Saturday, July 2, 2016

T.C. Petty III's Xenon Profiteer: Learning Something New

Every once in awhile, a board gamer looks at his or her collection and wonder how it would look if it were pared down to the bare essentials.

What if you were on a deserted island? What if you were trapped in an elevator? Never mind the food or water. What games would you need?

Inevitably a list is created. There must be a worker placement game. There must be a rondel game. There must be a bidding game. There must be a deck building game. Diplomacy! Party Game! The one where everyone makes things out of clay, and you try to guess what they made!

Imagine if you successfully acquired all the “basic” games to make a well rounded collection. No matter what you’re in the mood for, you have the game to play. A little something of everything, no matter the tastes of your fellow players.

Once you’ve bought your hoard, once you've collected this well-curated steaming pile of essentials, what should you do next?

The answer, of course, is to buy T.C. Petty III’s un-popular anti-deckbuilder, Xenon Profiteer.

The Theme of the Game
Xenon Profiteer is a game all about distilling the element Xenon. It's not a sci-fi game. It’s not a fantasy game. There are no orcs or spaceships.
Pipelines packed with elemental power
Only money, scientists in lab coats, and pipes full of stuff.

You will learn so much about the contemporary uses of Xenon you’ll be ready for the daily double on Xenon Jeopardy. You will know all the Xenon facts. And the rulebook carries within it a humorous take on modern science, complete with its own set of warnings.

Do not admit fault!

But you will not find a ready audience. There’s not a “Xenon Fans” meetup you can rope into this like you might if the theme had superheroes or cthulhus or the cast of Firefly.

And this is no ordinary deckbuilder, either. If your deckbuilding instincts are already fully honed from Dominion or Thunderstone or whatever, it means nothing. This is a game of a different color.

It might be more helpful to see Xenon Profiteer as a tableau-building engine. Imagine Dominion and Race for the Galaxy smooshed together into one game. How would such a thing even breathe? Yet it does, and what it breathes is good!

2 Xenon cards, trapped in a prison of krypton and oxygen
The Play of the Game
The most basic action of the game is acquiring an AIR packet. This gives you 1 precious Xenon card, along with some other dirty elements you can’t do anything with: nitrogen, oxygen and Superman-hating krypton.

The other basic action of the game is distilling. In this action you take a single type of element (all the krypton for instance) out of your hand and back to the supply.

Woven into these 2 basic actions is an entirely different game of engine building. In the middle of the board are more cards, both Upgrades and Contracts.

Upgrades on the top, Contracts on the bottom

Contracts are there to give you points and win the game.

Upgrades hopefully help you do the previous 2 basic actions faster and better.

You buy upgrades with money.  For a little money, you put the upgrade in your deck. For more money, you add the upgrade to your tableau where it works all the time. Remember buddy, only garbage goes in your deck. Don’t cheap out here, build that tableau!

If at any point you finally have the Xenon in your hand all to itself, you can pull out the Xenon and put it into storage for fulfilling contracts. Contracts give you “Xenon points,” which is how you decide the winner.

And winning is how you win stuff.

Race to End the Game
There is no turn marker in Xenon Profiteer. After 8 or 10 turns, guess what! You are still playing Xenon Profiteer.

The game only ends when someone completes 5 contracts, or adds 5 upgrades to their tableau.

The game will move very quickly for experienced players. But for beginners, it will be slow.

Imagine a race to a finish line, where you may not know exactly where the finish line is. And all the racers each have one foot stuck in a old tin bucket.

That is your first game of Xenon Profiteer.

Fulfilling the NEXT Ion Drive Contract requires 5 Xenon cards, but awards an astounding 9 Xenon points

Extra Bells and Whistles
Another thing you will not begin to understand until several plays are done are all the extra bells and whistles welded into the simple game play I’ve described.

Buying cards is complicated by an opposing player’s ability to preemptively claim cards using bidding tokens.

And then there’s Overtime! The entire flow of the game can be replaced with a completely different game flow called Overtime. The usual flow is taking AIR, distilling and buying/bidding. Overtime means distilling twice and bidding twice without buying.

Should you play your turn in regular time, or Overtime? It’s a decision you will have to make.

The Fun is in the Learning
Xenon Profiteer is not a game that you will immediately love.

But If you are a seasoned player of every other game in existence, there is something fresh to learn in Xenon Profiteer. And that’s a very rare thing to say when 10,000 new kickstarter games are rolling off the assembly line every day. All with slight modifications on an existing theme or set of mechanics.

There is no getting around it: you will need to open up the rulebook and drag your friends through it a couple times. And you’re going to have to get them interested in Xenon!

2 different hurdles, and you’ll have to throw yourselves over both simultaneously.

But the end is worth it. There is a old, web-filled part of my brain that actually had to wake up to understand this game.

Because today’s games try to avoid new interactions on the scale of Xenon Profiteer at all costs. They don’t want you to have hurdles. People don’t buy games when they have to jump over hurdles.

But once you have every “essential” game in your stupid collection, I say it’s time to jump some hurdles. And the first hurdle you should jump over is Xenon Profiteer.

1 comment:

  1. I tried this out at Origins. I agree it has some non-intuitive stuff going on, but I put it near the top of my wishlist nevertheless.