Updated: Jun 23, 2020
Designed by Harry Haralampidis and Lefteris Iroglidis, with art by Tony Tzanoukakis, Xerxes is a lively resource management game played over seven snappy rounds as players race to be the first to accumulate 25 victory points.
With a playing map representing the Ancient World, Xerxes looks at first sight like an area control game. Players are each round placing out their pawns on two territories in addition to their home territory but the locations are claimed only for that round and only for the resources they generate. The actual physical location of a territory has no bearing on the game play: although the game incorporates military units, these are used for set collection victory point scoring rather than combat, so there is no invasion of territories or the possibility of map conflict.
There are six different resources in the game and each of the territories supplies a different mix of those resources. Players mark the resources they collect on their individual player mats, though you cannot accumulate more than three of any one resource. You are seeking to fulfil the requirements of the ‘taxation’ cards you hold in your hand, each of which demands a combination of different resources to score either victory points or to provide a specific military unit. Separate ‘campaign’ cards award victory points in exchange for specified combinations of military units. In addition, there are buildings that can be claimed, again for specific combinations of resources.
Each player has a different special ability, and these each help towards meeting the requirements of a taxation or campaign card. Of more impact, however, is turn order because the buildings can each only be claimed by one player and they each offer valuable bonuses: if you can take advantage of your first player position to snap up the Grain Silo in the first round, you can immediately grab 7 victory points. The game incorporates some compensation for turn order advantage (handicapping the first two players and giving a bonus to the third and fourth players) and a player can use one of his pawns to reset the turn order, but the latter is an expensive option because it means that player must claim one less territory that round and so will have only two thirds of the resources generated by each of the other players. We found that often, in practice, players were reluctant to make that sacrifice, preferring instead to make do with the turn order they started out with.
Players also need to take account of the random event cards that affect play each round. There are eight event cards, so all but one will come up over the course of a game. Six of the events are negative (reducing to zero the production that round of a single specified resource); two are positive: giving a resource or military unit bonus to all players. These are the only random elements in the game, and players will soon take account of them in their tactical play. For example, if the limit on grain production has already come out in a previous round, then you know that the famine cannot be repeated and so you know that there is possibility of grain production being hit again. Likewise, players will be increasingly cautious about going for territories that generate iron if, say halfway through the game, the event that halts iron production has not yet come up.
There are some subtleties to Xerxes that belie its seeming simplicity and so which may not be immediately apparent to players on their first play. We all initially thought it was a no-brainer that it was better to have taxation cards that paid out 3 victory points rather than a military unit, but you can’t accumulate military units or carry them forward to the next round so the campaign cards will almost always require a unit from a taxation card. Meeting the requirements of a campaign card gives you 5 victory points plus the ability to take 1 victory point away from a player of your choice. There is a similar ‘take that’ element to most of the buildings. This means that it can sometimes be beneficial to avoid taking too early a lead lest that has the effect of painting a target on your back…
At Board’s Eye View, we’ve certainly enjoyed playing this prototype copy of Xerxes. We’ve found the game quick to learn and quick to play: even with the full complement of four players, you can complete a game in around 45 minutes.