During Gen Con this past year I lived in Xidit for three straight days. That is, I was tasked with demoing a game that I had just learned, Lords of Xidit. It sold out before the end of the show which I take full credit for but more importantly the people that I taught the game to had a blast playing it. After the convention halls emptied out and I took my own copy home did it manage to maintain its charm or was it just the excitement of playing with enthusiastic gamers?
How It Plays
The Theme – Cleansing the Kingdom of Xidit
Welcome to the Kingdom of Xidit! Things are a bit troubling around these parts as of late, we seem to have a bit of a monster infestation. Terrible evil creatures that cause terror and despair, you know the kind that I’m talking about?
Yes I’m talking to you strange blue man in red armor riding around on that beastly thing. What’s that, you’re a legendary Idrakys and you’re here to help cleanse the land of this sudden and terrible evil that has descended on us like a horrifying fog? Well, I’ve never heard of you. If you have any hope of inspiring brave warriors to your cause and defeating the creatures that threaten our land then you’re going to need my help. But hey, if we’re going to save Xidit together we might as well have fun with it, right? I am going to make you famous after all. Oh yeah, and cleanse the land. Of course we’re going to do that too.
A Year in the Kingdom
Your adventures in the Kingdom of Xidit will last 12 years, I’ll help you through the first one and then you’re on your own. It’s good to start your journey in a crowded town so you can inspire some followers. Here’s the perfect spot, I heard there were plenty of eager townsfolk ready to join your cause.
Before we begin let me be clear about one thing, if we’re going to succeed you’ll need to do exactly what I say. Understand? Excellent, here are your orders.
If you want to slay some monsters you’ll need some help. Your first order is to recruit a trusty follower. When you recruit from a city you’ll get the first available (weakest) unit. In this case it’s a peasant militia, not the strongest fighter but it’s a good place to start.
Note: During actual game play recruited units are stored behind player screens rather than following your Idrakys around
Now that we have some company it’s time to move along, you can’t recruit twice from the same city in any given year. Follow that red road up the next town.
Nothing to see here but it looks like there are some villagers gathered just down the black road.
Lucky for you all the peasants have already been claimed so next in line for recruitment is a greenish archer. See if you can convince him to join your party.
Now that you have a couple of able bodied warriors at your disposal perhaps there’s a monster around here that you can take on. You’re in luck! That weasel over there is bothering a neighboring village. Follow the blue road to investigate.
I bet this dastardly creature won’t put up much of a fight. And you just happened to have exactly the followers needed to take him down: a peasant (orange) and an archer (green). It’s almost as if someone planned this whole thing out. It was me, I planned it. You can thank me later when you’re the most famous adventurer around. Time to put an end to his scheming once and for all.
Unfortunately there were a couple casualties in the clash and let’s just say things didn’t go so well for your new followers. No need to worry about that, there are dozens of brave citizens in Xidit ready to throw themselves into battle for you. The important part is that you got some wonderful spoils… I mean saved the city. The grateful towns people have offered three rewards for your heroic deed, you may pick two of them. Your options are to have the town build one Sorcerer’s Guild in your honor (1 blue icon), give you three gold for your treasury (3 yellow icons), or send three bards into the surrounding regions to sing of your bravery (3 pink icons). Choose wisely, I’ll leave it up to you.
We’ve come to the end of your first year. Rest for now and I’ll send my orders for the coming year.
The Gameplay – Adventures in Programming
At this point it may have become apparent that Lords of Xidit is a programming game. Each player controls an Idrakys that’s represented by a figure who wanders the land recruiting units and defeating monsters. The game takes place over 12 rounds which begin with the order phase in which all players simultaneous assign six orders for their Idrakys to carry out. They must do exactly what you’ve tasked them with so be careful to ensure they take the correct route. There are three types of orders: travel along a road (blue, red, or black), interact with a location (recruit in a city or fight a monster), and wait (do nothing for the turn). Once the orders are locked in place the players will execute their orders one at a time in turn order. Everyone executes their first order in turn before moving on to the second. Once all six orders have been carried out then a new year begins and new orders are programmed.
Every time a monster is defeated another monster enters the board through a clever queue system. The same thing happens for cities when they run out of units, a new one appears and fills up with new units to replace the empty one. Because of this there will always be exactly five monsters and five cities on the board meaning you’ll always have something to fight and units to recruit. Each tile has an associated location (indicated by its number) and bears a monster on one side and city on the other. Defeated monsters will go to the bottom of the city queue and eventually show up as a city, likewise for emptied cities filling in the monster queue.
At the end of the fourth, eighth, and twelfth round there is a brief break for a military census. Players compare how many of each unit type they have and the player that reveals the most gains a reward associate with the type. Peasants and Archers reward Gold, Infantry and Clerics reward Bards, and Battle Mages reward Sorcerer’s Guilds.
The goal of the game is to gather rewards by defeating monsters to compete in three randomly ordered end of game conditions. These conditions are associated with the three rewards that you must chose from when defeating monsters. For example the order might be: Wealth (Gold), Influence (Sorcerer’s Guilds), then Reputation (Bard Tokens). Starting with the first category rank the players in order of how well they did. In the case of Wealth simply add up each player’s Gold and arrange them from most to least. Whoever fared the worst (or two worst in a five player game) gets eliminated. The remaining players compete in the second category. For Influence add up the total number of Sorcerer’s Guilds that each player has and knock out the player with the fewest. At this point there should be two players left for the final category. Reputation is determined by comparing how many Bard Tokens are in each region and assigning the indicated points for whoever has the most and second most. Add up the points from all regions and the player with the highest reputation wins.
Programmed For Success
My first game of Lords of Xidit was a relatively miserable experience. Granted it was late and we got a rule or two wrong so I won’t hold it against the game but I’d sum up that play through with a comment from a fellow player who said it was “all luck and randomness.” At the time I didn’t quite agree with his assessment but I did question how much control you actually had in Xidit. Fortunately the game grew on me a lot over the following three days at Gen Con and I came to be enamored with its implementation of programming and unique scoring.
Programming: A More Forgiving System
My experience with programming games up until playing Lords of Xidit has been a bit of a mixed bag. I love the concept of queuing up orders in an effort to achieve a given goal. In actuality I enjoy the puzzle of piecing together the most efficient combination of actions but the whole system falls apart when interaction is brought in. Interaction represents uncertainty which in turn leads to frustration when you’re trying to efficiently run a program with unknown elements in play. You can either hope for little interference and wish for the best or try to anticipate what the other players will do and potentially run off course if you guessed incorrectly. Interference early on can lead to all subsequent orders having a detrimental effect rather than their originally assigned purpose. This can lead to good silly fun but if it goes on for too long it gets quite old.
Lords of Xidit is different than other programming games that I’ve played because it tends to be more forgiving. The main reason is that regardless of what happens my guy is going to do exactly what I told him to do. He will move to the specific locations that I indicated and attempt to recruit or fight as I ordered. Instead of throwing other players off track interference takes the form of recruiting a different unit then you had hoped or showing up late to a fight. These things are far less devastating than what can happen in games where you can get pushed around or blown up.
Yet there’s still the traditional balance of chaos versus control. Unless you can guarantee that you will be the first player to act at a destination you are always guessing at what the outcome of your actions will be. In fact you are encouraged to push your luck when attempting to recruit the most powerful units. Only one player can grab the sole remaining Battle Mage and anyone that shows up afterward will come away empty handed. The nice thing is that players are given the option of how risky they wish to play. The weaker units can be recruited without any risk and offer smaller rewards when used to defeat monsters or when revealed during census. Stronger units push the high risk/high reward boundary which can be exciting to pursue. Given a long enough game these paths tend to be well balanced. Risks won’t always pay off so the safer and more reliable option can compete with a path that receives higher rewards less often. This allows players with different tolerances for risk to still compete on relatively equal grounds.
Timing: Making Your Actions Count
Regardless of the path that you pursue timing is a critical aspect in Xidit. If you don’t pay attention to the other players and what they are likely to do then things will appear to be “all luck and randomness.” Arriving first to a fight or late (but not too late) for recruiting is key to success. As a result being able to read the other players and anticipate their actions is a very useful thing to consider when planning your own actions. Your inability to do so will mean that you’ll end up playing a more reactive game. Again, this isn’t as devastating as in other programming games but being able to read players will give a decent advantage.
Xidit offers several additional timing aspects that give players more things to consider when planning how to gather and expend their units. First up is the military census which rewards players for holding on to units rather than fighting monsters for their immediate rewards. Is it better to spend your units when fights show up that you know you can win or should you gather an army and risk not being able to send all your troops into battle before the final round? This same dynamic exists for all players so if everyone is hoarding then a clever player can have a field day with uncontested battles. Likewise if monsters are dropping left and right then a smaller standing army is needed to excel during the census.
The second way that timing manifests itself during the game is through the monster and city queues. You’ll always know exactly where the next two monsters/cities will show up but their arrival is dependent on player actions (defeating monsters and emptying cities). There are times when these events are more likely to occur and getting the first stab at a newly arrived monster can be crucial given their entry point and your available units. The queue system is incredibly innovative in terms of game automation. It’s a very smooth system that nearly runs itself, provides balance of actions (recruiting and fighting), and allows for a good distribution of location around the map. If it weren’t for the unique scoring system I would praise the queues as the most clever design decision in Xidit.
Retheming: Adventuring From Himalaya to Xidit
I intentionally waited until later in the review to mention the fact that Lords of Xidit is actually a reimplementation of an older game, Himalaya from way back in 2002. I’m not going to go into the differences other than the most obvious one, theme. Lords of Xidit is essentially a pick-up-and-deliver game in disguise and Himalaya saw players literally collecting resources and delivering them to destinations. Was the retheming of an adventurer recruiting units and fighting monsters simply a marketing move to slap on the Seasons brand or does it actually add value to the game?
I’d say that overall the retheme was extremely successful. It’s true that the idea of recruiting a party and going on a grand adventure is somewhat obscured by the need to hide your party behind a screen. I wish that you could actually march around the board with your units as I demonstrated in the sample turn but it would both be hard to implement and change the game dynamics for the worse. With those limitations in mind the theme still manages to shine through if you’re willing to let it. The production value of Xidit is extremely high and aids the immersion immensely. Each unit has an individual mold such that they are both easily recognizable and fun to build up in your hidden stronghold. The beautifully illustrated board, avatars, and monsters also add to placing players within the game world. If you’re not paying attention then it really does feel quite different from your traditional pick-up-and-deliver game despite the fact that it’s a retheme of a very cut and dry example of the genre. That alone indicates a job well done.
Scoring: Varying Degrees of Certainty
I indicated earlier that the one thing which really makes Xidit stand out (even 12 years later) is the unique scoring system. Unlike in most games where the player who did the best wins, Xidit hands the victory to the player that didn’t do the worst. You only need to beat one player in each category to win the game. This requires players to rethink the way that they approach the game and naturally encourages balanced play. If you focus too much on any one category then it means you will be weaker in the others and more prone to elimination. Not knowing who you’ll be up against if you make it all the way to the final category also prevents players from over analyzing the game state.
This leads into the idea of how uncertainty is implemented in the different scoring categories. There are three such categories and each has varying degrees of open and hidden information. Everything is technically trackable in this game so I use the term “hidden” loosely but for the moment let’s assume that not everyone has an exceptional memory. Wealth is on one end of the spectrum being fully hidden as any Gold gained goes behind the player screen and remains there until it is revealed at the end of the game. Influence is on the other end and is completely open as Sorcerer’s Guilds are on display for all to see. Reputation lies somewhere in the middle, it is largely open but can be difficult to calculate quickly and the middle region contains a hidden cache that Bard Tokens are placed in making the highest scoring region an unknown factor. Based on the order that the categories are scored will place more emphasis on uncertainty and risk at different points during the scoring process.
Not only is this scoring system incredibly clever, dynamic, and variable but it leads to a grande exciting conclusion to the game. I have yet to play a game where everyone sitting around the table knew who was going to win going into the scoring. This has the effect of keeping players engaged in the game even when they’re losing while still building towards a climax at the end. There’s something about revealing hidden information and the uncertainty of who will win that’s incredibly compelling.
The Real Player Count
The box says that Lords of Xidit plays with 3-5 players. This is technically true but the viability of the 3-player game will largely depend on your tolerance for dummy players. I have yet to experience a dummy player that I enjoyed so it’s not surprising to express that I consider this game to actually be for 4-5 players. I’m not pointing this out as a downside but merely as a way of setting proper expectations. I applaud the attempt of making the game work for 3 players but it simply doesn’t work for me and the game play is much much smoother with a full cast of human opponents.
The Final Word on Lords of Xidit
I’m somewhat ashamed that it took a retheme to get me to notice the gem that was Himalaya. However, Lords of Xidit is a far more attractive and approachable game overall so this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. If this means that more gamers like me will finally get the chance to play a game that has aged incredibly well then I look forward to more reimplementations in this vein. Regardless of whether you want to discuss Himalaya or Lords of Xidit the game is unique enough to stand out from the crowd with a forgiving take on programming and an innovative scoring system.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee for providing us with a review copy of Lords of Xidit.