Checking out the BioShock Infinite: Siege of Columbia board game

By Dave Cook, Saturday, 14 September 2013 10:14 GMT

BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia is the table-top adaptation of Irrational’s shooter. VG247’s Dave Cook takes it for a spin to see if it’s any good in his first ever board game blog.

Well this is a bit different isn’t it? I had always thought about checking out some table-top adaptations of videogames on VG247, but I wasn’t quite sure how they’d go down, what with us being a news site first and foremost. When I got the chance to try out BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia, I decided to take the plunge and just go for it.

Setting Up

On opening the box, the first thing I noticed was just how well the art style stacks up with the source material. Designed by John Ariosa and Paul Guzenko, the individual pieces are all presented with the same old-timey charm as the game, and there’s a real red-white-and-blue gala vibe running through each of the pack’s separate parts. There’s a lot of those too, and I found myself sitting for a long while trying to figure out the rulebook and how each aspect of the game works. It’s definitely a painful head-scratcher if you’re new to board or table-top games

Luckily, creator Plaid Hat Games has put together a step-by-step video guide to help newcomers learn the rules quickly, and after actually sitting down and trying a few test rounds on my own, I was ready to tackle Siege of Columbia with some friends. The general idea is that players must choose either The Founders or Vox Populi faction and fulfil objectives across the city to earn Victory Points. Once a player has ten Victory Points, the game is won. You can have one player per side, or choose a four-player game with two people to each faction.

Meanwhile, Booker and Elizabeth are running around Columbia effecting the city’s world state, which adds certain conditions to how players move across Sky-Line lines, perform in combat and other deciding factors. To set this up, players must pick one of three Timeline Cards for the duo, complete with a list of events such as Elizabeth accidentally destroying a location on the board with a powerful Tear and so on. She cycles through these conditions at the start of each turn.

Players also have to pick one leader card that will give them a special buff for the duration of the game. Comstock is in there for The Founders, while Daisy Fitzroy is heading up the Vox Populi, among others. You also get to pick five action cards that can be cashed in for currency during each turn, or used in battle. Similar to the videogame there are even Vigor powers that can be used such as Murder of Crows. The dedication to the source is really neat.

That’s the short version, and again, I had a really rough time getting my head around all the separate actions within each turn at first, and setting up the board sounded like a nightmare until I actually just sat down and tried everything out as per the instructions. It wasn’t that much of a chore once I worked it out and the final result looks something like this:

Turns

The World Event phase comes first, and I kind of like this round – as tricky as it is to understand at first – because it involves a voting round that also influences aspects of Columbia’s current state. It nails the idea of diplomacy and free speech in Comstock’s floating haven and has the tendency to cause squabbles among the group. So for example: the first card we drew had a motion that would let The Founders team move any amount of units to a part of the city where the Vox Populi had a structure, without rolling a Sky-Line movement turn.

Players then cast any amount of their five action cards to determine their vote total. Once both sides have their vote counts, Booker then votes using the white dice and always sides with the underdog. The result of his roll will determine whether or not the motion carries.

This is probably the most complicated aspect of the entire turn so I haven’t laid out all of the small print here (I’d honestly be here all day if I did!) so check out the video link above if you want a detailed breakdown. With some patience and time you’ll figure it out. Either way, once voting is done the winner of the ballot gets to go first, all players discard their expended cards and the proper action can begin.

Next up is the Player Turns Phase, which sees each faction either cashing in their action cards in return for Silver Eagle coins, recruiting more units, building structures or turrets, upgrading existing units moving, or entering into combat. I like the risk-reward aspect of cashing in cards for votes during the ballot phase or money in the player turn, as you really need to think about what units you may need during the combat phase and other parts of the game.

I have to point out here that Booker isn’t controlled by either faction and acts independently in his quest to save Elizabeth. He moves to the numbered location displayed on the first voting card at the start of the game, and aggressively pursues Elizabeth from then on. Any player units occupying the same location as Booker while in aggressive mode are then entered into combat with him, meaning his presence really can disrupt the board. This really syncs up nicely with the chaos he brought to the city in the videogame.

See?

With any cash earned, you can then upgrade the voting influence of certain cards, the sale value of a specific card type or the attack value of particular units by spending three coins. You can choose to stockpile coins if you want though, and save up a significant bank of resources to pay for higher-value things like special units, auto-turrets and strongholds that can reinforce your hold over an area of the city. Each action card also has a buff that needs to be bought for three coins.

Some of these can be used when action cards are discarded. For example, if you’ve unlocked The Founder sharpshooter’s ‘Bird’s Eye’ skill for three coins, you can snipe any enemy on an adjacent location by chucking away the card. There’s definitely an RPG-style progression system at play that gives rise to tactical play and something of a scramble to buff-up your faction as quickly and as wisely as possible. It’s a great mechanic and isn’t all that hard to follow.

Movement is next, and while you can freely move four units in a turn to locations within a territory as you please, you can also use the city’s Sky-Lines to move to other territories. A dice-roll is required each time you hit a junction. Score a thumbs-up icon and your unit is safe, but if you roll a number you must choose to either discard that many cards from your deck or condemn your unit to a long messy drop back to Earth. Again; there’s risk-reward running hot throughout this game like a gooey caramel filling. It’s yummy.

Combat is the final element of the turn, and this happens whenever units occupy the same location. Players can choose to play whatever Action Cards they have left over from the voting, building and movement turns, and cast them into play. All players reveal their active cards and any unlocked special skills come into effect. Depending on unit types in the fight, players will get a different colour dice. So say you have a Handyman and two grunts in play, you’d roll a medium value and two low value dice.

Add your totals up, include the values on any Action Cards you have left, roll extra dice for any nearby turrets or strongholds in the area and that’s your combat total. The loser must then discard one unit and any stronghold on the location, and retreat all remaining units to the nearest base. As with most aspects of the game, combat isn’t that hard to understand once you’ve had a crack at it, and when you factor in Vigor buffs, along with Booker and Elizabeth’s influence, battles really can have wildly different outcomes depending on what state the board is in.

Worth Getting?

Once the rules click, it’s clear that The Siege of Columbia is a neat fusion of card battling, dice odds and classic board game movement all wrapped around territorial, RPG and chance mechanics. It’s a hefty cocktail of ideas that might not be palatable to begin with, but it all fits nicely with the civil war vibe at the heart of BioShock: Infinite. Booker and Elizabeth – again – are really random and can ruin your best-laid plans if you’re careless, so playing smart and being aware of what your opponents are doing is certainly advised.

The scramble to earn ten Victory Points – by either controlling all the locations in a territory or completing objectives such as destroying an enemy leader, destroying strongholds and more – is hectic and enters all players into something of a power-struggle as they ruin each other’s objectives and block each other from fulfilling tasks. It’s a proper race against time, and all the while Booker and Elizabeth are inching closer to escaping the city for good.

I like this game, and I’m sure if I ever do more board game blogs in future they won’t be as long as this one, but it is a tricky game to explain. Once you watch the video above or crack open that box for yourself, and start tinkering around it’ll all start to clear up. So if you want a board game experience that stays true to the values of Irrational’s shooter then yeah, you should absolutely give Siege of Columbia a whirl if you’re okay with some of the high prices online. Otherwise, stick with less taxing games.

What do you make of BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia? Would you like to see more board game blogs on VG247? Let us know below.

Disclosure: To assist with this piece, distributor Esdevium Games send Dave a copy of BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia for review.

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