The X-Files Board Game (2015)
Designed by Kevin Wilson
Published by IDW Games
After watching through ten of the best episodes of The X-Files this month, I decided to crack open a copy of the board game from IDW I’d bought a few years ago. I remember hearing good reviews when it originally came out in 2015, and I snatched up a copy. As so often happens when you buy a board game on a whim, it sits on your shelf for a while until you finally find the time to play it. The X-Files Board Game turned out to be quite an excellent experience, a game I definitely want to play again and again to explore the tactics and mechanics going on under the hood.
This is an asymmetric game, meaning you have one player who is The Syndicate, and everyone else are The Agents. You can choose to play as Mulder or Scully, but also Skinner and Krycek. Each character has a rule-breaking ability they can use once a turn. The goal of the agents is to collect all nine pieces of Mulder’s I Want To Believe poster, symbolizing they have uncovered the conspiracy. Meanwhile, the one person playing the Syndicate wants to create enough obstacles that they stop the Agents before they can achieve their goal.
The board resembles a map of the United States with strings and push pins, divided into the Northeast, Midwest, West, and South. Each region has spots for X-Files case cards, and the strings lead to where Syndicate cards can be placed. These are optional hazards that the Syndicate can activate to impede the Agents from solving cases. To solve cases and enable the dangers, all players have to spend Influence points. The Syndicate gets Influence at the start of their turn for every Agent in the game. Agents get a choice when they choose to Investigate a Case to “Plan,” where they get 3 Influence points or Act where they play cards from their hand. Symbolically that planning action represents asking around and getting a lay of the land connected to a case.
When Agents Act and play cards, they have to consult their badge, which lists their strengths and weaknesses. These are Conflict, Paranormal, Political, Science, and General. For example, Mulder is strong with Paranormal and General but Weak in Science. When he plays cards from his hand, anything marked with his Strengths costs him zero Influence. Anything marked with his weakness requires 2 Influence tokens. Anything not on his credentials costs 1 Influence. The cards you play mostly give Progress points. Each Case has a target number, and you can accrue Progress over multiple rounds. Making that more complicated are Wounds that an Agent can take either from a Syndicate card or by pushing themselves harder than normal to play certain Agent cards. For each Wound an Agent gets they have to subtract that many from the Progress tokens they will get. During that next Plan phase they an option to swap out some or all of their Influence tokens to spend time healing those Wounds.
The problem is that for every case that’s open at the start of the Syndicate’s turn, they get to remove an Evidence token from a black bag. When a Case is solved, the card tells the Agent how many Evidence tokens they can take from the bag. These tokens are needed to purchase the pieces of the poster to win the game. If there are three open cases on the map, the Syndicate can take three random Evidence tokens and replace them with three Cigarette Tokens. These represent the conspiracy creating roadblocks for the Agents. If the total number of Evidence the Syndicate has stolen is worth 25 points or more, then they win, and the Agents have failed. If the Agents get all nine pieces of the poster, then they have uncovered the conspiracy.
I really enjoyed our two sessions playing The X-Files Board Game. The artwork on the cards and board evokes the long-running X-Files comic book, which helps add to the atmosphere. The Case cards are named after real episodes of the series and matched to the appropriate region of the United States. The Syndicate gets a wonderful screen that obscures how many Evidence points they have taken and how many Cigarette tokens they have left. On the side of the board is a tracker for how many poster pieces the Agents have accrued and counter that gives a range of Evidence points the Syndicate has removed. That way, the Agent players always have a sense of where their antagonist is at but never an exact number. I found the rules to be reasonably simple enough after a few rounds of play that we didn’t need to refer to the rulebook much. If you are a fan of The X-Files, this board game does a beautiful job of creating that race against time from those mythology building episodes, the Syndicate always a few steps ahead.