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Subject: Thoughts after first play rss

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Christian Heckmann
Germany
Mainz
Rheinland Pfalz
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Got the game a few days ago, read the rules and was pleasently surprised. I'm not a fan of "King of Tokyo" and "Xibalba" seemed to tackle my two biggest gripes with that game, namely swift and brutal player elimination and the boring and unthematic rolling for VPs. One thing worried me right off the bat (which I'll address in a few paragraphs' time), but I was eager to try it out very soon and did so last night. This is not meant as a review or as one of those quite unpopular "I played the game once, I have a better understanding on what is wrong with it than all of the designers and playtesters combined"-threads, just a few observations, worries, thoughts.

First a few nitpicks: The rulebook is quite... verbose. It's nice for a change to have a rulebook that gets down to the details, but some things that I found totally obvious were explained over and over again. Also player counts... I was in a four player game and I think that this might be a bit above the game's sweet spot. I haven't tried it yet, but I think, three players should be the optimal count, at least for new players, because downtime was pretty harsh and the game dragged a bit (I think it took us around the 90 minute mark, but we also played to 20 Paragon, so your milage may vary). I can't fathom however how anyone would be willing to play this game with eight players. And finally, box size. The game would fit a box with the proportions of "King of Tokyo" or even smaller pefectly, but it comes in a box roughly half a centimeter bigger than a TTR-box, which makes it quite cumbersome to transport and takes up quite a bit of real estate on the shelf. Yes, I know, box size is also advertising space, but as a person who tends to inform himself via other means and usually avoids impulse-buys et cetera, I usually like my game boxes as large as necessary and as small as possible.

So, with that out of the way, here's the big one that might break the game for me: I hate the dice. When I first read the rules and saw the dice-diagrams, I thought to myself "Well that's a lot of blank faces". I dismissed that thought, convincing myself that two re-rolls should even the odds and also the fact that you can customize your dice-pool seemed cool, because it incentivizes attacking, since you can't get rid of all attack-dice. Here's the problem I noticed last night: There are too many friggin' blank faces on the dice and two re-rolls do NOT even the odds sufficiently. Even worse, the die-faces there are are strictly hierarchical. A critical hit is like a normal hit, only better. One resource is better than a blank face and two or three resources are strictly better than a single one. So the dice-pool-customization looks like this: I need resources? I guess I'll take four resource-dice. I want to attack? I guess I'll take four attack-dice. I can add a die to my pool for free? Well, four of the one type and three of the other it'll be then. And there's hardly any luck-pushing with the re-rolls. In "King Of Tokyo", every result is worthwile under certain circumstances. In "Xibalba", you re-roll blank faces (and perhaps the occasional one resource face, if you're feeling lucky) and keep everything else, because the probability is decidedly against you. Got an attack? Great, do you think it's worth to take the risk of trying to turn it into a critical attack when the probability to do that is 1/6, the probability to get the exact same result that you already have also 1/6 and a 2/3 probability to get absolutely nothing? For a single additional point of damage? When you could also pay a few resources to flip the attack die to a critical attack? Didn't think so. At the same time, the standard action of buying an additional attack die, rolling it and adding it to your reserve is mind-bogglingly uneconomic. You pay... I don't know, I think depending on your faction two to four resources for a 2/3 opportunity to get nothing.
The Paragon-dice are also problematic. There are less blank faces on those, but still enough to frustrate and infuriate. Imagine I used up all of my resources to get enough attack-dice to destroy the soldier who's currently controlling the ark. Let's say, my soldier has a Paragon-value of two, rolls two Paragon-dice and both dice come up blank. Fun, right? I roll again at the end of my turn, and this time one shows one Paragon symbol while the other one comes up blank. The next player spends a few resources to buy a single Paragon die, rolls and gets two Paragon. By pure chance. How does that make any sense? And yes, those things should even out in the long run, but you really can't be too sure about that, because the game doesn't run that long. Remember how I said that we played to 20 Paragon and it took us 90 minutes? Had we played to 10 Paragon (the lower threshold recommended for four players), the game would have been over in about 25 minutes. I entered the ark during my first turn, sat there for one and a half full rounds (six rolls of a single Paragon die since I controlled the ark with a Ronin) and when my unit was destroyed, I owned exactly two Paragon. The player who destroyed my unit and took control of the ark bought an event card which allowed her to roll an additional Paragon die each time, rolled two dice three times (two at the end of her round and two each at the end of the next two players' rounds) and sat at eleven Paragon afterwards. Had we played to 10 points, the game would have ended then and there. By sheer luck.

It's not that I hated the game. Quite the opposite, I like almost everything about it, the basic concepts, the different cards, the artwork, etc. In some detached way it was even amusing to take a handful of dice, roll them, see all of them come up with blank faces, roll them again and still have not a single symbol on one of them. We were constantly joking about people being unable to roll... anything. Anything at all. But that's a pretty shallow sense of amusement and given time, the dice might be able to singlehandedly kill the game for me. I want to try it again soon, with three players this time, but I fear that the things that bothered me in my first game might persist. If they do, I think this game might be house-ruleable and perhaps even worth the effort to do so, but I think that would be problematic physically, since it'd involve getting completely new dice (like multifunctional dice instead of the single-tracked-ones included in the game). Meh...
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Bojan Brankov
Serbia
Novi Sad
Novi Sad
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I am speaking strictly from a player perspective when I say this. One of the biggest designer's mistake is including "you get nothing" as a random output result. I am not big fan of random output as a prevailing mechanism of any game yet alone when 2/3 of the results are blank?! That seems like a beginner's mistake or Japanese video game design where they adore torturing the players.

I backed the game for artwork and originality and I am happy I did it. But after this I seriously doubt I will like the gameplay.
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André Schillo
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Ahoi Christian!

Thanks for your thoughts on Xibalba!

Let me quickly reply to your biggest concern: the dice!

As you already guessed we have done our playtesting for various years now and also had the game with us at several shows to test with "customers". The dice have gone thru many different versions and in the end it was best to have blanks on them. And some of the reasons you already explained by yourself by reviewing it. Why? Let´s see:

The blanks on the dice, especially the attack dice, are basically decreasing the chance to get what you want. That is on purpose! Imagine we would have several attack symbols or critical hits on the dice. That would basically guarantee you an attack whenever you need it and would make the game rather uninteresting because it somehow becomes calculabe how many dice you need to achieve a certain goal... So as you already said by yourself you will need to take the four attack dice if you really want to make sure you can be offensive in your turn. That´s on purpose because it definetely shortens your resources and somehow takes care of the situation that you can be offensive AND gain lots of resources in the same turn. And it is the same way with the resources. To make sure you get enough resources you will most likely take the four resource dice and that lowers your attack options by a lot!

But of course there´s always a luck factor when it comes to dice and getting nothing for a dice roll might seem odd, but in the end it was just a question of proportions. If we would have changed the blanks to get a minimum of resources or attacks that would have had an impact on the cards costs and the lifepoints for soldiers in the ark. We have tested it all and in the end it just fitted better to have lower costs and lower lifepoints but decrease the chance of getting resources and attacks.

In all our games it has turned out that the game balances all of this by itself. We had many people that didn´t like the blanks but after playing a game they agreed that this was a really good solution, especially when you think about the other alternatives. I would say you give it another try and leave the victory conditions at 20 Paragon. That´s a regular game and also four players should be great, at least we always play the game with four players, sometimes five or six, but mostly four. Once you get to know the cards the downtime will also drop by a lot!

Let me know how your second game turned out!

Best regards,
André
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Anthony Rubbo
United States
Philadelphia
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Anytime people complain about luck in a strategy game, I know it's gonna be a game I'll love
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