Come On You Apes, You Wanna Live Forever? - Xenoshyft Onslaught Review

Who remembers the old sci-fi gore fest that was Starship Troopers? Released what seems like an age ago, this was a cult classic with some dark humour and lots of marines with big guns blowing up giant bugs. . . . . and rapidly dying in the process also. Well, we’ve now got this theme embodied in a deck builder called Xenoshyft Onslaught from Cool Mini or Not.

This is a big side step from their normal line-up which can be summarised as “here’s our game, but look at the shiny miniatures”. CMON love their miniatures and to their credit they put out some gorgeous looking stuff, blowing their funding targets out of the water on every Kickstarter they do. However for me the games have being a mixed affair. I didn’t subscribe to the Zombicide craze which is getting to the point that it’s more expensive than LCG’s to keep up with, but I think Arcadia Quest is a fantastic dungeon crawl game with a fun PVP twist. Deck builders are again a mixed genre for me also, but generally I enjoy them and being a co-op automatically entitles you to a free test-run at The Broken Meeple these days.

I had my suspicions however. I purchased this directly from a games store but when I attended the UK Games Expo recently, there were a lot of Kickstarter copies being sold off and so soon after its release date. Not a great sign. Was I too hasty in my purchase decision or will my faith be rewarded?

Designer: Keren Philosophales & Michael Shinall
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
# of Players: 1-4
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 90-120 Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1292/7.39

Bring Back The Miniatures

The box is a giant size, but even this manages to be a problem with regards to storage. If you own the retail version, then everything will fit in the box for the time being, however if you’re one of those people who ordered the Kickstarter version with all the extra cards, suddenly storing them becomes a lot more tricky if you decide to sleeve them. The main reason is down to the insert which doesn’t use the space very efficiently, much like the insert from Marvel Legendary. You’ve got plastic where you shouldn’t need plastic, how hard can be it to just have an open box with some dividers in? Sentinels of the Multiverse or Smash Up: Geeky Box are great examples of how to do it right. Just a big empty space with some walls and custom dividers (decent dividers that is thank you “Legendary”) that’s big enough to hold all the cards and room for expansion. How hard can it be?

"This is the basic insert with unsleeved cards added - yeah, not the best use of space is it?"

And to get back to sleeving, yeah you’re going to want to sleeve these because the same quality that goes into CMON’s awesome miniature range can’t  be said for the card stock here which is very easily bent and wears down within a couple of plays. In fact some looked worn before the first play out of the box! Sleeving for this I feel is mandatory, but again, see above if you ordered the Kickstarter version.

It’s not all bad though. What the cards lose in physical quality, they make up for in the artwork which is sound across the range. Some of the bug creatures look truly horrific (and I don’t just mean the spiders which scare the hell out of me), the items have a high amount of detail on them and the infantry/battle suits show in-battle images to give the game a feeling of epic-ness. 

Take note that the images are quite glossy though; there have been reports of a high amount of glare arising during play when viewed at an angle making it hard to see across to what your comrades are using in brightly lit rooms.

Wait, I Get To Use This Now?

Xenoshyft has a couple of unique features that set it aside from all other deck builders. Firstly the biggest shock to any gamer’s system is that when you purchase a card from the piles you put it in your hand immediately as opposed to the discard pile for cycling later. The amount of times I have to remind people of this fact is on par with the classic problem of forgetting to not look at your newly drawn card in Hanabi. But it’s cool to be able to use the big gun or funky gadget that you just purchased straight away without having to wait for your deck to recycle through.

Xenoshyft also takes the top spot for the level of teamwork and interaction available in a deck building co-op. You might be thinking, well hang on, Legendary Encounters has a lot of that with Co-ordination and the difficulty level. Well very true, but as much as I think that game is amazing, Xenoshyft does have a trump card. You have to help by playing cards for each other, but it doesn’t stop there. Items and marines played to another player’s battle line go into their deck when discarded instead of back to your own. So you’re not giving them a laser rifle on sale or return, you’re physically giving them the item permanently, or at least unless they gift it back to you at a later stage.

Now the first of those two features I can take or leave, but I really like the idea of actually gifting cards to other player’s decks. It’s not a mechanic I’ve seen in any other co-op deck builder to date. Usually you can allow a player to copy your card for their own needs, but you still get the card back at the end of the day. This opens up a whole new realm for co-operation with an otherwise fairly theme-less mechanic. I hope this isn’t the last we see of this concept.

Improving The Experience Causes Another Problem

In order to get the full experience from the teamwork aspect in this game, you will want to be playing with at least 3 if not 4 players. However this in itself causes a potential issue with regards to the time. Detailed strategic discussion and card sorting prior to the combat round can take a while to resolve particularly when you’re trying to decide on where cards are best used and what order your marines should be in on the line. And then once you get to the combat, because it’s not simultaneous like the other rounds, it takes a long time to resolve every player. The more creatures with resurrection abilities, the longer it takes.

The first game I played of this with four players we did as our second game of the game night (usually four hours in length). Our first game took about 90 minutes to 2 hours after packing it away. We didn’t even finish the game before we had to leave, I kid you not. It took that long! Now one player was a bit AP-prone but even so, it just felt like it was dragging on like crazy and eventually I had little care for actually surviving! A deck builder that takes 2 hours or more to finish should not exist in my opinion, it’s just too much.

Naturally after more plays you could cut this time down fairly drastically, but unless you’re playing with the same group of people regularly, expect a full complement game to be a lengthy one. Two player games tend to speed along quite quickly as does a solo venture, although playing solo removes the cool factor of giving cards to other players unless you’re willing to play several lanes at a time.

If You Thought Ghost Stories Was Hard. . .

Then you haven’t seen anything yet. My god, beating this game is a challenge and a half. A bad draw of hive cards in a battle sequence can mess you over so badly that recovery is impossible and that’s combined with the luck of drawing from your own deck already. Now if you argue that Ghost Stories is similar with the ghosts that come out of the deck, remember that in that game you got to choose where it was placed to a certain extent and measures could be taken to prepare for them in advance (the Buddha statues for instance). Here though, the four starting hive cards are completely random and you have zero control over how they resolve. The two boss cards in each wave are so nasty that their appearance alone can screw a player over, let alone if they’re unlucky enough to draw both in the same line! To be punished so severely by mere bad luck can really bring your enjoyment level down a few notches. 

Some combinations of items are easier than others to win with but generally you tend to find that people will spam-buy one or two items (Grenade spams anyone?) and then use them repeatedly. The same goes for some of the marine cards as well – 80% of the time you are buying that Hyperion assault mech as opposed to the other two, the extra damage is just that necessary to win. As a result you see some items and marines been left out of many games which kills the sense of variety that deck builders are meant to have.

Now of course this is going to be subjective – some will claim that the game isn’t that hard (and to be honest I’m not convinced they got the rules right in those cases) and others will say it’s do-able with certain item combinations and that’s fair enough. For me it was just brutal to the point where it’s not enjoyable any more. I’ve had games of Alien Legendary where you are riding the bare backbone of health and you’re so close to killing the Queen and then BOOM you’re dead, but it was tense and close. Here the game basically slaps you in the face the second you open the box and says “Game Over you’ve lost” before you even dealt the cards out.


Ahhh, noooo, what happened here? I was looking forward to this one, but sadly in my eyes it’s been a big disappointment and a drop from the other high quality ventures that CMON have brought us over the years.
I enjoy a challenging game but when the difficulty is actually harder than Ghost Stories without the use of “spam” tactics or pre-constructed item decks, you’re crossing a line for me. Not being able to see what’s coming is a good tension builder, but also a double edged sword in that an unlucky line-up can completely screw you. The game does however capture a good sense of teamwork and I like how acquiring cards is instantaneous for a change from other deck builders. 
The artwork is excellent, that can’t be denied, but the card stock is very flimsy and without sleeves you’re going to wear these down in your first couple of games. But then that’s a large additional expense and the game is already expensive in my opinion. The insert is also not very future proof and struggles with even the Kickstarter backer extras. No dividers make the issue even worse.
It’s such a shame. I really wanted to love this game, but it’s a dud for me. Some people really love it however and that’s a good thing, I can certainly see why, but I’m also seeing a lot of Kickstarter copies being sold off lately. This is definitely a try before you buy affair.

You Will Like This Game If:

  • You want a challenge – it’s disturbingly difficult and punishing.
  • You like the Starship Troopers movie and want a theme similar to that.
  • You want more team-work in your deck builders – without it, you lose, end of.

You Will Not Like This Game If:

  • You are put off by the low card quality and the inefficient insert.
  • You feel it will be too difficult without “spam” tactics.
  • You play this with more than 3 players.