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Subject: Cloudy With A Chance of Napalm - A Review of Xenoshyft: Dreadmire rss

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Scott Sexton
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PSA moment folks - My review of Xenoshyft: Dreadmire is based on plays of Xenoshyft: Dreadmire mixed with the following cards you will not find in the Dreadmire set - a full set of Heroic Soldiers (Kickstarter Exclusives & promos), upgraded items cards (promos and Kickstarter exclusives), Onslaught Base Set, Psychogenics Lab, Grafting Lab, Dreadmire Kickstarter Promos, and all 10 fully upgraded Division cards. By adding in all of the above cards, you more then double the base game content and allow yourself the ability to fully customize the difficulty level the game offers. This review should be understood to be a review of Xenoshyft as a whole and not simply for the Dreadmire stand alone expansion.

When it gets something right, Xenoshyft really gets it right. For those not in the know, Xenoshyft is a co-op deck building tower defense game with a theme lifted directly from Aliens. It is a male power fantasy brimming with a bullet hell gun porn that pounds out a rock-dirge bass line that would make The White Stripes proud. The designer is intentionally tickling that ancient reptilian portion of your brain that craves a good cacophony of blood and bone. What Xenoshyft lacks in overproduced minis and custom dice, CMON more then makes up for it in over the top gorgeous sci-fi action art that is 100% evocative of its Alien roots. There are no co-ed showers or Doogie Howser cameos. This isn't Starship Troopers, this is Hudson, Hicks and Ripley cranked up to 11. I would even go so far as to say that Xenoshyft does "Aliens" better then the Legendary Aliens DBG (especially when it comes to the art).

Xenoshyft brilliantly balances what it gives players and what it takes from them. On the one hand, players are given a virtual toy store selection of guns, knives, Kevlar , and highly skilled bags of meat to lug stuff around. On the other, players are thrown into increasingly impossible battles against nightmare monsters of various sorts. It works so darn well because the game goes out of its way to trick players into thinking that they are constantly taking huge steps in powering up their troops. Its power creep done right. The game tightly balances the player's growing arsenal by gradually powering up the monstrosities you are fighting. Effectively, the game has figured out how to give players their cake and let them eat it too. Players have a blast making an overpowered deck, but the game's monsters are so tough that you never loose that sense you are just on the edge of having everything fall apart. Its an absolutely brilliant balance that no other cooperative deck builder has quite pulled off (although I would argue the Legendary Alien DBG comes close).

I would be remiss if I didn't briefly mention on of the biggest ways that Xenoshyft strays from the deck building formula, and that is in how it completely self programs the game's escalating economy. Everyone is familiar of course with the normal ramp up in a deck builder. You use your starter coppers to buy silvers, which eventually buy you golds. Xenoshyft tosses that model to the side and instead feeds you deck progressively more powerful resource cards automatically. As someone who has played his fair share of deck building games, this change in design is a real shock to the system. Xenoshyft takes the economic engine building out of the deck building game altogether. This is an extremely brave choice on the part of the design. The designer is conscientiously making the decision to streamline the economic portion of a deck building game so that the players can focus exclusively on the decisions to make their defenses stronger. This is an amazing decision because it works perfectly to allow the player to focus on the most enjoyable elements of the game, building up your really cool defenses. This could have gone horribly wrong without such a strong game play core to drive the game forward. I truly respect the courage it took to make such a bold design decision, and in this case it pays off marvelously.

Co-op deck building has become something of a popular genre in recent years. You've got your Legendary Encounter games, Shadowrift, Foe Hunters, and many more. Often times these games fail to offer enough variety and feel very samey after a while. Others do a poor job of accommodating co-operation among players. Some of these games just lack a sense of fun and are hard just to be hard. Yet others suffer from poor game balance, giving you the feeling that the game was too luck driven or unnecessarily hard (I'm looking at you Shadowrun: Crossfire). Xenoshyft gets all of this right. The difficulty is customizable and never feels cheap or unfair. The game rewards co-operation and working as a team, although it never fully prevents someone from quarterbacking the game. The game's rules allow for generous amounts of assistance on other players turns. I can play cards to my area or to my buddies' lanes. Best of all though, Xenoshyft is just delightful to play with a group of friends who are looking to work towards a goal together.

Rather than rehashing how the game play works, let me briefly touch on the five things that Dreadmire adds to the Xenoshyft experience.

1- More of the same. If you already own the Psychogenics and Grafting expansions, your choices for available items increases by roughly one third. If you don't own those expansions, Dreadmire roughly doubles your available items and doubles your available wave 2 & 3 troops. The new troops feel every bit as solid as those from the Onslaught base set and can be mixed together without any balance issues. Like any deck building game that has a set pool of cards you buy from (Dominion, Thunderstone, Arctic Scavengers) variety is critical for keeping the game fresh upon repeated plays. Compare Arctic Scavengers to Thunderstone. I would argue that Arctic Scavengers is the better game, however, Thunderstone holds up far better to repeated plays due to the huge card pool you can randomize when setting up the game. Players now have 10 different divisions to choose from and twice as many items/troops to use in any given game. Xenoshyft has enough content that I don't feel like anything more is really needed to keep the game fresh.

2- New weather mechanism.
Something else CMON is doing to keep the game fresh, is to have different sets of creatures for you to fight against. This is supposed to represent your traveling to different planets where the local flora & fauna has mutated into wildly different enemies. The Onslaught core set introduced us to a whole slew of nasty bugs. In Dreadmire, we are introduced to a variety of swamp creatures/plants hellbent on eating your troops. Aside from the artwork, what gives Dreadmire's nastys their distinct flavor is the weather mechanic. Most baddies have supped up special abilities that only trigger during specific weather patterns (Night, Monsoon, Fog). Any given enemy can be either ultra powerful, or just sorta difficult under the right conditions (real pushover enemies are quite rare). Each round, a new weather card is drawn setting the stage for a new set of problems. What I like about this is that its something simple that gives Dreadmire enemies the feeling that they aren't just re-skinned Onslaught enemies. Onslaught ultimately feels less swingy and more predictable, while Dreadmire feels like its the same level of challenge, but with far more surprises.

3- The wave 1 troops have been tweaked.
We now have a new tankish character (who can be thinned from your deck later on for discounts on items), while Rangers and Militia have had their stats adjusted to be more offensive and less defensive. These changes make the Militia and Rangers feel a bit more balanced. The new Research Officer seems relatively dependent on the types of troops, divisions and items that are randomly set up in your game. So far, my games haven't seen much need for the Research Officer, but I could see it being used with certain divisions.

4- Cleaned up card text and reaction rules.
The reaction rules in Onslaught were one of its few rough spots. The new rules have cleaned this up while also tweaking the language used on some cards to make them a bit easier to grok. This isn't that big of a deal IMHO. While the new rules and language are nice, it does make your older cards feel out of place when you mix your sets together.

5- The New Enemy Progression Rules. In the original rules of Onslaught, a boss could pop up at any time. There was a lot of random luck that determined how hard or easy your game was. In the new rules, each round has a set difficulty curve that ramps up to a killer third round each wave. This change gives players just enough breathing room to get their decks running before everything falls apart. I don't get the same sense of "that's not fair!" I would sometimes feel when playing Onslaught. The new rules just feel more fun without making the game easy by any stretch of the imagination.

Not everything about Xenoshyft is all rainbows and puppies. The biggest mistake CMON has made with their roll out of Xenoshyft has been the game's "exclusive" content. Heroic Soldiers and upgraded items are probably my 2 favorite game play elements that are not found in the core sets of Xenoshyft. Worse yet, CMON has done an excellent job of making their exclusives hard to find, even on the secondary market. I call this a mistake because unlike many promos and exclusives, the heroic soldiers represent a fundamental change in how Xenoshyft plays and radically increases the fun of the game (although it does make the game less crushingly difficult).

How is that possible? Heroic Soldiers are basically super powered unique versions of each basic troop. In pretty much all cases, the heroic version is notably more powerful and useful then a basic version of the troop. You can only earn these super soldiers by having a basic soldier survive a round of combat in which they dealt damage to an enemy in combat (not through an ability). To pull this off takes a bit of planning and luck. This represents a significant shift in planning from the core game. Normally, your deployment and item use decisions are geared exclusively towards avoiding damage to your base, but with Heroic Soldiers added to the mix, players can and should press their luck by trying to protect specific basic soldiers deployed to combat. Do I use my medpack now to save Johnny's Ranger so that he can be turned into a heroic soldier, or do I hold off on it for later in the wave to protect the base from taking damage? This high risk/reward element isn't really there in the base game and it makes the game all that much more fun. Add to it the fact that these heroic soldiers are just plain fun to use. They give you a sense that you are really becoming more powerful over the course of the game. Empowering players and cool decisions are a key part of what makes Xenoshyft so much fun and the fact that CMON doesn't have an option for retail consumers to get their hands on the best cards in this game is a real shame, and I say that as a person who backed the kickstarter.

Final thoughts.

Ok, if you own Xenoshyft: Onslaught, and enjoy it, Dreadmire is pretty much a no brainer purchase. Its more of the same, adding a ton of variety, and a nifty new set of polished rules. If you haven't played Xenoshyft, and you enjoy co-op deck builders, this is pretty much a must buy. Xenoshyft is just plain more fair and enjoyable then any other co-op deck building game on the market. Further, the production values are outstanding and unequaled when it compared to pretty much anything else in this genre. If you can get your hands on the heroic troop cards and any of the unique item cards, they too are well worth the purchase if you can find them at a reasonable price. I truly hope that CMON considers making these cards more available, even if they are alternate art versions. They simply add too much fun to an already solid game to deprive non-backers.

Xenoshyft fired roughly a half dozen games from my collection. I just can't justify games like Legendary, Shadowrift, Aeon's End, Shadows Over Westminster, or Foe Hunters when I have a game that does co-op deck building better and is far prettier to look at. I just adore everything that Xenoshyft accomplishes in this latest expansion. I feel like I have a complete game that can offer me dozens upon dozens of games without any fear of things growing stale. I could never buy another Xenoshyft product and I would be just fine, but if there were another expansion, I think I would gladly pony up the cash. This is a solid gem of a game and well worth checking out. BGG score - 8.0 (Dreadmire only) 9.0 (with Heroic Troops & other promos)
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Jason Farris
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My only concerns about dreadmire had to do with the weather mechanic. Some weapons were better under certain conditions as well as some monsters. Looking at the preview items, I was worried that you were paying too much for an underpowered item that might be worth it if the right weather was present. Xenoshyft turns on a dime so even a little inefficiency can end your game. Did you find any of these items to be problematic?
 
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Scott Sexton
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Smilinbrax wrote:
My only concerns about dreadmire had to do with the weather mechanic. Some weapons were better under certain conditions as well as some monsters. Looking at the preview items, I was worried that you were paying too much for an underpowered item that might be worth it if the right weather was present. Xenoshyft turns on a dime so even a little inefficiency can end your game. Did you find any of these items to be problematic?


I don't have any of the cards in front of me, but I didn't have that experience at all. Keep in mind though that I mixed in all of my promos, expansions, and the Onslaught base game. There are simply too many items out now that you never really see more then one or two of these "weather" effect items per game. Whenever they showed up though, I've gotten considerable mileage out of them. It all depends on synergies you get from your division and the troops you have available. Since I play with all the bells & whistles anyhow, I don't mind seeing a few less then ideal items every game. Its just another part of the puzzle to figure out.
 
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Dave C
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Smilinbrax wrote:
My only concerns about dreadmire had to do with the weather mechanic. Some weapons were better under certain conditions as well as some monsters. Looking at the preview items, I was worried that you were paying too much for an underpowered item that might be worth it if the right weather was present. Xenoshyft turns on a dime so even a little inefficiency can end your game. Did you find any of these items to be problematic?


While I can't speak for the original reviewer, I haven't had any issues with the weather-boosted items being under-powered the rest of the time. I've also only had 3 games so far with the new contect (and thus limited possible interactions), but the weather-boosted items I have come across seem to be reasonably priced even when ignoring their weather-related abilities. For instance, the Zeus' Katana (or whatever it's called) weapon upgrade single-handedly saved my friend's butt many times during a game the other day, and this was during an Immolation play where the special Night bonus never came up once!
 
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Marty Strubczewski
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Completely agree about the heroic units and legendary items being the best parts of the game. Without them I'm not sure I can recommend Dreadmire.
 
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Alvin Lo
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Any changes related to number of players? I played the first XenoShyft and I feel 2 players are the sweet spot. The 3 or more players sometimes make the game run too long.
 
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Scott Sexton
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alvinltlo wrote:
Any changes related to number of players? I played the first XenoShyft and I feel 2 players are the sweet spot. The 3 or more players sometimes make the game run too long.


I think it plays slightly faster overall then Onslaught does, but not fast enough that it would change your feelings. For me, the sweet spot is always 2 player or solo with 2 hands. I would also argue that more players makes the game SLIGHTLY easier.
 
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Dave C
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alvinltlo wrote:
Any changes related to number of players? I played the first XenoShyft and I feel 2 players are the sweet spot. The 3 or more players sometimes make the game run too long.


What my friends and I do is we all play our turns at the same time, which significantly cuts down on game time. (We usually deal with 1 monster at a time to ensure that no-one gets too far ahead and so we can respond if someone's in trouble). If you're looking to minimize game time while playing with more players, this is the way to go in my books.

The one downside with this approach is that it doesn't work for Immolation. So if you get used to being able to play an Onslaught/Dreadmire game really quickly, and then pull out Immolation and have to go one player at a time, it feels like the game suddenly takes 4x longer than normal (because it does).
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