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Aqua, Wind, Stone, Ember; long ago the four awkwardly synonymed elements lived in harmony until war were declared over the strange decision that Wind > Stone > Aqua. With Ember just sort of sitting to the side comfortable that yes, water beats fire and fire eats oxygen so, technically fire would hurt wind. Soldiers were drafted to the battle, great dragons trained, wombats conscripted, moths deployed… The unit choices do vary substantially. From literal flies and moths to massive sea beasts of which there are only a couple of points of difference in damage and health.
Xi bills itself as a very strategic card game and tasks players with keeping track of their “Time Units”, “Prepared Time”, as well as unit health. And while Magic The Gathering has similar elements, Xi somehow feels overwhelming. I far too often found that I had forgotten how much Prepared Time I had or how much health an enemy unit had. And the solution of playing with a notepad and keeping track that way just killed the pacing.
But perhaps the most unfortunate part of Xi is that the strategic layer just doesn’t seem to be there. Most units don’t have an effect and with no way to clear the board beyond long setup combos, a few bad turns can see you beaten into the ground. Especially when your opponent gets a powerful Celestial unit out which can only be hurt by Shadow or Celestial damage. Having to then spend 3 Time Units per draw to find a counter requires devout faith in the heart of the cards to not just throw your cards down and quit.
The only saving grace of Xi – and it sadly isn’t enough on its own – are the statement cards. Cards then when played allow others to activate special effects. These statements provide some lore or description for the battle taking place like “it is raining,” or “it is dark”, or “Archo is preparing” and allow certain spells or units to deal more damage, or activate devastating powers.
The overall production quality is nice with the one rounded edge letting you know if your cards are all the right way up. And the pamphlet style rulebook I got has some lovely advice like, “To play a game of Xi you will need the following… a good friendly attitude”, “Greet your opponent(s) with a friendly handshake” and “once both players are comfortable, you may begin.”
I wanted to like Xi but the tortoise pacing, number juggling, and general lack of strategy just killed it for me. Hopefully the upcoming Xi Advanced has addressed these issues.