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Subject: Xanth - Randomness Personified rss

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John McGeehan
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Manchester
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Aah, Xanth.

Someone mentioned in a recent GeekList that this game didn't have a single review, comment, session report, or anything else. It moved me enough to write a review/synopsis of the game, for those that may want to play. This is kind of longish, because as there are no articles at all for the game, I'm also summarizing play. If all one wants is to know the general feel of the game, skip down to the final two paragraphs.

Be forewarned, BGGers. Some games have a little luck, some games have a lot, and some games are so random that you may as well roll a die beforehand to determine the winner rather than play. Xanth is in the latter category.

Xanth is a very pretty game, set in Piers Anthony's world from the book series. The board is exquisite, and each 'zone' or region is marked with its name (in the Anthony style, most are quite 'punny' or flat-out weird, such as the "Keystone Copse" or "New Castle Zombie"). For the most part, it's easy to read, although people may have trouble finding some region if they are tasked to go there. The cards, too, have lots of puns and jokes on them (the "nickelpedes" monster are a favorite of the group I used to play this with).

Each player is assigned two Chair Actors to form their 'party' - these have two statistics, "Strength" and "Cunning". Strength is for combat, and represents both the chance of a character to hit an enemy, and the amount of damage the character can take before being "Xonked out" (i.e. unconscious). Cunning is used to avoid fights, and 99% of the time you want to avoid as many fights as possible. Higher numbers are universally better. The unused characters form the "Armchair Actors" and are left face-down in a stack near the board. Every character also has some special power a la Cosmic Encounter. Some of the characters are very powerful. Others have terrible stats and lousy powers. Luck of the draw (this will be a theme throughout the review).

Each player is also assigned a Quest at random from a pile of Quest cards. The game also points out that instead of a single quest, players could be assigned two or more, to do in order (without being able to look at the second, until the first is completed, etc.). I find this to be a better method, as it tends to balance things out a bit. Quests are not revealed to other players until completed (although some cards and player powers allow other players to look at them). Some Quests are ridiculously easy, some are insanely difficult. Others could be easy, could be hard, depending on what other cards you draw. Luck of the draw.

The deck of cards is shuffled (along with a few extra characters from the Armchair Actors deck), initial hands dealt out, players place their tokens on the 'start space' for their quest, and away you go.

Turns are fairly simple - play cards that affect the beginning of the turn, then move (usually two spaces, although some cards and characters can change this, and movement on the water is different). Some spaces on the board affect movement, making it either random, or halving it. There's also "No Entry" signs, which allow you to move with them, but not against them, when going from zone to zone.

After movement, there's the "fight" phase. This is where the players you have around the table can really affect the game. In this phase, other players choose cards from their hand that they would like to 'attack' the player with, and place them face-down in front of the active player. The active player chooses one at random, and that is the "monster du jour" (other cards are given back to those that placed them). They can then attempt to avoid it via Cunning rolls (multiple dice), if they fail, they must fight (if a monster) or suffer the effects of the card (if a hazard like a trap). Combat is simple, just rolling dice for the party, and the monster, with the active player sometimes playing cards to affect rolls, and either the player or monster eventually winning (or the player running away, which allows the opponent who provided the card to move the active player one space of their choice).

All monsters also have a territory name on them, should the active player be in that territory, the opponent can play that card face-up and force the player to face that card rather than choose from face-down cards. If players have multiple cards with that territory, the active player must face them all!

At the end of the turn, if a player is in a location that matches an item (like a magic sword) or a character that they've drawn, they can play it and expand their party or add the item's ability to a member. Players then replenish their hand. If a 'disaster' card is drawn by any player, it takes effect immediately, otherwise play passes to the next player.

The cards - every card (save disasters and Armchair Actors) has two halves, each with an effect. Only one of the two effects can be used. Some cards will have a monster on one side, and an object on the other. Or two effects ("draw three cards" or whatever). The thing is, the most powerful monsters, also have the best things on the other side of the card. That means that when it comes to the "opponents play monsters on the active player" phase, players may hoard their cards, unwilling to play any. This makes the game much less interesting. The game is highly dependent on everyone being willing to play cards and such, and will get boring (because table talk will cease) if people hoard them. If no one plays cards, a player can still face hazards (drawn from the deck), but it's much less interesting.

If a player finishes their Quest, they reveal it to all, and they are the winner. If a multi-quest game is being played, they reveal the quest they finished, then look at the next one and begin anew.

Here's the thing about Xanth - it is pretty much completely random and luck-oriented. You can get great characters, and then a Quest that is so difficult that others could finish three before you finish your one. You could be almost done with your Quest, but terrible dice rolls end up killing you in combat. One Disaster card says "All players are considered finished with their Quest, and only have to go to the 'Quest End' space to declare it finished" - this means a player that actually is nearly done, but isn't close to their finish space (just needs to move there) could lose to someone that's done almost nothing, but is right next to theirs. One non-disaster card ("As Xanth Turns") says "Everyone get up and move one seat to the right or left, chosen by the player of this card. Continue play as if you were playing with this hand, Quest, and characters from the start." Which means a player one turn from winning could now be shifted to a losing seat (we usually remove this card from the deck). Other cards make opponents simply discard members of their party as if they never had them - talk about screwing over!

If you are going to play Xanth with a group of people, it needs to be a group in the mood for a game that can take a completely random amount of time (depends on the Quests drawn by the players!), that features tons of screwing over other players (via things like cards described above, and ill-timed disasters), where players recognize that the winner will almost be randomly determined, and where the players are willing to be active, trash talk, play cards (not hoard them), and not care if their Quest(s) means they have little chance to win. If they're willing to do that, you can have a decent time with Xanth. If not, you may want to think twice. I've played some good games of Xanth (sometimes with alcohol involved). But I also know most people I know would never be happy playing such a game.
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yegods
United States
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no talents in the game? i think they would make a nice feature in a semi-roleplaying game.
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John Rogers
United States
St. Joseph
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Every character has a Talent, that's what the first poster referred to as Special Powers. For the most part, the Talents match what they did in the books, but some of them are strange. Ichabod the Archivist (the Mundanian from Centaur Aisle) is one of them... he has a Talent. Stanley Steamer is listed as having a Talent of superheated steam.

The majority of the 26 Quests are Journey Quests, where you just have to get to certain region(s). Then there are Escort Quests, which are pretty good for you, since you get to add a third character to your party quickly. Finally, there are a handful of oddball quests. One lets you search through the quests for one of your choice. Another (Con Quest) has you defeat the Gap Dragon and a C (Sea) Monster in battle. Of course, if you have Stanley Steamer, you needn't face the Gap Dragon. The last Quest in this group is the most unfair of the 26... the Question Quest. This Quest lets you take over another player's quest whenever you wish, causing them to start a new quest.

I'm rather disappointed this game doesn't have more posts... I was hoping to get some views on interpretting a bunch of the cards better.

John Rogers
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Derek Wagener
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Ohio
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The odd thing that the rules were so punny that they were often hard to decipher; thankfully the company (on request) would provide a plain english set of rules, which wee very helpful
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mike jones
United States
Oregon
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I must say, with all due respect, that I believe that everyone who has talked about playing this or of reading the "rules" has entirely mythed the point of Xanth!

I'll be buying it immediately and thanks for at least posting pictures, and oh yes, telling me it's not everything I dreamed it wouldn't be! cool

Rules in Xanth?? hee hee hee hee....

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Joshua O'Connor
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I agree entirely. This game is NOT for my friend Craig who upends the board when his character takes some bad luck, and it doesn't sound like it's for munchkins or grognards either. Seems like it's for people who want to play a wild and crazy game set in the Piers Anthony universe.
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Lori
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Personally, I don't think this game is for any type of person at all. One of my friends got it because the two of us love Xanth (to be more honest we love AWFUL PUNS) and we love board games. Not only could we not figure out some of the rules after SEVERAL tries, but just in general the game didn't make sense. The instructions made reference to "red counters". There were no red counters included in our game (which was unopened when she bought it). There were a bunch if tiny green dice that weren't mentioned in the manual though. We finally figured out that these must have been what they meant by "red counters". I don't know if every copy is like this, it could have just been some sort of weird packaging error. Somehow we kept playing even after the red counters situation, but that was the big downwards turning point towards giving up after realizing that we had a ton of questions about the rules that the rules just refused to answer. If our rulebook had a face and arms, the face would be set in a huge frown with its arms crossed, staring straight at us. That's my entire experience with this game.
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Dave James

La Palma
California
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Just got my game yesterday and I got blue and white dice. 26 Chair Actor Cards not 24 as the rules indicate (No duplicates). 12 numbered red pebbles (None)- (Blue dice?). 12 black counters (None). 3 numbered cubes (3 white dice). 6 tokens (Okay) and 8 blank cards. A set of rules that Indiana Jones couldn't decipher and a whole lot of questions which it seems that a lot of people have also mentioned. Not sure whether I'll ever play it at this point but will probably try it once just to see whether my blood pressure medication does what it's supposed to.
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Dave James

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I requested a clearer explanation of the rules from Mayfair Customer Support and this quick reply..."Gee, I don't understand how to play these games either...sorry."
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Alan Kwan
Hong Kong
Hong Kong
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I'd say - if you are asking rules questions, you are already missing the point of this game. This game is so random, that in case you run into a rules question, you can just handle it arbitrarily and it would make no difference. Even if you sort out all the rules questions straight, there is no game in there.
 
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