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Board Game Review: The X-Files

2015 March 22
by Michael Schroeder

“The truth is out there.” Keep reading to find out the truth about my review of The X-Files board game, by IDW Games.

The X-Files by IDW Games

The X-Files by IDW Games

Designer: Kevin Wilson

Number of players: 2-5

Age: 12+

Time: 75 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

Players will get the chance to take on the role of Mulder, Scully, and the X-Files team as they work to uncover global conspiracies and threats while going up against various members of the Syndicate.

The X-Files board game will focus heavily on material from the first three seasons of the television series, giving fans a chance to start from the beginning of the phenomenon.

Designed for a playtime of between sixty and ninety minutes, two to five players will face off against one friend who will control the Smoking Man and his nefarious network.

IDW Games has enlisted top-notch designer, Kevin Wilson (Arkham Horror, Descent, Civilization) to bring The X-Files to the strategy board game community. Acclaimed gallery and comic book artist, menton3 (Memory Collectors, The X-Files: Season 10) brings his talents to the board gaming world by providing art direction for this project as well as the stunning box art.

Basic idea in my own words…

The X-Files board game is a semi-co-op game where players take on the roles of iconic characters from the hit TV show, The X-Files. In the game, 1 player controls the Smoking Man – an agent of the Syndicate and the other players control popular agents, Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Water Skinner and Alex Krycek. The agents job is to investigate X-Files across the U.S., and acquire evidence tokens, which will in turn, be spent on building Mulder’s, “I want to believe” poster. The Smoking Man’s job is to achieve a number of evidence tokens equal to a value of 25 and to overall, hamper the progress of the agents. At game’s end, either all agents win or the Syndicate wins.

Setup (summarized):

  1. Layout the game board in the center of the table for all players to be within reach
  2. Separate all the tokens and place them within their own piles within reach of everyone; the green evidence markers should all be placed in the provided bag, and shaken up.
  3. Separate the 3 different decks of cards, shuffle each deck and place them on their respective locations on the board
  4. Place a number of X-Files cards equal to the number of agents on the game board; as you draw each card, you will see the correct location on the card; Some regions have more than one spot for a X-File card; you decide where they go if there’s more than one (South). If you draw a card and it has a location that’s already been placed and has no more free spaces, place that card at the bottom of the X-Files deck and draw another; keep drawing until you have all the required number of X-Files cards on the board.
  5. Locate the agent and syndicate markers, one is a cigarette and another is an insignia or crest and both have a dashed circle around them. Place these on their appropriate spots on the tracks on the left side of the board, both in the first spots (however, it would be more accurate to not place the agent marker in the first spot yet)
  6. Decide who will be the Syndicate player and who will play as the agents. Hand out the agent credentials to the agent players and they can decide who they wish to control. Give the Syndicate player the Syndicate folder; they place it in front of them so no other players can see behind it. The Smoking Man/Syndicate player should take all the cigarette tokens and place them behind their screen, also they will draw 5 Syndicate cards and place them behind their screen – they may freely look at them. Also, the Syndicate player takes X influence tokens and places them behind their screen/folder where X is the number of agents. The Agent players place an agent credentials in front of them, and place their player marker standup anywhere in the northeast region,  each player also takes 3 influence tokens. Agents also draw 5 agent cards and keep in their hands, this is their starting hand.
  7. The game is ready to begin, the starting player is the player to the left of the Smoking Man. Please note, for a 2 player game the setup is slightly modified.

How do you play?

X-files setup

X-files setup

The game starts with the agent sitting to the left of the Syndicate player. On your turn…

Agent’s Turn:

  1. Move to an adjacent region or consult an agent –
    1. Move to an adjacent region: You may move your player token to any adjacent region, the reason for moving your character is because you can  only investigate X-Files within the region you’re in, as well as consult with an agent in the same region
    2. Consult an agent: if you are in the same region as another agent, you may trade cards with them
  2. Plan or act – 
    1. Plan: If you plan, you elect to take 3 influence tokens; you my also take less influence and for that many influence that you were supposed to receive, but did not, you can heal yourself that many
    2. Act: by acting you are laying down a card from your hand and resolving its effects. Each card has a category in the bottom middle of the card, if you are strong in that category you don’t have to pay to play the card, if you are weak in a specific category you must pay 2 influence and if you are not strong or weak, you must pay 1
      1. Resolve the cards effects, usually this is an investigate card. Such cards say something to the effect of, “Investigate 2, …” If you play an investigate 2 card, you would declare which X-File you want to investigate in the region you are in and place that many progress tokens on that X-File card.
  3. Draw 1 agent card – Draw the top agent card off the agent deck and add it to your hand

Solving an X-File – The whole point of the game for the agents is to lay down the agent cards that will have the greatest effect to solve an X-File.

Agent card on the left/Syndicate card on the right

Agent card on the left/Syndicate card on the right

X-Files have two numbers on them: in the upper right, the number of evidence tokens that you will draw out of the bag, and in the lower left is the difficulty of the X-File. You get progress tokens on a card by playing agent cards. Once the amount of progress tokens matches the difficulty, the X-File is solved and flipped over and left in place. Then the acting player grabs the bag and takes the appropriate number of evidence tokens out of the bag. Place the removed evidence tokens near the poster, whenever agents wish, they can spend a value of evidence tokens equal to the number of agents playing the game, to be rewarded with one piece of the poster. The value of the evidence tokens is the number on the back of the tokens. The values range from 1-2. After you get a piece of the poster, move the agent marker up on the board. Play proceeds clockwise.

Syndicate’s turn:

When the turn gets to the syndicate player, that player…

  1. Conceal evidence: Draw tokens from the bag equal to the number of unsolved X-Files showing on the map; for any evidence tokens drawn, place them behind your screen. If the Smoking Man draws any evidence at all, he may add a cigarette token to the bag – in effect making it more difficult for the agents.
  2.  Replenish X-Files: Draw X-Files cards from the deck and place them on the map until the number of open X-Files cases is equal to the number of agents.
  3. Refill hand: Draw Syndicate cards into your hand until you have 5 cards in your hand.
  4. Collect Influence: Collect influence tokens equal to the number of agents.
  5. Play Syndicate cards: Play any number of syndicate cards from your hand in any open spaces on the board meant for Syndicate cards. You may do this, or you may not. This doesn’t mean you’re actually playing the cards though, you’re just getting them out there, face-down. You may also swap an Syndicate card by paying 1 influence. This means placing a card from your hand and putting it in place of a card that’s face-down on the map; the card that was face-down goes back in your hand.

Playing as the Syndicate:

The entire goal of the Syndicate is to slow down and stop the agents. Cigarette tokens in the bag achieves this (however it rarely happened to us), as well as strategically playing Syndicate cards. The Syndicate has a large element of bluffing in the game as well, which can make it interesting for that player and the agents. Syndicate cards actually get played when an agent solves an X-File. At that point, the Syndicate player turns over the card attached to that X-File and pays the influence number denoted on the card and resolves the effects. These could be very bad, such as completely cancel a certain type of investigation, or wounding agents or reducing the number of progress tokens they can place on a card.


Allies in the X-Files board game help agents and Syndicate players out. there is one spot on the board for an ally. If a player plays an ally card and one is already in play, the card in play no longer functions and the new card is now in play. An example of a card is Deep Throat. He makes it so that no cigarettes get added to the bag, while he’s out.

Ally Cards

Ally Cards

Game End:

The game ends if the agents achieve all 9 pieces of the poster. If the smoking man’s Syndicate token gets all the way to the bottom of the track at 25+, then the Syndicate wins and the X-Files gets shut down!


Components: 8/10

I think the components in the game are great. The card stock is nice and thick, the box is nice and functional, the game comes with some baggies, however not enough and too large and the rulebook is very helpful and very detailed. Contrary to what many say out there though, is I am not a fan of the art or graphic design. I’m not sure who this menton3 is but I’m just not a big fan of his art. His box cover art is nice and some of the images in the rulebook are nice, but just the style isn’t my preference. The cards feature art what looks to be art ripped right out of the comics, which is fine, it just doesn’t do a lot for me. My bigger complaint though is the graphic design on the board. The board features too many pastel-ish looking colors. I love how big the board is and how thick it is, but the choice of colors is just wrong and I have some gripes with the placement of some things, which is more graphic design, not illustration.

Theme: 9/10

I love The X-Files, which is why I’m giving the game a 9 in regard to theme. The problem however is that the theme is not deeply ingrained in the mechanics and feel of the game once you get playing, which is why I’m not giving it a 10. There’s a huge amount of flak out there against IDW and Kevin Wilson for this. A lot of people have given The X-Files board game really disappointing reviews, I think for much of what I just described, “that players were expecting an epic game that drips with theme because this is The X-Files, much like an Arkham Horror, but that’s not what you get here.” While I do agree to a point, at the same time, I don’t often want to play 3+ hour games and those epic games don’t hit the table enough. I’m actually pleased with the gameplay length. My opinion on the lack of theme and gameplay integration is that I feel many other reviewers and players are just lashing out on IDW and not considering, what I believe to be what the true target market for this game is. I feel the target market for this game is for players that are not seasoned gamers, therefore a gamer that is not used to playing 3-6 hour Fantasy Flight type epic operas. The target market is more for a mainstream audience. Sure, I would be foolish to say IDW doesn’t want to sell this game to anyone, but the “target market” I think would be more a fan of The X-Files in general, happens to walk into a Barnes and Noble and sees the game and is intrigued. Not someone who commonly will go into a book store to buy their games, rather a more main stream consumer. The X-Files is a huge IP, albeit not being broadcast anymore, people still recognize it so the IP is reaching out to a much more wide and mainstream audience, not the hard-core gamer that only players epic fantasy games or a 6 hour game of Through the Ages. I myself am a seasoned gamer and I can recognize this and by not expecting a game dripping with theme, I ended up not disappointed, as many gamers have.

Luck Factor: 7/10

The X-Files game involves drawing cards randomly and randomly drawing tokens out of a bag – there’s quite a bit of randomness in this game, and that’s what you’d expect from an Ameritrash game.

Strategy: 6.5/10

The strategy in The X-Files board game isn’t too intense at all, but it’s not without it’s element of strategy, of course. Agents need to plan and work together on moving to the right locations, trading the right cards and playing their cards carefully. This is especially true when there’s a Syndicate card attached to the X-Files card and you are wary of what it may be. For instance, when I played, the Syndicate player had a card that was bad for science cards, well I was Dana Scully and when I thought I could add progress tokens to a card, I was screwed, so I should have planned better.

Overall Feelings: 6.5/10

I enjoyed playing The X-Files board game. I was waiting for this game for around a year’s time when I first heard about it. My expectations were lowered early this year and towards the end of last year when reviews started coming out about the lack of theme integration and complexity of the game. It’s true, that the gameplay is rather simple, but the game is still enjoyable. you have to keep in mind, and I say this again, that this game is more for a true X-Files fan and more of a mainstream consumer and gamer. If you only enjoy epic games, with tons of fiddly bits and a lot of complexity and tough choices, you will likely be disappointed, but I wasn’t. I put myself in the right mindset of what I was playing, not any preconceived notions of what I only like to play. The game play is smooth and simple, which I like, but I also like complex games. The game length is just right. My biggest gripe however is, that as an agent player, in a 4 player game, the game felt too easy. The syndicate player was about 1 or two notches behind us in progress. Later on, he did look at his cards and it looked like the better cards were buried at the bottom of the deck, so maybe it will be harder for the agents next time. Overall, I enjoyed my time playing The X-Files board game and hope to play it again soon.

Review copy kindly provided by IDW Games.

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