement cards out loud, we didn’t really roleplay much. Admittedly, we were all first timers and trying to learn the mechanics of the game, but I think that really getting into your character’s rise to glory (or mediocrity) is pretty important to enjoyment of the game over the longer term. The video really hammering on this aspect is what got me excited to get it back to the table.

I haven’t played Merchants and Marauders, though I’ve certainly heard a lot about it. If I recall correctly though, they cited that the roles were more clearly defined in M&M than in Xia, in Xia, you kinda had to build your own role, and it was up to you on how faithfully you would stick to it, or change. It suggested that M&M did some of this for you by way of mechanics.

This has been a fun conversation, and accomplished its mission in making me want to get Xia out again, even with the hot competition of my senselessly large game collection. Your closing thoughts on this?

 

jsblogThese are great thoughts, Joe! I like your assessment of aggression in games. Most of the time I think people who don’t like direct conflict in games simply don’t play these types of games, so it’s not a concern.

As for the idea of rolling multiple dice and its impact on game length, perhaps it wouldn’t be a big deal. In general people would instantly choose the better of the two rolls, so that barely adds any time.

I really like your point about how bad (or really good rolls) add to the flavor and feel of the game…if players play it that way. Same with the flavor text and missions and all that. Xia puts all that stuff in the hands of the players, which is awesome–it’s up to us to buy into it or not. I think I would enjoy playing Xia again with the types of gamers who dig into those roles.

I think that’s a good transition into my closing thoughts: I’d like to play Xia again with the right people. While I respect the Euro elements of the game, I think the story-driven elements are what make the game shine, and I need story-driven players to help those aspects come to life. What about you?

 

joepicI couldn’t agree more. Story and game narrative are some of the key elements that get me excited about a game. How well does what the game is supposed to be about play into the mechanics? There are a number of good examples of this. Pandemic and Argent: The Consortium are two great ones. My first game had a good group of people looking for the story. It was a first game, so there wasn’t as much as there could have been, but I absolutely believe that the value of this game’s playability directly correlates to how much people get into the role-playing aspect of it. Sounds to me like we should play this again together. 🙂

 

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2 thoughts on “Xia: Legends of a Discussion System

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