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Designer Preview: Race for the Galaxy: Xeno Invasion

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
California
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Xeno Invasion expands Race for the Galaxy with two new play experiences: a full expansion set, plus a bonus invasion game.

This expansion portrays a galaxy under siege by a newly discovered violent Xenophobic alien race.




The Xenos Are Coming!

Xeno Invasion is Race's third expansion arc. Similar to Alien Artifacts, it is complete by itself. The 55 expansion cards include five start worlds, 46 play cards, and nine action cards for a fifth player. All players need is Race for the Galaxy (just the base game).

While Alien Artifacts was especially designed for novice players, Xeno Invasion is aimed at intermediate RFTG players. Each player is dealt two start worlds, choosing one after seeing their initial hand of cards.




Xeno Invasion adds three concepts to the base game:

• Xeno worlds — worlds already conquered by the Xenos.
• Specialized military vs. Xenos (similar to military vs. Rebels).
• The Anti-Xeno "keyword", representing various groups working to rally empires' defenses.




In addition, all Explore actions are "mix with hand" to ensure that players can find the cards they need. This concept was introduced as a power back in the second RFTG expansion, Rebel vs. Imperium. In this expansion, it isn't a power but a change to the Explore rules.

This change was necessary in order to add a new "type" of worlds, the Xeno worlds, that aren't in the base set. Otherwise, the variability in card draws would be too high.

"Mix with hand" Explores allow players greater choice and flexibility, at the cost of making this expansion suitable only for players who are comfortable with Race. With novice players, play simply slows down too much.




Since Xeno Invasion is designed as an expansion arc in itself, all keywords hinted at in the base game (Rebel, Imperium, Alien, Uplift, Terraforming, and "chromosome") appear on expansion cards, used in various ways.

Behind the Front Lines

While many cards depict military forces, I wanted to show that life continues during wartime, with cards portraying the home front, black markets, and war profiteering.




Several cards hint that the long-departed Alien Overlords once fought the Xenos aeons ago, leading scientists to search the Alien archives for weapon plans to help defeat them.




Another theme concerns biological terraforming by several Uplift races, allowing them to prosper on newly settled worlds.




Mechanically, this last theme rewards non-military green production worlds, which have always been the "odd man out" in Race. Novelty and Rare production worlds are fairly cheap and lend themselves to produce/consume strategies, while costly Alien worlds are worth lots of victory points. Non-military Genes worlds fell in between. Now, they can used to good advantage.

Designing the Xenos

For the visual look of the Xenos, we had several requirements:

They needed to work in both space and land scenes, which led us to having them hover in the air.




They needed to convey a sense of menace, so that every appearance didn't devolve into a combat scene.




They needed very distinctive but relatively clean lines, so they could be referenced in displays or by just part of their bodies.




They also needed to "feel" alien, something that didn't fit with the sprawling galactic civilization depicted by other Race cards.




Finally, they needed to be different from the many well-known aliens of various books, films, and computer games. Meeting all these criteria was quite tricky and took quite a few iterations by the illustrators, Martin Hoffmann and Claus Stephan. Here is a sample of some rough concept sketches we reviewed, for both individual Xenos and a star-faring spaceship that might carry them between solar systems.




I'm quite happy with the final result. I think we got to something that is quite atmospheric and easily recognized even when used in a small size or just partially.

The Invasion Game

For players wanting a new Race play experience, forty Invasion cards, five bunkers, five Produce: Repair action cards, and a repulse track are supplied for the bonus invasion game (which also uses the expansion game cards).

In this game, after two "grace" rounds, players must defend against three successively harder waves of Xenos, until their collective military equals or exceeds the Xeno repulse value (which varies with the number of players).




Until the Xenos are repulsed, as many invasion cards as players are turned up each round. These are assigned high to low to players based on players' military. Each player must then either beat this number with their military (including military vs. Xenos) or damage a world, flipping it face down.




Players start with bunkers, enabling a player to discard one card for +2 defense. Defense adds to a player's military for the purpose of fending off a Xeno invasion, but not for conquering Xeno worlds or repulsing the Xenos.




Some cards have Xeno defense powers and repair powers as well.

Players who defeat their invaders receive bonus awards (worth VPs), with the lowest military player receiving two awards if successful. The conceit here is that the low military empires are "civilian empires" — not expected to hold off the Xenos — who receive renown if they manage to do so.




While some players really enjoyed the Alien Artifacts orb game, others complained that it took too long, breaking up Race's quick flow. Here, the invasion step is quite quick: update players' military, check Xeno repulsion, flip the invasion cards and hand them out, and either take an award or damage a world — typically taking about one minute. Then, players are back to picking their actions for the next round.




Players may repair damaged worlds during Produce by flipping them face up with either a repair power, a good, or two cards.

During Produce, players may also contribute goods to the war effort. Each good reduces the Xeno repulse value by 1 and earns 1 VP chip for its contributing player. Both the Xeno repulse value and players' collective military are tracked on the repulse mat.




War contributions are a way to earn VPs without calling Consume. While they can't be doubled, a new strategy exists of calling Produce every turn, once a player has enough production worlds. This can create tension between a player who calls Produce each turn for war contributions and a player who consumes them for double VPs, leeching off these Produce calls.

The game can either end normally or in one of two new ways: the players defeat the Xeno invasion — by having their collective military equal or exceed the Xeno repulse value — or lose to them, by having all players fail to defend against invasions twice.

At game end, the player with the highest military plus military vs. Xenos and the one who contributed the most to the war effort both receive 5 VP bonuses. These awards are not given out if the players lose to the Xenos.




The invasion game changes Race considerably as players have to manage their defenses and repairs while jockeying both for highest military (to earn the VP bonus and easily defeat Xenos) and lowest military (to earn double awards if they can stave the Xenos off). As war contributions affect the Xeno repulse value, a player who is ahead can try to end the game quickly either by producing them or by adding Military.

The invasion game is optional. If you prefer to just play Race with more cards, then simply add the Xeno Invasion cards to the base set and start playing. If you want a new play experience, then — after getting used to the new cards — try the bonus invasion game. Enjoy!
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