The Truth is out there, Mulder. But so are lies.
The X-Files is a truly amazing series. So much so, that when I found someone selling the game on Amazon, brand new, for £15 I had to give it a go. Having spent a few hours playing the game I thought that I have to review it – so the truth can be out there.
THE PREMISE OF THE X-FILES BOARD GAME
The X-Files is a cooperative card based game, created by IDW, based on the popular television series of the same name. Each player takes control of one of the core characters of the show, with one player being positioned in a traitor type role as a member of the Syndicate. It is up to the FBI agents to gain enough evidence to piece together Mulder’s “I Want To Believe” poster. It is up to the Syndicate to steal enough evidence that the FBI agents cannot complete their task.
Each turn there has to be a certain number of X-Files equal to the number of players on the board. These are divided up geographically into four regions of America (North East, South, Midwest, and West). Each one of those needs a certain number of Investigation Tokens to solve, and each gives the opportunity to gather evidence once it has been solved. These can then be spent to gather together the pieces of Mulder’s “I Want To Believe” poster, which is split into nine parts.
The evidence tokens are worth either one or two, and are pulled (blind) out of a bag when each case has been solved.
In order to investigate an X-File, the FBI agents have Agent Cards which have various different effects from different forms of investigation. These are split into categories like Science (which Scully is good at) and Extraterrestrial (which Mulder is good at). There are five different categories in general, including Political, Violent, and General. All characters are good at two types of investigation, which includes the General type and another. They are all weak at a different type of investigation. For Scully, for instance, this is Violence.
Why does this matter? If you want to play an Agent Card then it costs a resource known as “Influence”. To play an Agent Card, the FBI agent needs to spend one influence if they have no proficiency or negatives in it. If they have a strength in that form of investigation then they can play the card for free, but if they are weak at that form of investigation then they have to pay two influence to do it.
Each turn, each agent can move and then play a card or gather influence.
Additional cards include Allies and Healing, amongst others. Allies add in game-augmenting effects, however, there can only be one Ally in play at any one time. Healing removes wounds. Wounds can be suffered through a number of means (usually due to the Syndicate player, but sometimes voluntarily) and they reduce the effect of investigation cards by one. For instance, if Mulder has two wounds, and he plays an Investigate +3 card, then it will be worth Investigate +1.
The Syndicate player has an interesting role throughout the game. He (or she) is not represented on the board, but instead, they remain secretive the entire game. Their goal is to make things difficult for the players, so they have a couple of tricks up their sleeve to do so.
These include, each turn, the Syndicate stealing evidence tokens from the evidence bag equal to the number of unsolved X-Files there are on the board. This means that if there are two unsolved X-Files the Syndicate takes two evidence tokens from the bag. These, as explored before, can be worth one or two evidence. If the Syndicate ever gets 25+ in evidence tokens they/he/she wins, and the X-Files are shut down. The agents are reassigned to desk jobs. To make matters worse, when taking out evidence, the Syndicate replaces it with cigarette tokens. This means it then becomes possible for the agents to pull cigarettes out of the bag instead of evidence in the future, foiling their plans.
Another tool the Syndicate has at their disposal are Syndicate cards. These also cost influence to play, which the Syndicate gets equal to the number of players/Agents each turn. These can be placed, face down, into slots allocated to each X-File space in each region around the board. They can then be revealed at any moment, during any turn, so long as they can be paid for by the Syndicate (they are paid for when they are revealed). These include some incredibly powerful cards to destroy progress on cases, ways to negate certain types of investigations, ways to wound agents, and also cards that do nothing. These can be used to bluff, creating a meta-game.
What makes playing the Syndicate uber-awesome is that everything they do is in secret. They play behind a screen, which hides what they do. All they need to do is give the players a vague idea of where they are at with their points with a track at the side of the board. Likewise, the players have a track from 1-9 indicating how many pieces of Mulder’s poster there are.
It is also up to the Syndicate player to reset the board after each turn.
The game ends when either Mulder’s poster is fully complete, or the Syndicate has removed 25 points’ worth of evidence.
The best place to hide a lie, Agent Mulder, is between two truths.
QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF THE X-FILES BOARD GAME
For a game that I managed to get so cheap from Amazon, the X-Files Board Game (like the show) is high quality. The cards are standard plastic, but the rest of the components have a woven/linen feel. This has been printed over the top of standard cardboard, however, it still feels like high quality printing.
What is really nice, however, is the artwork – there are little touches that really make you feel that this is an X-Files game. For instance, the board is set to look like a pin board with cases on it. The screen the Syndicate hides behind is a Top Secret folder with the inside (aside from having rules printed) is set to look like a redacted document. Even the player cards are made to look like FBI ID. It’s a really nice touch that makes you feel like you are really playing as Mulder and Scully (and Skinner and that dude who is in Season 2 for like three episodes) rather than just abstract pawns.
WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING THE X-FILES BOARD GAME?
There is always a risk with licensed properties, and that is that the license doesn’t add much but is just used to increase the sales of the game. I love Batman Loveletter, for instance, but the fact it is Batman doesn’t really add much. The same goes for games like Back to the Future (another IDW game), where you don’t overly feel like Marty or Doc Brown. It’s still a good game, but the license is more of a nod to the original source material, rather than a full immersion into the world.
The X-Files game, we can safely say, is a full immersion into the X-Files world. It genuinely feels like you are playing as Scully and Mulder, genuinely trying to solve X-Files. This is urged on by two things. The first is that the X-Files are real episodes, with real descriptions, making it feel like a proper immersion in the TV series as you recognise what certain cases are meant to be (I had an “Ohhh the Jersey Devil!” moment).
The second is that Agent and Syndicate cards are also nods to the show. They are all aspects that happen. There a few “Grave Robbing” cards, for instance, and “Deep Throat” is an ally that the FBI can use. “Red Herrings” can be placed, as can “Arson” as a way of destroying evidence, and the agents can do all kinds of investigations that are also seen in the show. This really brings you into the feel of the show, and the feel of the game.
In regards to how well the game is balanced – it is incredibly well balanced. Both sides need to really work to try and beat each other, and although there is a random element with the blind bag of evidence, there is also a fair amount of strategy to try and trip each other up. Sometimes with traitor games, the weight can lean towards the traitor, especially when new to the game; however, that wasn’t the case with X-Files. Instead, it is a relatively fast paced game in which the Syndicate and FBI agents are in a battle to see who can foil the other.
This makes the X-Files board game a battle, with the agents being restricted by legislation (turns) and geography (where they are on the board) whilst the Syndicate can be everywhere, knowing what is where and being able to affect the situation on the board – whilst not having as much influence due to being in the shadows.
We had great fun playing the X-Files Board Game, whilst ensuring at each moment the entire game was up for grabs. It was really exciting!
VERDICT FOR THE X-FILES BOARD GAME
Whether you are a fan of the series or not, the X-Files Board Game is a thrilling experience. Yes, you probably get more out of it as a fan, but I reckon non-fans will enjoy it too as it is one of best traitor games we’ve played. It is so well balanced, that the game really does hang in the balance. It can swing either way and that keeps it interesting.
All in all, a game I can’t wait to play again.
So, what’s the best traitor game you’ve played? Let me know in the comments below.