Players begin the game by choosing a unique role, ranging from the great upgrades of the medic and science divisions to the more straightforward power of the armor and weapons specialists. your role affects your starting deck as well as the options you have available to choose from in later rounds. The roles add much to the theme of the game, and you will have to work together to maximize every advantage as the Hive attackers move inevitably toward your home base.
One of the most interesting things about Xenoshyft Onslaught is the battle system. Each player has a side of the board with eight slots. Four of them will be filled with Hive aliens, while the remaining four will be filled with soldiers you play from your hand. Once your (up to) four heavily armed soldiers take their positions, you turn over the first alien, and it fights your first soldier in line. They attack each other until one is dead, then the next alien (or soldier, if you are unlucky) steps up. If you have planned effectively, and use your items and equipment just right, you will be able to hold off the four bad guys. If not, the remaining Hive monsters attack your base. Once the base takes too much damage, to use a profoundly applicable quote, “it’s game over, man, game over!”
This line-up system feels quite fresh. There’s quite a lot of strategy to which cards to add to your deck, as in most deck builders, but there is just as much, if not more, to how you position your troops. Do you put your biggest, baddest soldier at the front, where he will likely take out lots of enemies? If so, you run the risk of losing him to a nasty alien who reanimates his corpse to take out his former fellows. Or perhaps, more simply, a nimble creature will hop to the end of the line and take out that low level trooper you hid in the back. Thankfully, the Nortec Military has plenty of tricks to help even out the odds. A timely med-pack or a burst of fire from a neighboring trooper can mean the difference between a successful combat and a broken defense.
My favorite aspect of Xenoshyft Onslaught is how incredibly cooperative it is. Players can come to the assistance of their teammates in various ways. One of the easiest is using items and upgrades on one another’s troops. If a particularly nasty foe pops up on your buddy’s turn, you can play a grenade from your hand to take it out entirely. You can even play your troopers in other players’ lines, allowing them to fight (or die) alongside your teammates’ soldiers. These troopers will go into the new player’s deck, which makes Xenoshyft Onslaught a truly shared deckbuilding experience for everyone involved.
The game isn’t perfect, but the strengths outweigh the weaknesses in my opinion. The components are excellent, the art and theme are extremely well done, and the cooperative elements are among the strongest of all co-op deckbuilders out there. The shared feeling of teamwork here rivals that of Legendary Alien Encounters, and that is high praise indeed. Fans of deckbuilders would do well to check out Xenoshyft Onslaught. But be sure to bring a med-pack along, just in case.