Full disclosure: A preview copy of XYbrid was provided by Gabe Schultz. I’ll try to keep my comments focused mostly on gameplay, but keep in mind that this is a preview copy of a currently unreleased game, so there is a chance that some of these rules might change.
Well, I wrote up a review for Evolution: Climate recently, and it got me thinking about science and fancy animals. “Science is all well and good”, you might say, “but what about mad science?” Well, as if to answer that question, along came XYbrid, a game all about mad science and fancy animals (or robots; we’re not picky, here) coming to Kickstarter. In XYbrid (is it pronounced “ex-why-brid” or “zybrid”?), you play as mad scientists (or angry scientists) trying to create some truly monstrous … stuff, and then, as you do, making them fight. By doing so you gain Infamy, and the most infamous scientist wins!
So apologies in advance, but it’s going to be very hard to do photography for this game, because the cards are transparent. Bear with me; I had the same problem with Mystic Vale. You’ll notice when you open the box that there are a few different types of transparent cards. Some are parts:
Each individual one is see-through, so that you can lay it on other part cards. Here’s an example of one:
Note the number in the corner — that’s how many points that part is worth. Also note the color and the effect, as both are important. Some other cards are more central “cores”:
And others are effect / event sort-of cards. They’re called Breakthroughs:
Shuffle all three decks separately and deal each player one core and three Breakthrough cards. Next, deal 2x +1 cards into the center to form the Lab, in view of all players. It helps if you have an opaque card or something to put on top of the Lab so that you can’t view the next cards.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So gameplay takes place over three rounds, with scoring in between. Let’s talk about a round, since they play mostly identically.
Each round starts with you taking a new core part, if you haven’t already. Then, the player with the lowest Infamy goes first. If there’s a tie, the player that didn’t go first last time gets to go first.
On your turn, you perform the following actions:
- Mission. If there are any cards in your Deployed Pile (don’t worry about this Round 1, generally) with a “Mission” effect on them, you may activate one.
- Draw. Draw a part from the lab and add it to the core of your monster. Parts have types (blue for heads, red for arms, yellow for legs, or purple for auxiliary) and sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and robotics). You don’t need to worry about sciences that much, though they can occasionally synergize for extra points or bonus effects. Your monster is incomplete if they are missing any of the non-auxiliary types. Each monster must have:
- A head
- A left arm (arms are reversible, so all left arms are right arms and vice-versa)
- A right arm (see above)
- A pair of legs or leg substitutes (like a magnetic levitator)
This means that when you draw, you must draw either a part your monster is missing or an auxiliary part, if you can. If there are no parts available that are of the type your monster is missing, you can draw any part you want and either add it to your hand or swap it out for an existing part on your monster.
Some parts have Draw effects that happen as soon as they’re taken from the Lab, so resolve those if you draw them. Deploy effects happen later. If the Lab ever runs out of cards, refill the lab back to the original number of cards it has. Do not refill the Lab after each player’s turn! Common mistake.
At the end of a round, if every player has a complete monster, each player may choose one of their Breakthrough cards. All player simultaneously reveal them, perform their effects, and then we move on to the Deploy Phase.
Usually by this point you’ve built up quite a monster:
- Deploy. Surprising nobody, the Deploy Phase comes up next. During this Phase, you use any Deploy effects and then score your monsters. Activate Deploy effects in order from highest valued card to lowest, and then in player order. This does mean you can steal someone’s part card and then Deploy that ability yourself, yes. What fun.After that’s all happened, score the parts still on your monster by counting up the scores. You also earn an additional point for every card still in your hand. If you need a place to keep track of the scores, word on the street is that there’s a web app available. Add all the parts to your “deployed” pile (just a pile somewhere near y0u). It helps if you separate out the cards with Mission effects, for your own sanity. You might also want to put them in piles based on their Sciences, as a variety of card effects target that.Now, shuffle all cards in players’ hands and the Lab into the deck, restock the Lab, and then the next round starts, again, with the player with the fewest points going first.
Keep going until you’ve finished the third round, and then the player with the most Infamy points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really any, which is kind of surprising. The Lab is bigger at more players, so the game takes a bit longer because there are just more turns happening, but it’s not really any better or worse at 2 than it is at 4. At 5 players it might get a bit annoying waiting for your turn, but even then it wouldn’t be that bad.
The only thing you’ll see more of is Breakthrough Cards, which occasionally have severely adverse effects on all players, so you might have a tougher time getting through games unscathed at higher player counts. But, with the increased card variety, you can usually figure out creative ways to avoid too much of a struggle. I’d recommend it at any player count.
There are a variety of different pathways to success, here, but I’ll refer to some things that I’ve found helpful.
- Unless you have a specific reason not to, always take auxiliary parts on your turn, if you can. They’re usually free points in addition to potential other points, and it prevents you getting locked down on parts you can’t take. Generally, they’re very good, and if you don’t take them then your opponents certainly should.
- Getting more cards doesn’t only help you. I’ve played with a number of groups who will try and strategically take cards from the Lab so that they will not end up with a complete monster, prolonging the round. This is a good idea for them in some ways (the additional variety of cards, the chance to chain together beneficial effects) but it doesn’t always account for the fact that it gives other players extra turns (and cards in hand, which is usually free points at worst). This happens a lot in many games where the round can be extended, such as Coloretto and Kanagawa, as well. Just pay attention to how many players have extra cards.
- Leverage your Breakthrough cards, and watch for opponents leveraging theirs. Is an opponent only grabbing cards with effects? Well, they might be planning to use the card that destroys any non-core parts without an effect, so maybe you should bulk up, too. Got a card that gives you +1 to any Robotic parts? Better go for those, too, then.
- The best plays are rarely expected. There’s a card that during the Deploy Phase, if it’s in your hand, gives you a point for every card in your hand (effectively doubling the normal bonus). If you can sneak that in, then extending the round so you can take more cards into your hand can be a lot of extra points. It’s also better to try and be sneaky so that your opponents don’t necessarily think to block you.
- Be mindful of Mission effects. Sure, they’re not worth many points early on, but later in the game they might be giving you a point every turn, or letting you block other players’ Mission effects, or letting you restock the lab before you draw. Using those well can really help turn the game around for you.
- Go on the offensive. Some card effects let you steal or destroy monster parts attached to your opponents. Go after the player that you think poses the biggest threat to you and take their head clean off. You can just … do that. Sometimes it’s beneficial to steal cards before their Deploy effects activate, saving you a pain, or other times it’s just useful to knock off a 5-point limb on your opponent’s monster. Assess and decide in the moment.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Transparent cards are awesome. Seriously, super cool. I love the overlay effect and I love the ability to hook up parts in weird ways to create super cool monsters. I feel like I would have lost if i. Actually, on that note:
- About as family-friendly as ripping limbs off of monsters can be. It’s sort of on the same level as King of Tokyo in my mind. The various effects / Breakthrough cards might be a bit much for the very young crowd, but I imagine you could play without those and still have a lot of fun.
- Great art / theme. It’s bright, colorful, thematic, and fun. Who doesn’t want to create an eagle-headed robot with centipede legs? Other than, like, reasonable people. It’s also nice that the color scheme changes on the other side of the card. A lot of thought was put into this game on the art side, and it deserves a special shout-out.
- Really polished graphic design. They worked hard on this and it shows. The lettering and numbers are crisp and clear and the logos are consistent and make sense.
- Difficult to photograph. This is the problem with transparent cards. Not a real issue with the game, just something sad for me personally. I did the best I could, I think.
- A few things are confusing. When it comes to part types vs. part sciences, new players often get confused. That said, I can’t really think of a better way to distinguish between the types, so it’s just kind of a blocker I assume that the designer ran into.
- It seems a bit hard to stop a runaway leader, since the draws are a bit luck-based. It’s possible, but I haven’t seen a lot of times where it’s worked just because offensive cards aren’t explicitly common. If someone starts off with a 24-30 point first round, it’s likely that they’re going to win, in my experience. I’m not sure if there is just some strategy that players with lower scores should be utilizing that they haven’t, though. If you find something I’ve missed, let me know in the comments! What’re your favorite strategies?
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think XYbrid is a solid game! There’s a lot of fun to assembling monsters and seeing who can end up with the most ridiculous-looking combinations, and that alone appeals to me (mostly for getting some really wonky-looking creatures)