Fit Only For Professor X: The X-Men Under Siege Board Game

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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!

Now that's a board game cover to win over just about any child, am I right?

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.

Tranaslation: A whole lot of confusion.

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.

All of it just seems way more complicated than the typical kid will bother with.

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.

At least the game came with a survival guide to the mansion. That's cool, I guess.

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.

Want more obscure board games? Check these out:

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Board Game Week: Spy Web Retrospective

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About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

2 Comments

  1. This is not the same as “X-Men: Alert” although they both boasted 18 minis. Alert was released a year before this and several of the minis were different–Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, Jubilee, Cyclops, Havok, and Iceman were all resculpted for Under Siege. In Alert they had the early X-Factor uniforms, when the original 5 were on their own, and there was the new crop of X-men (which included Longshot…don’t know how you missed him?) This probably would have been circa1987. Under Siege substituted Bishop, Maverick, and Jean Grey in for Alert’s Shadowcat, Colossus, and Professor X (which is a wickedly large mini in his hover chair.) By the time Jim Lee got around to X-men/Uncanny X-Men (circa 1992) Shadowcat was not on the scene (having been moved to the less popular Excalibur comic) and everyone had gotten new uniforms, hence the changes.

    Apparently Alert was the better received of the 2 games, although personally I found the silly board off-putting and the rules/game itself too simple. The pendulum certainly swung the other way with Under Siege as Pressman (who is to blame for all of the ridiculousness attached to these games) worked with Richard Borg (a highly touted modern game designer) to design Under Siege. Borg designs war games, primarily, usually intended for the 13+ crowd. In my opinion this game was poorly play tested and there are some serious gaps in the rule book, despite its length.

    I agree with most of your observations:
    1.) Kids by themselves (under age 10) would totally be at a loss to get this one going on their own.

    I picked it up as a 14 or 15 year old, and it was work. Fortunately I lost the rulebook (left on the copy machine at my local library), so my sisters and I had to invent/remember the rules as best we could from memory. For us it has evolved into something else entirely and is an engaging experience that all of us enjoy, including our spouses and gaming friends…but I would recommend playing it WITH kids, rather than buying it for them to do on their own.

    2.) Lots of fiddly bits, but they are all worth points! (And RISK has more pieces than this, by far.)

    3.) The figures ARE the best part, but the sculpts aren’t the best.

    4.) The “secured floor” rule was one of the first we tossed out. But in all fairness, it was meant to keep the game short. Without it, it can easily run to 2+ hours, because at best you can only search 3 rooms per turn per player, and there are 52 rooms.

    5.) Yes, the X-Men are one of the most potential laden properties out there, so I “marvel” that this is the best board game they could come up with for them. They deserve better…that’s why I have redesigned it. 🙂 I can’t say it’s less complicated, but it’s FUN.

    Two things I will challenge:
    1.) Don’t do it! It’s not worth it to sit down now with some of your friends and try to play this game as is. They will never do it again, and you will have wasted your time.

    2.) The oblong board actually works out really well, even if it is odd-shaped. When you set it in the middle of the table, it is narrow enough to leave room on either side for players to sit there with their own tableau in front of them–you need some personal space in this game to layout your Stat cards and all the chips you collect as you go, along with your hand of Siege cards.

  2. Sounds a lot like a game called “X-Men Alert” that I got as a kid. In fact, I’d bank on the likelihood that they repackaged the same figurines. That game did have Colossus, though, and no Maverick. Professor X was also a playable character. No Bishop. Shadowcat but no Jean Grey.

    It was probably too complicated for kids under 10, but I must have been older when I got it, because I was able to grasp the rules well enough to be underwhelmed by the gameplay. You basically moved around one of three rectangular tracks until you reached a red marker. On reaching the marker, you capture the evil mutant currently at that track. Not too fun, but the coolness of the figurines made up for it at the time.

    Oh, and Longshot is from the Mojoverse, silly!

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