As both an avid video gamer and tabletop gamer, I don’t often see too much overlap from the video game genre on my tabletop. Sure, they’ve made games based on video game licenses, but I’m talking about styles of game play. One genre in particular that I would like to see more of is the open world, or “sandbox” style game play.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept, sandbox style games basically let the players roam around the game world doing what they please. Exploring, completing side missions, fighting enemies… basically having the option to choose your own path in a game and advance the plot when you feel like it.
Today we are going to be looking at Xia: Legends of the Drift System, published by Far off Games. In this sci-fi game, players are starship captains setting out to make their mark in the universe. Xia promises a fully open world game where players can earn their fame as they so desire. Did first time designer Cody Miller succeed? Let’s find out!
Xia: Legends of the Drift System is an open world, adventure and exploration game for 3-5 players that takes about 90-120 minutes to play. In our experience, Xia plays best with 3 players.
As mentioned above, in Xia each player is a lowly but hopeful starship captain who sets out to become the most famous person in the galaxy. To achieve said reputation, players will be flying their ships around the system exploring, fighting, mining, trading and completing missions.
A player has 9 different ways to acquire fame points in Xia, each with their own pluses and minuses. Games can be customized to play for as few as 5 fame points or as many as 20 depending on the length of game desired. The first player to the required fame point amount is the winner.
When you hear first time publisher, a list of possibilities might roll through your head. Chances are though, it’s not going to be the words “amazingly produced game”. Yet Far Off Games knocked this one out of the park. Seriously, Xia feels like a labor of love. I’m hard pressed to find ANY complaints about the components in the game.
For starters, the box is absolutely jam-packed with bits and pieces. From the 21 uniquely sculpted AND painted ship miniatures to the 21 sector tiles made of thick, well illustrated cardstock, Xia was given the golden treatment.
And this is with the retail version mind you. So you don’t have to worry about missing out on an upgraded, Kickstarter exclusive edition.
In addition to all of that, the game comes with a pile of plastic resource cubes, wooden player markers, decks of cards, and metal coins for money. That’s right, the coins used for the game’s economy both look great and feel awesome in your hands.
I loved everything about the way that Xia was produced. While its price tag isn’t cheap, the game does give you the feeling that you are absolutely getting your money’s worth.
How to Play:
While the 17 page rulebook can feel rather daunting with its pages packed with text, the game is actually really intuitive once you get a feel for it.
Each player starts with a unique ship and mat, each with their own special ability. Players also get some money at the start that they can use to customize their ships with weapons, engines or shields.
For the actual game play, each player takes a turn in a clockwise manner with the following 3 phases:
1. Actions: To take an action, you declare your actions, spend any energy/markers, then resolve the action.
Different actions you can take include:
Move: Move around the galaxy. This is either via roll and move (using your engines) or a set number of spaces on impulse (once per round).
Attack: You can attack other ships using your weapon outfits. The attacked ship can defend with their shield outfits, if they have any. Attacks are usually handled via opposing die rolls.
Explore: You can move onto exploration tokens and gain either fame, money or nothing. You can also explore at the edge of a tile to reveal a new one. The game starts with only a few (equal to the number of players) of its 21 tiles explored. New tiles are randomly drawn from a stack.
Missions: Missions are drawn from the mission deck and you can only have one at a time. There are a variety of ones to complete. These range from legal (transport, research, etc…) or illegal (smuggle, assassinate, steal, etc…). Most require you to go from one point in the system to another.
Trade: You can buy goods from one planet and then sell them on another. Only certain planets will buy or sell specific goods.
Mine/Harvest: Certain tiles have spaces where you can gain goods for free rather than buying them from planets. However, there are risks involved. This is done via a die roll. A high roll gains you a good and a low roll damages your ship.
2. Business Phase: If you end your turn on a planet, you can conduct business. If not, this phase is skipped. On a planet, you can recharge your ships energy, buy and sell outfits for your ship, repair your ship, buy a new ship, rearrange your ship’s outfits, or buy fame points.
3. Status Phase: This is a clean up phase where you refresh used abilities, rearm markers by spending energy, or claim titles.
On your turn you can earn fame points by:
- Finding it under exploration markers
- Completing missions
- Destroying another ship
- Selling 2 trade cubes
- Buying a level 2 or 3 ship
- Buy 1 fame point on a planet for 5,000
- Rescuing a stranded player
- Claiming a title
- Rolling a natural 20 on a 20-sided die.
Turns progress in this manner until one captain hits the required number of fame points. When that happens they win and get to read aloud the victory story on the back of their ship mat.
Xia is an interesting game. While there have been some attempts at a sandbox style game, none have really been as ambitious as Xia. From the scope of its rules, to the insane quality of the components, this was definitely more than I’d expect from a first time publisher.
So let’s get into the sandbox aspect. This has rarely been pulled off on our tabletop but yes, you can absolutely play Xia anyway you want. Desire to make your money as a trader? That works. Want to be a rootin-tootin space pirate? Definitely doable. To be honest, any of the game’s 9 ways to earn victory points is a viable path to victory. In fact, in most of our games, players earned victory points from a few different ways.
However, among all these different ways to play the game, lies the random heart of Xia. The dice. You will be rolling dice QUITE often. When you move (yes “roll and move” is usually the death knell of a game, but it works fine in Xia), when you fight, when you mine, even when you cross into a asteroid field or nebula. Expect to be slinging dice fairly often on your turn. The game even gives you a fame point if you roll a natural 20.
Is all this luck a turn off? For me no, but I could see others not being excited about it. But I enjoy tumbling dice across the table. There is a game I absolutely adore called Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit which is an insane dice fest. Roll, roll, roll. Yet I love it. Sometimes it just works in a game, as it does with Xia.
Although dice aren’t the only area where Xia shows it’s love of randomness. The galaxy tiles are drawn from a stack as they are explored. This means that a super optimal trade route could appear on two tiles next to each other. This could cause players to just go back and forth between two tiles, earning fame until they win. As that’s not really fun for anyone.
In fact, because of that, trading can really end up overpowering the other methods of fame points. This is especially true when an optimal trade route appears. The community on BGG has come up with a number of house rules to prevent trade route spamming and most were easy to implement. I’d recommend check out the possibilities if you are going to pick up Xia. Nothing would be worse than feeling shoehorned into playing this great open world game because of the way the galaxy was drawn.
As much as I’m enjoying Xia, if it has one area where it really loses it’s shine, the downtime. When it’s not your turn, there is literally nothing for you to do (unless you are being attacked, which seemed to not happen too often). If another player takes a long turn, you can sometimes sit twiddling your thumbs for 5-10 minutes between turns. Less than ideal. The down time can be sped up some as players become more accustomed to the rules. We’ve also started letting the next player take their turn once someone starts shopping on a planet. Those all help, but nothing really is going to fully alleviate the issue.
That’s also why I think 3 players is the sweet spot, with 4 being OK too. It really becomes a trade-off with the player count. At 3, you get the least amount of downtime, but the galaxy starts to feel a bit empty. At 5, you have a lot more opportunity for interacting, but the playtime will skyrocket way up and you will also have a lot more chance of a player reaching for their smart phone when it’s not their turn. Honestly, I’d probably cap the game at 4 players unless you are looking for a marathon session.
Finally, lets talk about the NPC Ships. There are three automated ships that give the players a bit extra to interact with. First there is the Merchant. He flies from planet to planet acquiring fat stacks of cash until one of the players can’t resist and robs him, thus becoming an outlaw. Then, there is the Enforcer, who flies around looking for outlaws to hunt. If he finds one, he attacks him. Finally the Outlaw, who is actually a bit weird. He will attack any non-outlaw player, but only once. Then he flies back to his home planet. It’s almost like he’s a little kid in the schoolyard that punches you in the back and then runs and hides. Overall, the NPCs work, but they can be a bit clunky at times for their execution. Even though they add a bit more heft to the game, I like that they help fill out the galaxy, especially in a 3 player game.
Publisher Far Off Games managed to pull off what few have in our industry have and developed a sandbox style game that truly lets you do what you want. Despite some nit-picks here and there, the rules are mostly solid and allow you to play as you see fit. The publisher is also openly supportive of the modding community and has released the templates for the game on their website. I’d love to see more publishers take this route in the future.
All-in-all, we’ve had a lot of fun flying around the Drift System. In fact, one of our players even said that he could see himself playing this game for hours on end. There is so much to do in the galaxy and, given enough free time, you could easily spend the day gathering fame points, making trades, and fighting other ships.
However, If you want a game where you can play it as you want, where there are many paths to victory, or where you can play for as short as an hour or as long as 4, then you will defiantly enjoy your time in the Drift System.
The components are nothing short of stellar, the rules solid, and the game is just a lot of fun to play. While Xia: Legends of the Drift System wasn’t perfect, designer Cody Miller created a unique, open world game that I found myself repeatedly getting drawn back into.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of this open world, sci-fi game, you can get it for about $85.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great open world experience from a publisher that has also embraced the modding community. Some house rules could help this one to shine even more.
• Downtime is a bit much
• Trading can overpower other fame point routes
• Luck factory may turn off some