Publisher: Xi Cards Ltd
Designer: Chris Nonweiler
Xi is a fantasy card game that was originally designed as a CCG way back in 2011 but lacked the bottomless pit of money necessary to remain sustainable under that model. It’s also probably one of the most criminally underrated 2 player card games of the last decade.
Xi released properly in 2013 as a single set of 200 cards, sold as 4 pre-constructed decks; Stone, Wind, Ember and Aqua. In a game of Xi, you’ll command one of these powerful elemental castes and duel against the other houses to restore equilibrium to the world.
The format of Xi mirrors many other 2 player card games, I.E. you’ll summon units to the battlefield, cast spells that deal damage or buff units and otherwise attack your opponents life points until one of you is dead. Yes, these are hats that have been worn to death before, but instead of reinventing the wheel, Xi kind of fixed it.
For starters, Xi sets itself apart from its competitors with it’s main in-game resource: ‘time’. There’s no economy generating cards in Xi, instead you simply have a limited amount of time to spend from the beginning of your turn. It costs time to draw a card; it costs time to play a card; and it even costs time to save time. Indeed, you can ‘bank’ time to use on later turns, which becomes an incredibly important when you’re holding a world destroying card that costs way more than you can currently afford.
The learning curve in Xi is similarly simplified. Even if you’re completely new to the genre, you’ll master Xi’s nuances within your first game. The amount of times I’ve tried to teach ‘Magic The Gathering’, only to see the hazy look of utter confusion in my opponents eyes is staggering. Explaining phases and windows of opportunity to a new player is not only a nightmare, but it also vampires the fun out of learning a game.
Xi on the other hand, has no rigid turn structure. There’s no phases guiding your hand, telling you to perform specific actions in designated safe spaces. Much like the forces of nature Xi is themed around, reckless abandon is the new world order here. You can attack, draw a card, play a card, attack again, bank some time, draw another card or do anything you bloody like on your turn. Your only limitation is time. And crucially, Xi doesn’t waste any of yours. For example, unlike ‘Magic the Gathering’ and other games of its ilk, there’s no ‘summoning sickness’ or rule that prevents you from using a unit the moment you commit it to the battlefield. Once a card hits the mat, it’s ready to go to work. Xi is a fast, high impact, card game that leaves little room for analysis paralysis, but also gives players the freedom to express themselves with virtually endless strategic avenues.
If you’re looking for a thematic experience, you won’t be disappointed either. Each of the elemental castes have very distinct themes and play completely different from one another. Ember is all about aggression and engulfing the land in fire; Stone blocks an opponents path while building huge threats; Aqua is as fluid as the ebb and flow of ocean and can quickly shift strategic gears; Wind is as you’d expect all about trickery and making your opponent go left when they should have gone right. Again, these are very well established themes in the card game genre, but Xi adds a slight twist to the mix. Each element has advantage over another and does double damage, which is not huge deal in the basic game, but in more advanced games when you mix up your decks, this becomes yet another layer of strategic goodness you can sink your teeth into.
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but Xi is definitely an exception to the rule. The artwork is absolutely stunning. Its nothing like the airbrushed perfection you see stacked along the shelves of game shops today. Xi’s art style courtesy of Jordan Saia, has a distinct rawness which gives the game an authentic grass roots feel. Heck, the art alone is reason enough to check this game out.
Xi is a perfect fit for anyone looking to test the waters of the 2 player card game genre. It’s the very definition of ‘easy to learn, hard to master’, which not only makes it an excellent gateway game, but also, if it’s the only game you ever purchase you’ll have plenty to mull over for years to come. If you really do get tired of the 4 core decks, you can always experiment by building new ones. And when you’re done with that, you might consider buying more packs or the expansion ‘Xi Advanced’. We have yet to try it since we’re quite happy with single copies of the core decks, but ultimately, there is virtually no limits to how far you can push this game. We’re big fans of games that come in a small package but hit like a truck and Xi is tremendous bang for your buck.
Perhaps Xi never made a splash in the 2 player market because it relied too heavily on a form and theme that veterans of hobby gaming have seen time and time again, but beyond that familiar veneer, lies an incredibly fun and heartfelt card game that lets you tinker, twist and turn like someone learning how to wield a sword properly. As of the time of this post, you can still find copies of the core decks floating around online and they’re usually very cheap. If Xi ever comes up in your searches and you’re looking for an exciting kitchen table card game, we think it’s worth a shot.