Saturday, 14 September 2013

Bioshock Infinite The Siege of Columbia, Part 1: Box Contents

Today we're taking a look at a game which has caused much excitement here at Games & Tea.  Not only that, but it's also a first for us, as this is our first ever review of a new release, rather than giving our opinion on a game which has been out for some time.  So it's with a great deal of fanboy jittering that we bring to you part 1 of our review of Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, designed by Isaac Vega and published by Plaid Hat Games.
Bioshock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia is a game for 2 or 4 players (that's 2 or 4, not 2-4), and is set in the floating city of Columbia from the Bioshock Infinite videogame.  For those familiar with the game, The Siege of Columbia takes place during the events of Bioshock Infinite.  Whilst Booker and Elizabeth are running around causing havoc to their hearts' content, the players take on the roles of the Founders or the Vox Populi as they vie for control of Columbia itself.  Most of the characters from the videogame are present; Booker, Elizabeth, Commstock, Daisy and Songbird (no Lutece twins, sadly), which makes this feel a legitimate part of the Bioshock universe.
For those unfamiliar the videogame, the overall plotline is far too intricate to summarise in a pargraph, but the key point is that the players in The Siege of Columbia play as either the lower classes (the Vox), or the upper classes (the Founders) in a civil war for a city in the clouds.  Interdimensional rifts will also play a key part.
So, as per our usual MO, we'll be addressing the box contents in this half of the review, saving the gameplay anlaysis for the follow-up article.  The Siege of Columbia does have a great deal of elements to it, which will appear daunting at first, so be prepared for a plethora of photographs to follow!  From the outset though, we have to say that the box is rather nice.  Bravo, Plaid Hat, this is certainly one which looks nice nestled in amongst our other big-box-games in the Games & Tea collection.
In typical board game fashion, we're starting off with the game board.  Now we have to be honest, this was the first thing we found a little disappointing.  It's a nice manageable size, and much more practical for an average coffee table than the likes of Letters From Whitechapel or Zombicide, but the artwork felt like something of a let-down.  It isn't evident on wide-photos of the board such as this one (or those thrown around by Plaid Hat's PR department), but up-close the board art is largely uninspiring.  There's very little detail in there, and a remark was made during the unboxing of our copy that it looked a little bit like a theme park map, only missing a "You are here" arrow to make it complete.  When a board game is based on a videogame with such opulent graphics as Bioshock Infinite, you frankly expect it to be reflected in the gaming area, and sadly this isn't the case with The Siege of Columbia.
Moving on...
There's a lot going on in The Siege of Columbia, and so both factions have a Player Reference Sheet to help them keep track.  The artwork on the back of these is a distinct improvement over the board art, and so begins to restore any lost faith in the game.  These reference sheets remind players of the turn order, the cost to purchase any additional units, and the different dice rolled in combat for each of these units.  They also include the special movement rules for the Airship and Songbird; the two powerhouses of the game.  Each player has a deck of Action Cards (we'll come to those shortly), which are used in various ways at different points during the turn.  These cards can be upgraded throughout the game, and so the lower half of the reference sheets is dedicated to tracking the upgrades for each card type.
The next set of large cards are the Elizabeth Timelines.  The plot of the videogame revolved around the protagonist, Booker, as he attempted to rescue Elizabeth from Columbia.  Seeing as The Siege of Columbia takes place during these events, the Elizabeth Timeline controls the actions of Elizabeth, frequently sowing chaos amongst the players' best-laid plans.  To prevent the game from becoming too predictable, there are three Elizabeth Timelines, and one is chosen randomly at the beginning of the game.
The rest of the cards are all of a standard playing-card size, so we'll start with the Leader Cards.  Again, to keep the game fresh, the Vox Populi and Founder player must randomly select one of their four Leader Cards at the beginning of the game.  This leader will stay with them throughout The Siege of Columbia, and bestow different bonuses to the players.  Some reduce the cost of buying new units, some boost their units in combat, and so on.  Each leader will force the player to adapt their play style very differently, and can lead to some interesting encounters.
The Victory Point Cards are the key to winning The Siege of Columbia (they do have "Victory" in the name, after all!).  At the end of each turn an additional Victory Point Card joins the others on the table, and each is worth a different number of victory points depending on the difficulty of the task.  The first player to amass 10 victory points is the winner, so players have to find a balance between waging an all-out meat-grinder war on the streets of Columbia and making a beeline for the current objectives.
The World Event cards are one of the most interesting mechanics in The Siege of Columbia.  One of these is flipped over and resolved at the beginning of each turn, and can have dramatic effects on the game.  We'll go over them in more detail in Part 2 of the review, but in a nutshell these are events occurring throughout Columbia, and will usually benefit either the Founder or the Vox Populi player.  As a result these players have to "vote" using Action Cards from their hands to try and make the event go ahead, or stop it in its tracks.  As these Action Cards are also used to accumulate wealth and boost combat scores, it can be a tough tactical decision over whether to throw cards away during the vote at the beginning of the turn.  The World Event Cards also dictate Booker's movement and aggressive stance, and also the times at which the Elizabeth Timeline is triggered.
The aforementioned Action Cards make up the players' hands and draw decks, and basically are used for any action the player wishes to take during the game.  Time to vote?  Throw in some action cards!  Need some money?  Sell some action cards!  Going into a big fight?  Back up your troops with some action cards!  The draw limit of 5 per turn makes rationing these cards difficult, but it's all part of the tactical challenge of the game.
It's worth noting that when we opened our copy of the game, most of these cards were already heavily pitted and scratched straight out of the cellophane.  This almost resulted in a rage aneurism, and there was a lot of swearing going around.  After contacting Plaid Hat we've been offered replacement cards free of charge, but the obvious quality control oversight did not endear us to the product as a whole.
So those are all of the card types, it's time to move onto counters/tokens!
The First Player token is a rather nice one, and pretty darn sizeable!  Being the first player in The Siege of Columbia can prove to be incredibly important, and can mean the difference between victory and defeat in the long run.
As well as troops, players can fortify areas of Columbia they control using structures.  These are more limited than troops and often more powerful, but can be destroyed with much greater ease than the troops.  From top to bottom these structures are Strongholds, Turrets and Alarms.
The Victory Point tokens are used to keep track of which faction has claimed which Victory Point Cards.  Victory points can also be earned by controlling territories in Columbia, with the larger territories being worth more points.  When a player controls a territory they can place one of their Victory Point Tokens next to that territory to remind both players that they're one step closer to that win!
Booker and Elizabeth are running roughshod over the authorities of Columbia, and they really don't care about collateral damage!  There will be occasions where a location in Columbia will be destroyed, in which case a Location Destroyed marker is placed on the board, indicating that the location is no longer there.
"Booker, catch!"  Troops, structures and upgrades all cost money, and the currency in Columbia is the Silver Eagle.  The Siege of Columbia contains more than enough of these tokens for up to 4 players to amass a comfortable fortune.
After the initial game setup (full description to follow in Part 2), every unoccupied territory is given a face-down Territory Token.  Whenever a player moves their troops into that territory they must combat the token.  If they fail they get driven back to their Stronghold, if they succeed then they can stay in that territory, and are rewarded with Silver Eagles.
The last type of tokens are the Upgrade Markers.  These are simply used to keep track of the upgrades on Action Cards.  These upgrades can increase the cards' combat values, influence (voting value), or sell value.  They can also unlock special abilities which can prove useful in various situations.
Now you may wonder why we didn't start this review with the playing pieces.  Surely the miniatures are one of the most fun parts in any board game, right?  Well, here's the reason....
That grey blob to the left is Elizabeth, and the grey blob to the right is Booker.  We saved these for last because there's frankly nothing to get excited about here, and at Games & Tea we were bitterly disappointed (and even a little bit angry).  The Siege of Columbia is at the top price range of big box games, retailing for around £65.  When you compare the miniatures to those of the similarly-priced Zombicide, or even to the much cheaper Warhammer 40,000: Relic, these just don't cut the mustard.  They're closer to the quality of the  Zombies!!! board game, but it must be stressed that Zombies!!! is £25 and several years old!  For a high-priced new release to have such poor quality miniatures in this day and age doesn't seem acceptable, and it's another instance of Plaid Hat dropping the ball where The Siege of Columbia is concerned.
The faction units are divided into three different kinds; Commons (square bases), Rares (round bases), and Leaders (star bases).  The rarer the unit the more expensive they are, but the more damage they inflict during combat.  The red units belong to the Vox Populi and the blue to the Founders, with the two different shades of each colour allowing the factions to be split for a 4 player game.
Finally we have the dice.  Whilst Plaid Hat clearly know nothing of making high quality miniatures, it has to be said that their dice a pretty darn nice!  The yellow dice are for riding the skylines around Columbia, whilst the others are all for combat.  The different colours have different values on the six sides; white being weakest, blue stronger, and red the strongest.  These are the dice rolled by Common, Rare and Leader Units respectively.
The final point we have to make about The Siege of Columbia is the box itself.  Not the exterior, which we've established is rather nice, but the interior.
When a game provides you with a mountain of tokens, a pile of miniatures and dice, and several decks of cards, you expect the manufacturers to also provide a way of storing these efficiently.  In the case of The Siege of Columbia this has been another Plaid Hat oversight.  Not only is there no efficient box insert, but the rather basic one only seems to have been thrown in at the last minute as a way of propping up the board.  Unless you want your cards to become tatty very quickly (even more so than the dog-eared condition they probably arrived in), or half of your tokens to go missing, then investments will have to be made into deck boxes and polythene bags.  Once again, you're not getting your £65 worth of product for your £65.
Normally in Part 1 we try not to give away any clues as to how the game plays, but with The Siege of Columbia we've been so scathing that really feel as though we ought to say something.  Yes, the overall production quality of this game is far below the expectations of the asking price.  The board art is lacklustre, the figures are substandard, and the cards will probably be damaged when you get them.  That said, the gameplay is actually very good, and The Siege of Columbia has had an overall positive response from its playtesting.
We'll say no more than that for the moment, and you'll have to read Part 2 to see whether we thought the gameplay quality is enough to offset the manufacturing quality.  So tune back into Games & Tea in a day or two, and read all about the war on the streets of Columbia!

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