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Cracked LCD- Lords of Xidit in Review

xidit

Asmodee/Liebellud’s Lords of Xidit is a wonderfully colorful game with a distinctly French fantasy style. Set in the same game world as last year’s card battler Seasons and with a loose (mostly titular) connection to the popular Dixit line of storytelling games, the narrative puts the players in the role of “Idrakys”, noble heirs in a kingdom whose cites are quickly becoming overrun by creatures corrupted by an encroaching darkness. It is up to the Idrakys to travel along the kingdom’s roads and recruit fighters to turn the tide against the monsters. But it’s not a co-op game. Each Idrakys seeks treasure, favor with the powerful Sorcerer’s Guild and glory as proclaimed by the land’s bards. There can be only one and all of that. It’s a reprint of a fairly obscure Eurogame from a few years back called Himalaya.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there is much to Lords of Xidit. It is something like a cross between the resource-gathering and demand-meeting of Lords of Waterdeep crossed with a touch of pick up and deliver gameplay. But this game also runs on a programmed action mechanism. On each a turn, a player uses a personal display to secretly dial in the six actions they will take for the turn, in sequence. Once everyone is locked in, first player does the first action followed by the rest of the table. Then everyone does their second action and so on down the line.

The board displays the Kingdom of Xidit and its cities, connected by a series of red, black and blue roads that also serve as territorial boundaries. There are always five recruitment tokens placed on as many cities and there are likewise always five monster tokens on overrun cities. To move from city to city, the player must select an action that moves them along a road of the corresponding color. Upon arrival, if there is a recruitment token present they can use a dialed-up action to hire the militia, archers, knights, priests and wizards that are on it. If there is a monster, they spend the action to turn in fighters from their retinue matching a prerequisite set printed on it to defeat the monster and claim two out of three offered rewards.

That’s pretty much the entire process, although the rulebook makes all of the above seem more complicated than that. Rules-wise, it isn’t. But in terms of strategy, there is definitely a degree of depth- and unpredictability- that is not apparent at first. Lords of Xidit is one of those games where what other players do- and when they do it- can severely impact or even completely undermine your efforts. This isn’t uncommon in games with simultaneous action selection, of course, but in this one the long sequence (six actions) and the influence of timing creates some really compelling gameplay opportunities.

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Recruiting has a trick to it, for example. The warrior figures (excellent, colorful sculpts) must be recruited in order from the recruitment tokens. So the first person that gets to one and recruits is going to get the most common (“weakest”) militia unit. The next Idrakys might get a stronger, less common unit. And then a third Idrakys showing up on the same spot might get a unit even more difficult to procure as a result of their action. That first guy? He’s gnashing his teeth because he picked four consecutive actions to recruit in that city, and by the time it gets back to him, the recruitment token may be empty!

Likewise, racing to beat the monsters before someone else gets to them adds some fun tension. Resources are hidden, so you’ve got to keep an eye on what others are recruiting and what their targets may be so that you don’t wind up losing an opportunity to someone else. There is always a need to balance movement with timely recruiting and taking your little army out to fight monsters.

But wait, there’s more- a “wait” action. Its utility is one of the more subtle points of the game because it lets you effectively pass on an action in your sequence. The kicker here is that all players can see what the next two recruitment and monster tokens are, which includes which city they are going to be placed in. So if you expect that another player is going to take out a monster, causing another to be placed on a board, you can choose to wait in hopes that you’ve anticipated correctly and then on your next activation, move in and use an action to claim that “future” opportunity that’s practically been placed right in front of you.

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So anticipating actions- along with at least loosely tracking what others are doing- is a big part of Lords of Xidit. There isn’t any interaction in terms of PVP or reducing/stealing resources. But it is highly interactive in that every player’s turn in some way impacts everyone else’s. There is definitely a sense of “get there first” as well as a strong element of risk-taking. There’s more drama than you’d expect from this kind of game.

The scoring method is excellent. At the end of 12 rounds, players compare scores across three categories- wealth, influence in the Sorcerer’s Guild and glory. The order in which each of these metrics is assessed is random, which is important because the last place player in any one of these fields is eliminated. When you defeat a monster, you have the choice of taking a number of gold coins, placing one or more stories of a Sorcerer’s Tower on a plot adjacent to a city, or sending Bard tokens out into an adjacent territory to sing your praises. There is also an El Grande-like secret “bank” in the middle territory where the total Bard tokens there are hidden until the end of the game. Of course, it’s also the highest valued territory.

So money is counted, the bard tokens are used to determine an area control-style scoring (with points for second place) and the total of all Sorcerer’s towers on the board are compared. If you make it through the scoring gauntlet without being last and by having the best standing at the end, you qualify to win. I really like that the scoring is effectively a knockout round, and it adds a nice touch of drama to the endgame- especially since the money is kept secret so there’s a bit of a baffle. The mechanic encourages players to develop equally along the three reward paths without falling behind the curve in any. There are also rewards earned over the course of the game by way of censuses, wherein all players reveal warriors in each class in a kind of blind bid auction, so there’s a bit more than just stomping those monster tokens- you’re also encouraged to have a strong, diverse army.

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Lords of Xidit is a definite winner, one of the new breed of Eurogames that has begun to get back to the more “family game” style that was popular in the 1990s. The rulebook is somewhat convoluted and there are some elements that I feel are overcomplicated- particularly the process of removing, replacing and queuing new city tokens- but this is a game that really takes five minutes to teach. It’s literally a matter of selecting one of five actions- three different move colors, action (recruit or fight) and wait. I’m not sure there needed to be some 18 pages of rules to describe this game, regardless of the plentiful illustrations.

I’m also not convinced by this “sleeping titans” concept, a set of special monsters that only show up when there are no monsters in queue. They are really easier to beat than some of the others, and their appearance doesn’t really have much of an impact on the game- definitely something I would have edited out of a final design.

The only other demerit is the three player game. Lords of Xidit seats four or five very well and it is definitely best with five for maximum competition. But with three, it requires a dummy player (something I’m not ever particularly fond of), reducing the board, and a bunch of extra components to make up for the lack of a fourth Idrakys on the board. It works, the core mechanics are there, but the game was clearly designed for more players. This is another element I would have edited out of the final product, but I’m sure some will welcome that there is at least an option for two here- and I’m sure there was a marketing consideration here, as 3-5 is an easier sale than 4-5.

Lords of Xidit, a great-looking game with fun mechanics, accessibility and a nice mix of familiarity and differentiation. 75 minutes, 90 if you take your time. Top quality production across the board. It’s another great release from Asmodee, who is just absolutely killing it lately with a series of excellent titles.

Michael Barnes

Games writer Michael Barnes is a co-founder of Nohighscores.com as well as FortressAT.com. His trolling has been published on the Web and in print in at least two languages and in three countries. His special ability is to cheese off nerds using the power of the Internet and his deep, dark secret is that he's actually terrible at games. Before you ask, no, the avatar is not him. It's Mark E. Smith of The Fall.

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