BioShock Infinite is one of the best games of the year, offering a captivating combination of tense action and rich storytelling and character development. With strong themes of racism, religion, and politics, the narrative is perfectly suited to adaptation into other forms of entertainment. One you might not have thought about is the world of board games, but The Siege of Columbia proves that the BioShock universe is a great fit for the tabletop gaming scene.
Brought to you by Plaid Hat Games, BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia is a 2 to 4 player board game in which players assume leadership over two warring factions–the Founders (blue) and the Vox Populi (red)–and fight for control over the floating city of Columbia using dice, action cards, and plastic figurines. In a 2-player game, each player leads a faction on their own. In a 4-player game, players team up to jointly command each faction in pairs. In either setup, the main objective of the game is to be the first faction to earn 10 Victory Points, which is accomplished by controlling territories on the board and completing special objectives on Victory cards dealt at the beginning of each turn.
Each faction begins the game with a drawn leader card and an army of units placed on two starting locations specified in the guide book. With these units players will move across the board one space at a time and attempt to seize control of locations on the map by building structures and winning combat encounters determined by dice rolls and attack values listed on any action cards a player decides to play from their starting hand of five cards. Each territory consists of a small number of adjacent locations, and only by controlling each location within a territory does that area of the map fall under a player’s control. Any player in control of an entire territory scores a set number of Victory Points as labeled on the board–but those points can still be lost if the other player comes along and takes over any one of the locations.
Booker and Elizabeth, the star characters of the video game, also play a role in this struggle for territorial power, but only as NPCs. During the first phase of every round, a World Event card is drawn and players go through a somewhat overcomplicated voting process to determine if the event drawn goes into action. Regardless of the vote, these cards also dictate the actions of Booker and Elizabeth, to which location they will move to on the board, whether or not Booker is aggressive to players, and so on. If Booker is aggressive or moves to a location to rescue Elizabeth, he will attack player units at that location, and players will have to resolve combat with Elizabeth’s savior before dealing with conflict against the opposing player.
The game comes with three different timeline cards outlining a sequence of events that will occur during Elizabeth’s attempt to flee the city. Whenever a World Event card shows a picture of Elizabeth, a token is moved to the next space on the timeline, and a new event occurs on the board. Should Elizabeth make it all the way through the timeline, the outcome of the entire game is affected greatly. For example on one of the timelines Booker and Elizabeth will escape and the game will end immediately, the player with the most Victory Points at the time of their escape declared the winner. In another scenario Booker and Elizabeth will bring about the fall of Columbia, causing a certain number of World Event cards to be discarded off the top of the deck and the total number of Victory Points needed to win the game to be reduced.
Having Booker and Elizabeth in this randomized role is a really clever mechanic that links the action of the video game to the board game and also adds an exciting dynamic to the match that both players have to deal with. Other mechanics call in elements of the video game as well–in particular the Sky-Lines. Under normal movement conditions, a player can move a unit one adjacent space per turn at no risk beyond whatever is found on the location the unit is moved to. For quicker board navigation, players can choose to ride the Sky-Line and roll a set of three specially marked Sky-Line dice to determine success or failure. If a thumb’s up symbol appears on any of the die, the player can move their unit to the next Sky-Line map node and either stop or roll the dice again for as many spaces as they care to attempt. However, if a thumb’s up is not rolled the Sky-Line attempt fails and the player will either lose their unit or discard action cards from their hand equal to the total number value of the dice roll. Riding the Sky-Lines is risky, but can lead to huge rewards.
The Siege of Columbia is a complex and involving game. As a result the initial learning curve is fairly steep–depending, of course, on your experience with advanced board games and your ability to quickly memorize all the rules. The included guide book explains the setup process in an easy to understand format with diagrams and examples for different scenarios that will occur during a game. That being said, a few subtleties aren’t as clearly explained as they could be, so before playing it is highly recommended that you watch Plaid Hat’s tutorial video (embedded at the bottom of the page) in addition to reading the manual. Even after doing so it will still likely take a few games to find a comfort zone with the flow of turns as well as the many options that are available to faction leaders as far as being able to build structures and upgrade unit abilities.
The game itself–the board and all its tokens, cards, and figures–has been designed with impeccable quality and attention to detail, amplifying the collector’s value for serious BioShock fans. The artwork on the cards and board is beautifully drawn and painted to fully capture the aesthetic identify of the video game world and its characters, so much so that if you have a table free of pesky pets and children, you might even consider leaving the board and all its pieces on display when not in use.
Fans of BioShock should get a thrill out of seeing the game world they explored on their PC or favorite gaming console from a different perspective, with a different set of goals and motivations. The Siege of Columbia is not the type of classic family board game that you can find off the store shelf at the nearest Walmart or Target for $20 or less. It is a premium product with a premium price. Fortunately, Plaid Hat Games recently eliminated the sticker shock of the game’s original $84.95 price point for a much more reasonable starting price of $64.95, and if you look on sites like Amazon.com you can find it even cheaper than that these days. If you need a gift idea for the gamer who has everything, or perhaps for someone who might be interested in crossing over from video games to board games, BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia is a fantastic choice.
Disclosure: A sample unit of BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia was provided to VGBlogger.com by Plaid Hat Games.