Sometimes the coolest properties get the strangest merchandise. I went through a phase as a kid where board games became extremely engaging for me, some of which didn’t even require another person to play with. I’d set up Monopoly and just play around with the pieces for the heck of it, and everyone is familiar with Mouse Trap as a toy rather than an actual game with actual rules, so imagine my delight when one Christmas I would unwrap a large gift and find this treasure: The X-Men Under Siege board game. Just what is this random game I speak of? Probably one of the most complicated board games I’ve ever seen in my life. So let’s jump into this and engage some evil mutants!
Flash back to my childhood years in the early 90’s for a moment, will you? I’m aware of the X-Men mostly through the Saturday morning cartoon featuring the X-Men costume designs made popular by Jim Lee, but other than that I’m nowhere near what you’d consider a master on the subject. I know the main X-Men and their powers, but that’s about it. Oh, and I know that the X-Men are stupidly awesome, but that’s a gimmie. Therefore, when I unwrapped a random box with the X-Men Under Siege game sitting in wait for me, I was elated. But that was before I actually tried playing the game.
I believe in the entire time I’ve had this game, somewhere in the ballpark of 15 years, I may have played a full game through once, possibly less. The largest reason behind this is the amount of dedication you have to have in order to understand even the slightest bit of the rules. The instruction manual for the game is 14 pages long. That’s 14, a double-digit number, for a board game aimed at kids. I reread it just before writing this article and I still don’t have a full grasp for how it’s played.
The gist is that while the X-Men are away from the mansion, a bunch of evil mutants infest it and force the X-Men to get a call that it is, as you may have assumed, under siege. Opening the box reveals one huge game board (more on that in a second), dozens of little pieces (more on those as well), and 18 X-Men figures.
Those figures were very obviously the highlight of the game for me as they didn’t require the game to be played to find enjoyment with them. Sure, they were just little gray chunks of plastic, none in any sort of dramatic pose, but they were still the X-Men and they were cool. Though, here’s an excerpt from the manual: “Each X-Men character has a superbly sculpted miniature figure…If you wish, you may paint your figure.”
First, I’m just astonished that the game had the gall to say the figures were “superbly sculpted.” Honestly, they were passable at best and lazy at worst. Secondly, don’t act like you’re allowing people to do what they wish with the contents of the game they just purchased and own. If I want to use the figures for Monopoly instead, then I’m totally allowed to do that, even if the game hasn’t specifically told me so.
Regardless of snootiness, the figures themselves were certainly more than you’d expect from a game like this, especially 18 of them. Normally, the best you could hope for were paper cutouts for each character, or at most maybe six individual figures, but 18 full pieces is at least something to be amazed by. Frequently, I’d pull the box out and just play with those, specifically Archangel as he had wings, and have my fun that way. But playing the game proper would be a whole new level of challenge, all because of the sheer amount of moving parts in play.
The game board was one reason for the complexity. For one, the game folded out the long way instead of just opening up into a square-shaped board. No, it opened up into a double-length board representing the X-Mansion and all the rooms. Each floor is stacked on top of the other, but I would have preferred some space to work with, specifically when talking about a table size. A smaller table works for the standard game board, but a double-length board requires a longer table and creates more of a headache that frankly isn’t needed.
No, the headache is plentifully supplied thanks to the illogical amount of game pieces littering the board and the play area. You’ll need damage counters for the X-Men themselves, damage counters for the evil mutants, room pieces for each room secured, blood tokens for specific damage done to enemies, cards used to move around the mansion and perform other actions, and even stat cards for the X-Men.
Looking through the game and reading the instructions, what it seems like more than anything is that the game wanted to be a full-blown tabletop RPG but just wasn’t allowed to be. Every X-Man has a rating for combat (Wolverine is the highest with 7 by the way), plus a durability rating that says how many counters they can have, and an intelligence rating that says how many cards you can carry (Beast wins with 4). What draws the D & D connection is the X-tra Skill they all posses that lets them do something unique to them, like reroll a die if it lands wrong or heal quicker when not in battle.
Still, the choices of X-Men is somewhat strange. You’ve got Archangel, Banshee (who wasn’t that big at the time this game came out), Beast, Bishop, Cable, Cyclops, Gambit, Havok, Iceman, Jean Grey, Jubilee, Longshot (who I’ve never heard of, even after extensively reading Marvel comics), Maverick, Nightcrawler, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, and Wolverine. In this lineup you have all the X-Men from the cartoon, plus the gang from the original lineup thanks to Archangel and Iceman. But where was Colossus? Where was Kitty Pryde? And if we’ve got these strange also-rans, why not replace Longshot with Forge or X-Man? Oh well, can’t win ‘em all.
Speaking of which, the conditions for winning were a little odd from my perspective as well. As you played through the game, you were supposed to check every room on a floor for evil mutants, then engage and capture them through battle. When enough rooms on a floor were secured, it was just assumed that the whole floor was secure as well. It’d be like beating Magneto and just assuming the attic was clear, even though Sabertooth was hiding behind some old mattresses, giggling and kicking his feet.
Eventually, all the floors would be secured and the game would end, whereas each player would have to tally up his or her score. As you could guess, the player with the highest score would win. There were variations the game gave, such as just going until someone had a score of 30 or something, but that’s even worse. “Okay Professor, we got all the evil mutants.” “All of them?” “Yeah, we got a few. Looks like Longshot was the winner for some reason.” “Then why do I see the Brood making sandwiches in the kitchen?” “I dunno. Smell ya later.”
Despite the silliness, I still want to give the full game a playthrough with a group that knows what they’re doing. It looks like a heck of a lot of fun when done right. The trick is actually getting that magical group together. Did anyone out there ever receive this game as a kid? And even better, did anyone ever get through an entire game before just breaking down and assuming Cyclops blasted Beast through the attic? Leave a comment and let me know about your childhood memories. I mean, mine are Xtra Special, but I’d rather hear about yours now.
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